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Children of the Whitsun Weddings

1 hour
First broadcast:
Sunday 24 May 2009

Poets Kate Clanchy and Paul Farley take the train through 'Larkinland' and explore their mutual admiration for Larkin's work, especially his masterpiece 'The Whitsun Weddings'.

If - as much contemporary criticism has it - Philip Larkin was a misogynist and a snob, what would he have to say to a poet from one of the working-class estates he thought would destroy England, and a bourgeois woman who writes poems about motherhood? Poets Paul Farley and Kate Clanchy were born within days of each other in 1965, nine months after the publication of 'The Whitsun Weddings'. They grew up in very different Englands, and have very different poetic voices. In this programme, they travel across Britain retracing some of Larkin's key train-inspired poetic journeys.

The iambic click of the rail carriage will accompany readings of 'The Whitsun Weddings', 'Dockery and Son', 'Friday Night at the Royal Station Hotel' and 'Here'. The journeys from Oxford to Sheffield, Hull to London, via 'colleges and clouds' and 'awful pies', lead Kate and Paul to a series of lively interchanges on class, gender, paternity and Englishness, to considerations of the poet's influence on them and on other contemporary writers. Along the way, they meet fellow Larkin lovers, but also real people - such as the Hull woman married in the 1950s who remembers the 'bridal express' days captured in 'The Whitsun Weddings' - to build up a picture of how much of Larkin's England has gone, and what remains.

New readings of the poems are mixed with archive recordings. Above all, Kate Clanchy and Paul Farley interrogate why and how a middle class woman and a working class man, in a train moving around a changing England, can agree unfailingly on Larkin's poems - as they examine the passion, despite everything, they share for Larkin's work.


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