Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

HUNKERING HOME

Mention of Hull brings us pretty much inevitably to Phillip Larkin.  There’s the Larkin Trail in Hull these days, in three sections, only two of them easily walkable.  The Website says,  "To follow in Larkin's tracks is to take not only a literary journey, but also journeys through diverse landscapes and rich architecture and, seeing the city through a poet's eyes, to gain a philosophical view of the place where Larkin lived and worked for three decades."


 There’s also the above statue, by Martin Jennings, of Larkin in Hull station.  It’s supposedly inspired by Larkin’s poem “The Whitsun Weddings” so I suppose he’s hurrying to leave Hull, which may or may not be significant.

Walking crops up fairly often in Larkin’s works, but it’s seldom, if ever, a joyous or uncomplicated subject for Larkin, but then what is?  Generally it’s a marker for something much bigger that itself. This line from “New Year Poem” – “From roads where men go home I walk apart” – which somehow reminds of the line Sheldon Cooper says in The Big Bang Theory – “Like the proverbial cheese, I stand alone”

There’s this from “Poetry of Departure”
So to hear it said
He walked out on the whole crowd
Leaves me flushed and stirred,
Like Then she undid her dress
Or Take that you bastard;


And there’s this from “Dockery and Son” which I suppose is, in part, a railway poem:
I fell asleep, waking at the fumes
And furnace-glares of Sheffield, where I changed,
And ate an awful pie, and walked along
The platform to its end
*
And there’s this from a wonderfully gloomy letter from to his lover, Monica Jones, “I seem to walk on a transparent surface and see beneath me all the bones and wrecks and tentacles that will eventually claim me: in other words, old age, incapacity, loneliness, death of others & myself...”

Larkin and Jones

But for many in Hull, and possibly elsewhere as well, Larkin may be most famous for the poem “Toads.”  The toad is initially the poet’s daily work which squats upon him but in the end he decides

… something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,

Now, hunker is an interesting word.  It’s a synonym for the haunch, of course, so to hunker down is to squat on your haunches, which is in keeping with the sense of the poem.  But, if online dictionaries are to be believed, hunkering is also a synonym for walking, as in: “Slang: to lumber along; walk or move slowly or aimlessly.”
Was Larkin aware of this?   Who knows?  Poets are tricky people when it comes to the overtones and undertones of language. 


Nor can we be absolutely sure how Larkin would have felt about the celebration in his nameLarkin with Toads, Hull’s largest ever public art project.”  Originally set up in 2010 it was revived in 2015 and featured 40 extra large “artist-decorated” (how long have you got to pick the bones out of that one?) fiberglass toads positioned in and around the city.  
They formed a “walking trail” of course.


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