Sunny Prestatyn

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April 2005

Nomination: Sunny Prestatyn [October 1962? From The Whitsun Weddings]

Walking through the suburbs of the city and finding oneself strangely drawn to the graffiti on walls, play-parks and posters, one couldn’t help but be reminded of ‘Sunny Prestatyn’. A poem that at once shows the comic yet callous defacement of advertisement posters whilst carefully crafting the unknown beauty which lies within everything (but is somehow destroyed and squandered by everyday existence), it is a remarkably accomplished piece, even from a poet as capable as Larkin.

As with much of Larkin’s poetry the metre and rhyme scheme is tightly controlled, in such a way that allows the poem to flow from images of the ‘expand[ing]’ and ‘spread[ing]’ scene which swells from the laughing girl’s thighs and breasts, into the sudden ‘scor[ing]’ and ‘scrawls’ of the sabotaging, anonymous youngsters. Despite its versatility the poem never sounds disjointed, and manages to retain a completeness almost as defined as the poster borders themselves. As the first verse devotes itself to describing beauty, freedom and that quintessentially British love of seascapes, what follows is a shocking barrage of destructive and driving images that not only reveals the apathy and aggressive boredom of the defacers, but points to a pronouncedly wider message: beauty is transitory, and destroyed by sheer monotony. It is incredible that Larkin saw so vividly, in his times, that destructive element which seems to dominate much of our concerns today; as how often are we found thinking some things are ‘too good for this life’?

In creating a stylised, stereotypical yet somehow inexplicably ‘real’ girl within the poster, and having her ‘slapped up’ and left as ‘only a hand and some blue’, something much valued; beauty and uncomplicated pleasure in essence, is systematically destroyed by the delinquent actions that Larkin constructs climatically within ‘Sunny Prestatyn’. This leaves a feeling of exhaustion and quasi-fear, whilst serving as a reminder ‘in Larkin’s idiosyncratic style of taking the most plain, earthly features of existence and charging them with forceful meaning’ of the fragility of our lives amid the almost unreal, increasingly fast, and changing (‘Now Fight Cancer is there’) times we exist within.

Ben Wilkinson

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