Nomination: Love Again [20 September 1979. From The Complete Poems (2012)]
Reviewing Anthony Thwaite’s 1988 edition of Larkin’s Collected Poems, the late, great poet and critic Ian Hamilton grouped ‘Love Again’ with a handful of previously unpublished poems he termed ‘desperately miserable, indeed inconsolable.’ It’s hard to disagree. Even though ‘Love Again’ has its faults — what Hamilton was apt to call ‘wonky’ moments as poetry — its searing power makes such blemishes seem negligible. And while some critics resist a purely autobiographical reading of Larkin’s work, the poem’s roots seem painfully, fallibly human. Sexual jealousy makes for unforgettable imagery: ‘Someone else feeling her breasts and cunt,/Someone else drowned in that lash-wide stare…’ (Hardy would have cherished that heart-stopping, hyphenated image of the loved one.) But as Martin Amis and others have observed, Larkin also seemed to enter a poetic No Man’s Land in this late, self-probing, almost stunted lyric from 1979; as with the similarly late and inquisitional ‘Aubade,’ Larkin was posing questions about his own nature he was unable to answer, perhaps triggering his final poetic silence. The poem’s raw intimacies can make us feel like voyeurs, but we read on. ‘Love Again’ is a final, angry burst of lyrical power from a great poet.