We had not organised a conference since 2019 with Covid creating so many barriers in the way. But as 2022 began, confidence in face to face events was now back, and we knew this would be a fantastic end to the Larkin100 year.
Kyra Piperides introduces the first panel
The two- day event was opened by teacher Alexandra Davis who took us through a fascinating project she is running with her students as part of her Masters studies- teaching Larkin on the ‘black market’ (as he is not on their current syllabus). This was a really joyful account of the pupils’ many and varied reactions to Larkin. It also set the tone and approach for the whole two days: a focus on teaching and disseminating Larkin’s work and a rigorous examination of the current context of Larkin’s work in the world of social media and changing attitudes to sexuality, race, religion and poetic endeavour. The range of topics covered during the course of the conference was outstanding: Larkin’s machinery, Larkin (not) doing National Service, new musical settings to Larkin’s verse and Larkin in Other Cultures to name a handful. We read and analysed Sad Steps and Ted Hughes’ The Thought Fox with Friday’s keynote speaker Suzanne Conway, and examined Larkin’s poetic and critical links to WH Auden, Stevie Smith and Andrew Marvell. A huge range of Larkin’s poems were discussed, as were his literary criticism and letters.
Professor Will May from the University of Southampton, presenting his talk on Philip Larkin and Stevie Smith
There was a fantastically convivial atmosphere throughout as attendees and speakers got to know each other. We all enjoyed the drinks reception in the Brynmor Jones Library’s outstanding art gallery, and many of us took the chance to enjoy a guided tour around the library and Larkin’s office.
Attendee Robert Black summed it up brilliantly when he wrote to say:
I had such a lovely time in Hull this week and wanted to thank you … for putting together a fascinating, entertaining and informative conference. I learned as I laughed which is always the best way.
Thursday’s key note speaker, Observer and New Statesman journalist Rachel Cooke, wrote this piece as a testament to how much she had enjoyed her time with us. We are already tentatively planning Conference 2023!