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Joint Meeting with the Betjeman Society in London: 21 September 2016

St James the Less, Pimlico: 21 September 2016, 6.00 for 6.30 – 8.00 pm

Schoolgirls, Seaside, Churches and Death: Betjeman and Larkin

James Booth

The poems of Betjeman and Larkin present striking similarities, but also strong contrasts. Larkin frequently cited Betjeman in his campaign of anti-Modernism. He derecated T. S. Eliot’s dictum that: ‘Poets in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult‘, and praised Betjeman for managing ‘to bypass the whole light industry of exegesis that had grown up around his fatal phrase’. Betjeman had proved, he wrote, ‘that a direct relation with the reading public could be established by anyone prepared to be moving and memorable.’ In the same way he himself  followed the axiom: ‘The ultimate aim of a poet should be to touch our hearts by showing his own.’ But Larkin was not always so positive. Betjeman, he wrote, ‘is a poet for whom the modern poetic revolution has literally not taken place.’ His themes are ‘insular’ and ‘regressive’; ‘what a poor figure he would have cut in the Paris of Stein and Cocteau: he was not, and has never been, a cosmopolitan’. Larkin champions ‘the robustness, precision and … vivacious affection’ with which Betjeman registers “dear old, bloody old” England’. But he is dismissive of Betjeman’s idiosyncrasies: what he calls ‘High Church camp about fiddleback chasubles and Eastern position and Low Church cocoa and so on.’

In this talk James Booth compares poems on the common topics of schoolgirls, seaside, churches and death, in order to explore the similarities and differences between the poets.

Tickets £12.00 Contact Carole Collinson: Tel: 01482 847047 Email:

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