A previously unpublished letter from the poet Philip Larkin, declining the post of Oxford Professor of Poetry has been discovered in a safe at St Hugh’s College.
The letter, typed on Larkin’s letterhead at the University of Hull’s Brynmor Jones Library, is in reply to a suggestion from the College’s former-Principal, Rachel Trickett, that he should stand for the prestigious role.
Rachel Trickett wrote to Larkin on 8 October 1968 and Larkin ‘after the luxury of a few minutes day-dreaming on the subject’ writes to dissuade her from putting his name forward. Although ‘deeply honoured’ to be approached he considered himself ‘entirely unfitted’ for the job and dreaded the potential ‘sherry-drill with important people’.
Commenting in The Guardian, Peter McDonald, Professor of English and Related Literature at St Hugh’s said: ‘It’s not a dashed-off letter. He’s writing to someone he knows quite well, and who he has a lot of common ground with. He’s not just rebuffing it – it’s interesting because it is heartfelt.’ The discovery of the letter was also featured in The Times.
Larkin would go on to be nominated for the position, by former incumbent WH Auden in 1972, and decline again. The position is seen as the second most important in British poetry behind the laureateship. Oxford graduates will vote for the five candidates for this year’s position – Simon Armitage, Ian Gregson, Seán Haldane, Soyinka and AE Stallings – between 8-17 June 2015.
Pictured: Rachel Trickett, former Principal of St Hugh’s College