What’s on Stephen Claughton’s doormat?




It was an article in ‘The Guardian’,
an extract from the archive,
‘Philip Larkin: the poet on the 8.15’.
I’d seen it the first time round;
the Head of English had put it up
on the pinboard outside his room –
something contemporary
and safe for the boys to read,
an antidote to the swinging sixties.

Larkin, balding, bespectacled,
smiled gloomily from the page.
With his sad, salmonid face,
you wouldn’t think of him then
as anything but respectable, even dull.

The headline, I thought, meant the Movement,
anti-rhetoric, ‘kitchen sink’,
something that justified my taking a steady job
reached by a daily commute,
sometimes even on the 8.15.

Reading the piece again,
it came as quite a shock
to realise I’d been wrong: that for Larkin
the 8.15 meant only failure.

Silent for two years (so he claimed),
he was describing how it felt
to suppose you were written out.
‘Every time you think you’re through,’
he said, ‘that it’s nothing but the bowler hat
and the eight-fifteen, which it is anyway.’

Fame had begun for him, at last, like sex
with the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry
and ‘Time’ having written him up
as the greatest poet in England
now that Eliot was dead.
Yet here he was being miserable about life,
jadedly playing down what poetry meant to him
compared with his love of jazz.

In the end, I wondered, who was the less deceived?


Stephen Claughton’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in ‘Agenda’, ‘The Interpreter’s House’, ‘Ink Sweat & Tears’, ‘Iota’, ‘London Grip’, ‘Other Poetry’, ‘Poetry Salzburg Review’ and ‘The Warwick Review’. He has twice been nominated for the Forward Best Single Poem Prize.