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Philip Larkin: Examining a life in tea towels, poetry and pornography

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    Larkin: New Eyes Each YearImage copyright PA
    Image caption Larkin’s ties and lawnmower are among the objects in the exhibition

    Unseen letters, an extensive collection of tea towels and a pair of knickers bearing the words “do not spank” are going on show in an exhibition of items belonging to poet Philip Larkin.

    Books, LPs and ties are among the other possessions that are being put on display at the University of Hull.

    Larkin worked in the university library for 30 years until his death in 1985.

    Curator Anna Farthing said: “We’ve tried to piece together a life from objects rather than from words.”

    The possessions, most of which have never been seen in public before, show “the complications and contradictions of his life, of his body, of his relationships, of his attitudes”, Farthing said.

    The exhibition, titled Larkin: New Eyes Each Year, opens on Wednesday and is the main celebration of the city’s most famous cultural son to be staged during Hull’s year as UK City of Culture.

    Image caption Revelations about Philip Larkin’s private life have made him a divisive figure

    To some, Larkin was Britain’s greatest 20th Century poet. But revelations about his unsavoury views towards race and women have tarnished his reputation for many.

    “It’s incredible that somebody who had such a contradictory and conflicted world and life managed to produce art that was so clean and clear. It’s made me appreciate the artistic work even more,” Farthing said.

    Many of the exhibits have come from the house where he lived before his death.

    Image copyright Danny Lawson
    Image caption He had a collection of Beatrix Potter ceramic figures
    Image copyright Danny Lawson
    Image caption And a figure of Hitler that he was given by his father

    There is his lawnmower, typewriter, stationery, camera, photographs and briefcase. There are 33 souvenir tea towels, some of which bear comic verses, and a “tree” made of 119 ties.

    “They all represent different aspects of his personality,” Farthing said. “We presume the past is black and white, but these ties are full of pattern and colour.”

    There are also exhibits shedding light on his relationship with his mother, including a rare recording of the pair in conversation and examples of the letters that he wrote to her every day.

    And there are also items relating to his lovers, including Monica Jones’s patterned pink dress and pink lipstick.

    Image copyright Danny Lawson
    Image caption The pants were found in his house after his death

    Different sides of his personality can be seen in his collection of ceramic Beatrix Potter characters, which go with his Beatrix Potter books; and a miniature Adolf Hitler figure, which was passed down from his father.

    And light is shed on more tawdry parts of his inner world. As well as the knickers, there are books with titles like The Rod and The Whip, rude doodles found drawn inside books, and pornography.

    “We did find some stuff which is top shelf material, shall we say,” Farthing says. “So we’ve put it on the top shelf and just drawn attention to it with a fairly innocent pair of pink knickers.”

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