Thursday, August 24, 2006

Born Yesterday

I enjoyed reading Helen Rumbelow's piece in the Times quoting from Larkin's "Born Yesterday," a poem written for the birth of Kingsley Amis's daughter Sally. Is it harder for girls to be anything other than "ordinary"? I'm sitting here listening to Joni Mitchell's wonderful live album "Miles of Aisles" and Mitchell is one - along with Patti Smith - who convinces in the idea of female genius; and genius in a very particular way: that of the genius individual, whose single-minded view of the world is what stands out, time and time again. Larkin wishes that Sally "may be ordinary; have, like other women an average of fact, may you be dull." (it's in "The Less Deceived"). As always with Larkin, I think you have to be careful not to take him entirely at face value. I think, rather than being a slight on women, this is Larkin envying, not the fact of being "ordinary", but that it is (or was) allowable. He spent much of his life being asked to provide more than he felt he could ever provide, and probably loved the thought of low expectation. But as Rumbelow says, he wouldn't have wrote that poem about Kingsley's son Martin, no way. Of course, as every year's exam results prove, expectations keep getting higher. It would be facile to wonder why the early 70s might give us Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell, Anne Waldman, Adrienne Rich and Margaret Atwood, and wonder where their equivalent's might be today. Facile, because you may as well ask where's the new David Bowie? (instead, we get Russell Brand and Pete Doherty).

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