Oxford Twentieth Century Verse

Poetry, to the rest of us. Every so often I’ll take a look at a book in the library that is not for sale. Sometimes it is not for sale because it means something, sometimes because it has no market value at the moment. This one was £1 (less than $2) and is worth perhaps a little bit more. But it looks nice on the shelf and means a little to me.


Is this a leather binding?Is this a leather binding?

Is this a leather binding?

Photos can lie. This one has been done on a very basic mobile phone camera, and I can see it looks leathery on my screen. It’s not, it’s cloth or board and there is no dust jacket. Not great for value, but it could trick you as an online buyer. Caveat emptor, said the Romans. With good reason.

So it has little to no value. Who even buys poetry any more? But look, who chose the poems? Yes, Larkin himself, best known as the librarian at Hull University, but he also wrote a few poems.


Chosen by the Bard of HullChosen by the Bard of Hull

Chosen by the Bard of Hull

Larkin was not from Hull, but Hull adopted Larkin. Hull, my home town. Could someone from Hull really become poet laureate? Not yet, so Larkin is as good as it gets for us.

Hull has a toad parade now. Larkin is represented by the toad. His poem, Toads, reveals that the toad is a metaphor for work and particularly office work. His work apparently consumed six days out of seven. If you add up the hours, most private sector office jobs consume the equivalent of 48 hours a week anyway. Plus commuting. Yes, work is the toad.

And so, a book with virtually no commercial value sits on my shelf. Discovered by me in a National Trust used bookshop, it sits alongside more valuable works. In my mind, if not in my pocket, it carries its weight.

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