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Larkin exhibition invites fresh responses to poet's life and work

Larkin: New Eyes Each Year, an exhibition opening this week at the University of Hull's Brynmor Jones Library, offers a new way of approaching the life and work of Philip Larkin, who has been described as Britain's favourite poet.

Larkin: New Eyes Each Year is a creative, multi-sensory and immersive display of personal items, clothing, letters, photographs, drawings, music and film, which invites fresh responses to the complex and contradictory life of a widely admired artist whose biographical narrative has been much contested.

Most of the objects in the exhibition have never been shown in public. They focus on his domestic and personal interests, including ties, souvenirs, previously unseen photographs and his private book collection, which ranges from crime fiction to Beatrix Potter and is arranged in the order that they were found at his home.

There are garments worn by his muse and mistress Monica Jones, as well as himself. His relationship with friends, family and other women is also illustrated through the items he chose to collect, including three Super 8 films showing life at the library and a rare recording of a conversation with his mother, along with examples of the letters that he wrote to her every day.

Curated by Anna Farthing and designed by Craig Oldham, both of them award-winning in their fields, Larkin: New Eyes Each Year is presented by Hull 2017, the Philip Larkin Society and the University of Hull Archives.

The display takes its name from the Larkin poem, New Eyes Each Year, about books, a library and its visitors. The title reflects both the site responsive contextual approach they have taken and the invitation for new eyes to view Larkin’s work. Visitors are encouraged to become immersed in the images, sounds and artefacts that have been brought together.

Larkin: New Eyes Each Year invites questions from the visitor. It is an opportunity to consider Larkin’s sense of self and how he controlled his own image, reflected in his rarely seen letters, photographs and doodles.

We know that ordinary things were meaningful for him and he was a great collector of souvenirs and thoughtful about their placement. We invite visitors to investigate for themselves, to peek between the layers of our display, to recognise and question and to use their own imaginations. Anna Farthing, Curator

Curator Anna Farthing said: "Our commission was to surprise and our response has been to focus on Larkin's personal possessions, rather than his poetry or writing about him by others. We know that ordinary things were meaningful for him and he was a great collector of souvenirs and thoughtful about their placement. Therefore we invite visitors to investigate for themselves, to peek between the layers of our display, to recognise and question and to use their own imaginations. We hope that this experience will stimulate new responses to his much contested character as well as draw people to his legacy of poetic works."

Former Poet Laureate, friend and biographer of Larkin Andrew Motion said: "This original and subtle exhibition takes us almost unnervingly close to Larkin. As it generates a meaning for all manner of objects associated with him, it gives substance to the man himself; but at the same time, it reinforces our sense that elements of his personality and genius are bound to remain mysterious. This clever balancing is a great achievement, and provides a rare pleasure."

Although renowned as a poet, Larkin described himself as a librarian. It was in that role at the University of Hull, over a period of 30 years from 1955 to his death in 1985, that Larkin oversaw the design and construction of the university's Brynmor Jones Library. Larkin: New Eyes Each Year therefore has great resonance as a site specific exhibition within his building.

Throughout his life, Larkin lived among words in books, diaries, notebooks and letters.

When his house was cleared it was found to contain thousands of books. Over 3,700 of these, along with 11,000 letters and 1500 LPs are now conserved together with the university's archives in Hull History Centre.

Philip Larkin is one of the most renowned artists to have lived in Hull and we are delighted that this new exhibition is opening as a centrepiece of our Freedom season. Martin Green, Director of Hull 2017

Martin Green, Director of Hull 2017: "Philip Larkin is one of the most renowned artists to have lived in Hull and we are delighted that this new exhibition is opening as a centrepiece of our Freedom season. With Anna Farthing's very unique take on how to present from the thousands of objects that belonged to him, we hope that it will stimulate even more interest in the poet, whether you have read him or not."

Professor Eddie Dawes, Chairman of The Philip Larkin Society said: 'The Philip Larkin Society aims to promote interest in the life and work of Philip Larkin and is delighted to have been directly involved in the creation of this major new exhibition. We hope that the exhibition will both surprise and stimulate visitors and that many may wish to follow up their interest by joining the Society.'

Professor Glenn Burgess, acting Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hull, said: "Philip Larkin’s life and work continues to resonate in so many forms. While to many it is his poetry that endures, for us here at the University he has also left an unmistakable legacy in other ways, most notably that of our stunning library, which decades after his death remains the academic heart of student life. We look forward to seeing how this innovative new exhibition will inspire our students and visitors to take a fresh look at his complex character."

Larkin: New Eyes New Year open to the public on 5 July and runs until 1 October. It is free to visit.

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