AMIS, KINGSLEY (1922-1995) AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT BY AMIS OF RIBALD VERSES ENTITLED 'THE WAY WE LIVE NOW', PURPORTEDLY SENT BY PHILIP LARKIN IN A LOST LETTER TO AMIS, [1987]
Lot 11
AMIS, KINGSLEY (1922-1995) AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT BY AMIS OF RIBALD VERSES ENTITLED 'THE WAY WE LIVE NOW', PURPORTEDLY SENT BY PHILIP LARKIN IN A LOST LETTER TO AMIS, [1987]
Sold for £1,375 (US$ 2,285) inc. premium
Lot Details
AMIS, KINGSLEY (1922-1995)
AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT BY AMIS OF RIBALD VERSES ENTITLED 'THE WAY WE LIVE NOW', PURPORTEDLY SENT BY PHILIP LARKIN IN A LOST LETTER TO AMIS, signed by Amis at the end 'Philip Larkin pp K. Amis', 10 lines in two five-line stanzas, with the instruction 'to be recited in a clear Welsh voice' and note at head 'In a letter to K.A. c. 1955', written out by Amis for Anthony Thwaite, Larkin's editor, 1 page, oblong small octavo, somewhat stained, no date [1987]

'I let a fart in the street and a woman looked round;
I pissed on the fire, and got myself covered in ash...'

Amis offered the verses, later writing out the present manuscript for him, to Anthony Thwaite in a letter dated 19 November 1987, when Thwaite was preparing his edition of Larkin's Poems (1988) with the suggestion that it be included ('You are, I take it, including The Way We Live Now? The little poem beginning "I let a fart in the street and a woman looked round" that I surely mentioned to you? If I didn't, let me know at once'). Thwaite subsequently told Zachary Leader that he did not include it because it existed only as an 'oral memory' of Amis's. The verses were later published by Amis in his Memoirs, 1991, where he attributed it there to Larkin with the comment: 'I remember, from one of the lost letters of probably the Fifties, a poem that shows him to have had a talent for light verse comparable with Bob Conquest.'

The most natural interpretation of the 'signature' at the end is that Larkin's name was 'signed' per procurationem or 'on behalf of Amis', who might thus have been hinting at himself as the author and that the verses are a spoof Amis wickedly tried to foist posthumously onto Larkin, with whom he shared the same outrageous sense of humour. Such a possibility may well have occurred to Anthony Thwaite himself (and is perhaps partly the reason he did not publish it).

It was, however, the chance discovery of an extract of a letter from Larkin to Amis dated 20 March 1980 (not included by Thwaite in his edition of Larkin's letters) being quoted very recently by Richard Bradford (The Odd Couple, 2012), though Bradford himself evidently did not understand what the point of it was, and does not explain or expand Larkin's contraction, which revealed that Larkin was indeed the author: 'Don't recall half the things you mention. If TWWLN is "I left a fart" God, deviating into sense. Eyelet a fart. Anyway, if it is, keep it under hatches. I am obscurely ashamed of it. Corrupt without being charming...' Reference back to Amis's printed letters revealed the otherwise enigmatic reference (not explained by Amis's editor Zachary Leader): '...Don't worry, I'm mum on TWWLN...'

The poem is published in the most recent edition of Larkin's poems (edited by Archie Burnett), citing Amis's Memoirs as its source. This manuscript is the primary source for the poem.

That the two writers were life-long friends (with a break) and that Larkin was the dedicatee of Lucky Jim (for instance) gives the manuscript a significance it would otherwise not have. Why Amis felt freed by Larkin's death to insist on the poem's publication when Larkin had so emphatically asked in life for its suppression is something to reflect upon.

No poetical manuscripts by Amis, or in his handwriting, have been sold at auction; the Location Register notes: 'Kingsley Amis disposes of his literary papers through "an American agency"'.

PROVENANCE: Anthony Thwaite; Bertram Rota.

REFERENCES: Kingsley Amis, Memoirs, 1991; The Letters of Kingsley Amis, edited by Zachary Leader, 2000; Zachary Leader, The Life of Kingsley Amis, 2006; Philip Larkin, The Complete Poems, edited by Archie Burnett, 2012; Selected Letters of Philip Larkin 1940-1985, edited by Anthony Thwaite, 1992; Richard Bradford, The Odd Couple: The Curious Friendship between Kinsley Amis and Philip Larkin, 2012.
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