I had some kind comments about the lawns piece, although several people have asked me if the poetry of lawnmowing is quite as capacious a subgenre of English literature as I suggested or if I was exercising poetic licence. Well, apart from Douglas Dunn’s poem on Terry Street that has already appeared on these pages, and the examples provided by the commenters on the previous post that I didn’t know about, there is MacNeice:
While the lawn-mower sings moving up and down
Spirting its little fountain of vivid green,
I, like Poussin, make a still-bound fete of us
Suspending every noise, of insect or machine.
Larkin once wrote of McNeice in the New Statesman: ‘When we were young … his poetry was the poetry of everyday life, of shop-windows, traffic policemen, ice-cream soda, lawn mowers, and an uneasy awareness of what the newsboys were shouting. In addition he displayed a sophisticated sentimentality about falling leaves and cigarette stubs: he could have written the words of “These Foolish Things”. We were grateful to him for having found a place in poetry for these properties.’
And then of course there is Betjeman:
From out the Queen’s Highcliffe for weeks at a stretch
I watched how the mower evaded the vetch,
So that over the putting-course rashes were seen
Of pink and of yellow among the burnt green.
Andrew Motion has written a moving poem, ‘The Mower’, about his father, who seems to have been like Larkin in that he felt the mowing had to be done, and would manicure the lawn into ‘those trim swipes and hover sweeps’, but did it grudgingly.
Larkin really does write about mowing the lawn all the way through his letters. To Robert Conquest he wrote: ‘I've spent the weekend slaving away in my sodding garden, mowing and scratching up weeds. Anything that looks bright and positive I take to be a weed.’ Mowing the lawn doesn’t appear much in the recent Letters to Monica, however, because he only acquired a lawnmower shortly after buying his first house in 1974, when he had more or less stopped writing to his sometime companion, Monica Jones. Ironically, she inherited his lawnmower, which she in turn donated to the Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull, where Larkin was librarian.
There is, or was, a lawnmower museum somewhere. Raphael Samuel cites it in Theatres of Memory as an example of the vernacularisation of history. No doubt it is also mentioned in that anthology of English eccentricity, Bollocks to Alton Towers.