Dispatches

Larkin in the Middle Kingdom

They fuck you up, your poetry teachers – Elyse Weingarten

When I entered the classroom, I expected it to be abuzz with joy. Instead, the students filed in silently, looking at their phones until class began, and then remained characteristically taciturn. It was my second year living in Beijing and teaching at a university. For weeks, I had been looking forward to teaching British poet Philip Larkin’s ‘This Be the Verse’ to the Chinese undergraduate English majors in my creative writing class. They had read the poem as part of their assignment before the class. I had assumed they’d delight in the poem’s mischievousness and musicality, like so many of their Western counterparts before them. I thought I’d finally elicit enthusiasm from them. I couldn’t have been more mistaken.