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Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin review Alan Bennetts favourite poets

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Alan Bennett reveals far more of himself than he does of Hardy, Larkin, Betjeman and co in this nonetheless enjoyable anthology

In Alan Bennetts play The History Boys, there is a point at which the schoolmaster, Hector in what now seems a legendary performance by the late Richard Griffiths discusses Hardys poem Drummer Hodge and movingly reflects on how important it is that Hodge has a name. In the same scene, Hector observes: The best moments in reading are when you come across something (a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things) that youd thought special, particular to you and here it is, set down by someone else, a person youve never met.

Hodge resurfaces in Alan Bennetts anthology of six poets but what is absent is anything to equal Hectors emotional response. If Bennett feels any sense of wonder, it is undeclared. If moved by a poem, he tends not to mention it. This anthology is enjoyable, informative, entertaining but deflationary. The chosen half-dozen are: Thomas Hardy, AE Housman, John Betjeman, WH Auden, Louis MacNeice and Philip Larkin and each poem comes with a commentary. Housman, he tells us, was a pallbearer at Hardys funeral. This is one of the books rare, affecting details. Whats more, there is a rightness in having a neighbourly Hardy and Housman here Housman is Hardys poetic pallbearer too.

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