Philip Larkin’s place in the history of English poetry has been a matter of intense debate, but there is little doubt that Larkin was the most distinguished poet among that group of writers known as the Movement. Larkin claimed to have ‘no sense at all’ of belonging to a literary movement, but his work was widely regarded in the 1950s and 1960s as the most promising expression of a new set of thematic and stylistic preoccupations in English verse. Larkin’s poetry was anthologised with that of other Movement poets, including Kingsley Amis, Donald Davie, John Wain, Elizabeth Jennings, D. J. Enright and Thom Gunn, and these poets were grouped together in critical essays and reviews. Although the existence of the Movement has been treated with scepticism by some critics, and sometimes dismissed as a literary hoax or a journalistic publicity stunt, there is enough evidence in the poetry and prose of these writers to suggest a strong and genuine compatibility of interests. Blake Morrison, in the most authoritative account of the Movement to date, offers a compelling argument that, despite some obvious divisions and contradictions, ‘there was considerable agreement and interaction, and out of these was established a Movement consensus’.
It was in the pages of the influential London periodical the Spectator that claims on behalf of a new movement in English poetry in the 1950s began to appear. In a controversial review article, ‘Poets of the Fifties’, Anthony Hartley detected in the new poetry a prevailing outlook that was ‘distrustful of too much fanaticism, austere and sceptical’, and a set of stylistic preferences that included an avoidance of rhetoric, a cautious and subdued tone and a conversational idiom.