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Though it has no dialogue, the poem opens with a quotation from an advert, “Come to Sunny Prestatyn”. In the 1950s, these would have been common, and people did indeed travel to Prestatyn for a weekend holiday. There aren’t many poems in this collection intended to shock and offend, but this one, like ‘Self’s the Man’ is one – though comical at the same time. From comic, however, the poem moves to sinister.
The presentation of perfection – the girl in the advert – focuses on her sexuality, using it, as adverts still do *grimace*, to promote Prestatyn. “Tautened white satin” for example, shows off her figure, her “thighs” and “breast-lifting arms”. “Behind her, a hunk of coast” puns on the duel meaning of “hunk” – both a ‘clump’ of something or a colloquial term for a male, as though by coming to this place, men, you’ll find a girl like this.
Yet, despite her obvious sex-appeal, “a hotel with palms / Seems to expand from her thighs,” as if she is giving birth to the hotel. The grotesque image adds humour to the poem. Similarly, “slapped up” puns on the idea of a ‘slapper’, slapping on make-up… For all her beauty, she is just whipped up without care, again, blackly comic.
After its light opening, the poem becomes much darker into the second stanza, through the layer of humour. “A couple of weeks” later, the perfect face is ruined by being “snaggle-toothed and boss-eyed” and with “huge tits”. Worse still, though, a “fissured crotch” was “scored well in” and “her legs held scrawls / That set her fairly astride / A tuberous crotch and balls”. The image of perfection hasn’t just been defaced, it has been violated – raped.
In the final stanza, there is a hint of violence in “Someone had used a knife” “to stab right through / The moustached lips of her smile”. Larkin concludes, “she was too good for this life”. Her perfection has been defiled… lesser humans have brought about her destruction. It shows what some men would do, if they could, to women – a bloody desire to destroy and conquer, intermingled into sex. Yet, considering the opening of the poem, and the grotesque nature of the image, was she “too good”, after all?
The poem concludes with an image of death. After “a great transverse tear / Left only a hand and some blue”, the poster is replaced by one saying “Fight Cancer”. This poster, perhaps, will survive longer than its predecessor. The idea of fighting a cancerous growth fits better with this society, who, as though possessed by a disease, cannot let perfection rest.