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Latest news and features from theguardian.com, the world's leading liberal voice

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    (Westwords Publications)

    Five months on from Forgotten Kingdom, one of the finest singers in the English folk revival returns with another adventurous album, again inspired by his west country roots. But this latest set follows the same formula as his 2013 project Cyprus Well, his tribute to the much-loved Cornish poet, his relative the late Charles Causley. Jack Clemo, who died in 1994, was a close friend of Causley, and mixed religious themes with atmospheric descriptions of Cornwall’s bleak china clay mines, in poems that are far harder to set to music. Many of the songs twist and turn, to follow the verses, in finely sung, complex pieces backed by Jim’s piano. Christ in the Clay-pit is treated as a drifting hymn, and he shows his gift for sturdy, folk-influenced melodies on The Harassed Preacher, or with his up-beat backing to the spoken poems, read by Clemo’s biographer, Luke Thompson.

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    Langley Bush, Cambridgeshire A bronze age grave, Roman shrine, gibbet mound, parish marker, gypsy haunt - centuries of decisions and deaths right here

    Odd, the durable significance of some places. You can understand a mountain or cliff or sprawling forest – places that awe the eye on the ground, horizon or map. More enigmatic are the little places. Slid away, unremarkable but exquisite in appearance or legacy, for reasons frequently forgotten but strangely lingering.

    This one, historically, a bronze age grave, then Roman shrine, then outdoor court, place of execution, parish marker, gypsy haunt, poet’s muse. Today, the name of a road and the title of a plaque. This is Langley Bush, lost in a field near Peterborough.

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  • 07/30/16--03:00: The Saturday poem: The Will
  • by Bernard O’Donoghue

    When they discovered that my grandfather
    was going, unexpectedly, to die young
    of meningitis, they naturally set about
    ensuring that his wife would not inherit
    the farm. They assembled a group of solid men –
    as they might have for the threshing: his brother
    who lived south on the mountain;
    a shrewd solicitor; and a man from Doon
    with a good hand who often testified to wills.

    There was another witness whose existence
    I know from no other evidence: my father’s
    Uncle Michael. I suppose he emigrated
    to the States or Canada, where – I suppose again –
    he was set upon at his arrival
    for the few pounds sewn inside his coat
    and dumped into the sea, or maybe shunned
    because of the disease he carried
    and left to die in the plague sheds of Grosse Île.

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  • 07/31/16--09:02: Yves Bonnefoy obituary
  • French poet and essayist who believed in the sacredness of the here and now

    “I would like to bring together, almost identify, poetry and hope.” So wrote the French poet Yves Bonnefoy, who has died aged 93. Poet, essayist, art and literary critic, translator and editor, Bonnefoy sought throughout to make clear the ground on which this hopefulness was to be built.

    Over the course of more than 60 years of writing, he never ceased insisting that happiness and fulfilment were not to be sought in some other world, but rather in the here and now of our earthly condition and in the simple realities that all people share. His poetic project was profoundly spiritual, but it was atheistic. “The really modern act,” he wrote in his 1961 book Rimbaud, “is to want to found a divine life without God.”

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    Writing evocatively about Langley Bush (Country diary, 29 July), Simon Ingram mentions the shrub planted by the John Clare Society to replace the hawthorn whose ruthless removal had so upset John Clare. This summer the society commissioned three new trees to be planted in Swaddywell Pit, another of Clare’s haunts, as part of the oak planting scheme initiated by the Langdyke Countryside Trust.

    The first tree is in memory of Clare himself; the second is dedicated to Edmund Blunden, who did so much to bring Clare’s poetry to a 20th-century audience. The third is in honour of Dr Ronald Blythe, who was the beloved president of the society from its inception in 1981 until his retirement last year.
    Dr Valerie Pedlar
    Chair, John Clare Society

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    Moving in sudden flickers and flashes, this is a character study as elusive as its governing reptilian image

    You, Lizard-like

    expert at loss, loyal to none,
    slip into unknown spaces, claws
    digging quickly in, out. You disappear
    between things and survive.

    Related: Poem of the week: The Dogs by Sam Buchan-Watts

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    Novelist, poet, TedX speaker and now rapper – Musa’s way with words and sentiments deserves to be heard on any forum he chooses

    There’s not much in the way of hip-hop alumni from Queanbeyan, NSW. Even fewer with legitimate claim to being a critically acclaimed, award-winning novelist, a slam poetry champ, a lauded TedX speaker, an ambassador for the Emerging Writers Festival, and a semi-regular guest on ABC’s The Book Club.

    The 32-year old Malaysian-Australian Omar Musa is all those things. Does he need to rap as well?

    Related: Omar Musa, Australia's star slam poet, brings 'in-betweener' perspective to US

    “There was beauty in the streets. You could see it everywhere. In fishtails and donuts, the silver cursive that slanted off tyres. In spraycan fumes and opals of oil, in kickflips and crossovers, cuts and kebab shops. In sneakers that cluster-hung like grapes on powerlines. And in that – something.”

    Related: Here Come the Dogs by Omar Musa review — street poetry committed to the page

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    When Kate Clanchy began teaching the children of refugees, she sought out those silenced by trauma and loss. Their weekly sessions released a torrent of untold stories

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    by Denise Riley

    I try to find you, yet you are not here.
    I’ve studied absence, fought to fill it in –
    courage comes easier with a grasp of why.

    A secret’s camouflaged when unconcealed.
    I chose to not see/saw the thing too near?
    Absence turns thicker, muscled by its strain.

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    Ahead of a new film about Robert Bly, Mark Rylance recalls how the poet helped him to live with loss

    I was raised in Milwaukee up to 1978, when I was 18. My father was an English teacher, so I must have come upon the American poet Robert Bly through him. But the first time I remember meeting him was after a performance of Hamlet in 1989.

    I felt a sense of excitement, and a certain nervousness. He had this penetrating ability to see what was going on, and he didn’t have any shyness about saying it. Robert was there the first time I went to a men’s gathering, organised under the auspices of wild dance. There were 90 men gathered, and it was remarkable. I think I got a bit relaxed back in a cabin after a session, and I called him Bob. I can’t imagine why. I remember him turning to me and saying, “You’re going to have to call me Robert.”

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    A wry, pastoral fantasy aimed at romantic types, this all-but forgotten poem irresistibly recalls one of the most famous. And arguably outdoes it

    OH! If the winds could whisper what they hear,
    When murmuring round at sunset through the grove;
    If words were written on the streamlet clear,
    So often spoken fearlessly above:
    If tell-tale stars, descending from on high,
    Could image forth the thoughts of all that gaze,
    Entranced upon that deep cerulean sky,
    And count how few think only of their rays!

    If the lulled heaving ocean could disclose
    All that has passed upon her golden sand,
    When the moon-lighted waves triumphant rose,
    And dashed their spray upon the echoing strand:
    If dews could tell how many tears have mixed
    With the bright gem-like drops that Nature weeps,
    If night could say how many eyes are fixed
    On her dark shadows, while creation sleeps!

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  • 08/09/16--03:47: Poster poems: fear
  • From the personal to the global, there is an uneasy abundance of things to be scared of at the moment. Dare you face up to some in verse?

    Fear is all around us at the moment. Every time you read or listen to the news it’s another story of terror, one way or another. And it’s not limited to the bigger stories of bombing, shooting or Donald Trump; we are learning to fear the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Golfers fear Zika in Rio, so decline invitations to play at the Olympics – then, the virus turns up closer to home. Black Americans fear those whose job it is supposed to be to protect them, while the police fear toys and telephones.

    It can feel at times like we’re living through the hopeless hell of James Thomson’s City of Dreadful Night, where fear permeates everything, even its half-hearted denial in the line “No hope could have no fear”, a kind of desperate whistling in the dark. Thomson’s poem is a foreshadowing of The Waste Land’s ominous swarms of London pedestrians and Eliot’s offer to show the reader “fear in a handful of dust”.

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    The $50,000 prize will honour a living international author whose work is ‘of enduring originality and consummate craftsmanship’

    A new $50,000 (£38,500) literary prize for international authors, intended to recognise the “spirit of Vladimir Nabokov” and described as “a welcome counterbalance to rampant xenophobia and increasingly jingoistic provincialism”, is being launched in the US.

    The PEN/Nabokov award, supported by the Vladimir Nabokov Literary Foundation, replaces another award with the same name but a different remit. It will go to a writer born or residing outside the US, either writing in or translated into English to honour “an outstanding body of work over a sustained career”. PEN America said on Thursday that the prize’s judges would be looking for a writer in the field of nonfiction, poetry, drama or fiction whose body of work “evoke[s] to some measure Nabokov’s brilliant versatility and commitment to literature as a search for the deepest truth and the highest pleasure”.

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    Towers’s beautiful second collection takes flower remedies and imagines how each plant would deal with the malady it was supposed to correct

    How often is a poetry collection a collection? It is a rare thing for every poem to get on with its neighbours, but one of the pleasures of reading Katharine Towers’s beautiful poems is that they belong together. I kept thinking, as I read, of Shakespeare’s word for herbs and flowers: “simples”. These are simples, remedies for the eye and mind. And yet the opening poem, The Roses, is an unusual mixture of peace and violent emotion. The roses are the medium through which Towers remembers her father and conjures him for an impossible, unpruned moment, back to life. Later in the collection – the two poems placed like symmetrical windows – she imagines her mother alive, only to let her go and, in a sense, become her mother herself – part of what it is to mourn a parent.

    This is Towers’s second collection (her first was longlisted for the Guardian’s first book award). And there is so much to praise about the writing: clarity, generosity and grace. There are no barriers between poem and reader. Individual verbs give a frisson of pleasure because they are exactly right: frost “enunciates” the day, an enormous cloud “lolled” against a hill, the sea is “rummaging” to find weaknesses in the cliff. She knows less is more. Reading between the lines is our fine task, listening to what is not quite spoken. And as a linguist (there are a couple of splendid poems about translation) she is interested in the limbo between languages, the teasing nature of the apparently inexpressible.

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    This sketch of a drowsy domestic scene is also a complex meditation on the deep structures of perception

    Backyard, Hoboken, Summer

    The sun beating on his brain
    And a cat slouching on the woodpile
    And flies nauseous with heat

    Related: Poem of the week: The Sorrow of Love by WB Yeats

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    Music meets myth in Oswald’s dreamlike visions of a West Country landscape

    The first thing to say about Alice Oswald’s eagerly awaited book is that it does not disappoint. Her characteristic, Ted Hughesian voice is in full song. Once again she delivers us from the quotidian, and offers instead a West Country landscape that is sometimes dreamlike, sometimes pure dream, and is always “sliding at the speed of light straight […] on to the surface of the eye”.

    The second thing to say is that Falling Awake really is a poetry collection. No other contemporary poet of note has proved as resistant as Oswald to the charms of this form; no other British poet writing in the lyric mainstream has managed to dodge its specific constraints so successfully. Since her crystalline debut, 1996’s The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile, she has published two book-length river poems, an album of flower poems, the astonishing performance piece Memorial about Homer’s dead, and just one further, relatively slight “straight” collection. This restless experimentation has more in common with North American poets such as Claudia Rankine than with anyone else writing in the UK.

    Related: Alice Oswald: ‘I like the way that the death of one thing is the beginning of something else’

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    The poet’s early years of rejection and isolation left him with emotional scars, but it helped shape him as an artist. As his new collection is published, he talks about growing up and finding his voice

    Lemn Sissay arrives at the Shoreditch club, where we have arranged to meet, late, apologetic and exuberantly present, with a warmth that makes me feel, straight away – although I have not met him before – as if he were a friend. And, as we go up in the lift, I reflect that he has every reason to feel on a high. Gold from the Stone, a tremendous selection of his poetry “from age 16 to now” (he is 49) is about to be published. The night before our meeting, he was presenting a prom at the Albert Hall, in front of 6,000 people. Last year, he beat Peter Mandelson to be elected Chancellor of Manchester University. And this is a man who spent his teens in care – and left school at 15 with one GCSE and two CSEs. He has performed to FA Cup fans. He was poet of the 2012 Olympics. He has had his poems sculpted in granite and built on concrete. He has an MBE for services to literature. He has launched poetry projects for care-leavers. His gift as a writer – of plays, poetry, documentaries – is for turning life’s base metal into gold. The list goes on… but the lift’s doors are opening.

    Taking on a black baby was, he believes, for his foster parents, an act of advanced Christian charity

    Soon I’ll be performing in New York, a few hundred yards from where my mum lives in Manhattan. I’d love her to come

    I almost wish he would give less of himself away. He is one of the most unguarded people I have ever met

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    In plain free verse, the dissident Moroccan writer records both the damage done by a repressive regime and his love for his late mother

    My Mother’s Language

    It’s been twenty years since I last saw my mother
    She starved herself to death
    They say that each morning
    she would pull her headscarf off
    and strike the floor seven times
    cursing the heavens and the Tyrant
    I was in the cave
    where convicts read in the dark
    and painted the bestiary of the future on the walls
    It’s been twenty years since I last saw my mother
    She left me a china coffee set
    and though the cups have broken one by one
    they were so ugly I didn’t regret their loss
    even though coffee’s the only drink I like
    These days, when I’m alone
    I start to sound like my mother
    or rather, it’s as if she were using my mouth
    to voice her profanities, curses and gibberish
    the unfindable rosary of her nicknames
    all the endangered species of her sayings
    It’s been twenty years since I last saw my mother
    but I am the last man
    who still speaks her language

    Related: Poem of the week: Skins by Patience Agbabi

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  • 08/22/16--10:01: Peggy Poole obituary
  • “How we spent a lifetime dying / raised our glasses clowning / lest anyone should mark / that we were lost, crying / in the dark.” These lines from her poem On the Death of Stevie Smith show the solemn side of my mother, Peggy Poole, an award-winning poet and broadcaster, who has died aged 91.

    She was best known as an unstinting champion of emerging poets: “Without her, I wouldn’t have written poetry,” one of them said. Another explained: “She opened the door to publication.”

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    Renée Watson and other artists want to turn the historical Langston Hughes house into a not-for-profit collective to preserve Harlem’s cultural legacy

    All that signifies the legacy of a house once occupied by the poet laureate of Harlem is a small bronze plaque, partially covered by a cedar tree’s branches and the green ivy that envelops much of the building.

    The onetime home of Langston Hughes has sat largely unoccupied for years, but a new movement is trying to reclaim, for a next generation of artists, the space of a man who is forever intertwined with the Harlem Renaissance.

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