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

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    Encircling an eccentric city centre where medieval streets meet the modern world, this hulking piece of 1970s infrastructure is the subject of 27 poetry films celebrating its bizarre concrete beauty

    The urban landscape has long set literary imaginations on fire– but a ring road may not spring to mind as an obvious source of poetic inspiration. In Coventry, however, the overt orbicular oddness of the ring road and its nine junctions, each elbowing the city, has been celebrated in a collaborative homage to concrete and tarmac by nine poets and nine film-makers.

    “The ring road reminds me of a huge creature,” mulls Leanne Bridgewater, one of the poets involved in the Disappear Here project, dreamt up by local artist Adam Steiner. “The ring road has a great presence, not dissimilar to the old city walls,” reflects Steiner, “but driving on it reminds me of Scalextric!” The roller-coaster qualities of driving the road are legendary – you can complete the circuit in five minutes.

    Related: A tale of twin cities: how Coventry and Stalingrad invented the concept

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    My friend Norman Thomas di Giovanni, who has died aged 83, was an American-born writer and translator perhaps best known for his translations of the poems and stories of the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, with whom he worked closely.

    Norman was born in Newton, Massachusetts, son of Leo di Giovanni, a landscaper, and Pierina (nee Fontecchio), who worked in a factory. He attended Newton high school and then went to Antioch University to study Romance languages, graduating in 1955.

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    The South Korean poet mourns a departed mother in these elegiac poems, capturing the stillness and beauty in grief

    By Moon Taejun and Hannah Pang for Translation TuesdaysbyAsymptote, part of the Guardian Books Network

    As the editor of a world literature journal who’s read submissions across all genres for more than six years now, I’m always on the look-out for a certain cosmic echo when one piece of writing rhymes with another from a different continent, confirming our shared humanity. Last week’s poem by Portuguese poet Ana Luísa Amaral, addressed from mother to daughter, is perfectly answered by these elegiac verses by Korean counterpart Moon Taejun, mourning a departed mother and capturing a magnificent stillness.

    —Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief, Asymptote

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    (Restringing the Lyre)


    When the Ellingtonian composer/pianist Michael Garrick was driving a vibrant poetry-and-jazz movement in Britain in the 1960s, it wasn’t unusual to hear writers of the class of Ted Hughes and Laurie Lee declaiming in front of his bands. The phenomenon is a rarity now, but is revisited by another fine British composer/pianist here – Nikki Iles, with an elegant horn-packed octet led by bandleader John Williams (who commissioned this six-part suite), and the English poet Roger Garfitt, evoking the life of Shropshire novelist Mary Webb. Iles’s Westerly, a graceful staple of her repertoire (her talent for mingling jazz materials and traditional English music being one of her signature strengths) glides around Garfitt’s airy reflections on the hues of the Shropshire landscape. The Wedding Breakfast is lovely elegiac brass theme preceding the poet’s animated evocation of pre-welfare-state parish life. The Haunting – a reflection on Webb’s first world war novel Gone to Earth – is introduced by savage bass clarinet smears and a quote from Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth. Poetry declaiming with jazz embroidery isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but this is an imaginative and illuminating addition to the genre.

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    17 March 1977: Jackson spoke to the Guardian ahead of the opening of Hugh Whitemore’s play about the late-blossoming poet from Palmers Green

    Glenda Jackson met Stevie Smith on a poetry-reading platform in the 1960’s, when the poet from Palmers Green came into a late-blossoming fame. “This extraordinary little figure stood directly in front of me – which was odd, because people usually approach you at an angle – and I remember these eyes boring into me, and this grin, and a strange skirt and sandals and ankle socks. Then she romped on to the stage and did Not Waving But Drowning: and I thought, Well, lady, you’re not as strange as you look.”

    Now Glenda Jackson’s into the skirt, socks and sandals herself. She is Stevie in Hugh Whitemore’s play about the poet which opens at the Vaudeville next Wednesday.

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    Poems are an expression of the truth: they are the ideal antidote to a demagogue’s hoarse imperatives

    What does an anthology of poems do? It lets you – it makes you – experience in words the feelings of others. And then it makes you do it again. Open an anthology and you’re time-travelling. You’re also leaping from body to body, from mind to mind, letting other people speak through you. That in itself is a radical act – though we are fit for it. We’re mimicking animals. We learn to smile by imitating our mothers. And our mirror neurons fire not only when we see an action done, but also when we read about it being done. Reading poems, embodying in words a chain of apprehensions, is to know something of a particular writer’s way of being in the world. It says, “And there’s this.” We experience some part – lexically, chemically, electrically, emotionally – of what the writer felt. What knowledge could be more consoling - or more difficult to bear in mind?

    So much for the theory. In practice, an anthology begins as a pile of poems you’ve read over the decades and kept in a file in your drawer, and on your fridge, your bathroom mirror, your study door. When Don Paterson and I began putting together an anthology a few years ago, The Zoo of the New, the criterion we agreed on was whether a poem was “good enough”. As a definition, it’s obviously spectacularly useless. But it allowed us to choose only poems we loved, only poems that seemed capable of shaking us awake to some experience, only poems that were getting it down right in words. The remit had to be nebulous: we wanted to throw the net as wide as we liked. Part of the pleasure was sending poems to each other and finding one’s own enthusiasms (mostly) returned, and often magnified. Having said that, neither of us will ever get back the hours and hours on Skype spent arguing over certain poems and poets, certain stanzas, certain words, but it is done now – and since we only rather slowly and ineptly herded the thing together, I think we can say without undue pride that these are poems of brilliance from the last 600 years of the English language. We wanted a big, baggy book that could range as widely as life does, that changed, like life, without warning. Plenty of poems about the Eliotic brass tacks of birth, sex and death, but also poems about nothing, about being bored, about rubber boots, about hedgehogs and microscopes and gardens and dogs.

    Populism claims to love the people but of course it hates the individual, and poetry is one mode of opposing that

    Imagine if suffering were real.
    Imagine if those old people were
    afraid of death.
    What if the midget or the girl with
    one arm
    really felt pain? Imagine how
    impossible it would be
    to live if some people were
    alone and afraid all their lives.

    Once, in the cool blue middle of a lake,
    up to my neck in that most precious
    element of all,
    I found a pale-gray, curled-upwards
    pigeon feather
    floating on the tension of the water,
    at the very instant when a dragonfly,
    like a blue-green iridescent bobby pin,
    hovered over it, then lit, and rested,
    That’s all.
    I mention this in the same way
    that I fold the corner of a page
    in certain library books,
    so that the next reader will know
    where to look for the good parts.

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    Walcott, who died in Saint Lucia, was famous for his monumental body of work that wove in Caribbean history, particularly his epic Omeros

    The poet and playwright Derek Walcott, who moulded the language and forms of the western canon to his own purposes for more than half a century, has died aged 87.

    His monumental poetry, such as his 1990 epic Omeros, a Caribbean reimagining of The Odyssey, secured him an international reputation which gained him the Nobel prize in 1992. Walcott also had an accomplished theatrical career, being the writer and director of more than 80 plays that often explored the problems of Caribbean identity against the backdrop of racial and political strife.

    Related: Derek Walcott: 'The Oxford poetry job would have been too much work'

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    Tweets claim the US president’s quote to impress the Irish PM on the eve of St Patrick’s Day is a poem by a Nigerian poet – but is it?

    Did Donald Trump quote a Nigerian poet, thinking he was reciting an Irish proverb? Sorry to disappoint – but probably not.

    Appearing with Irish prime minister Enda Kenny on Thursday, Trump said: “As we stand together with our Irish friends, I’m reminded of that proverb – and this is a good one, this is one I like. I’ve heard it for many many years and I love it.

    Have literally never heard this in my entire life. https://t.co/3gSBhbvdl2

    With all due respect to the president's reputation for scrupulously checking his sources, I don't think this is an Irish proverb. https://t.co/1EvGGMsE9r

    "Irish Proverb" me hole. https://t.co/dWLregquCs

    We combed Yeats, Heaney, Kavanagh, Joyce. They google "famous Irish proverbs" and pick one from a Geocities page. https://t.co/CiJ7KVA0gT

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  • 03/17/17--09:45: Derek Walcott obituary
  • Nobel prize-winning poet who explored the cultural complexities of Caribbean life

    In a career spanning poetry, theatre, journalism, painting and teaching, Derek Walcott harnessed “the complexity of his own situation” – the phrase used by the Swedish Academy when he was awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 1992. Walcott, who has died aged 87, powerfully explored the cultural and linguistic complexities of the Caribbean, where each island has its own distinct melody and vocabulary, as well as those of his own life.

    He said that his work could be summarised on a postcard: “Wish you were here.” The poignant current of nostalgia that runs through his verse reflects his belief that Caribbean poetry is “very happy when it’s very sad”. Good Caribbean writing, he believed, has a strong sense of tragicomedy and a brave attitude. It does not despair easily. He described the region as a place of “unfinished associations”, bearing the amnesia that followed indenture and slavery. It is also “the territory of metaphor”, a fertile imaginative terrain, and Walcott’s work is accordingly full of symbolism, myth and folklore.

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    Emma Brockes (I do not like that Dr Seuss, 17 March) seems to have lost touch with her inner child. My own daughters had a Dr Seuss-free upbringing, but I recently bought a compendium for my granddaughters, aged three and four, and they have enjoyed The Cat in the Hat and The Cat in the Hat Comes Back so much that we haven’t yet got to the other three.

    “Have you tried to read these books? Aloud?” Ms Brockes asks. Yes, and they have a rip-roaring cumulative effect, enhanced by the wonderfully anarchic pictures. One or two lines are difficult to scan, but they can be made to work, and I have had as much fun reading the books as the girls have had listening to them. I am looking forward to introducing them to How the Grinch Stole Christmas, having seen the film.

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  • 03/18/17--04:00: The Saturday poem: Bluegrass
  • by Richard Osmond

    IM Earl Scruggs

    He played the banjo like a whiskey distiller
    slitting open a sack of grain:
    swiftly, with a workman’s knack, spilling gold
    in brilliant unquantifiable cascades.

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    James Runcie plans to rebalance programmes in drive to put more ‘creative voices’ on air

    With mathematicians, physicists and doctors dominating much of the airtime on BBC Radio 4, science coverage has never had it so good. But is it time to restore some balance?

    The talk station’s latest signing, the Grantchester novelist James Runcie, thinks so: “The renaissance in science shows has been remarkable. Now we really need to listen to a few more creative voices. Radio should be the perfect place to take creative risks.”

    We need to hear a bit more from artists themselves, rather than just other people talking about them

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    Cultural forms built with words were once all indistinguishable, but in popular culture they are again coalescing. Figures such as Chuck Berry and Derek Walcott were part of bringing them together

    The deaths of Derek Walcott and Chuck Berry prompt the question: what’s going to happen to poetry? In their very different ways, the two men worked on opposite sides of the great divide in reading that has grown up since the rise of amplified music. At least since the invention of printing, poetry has been written to be read in silence and perhaps in solitude. The rhythmic subtleties of Browning, Eliot, Graves and Walcott, too, all depend on the reader’s close attention to the voice they can only hear in their heads. This was not always or everywhere so; there are traditions of incantation and rhodomontade. Kipling and GK Chesterton could both write to a beat that pounds along, and the bouncy ones have been some of the most widely popular poets, but they have not often produced the words that readers have cupped in their hearts, lights sheltered from the wind.

    The pleasures of subtly rhythmic poetry depend on hearing the beat that is not played, the pattern that persists in absence, in the same way that music can only really be listened to by hearing the gaps between the notes. Omnipresent amplified music designed to be half-listened to, along with the general noisiness of contemporary life, blunts our ability to hear anything not made explicit, and when that goes much of the traditional skill of reading vanish with it. Poetry is, at the very least, language sharpened to its finest edge. There should be no spare words in a poem any more than there should be any missing. Much of the bad poetry of the past, which is not so much unread as almost impossible to read today, violates these rules and won’t be missed when it is completely forgotten. But what about the good stuff that may also be forgotten?

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    In a meditation on the sea, this scrupulous poet strives to imagine the limits of images and their relationship to language

    Dreams and systems; humble wishes;
    myths that sustain because venerable;
    even a walk along the promenade
    might do, undertaken regularly.

    Related: Poem of the week: On the Mountain by Lavinia Greenlaw

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    In August 1972 I was wondering whether I could afford to go to the London Rock and Roll Show at Wembley. A pantheon of performers had been booked, including Bill Haley, Bo Diddley and the unholy trinity of Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry (Obituary, 20 March). Two days before, I was overjoyed to be asked to work as assistant director on the recording of the concert. As the night drew in we became aware of a dispute between a somewhat temperamental Little Richard and a calmer Chuck Berry, sitting alone in his hired Rolls Royce, parked under the stadium. Messages were rushed back and forth.

    Eventually it was Chuck Berry who topped the bill. His set of classic rock’n’roll numbers was explosive, and to roars from the crowd he entertained us all, and me on the side of the stage, with his crouching, hopping strut. He was enjoying himself so much that he had to be reminded that the entertainment licence had expired and he had to leave the stage. He refused, to loud applause. The microphones were disconnected while terse negotiations were held. A minute or two afterwards the sound was restored to further cheers and half an hour later he ended an unforgettable day, and for me sealed his position as the king of rock’n’roll.
    Gerry Harrison
    Ennis, County Clare, Ireland

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    Wigmore Hall, London
    Two new works and a London premiere, alongside revisits to three other pieces, rode the spectrum from elegant and concise to dark and ruminative

    There were three premieres – two world, one a first for London – in the latest edition of the Nash Ensemble’s annual showcase of contemporary British music, as well as return visits to three other pieces premiered by the group, by Huw Watkins, Colin Matthews and Julian Anderson.

    The work being introduced to London was Peter Maxwell Davies’s A Sea of Cold Flame, completed in 2015. It proved to be his final setting of George Mackay Brown, whose poetry had been so important in shaping Davies’s music when he first settled in Orkney in the early 1970s. A baritone soloist (Roderick Williams here) is shadowed by a solo cello (Adrian Brendel) and supported by a string quartet, weaving the three Mackay Brown poems, about the harshness of Orkney life, into a continuous sequence, and at one point dissolving into wordless humming of a curiously aimless melody.

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    As someone whose family fled their homes for England’s Midlands 70 years ago, how do I embrace my own Britishness in a time of imperial nostalgia?

    On 14 August 1947, my grandparents fell asleep in one country and awoke the following day in another. While they slept, the ground under them, the plains between the Chenab and the Ravi rivers, where they and they families had lived for hundreds of years, became Pakistan. But until that moment, what had their homeland meant to them? Theirs was not a country but a colony. Home was on the rural edge of Lyallpur, a town near Lahore named after a lieutenant governor of Punjab, conquered by a country they had never seen: Britain. Even if they wished to forget their rulers they could not. Lyallpur was modelled on the British union flag. From a central panopticon-like clock tower, eight thoroughfares unfurled, divided and ruled.

    When notice of partition was given, a British civil servant quietly drew up western and eastern national borders with little compassion for their citizens’ sense of history or their memories. Some of my grandparents’ neighbours, Hindus and Sikhs, loaded their homes on to their backs or oxcarts and walked east, fearing violence. My grandfather, an English teacher and farmer, stood on his roof and watched in disbelief as riots began. As houses around him burned, he refused to leave.

    A ghostly absence fills the space where we feel unable to return

    Related: National borders cross a line of decency: we should all be citizens of the world

    When you sense that you are alone, it does not mean that you feel inferior, but rather that you feel you are different. Also, a sense of inferiority may sometimes be an illusion, but solitude is a hard fact. We are truly different. And we are truly alone.

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    Catherine Heaney remembers gatecrashing her poet father’s kitchen photoshoot

    This picture was taken when I was six years old. The photographer, Geray Sweeney, had come to our home in Dublin to take a portrait of my father for an exhibition on Northern Irish poets. I happened to be in the kitchen with my jar of bubbles as she was setting up, and she just started shooting. Clearly nothing was going to distract me from my task.

    I don’t recall the occasion, but, looking at the photograph now, I have an almost physical memory of everything I’m wearing or touching. The beaded necklace was a gift from a family friend and I still have it in a jewellery box somewhere. The cardigan was knitted by my mum and was a bright, cherry red. But most of all, I remember my green bubble pipe. It made big, luxuriant bubbles – far superior to the little ones you’d get from the wands in bottles. My brother says it looks like a crack pipe.

    Related: ‘As a young footballer, it was something you dream of’: the day my school team beat QPR

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    by Les Murray

    Now the milk lorry is a polished submarine
    that rolls up at midday, attaches a trunk and inhales
    the dairy’s tank to a frosty snore in minutes

    but its forerunner was the high-tyred barn of crisp mornings,
    reeking Diesel and mammary, hazy in its roped interior
    as a carpet under beaters, as it crashed along potholed lanes

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    New Nottingham festival founded by Henry Normal joins boom led by Kate Tempest and John Cooper Clarke

    Against all publishing predictions, poetry, so long the Cinderella of literary forms, is back. Verse of all kinds is being celebrated across Britain in what readers and poets are now feeling confident enough to call a genuine renaissance.

    The new popularity centres on contemporary and performance poetry and the evidence is not just in the demand for tickets to see stars of the scene, such as the award-winning Kate Tempest or the veteran punk poet John Cooper Clarke, but in high sales in bookshops and in the extraordinary proliferation of regional poetry festivals. Poetry book sales have gone up by more than 50% in four years, while there are now more than 30 annual events devoted to celebrating spoken and written verse.

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