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

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    In a collection that constantly defies expectation, the British poet offers a strikingly imaginative portrait of the Manchester in which he lives

    There are many ways of occupying a city and Michael Symmons Roberts, in his superb, substantial and intricately varied seventh volume, reminds us it is a complicated business: we live in cities imaginatively as well as actually. Sometimes, we are painfully adjacent, shallow-rooted, trying to take hold.

    This book offers only a notional portrait of the Manchester in which Symmons Roberts lives. It has become Mancunia, the city as it exists in his mind. This is his first collection since the masterly Drysalter, which won the Forward prize and Costa poetry award, and was, you might have reasonably supposed, an impossible act to follow.

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    From Botticelli to glossy magazines, women have been idealised and misrepresented for centuries. Performance poet Lydia Towsey reveals how her own near-fatal eating disorder set her on a path to explore new ways of looking at female bodies

    Botticelli’s painting of the Birth of Venus was the first female nude painted and exhibited life size, and in many ways the medieval blueprint for every covergirl to come. It was about the birth of beauty, sexuality and glamour. But what would happen if, instead of washing up on an ancient Cypriot beach on her magnificent scallop shell, the Roman goddess were to arrive naked and vulnerable on a UK beach in the 21st century? This question is the starting point for my show, The Venus Papers.

    It’s about lots of things – a theatrical performance combining poetry, humour, art, movement and music, in which I introduce Venus to my world. She encounters customs officers, tabloid newspapers, the male gaze, bars, Primark, life modelling, the perils of breastfeeding in public and something I’ve previously struggled to talk about in my work – the eating disorder I had for approximately seven years.

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    Exactly 350 years after it was published, Milton’s epic poem is causing controversy in Egypt. That’s not surprising, given its revolutionary message

    • Islam Issa is the author of Milton in the Arab-Muslim World

    Three hundred and fifty years to the month since Paradise Lost was published, John Milton’s epic poem continues to cause controversy. An academic who taught it in Egypt has been accused, by her own university, of spreading “destructive ideas” that have disturbed “public order … in an anarchic call disguised as a comparative literature textual analysis”. Most strikingly, she is accused of “glorifying Satan”.

    The 10,000-line poem, one of the most influential in English literature, displays the vanquished Satan’s attempt at revenge as he journeys through the universe towards Eden to tempt Adam and Eve, before all three are punished by God. But Milton’s portrayal of his most striking character isn’t what the Egyptian authorities think it is. While we may certainly feel sympathy for him and even admire his ambition, we also see his obvious and fatal flaws, not least entering a face-off against God that even he admits is unwinnable.

    Related: Paradise Lost 'translated more often in last 30 years than previous 300'

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    The US president’s almost primal language is a source of widespread amusement and horror. But some have begun exploring its aesthetic power

    “I know words … I have the best words,” Donald Trump once declared with his usual, braggadocious aplomb. For once, he may be right. Dreaded by transcribers and translators worldwide, Trump wields his lively, if limited, vocabulary like a rubber hammer; this is a man who uses “schlong” as a verb and whose babbling is too frequently leapt upon by pundits and despairing lexicographers: bigly, covfefe, the aforementioned braggadocious.

    But like his fellow wordsmith Shakespeare, Trump has produced a remarkable burst of something like poetry. There is Hart Seely’s Bard of the Deal, a 2015 book of poetry compiled from interviews, speeches, and tweets; at least two different collections called Make Poetry Great Again (one in Norwegian); and the forthcoming Bigly: Donald Trump in Verse by Cheers writer Rob Long. He has also inspired others to verse: A Hundred Limericks for a Hundred Days of Trump, Trumpetry, and the self-published Shit My President Says Poetry.

    I am the best1

    I predicted Apple’s stock would fall2

    Hot little girl in highschool6

    I’m a very compassionate person (With a very high IQ)7

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    Who is the real subject? Phiip Larkin, or the awkard librarian who occupies Mr Bleaney’s old room?

    This unusual novel is a metafictional tale set in the world of Philip Larkin’s poems, which takes its lead from that masterpiece of provincial unease “Mr Bleaney”. Awkward librarian Arthur Merryweather arrives in 1950s Hull to take up a job at the university, only to find himself occupying Mr Bleaney’s old boarding-house room, stubbing out his fags on the saucer-souvenir ashtray as he falls for beautiful Niamh. From the poem’s elements, Tulloch concocts a likable if daft knockabout involving an amorous landlady, a case of mistaken identity and an insurance scam devised by the mysterious Bleaney. But producing a compelling plot from references is a tricky job, and Tulloch doesn’t quite manage it, as the book devolves into a perfunctory tour of Larkin’s greatest hits. (“Come to Sunny Prestatyn. If only he fucking had.”) Tulloch gives us the sweary misanthrope of the letters rather than the more sage presence of the poems, but it’s never clear whether his real subject is Larkin or the hapless Merryweather. Any Bleaneyesque soul-searching is sacrificed for the gags.

    Larkinland is published by Seren. To order a copy for £8.49 (RRP £9.99) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

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    A privileged, arrogant poet who produced only one collection, Baudelaire has had huge influence in many spheres – and it continues 150 years after his death

    Pioneer poète maudit Drug-addicted, syphilitic, always in debt despite inheriting a fortune, writing about prostitutes, hanging out in Paris’s demi-monde, forced by judges to suppress some of his poems – Baudelaire set the bar high for future artists of all types keen to be “maudit” (cursed) outsiders too. Yet subsequent generations have done their best to mimic him, with the YBAs the most recent instance of hell-raising hedonism for art’s sake.

    Symbolist standard-bearer Symbolist writers across Europe took Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal as their inspiration as the 19th century turned into the 20th, and for some symbolism mutated into modernism. Eliot significantly borrows twice from him in The Waste Land (“hypocrite lecteur” is arguably its best phrase): poetry taking the contemporary city as its subject, as the French poet had demanded, but going beyond him in being formally radical too.

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    Gracie Starkey collects prize in Tokyo after her grass poem is chosen from more than 18,000 English-language entries

    A British schoolgirl inspired by an autumnal stroll across a newly mown lawn has become the first non-Japanese person to win a prestigious haiku competition.

    Gracie Starkey, 14, from Gloucestershire, beat more than 18,000 entries to take the prize in the English-language section of the contest organised annually by a Japanese tea company.

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    Ashbery, who won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for his collection, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, died at his home on Sunday of natural causes

    John Ashbery, an enigmatic genius of modern poetry whose energy, daring and boundless command of language raised American verse to brilliant and baffling heights, died early Sunday at age 90.

    Ashbery, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and often mentioned as a Nobel candidate, died at his home in Hudson, New York. His husband, David Kermani, said his death was from natural causes.

    Related: Poem of the week: Life is a Dream by John Ashbery

    Related: The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life by Karin Roffman – review

    I feel the carousel starting slowly

    And going faster and faster: desk, papers, books,

    I spent years exhausting my good works

    on the public, all for seconds

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    Daring to disparage comforting sentiment, this darkly witty poem addresses the ‘perpetuation of death’s lineage’

    And On What

    and on what
    presumption
    parents
    may one ask
    do you blithely
    give life
    act as catalyst
    for future
    generations
    grant your
    bodily urgings
    precedence
    over mind
    blind impulse
    sweeping
    reason away
    in a surge
    of preconceptions
    your creative juices
    frustrating inhibition
    obscuring
    the margin
    of error
    between
    your instinct
    for survival
    and your
    perpetuation
    of death’s
    lineage

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  • 09/04/17--05:49: John Ashbery obituary
  • One of the most influential American poets of his generation admired for his unorthodox use of language

    John Ashbery, who has died aged 90, was widely considered the most innovative and influential American poet of his generation. The critic Harold Bloom, who played an important role in establishing Ashbery’s reputation in the mid-1970s, declared: “No one now writing poems in the English language is likelier than Ashbery to survive the severe judgments of time.” Yet Ashbery’s work also frequently aroused controversy; his early volume The Tennis Court Oath (1962) was dismissed by one critic as “garbage”; and even after his 1975 collection Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror won the Pulitzer prize for poetry, the National Book Critics Circle award and the National Book award, catapulting him to stardom, he was not without doubters and detractors.

    Ashbery’s highly distinctive style has been widely imitated, and his elusive but compelling poems explored in numerous critical books, academic articles and PhD theses (of which I wrote one myself). From his very earliest experiments, such as Some Trees and The Painter, both written when he was only 21, to his prolific later years, Ashbery’s work presents a restless, supremely sophisticated imagination meditating self-reflexively on experience, creating in the process a “flow chart”, to borrow the title of his longest work, of the vagaries of memory and the fluctuations of consciousness.

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    I first met the famous poet, who died on Sunday, at Bard College in the late 90s. He taught me poetry can be anything, and that there is great freedom in that

    Enigmatic, confounding, genius, funny, unnerving, stunning, gay, mysterious. Poet John Ashbery died this weekend and the descriptions of him and his work are as varied as poetry itself. Reading through these diverse adjectives, I’m left thinking how beautiful it is to not be defined and yet to be so profoundly revered. For Ashbery, poetry is not about definitions or pronouns or intentions or genres. It’s not about telling a story that has a proper conclusion. It’s about what it is to experience – experience anything. His work says you don’t need to decipher the words, just experience them. Is there anything more valuable than that?

    Related: John Ashbery obituary

    That night the wind stirred in the forsythia bushes,

    but it was a wrong one, blowing in the wrong direction.

    No, now youve got me interested, I want to know

    exactly what seems wrong to you, how something could

    Im sitting here dialing my cellphone

    with one hand, digging at some obscure pebbles with my shovel

    Wed stopped, to look at the poster the movie theater

    had placed freestanding on the sidewalk. The lobby cards

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    The writer and broadcaster on a career ranging from Émile Zola to children’s poetry with wee-wee jokes

    Michael Rosen is a man ambushed by stories – his own and other people’s. He thinks he has published four books so far this year, though neither he, nor anyone from what turns out to be five publishers, seems sure. No sooner had he sent his latest, a hefty memoir, to press than a stash of family photographs emerged from a cupboard in the US, adding an irresistible twist to his life story, and that of his extensive tribe. The result, he cheerfully announces, is that the proof copy I have just read is already out of date as he has added a new postscript to the finished version.

    Related: So They Call You Pisher! by Michael Rosen review – style and humour

    It took a bit of time to realise the BBC were sacking me, and years to realise it was because I was on an MI5 list

    Zola’s passion was for truth and justice – if you’re passionate about truth and justice it will turn you on to politics

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    Ira Lightman is a man on a mission: to root out plagiarism in poetry. And his latest case is the most shameless yet

    The poet Ira Lightman stared at his laptop screen in disbelief. Could it be true? He was sitting on the sofa in his terrace house in Rowlands Gill, five miles south-west of Newcastle, a narrow man with a curly mess of dark red hair. He’d just made a routine visit to the Facebook group Plagiarism Alerts. There, a woman named Kathy Figueroa had posted something extraordinary: “It appears that one of Canada’s former poet laureates has plagiarised a poem by Maya Angelou.”

    Lightman clicked the link. It led to a Canadian government webpage where a poem had been chosen to honour the memory of Pierre DesRuisseaux, Canada’s fourth parliamentary poet laureate, who died in early 2016. The poem, it said, had been translated from DesRuisseaux’s French original. Lightman read the opening lines: “You can wipe me from the pages of history/with your twisted falsehoods/you can drag me through the mud/but like the wind, I rise.” The poem was called I Rise. Next, Lightman looked up the Maya Angelou. “You may write me down in history/With your bitter, twisted lies/You may trod me in the very dirt/But still, like dust, I’ll rise.” The poem was called Still I Rise.

    I have been bullied, victimised and abused by a number of ‘poets’ who thought it necessary to act like a lynch mob

    To begin with, it felt like some girls in a catfight, picking on the most glamorous and the most beautiful girl

    Related: The great rock’n’roll swindle – 10 classic stolen pop songs from Saint Louis Blues to Blue Monday

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    Alan Everett writes of residents ‘forced to watch lights at the windows … until floor by floor the darkness snuffed them out’

    The vicar of a church that became a focal point for survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire has turned to poetry to express the community’s pain and how the “dead black block” now dominates their lives.

    Father Alan Everett of St Clement church, close to the base of the tower, was moved to write after the church became a refuge for people escaping the fire and as a response to the ongoing trauma suffered by the local community.

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    Vicar of St Clement church near site of fire describes community haunted by ‘dead black block’

    I

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    An inventory of some of the themes included in his huge collection Hesperides, this is also a winning celebration of sheer abundance

    The Argument of His Book

    I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds, and bowers,
    Of April, May, of June, and July-flowers.
    I sing of maypoles, hock-carts, wassails, wakes,
    Of bridegrooms, brides, and of their bridal cakes.
    I write of youth, of love, and have access
    By these to sing of cleanly wantonness.
    I sing of dews, of rains, and, piece by piece,
    Of balm, of oil, of spice, and ambergris.
    I sing of time’s trans-shifting; and I write
    How roses first came red, and lilies white.
    I write of groves, of twilights, and I sing
    The court of Mab, and of the fairy king.
    I write of Hell; I sing (and ever shall)
    Of Heaven, and hope to have it after all.

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    The prolific children’s author of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt will answering your questions on Wednesday 13 September at 11.30am BST

    He may not know how many books he has written, but as the author of at least 200 picture books, novels, poetry collections and more, Michael Rosen can be forgiven for not knowing his entire catalogue of the top of his head. A former children’s laureate, his 1989 book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt has sold more than 8m copies in 18 languages and is now regarded as a classic.

    But as to be expected in a writer whose career spans from a biography of Émile Zola to viral poems about chocolate cake, Michael is man of many interests. He is a passionate political writer, with a column in the Guardian and a job presenting Radio 4’s Word of Mouth. Now a prominent supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, he also once stood as a Respect candidate in the 2004 London assembly election. His latest work, a memoir called So They Call You Pisher!, starts with his childhood in London with two parents who were prominent members of the Communist Party; losing his son Eddie to meningitis at the age of 18; and his drive, later in life, to become the family archivist and uncover all their old secrets.

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    Suffragette movement | Grenfell Tower fire | Megan McKenna | Eurovision | NHS

    The Women’s Social and Political Union may have started life in Manchester (Museum secures rare relic from the fight for women’s right to vote, 7 September) but the suffragette movement moved to London because, as Christabel Pankhurst said, politicians took more notice of “demonstrations of the feminine bourgeoisie than of the female proletariat”. Its committee rooms, once thronged with Lancashire mill hands, were now packed with ladies in silks and satins, not all of them as sensitive to the plight of their less affluent sisterhood as the champion of rational dress, Lady Harberton.
    Don Chapman
    Author, Wearing the Trousers: Fashion, Freedom and the Rise of the Modern Woman

    • Good on Father Alan Everett (‘Lights … signalling faint hope, until floor by floor the darkenss snuffed them out’, 11 September) for placing poetry at the heart of a devastated community and for also providing real practical help and assistance when the Grenfell Tower victims needed it the most. This is indeed a man who cares and has ensured that 14 June 2017 will stay in our minds forever.
    Judith A Daniels
    Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

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    Life begins at 50 for the acclaimed poet, who’s overcome a traumatic childhood in care. Next up: more theatre and television projects

    When I arrive at Benares, the Indian restaurant on Berkeley Square in London, Lemn Sissay has got there first and is on the way back outside for a smoke. I’ve never met Sissay, but he has the true poet’s gift for immediately making you feel like an old mate. We stand outside the Bentley showroom next to the restaurant – this isn’t any old curry house – and he explains with his broad grin why he chose to come here this particular day: “When you said the date for lunch, I immediately thought it had to be an Indian place!” he says, “Seventy years this morning since independence and partition – we couldn’t let that go by, could we?”

    Sissay’s own complicated heritage is Ethiopian, by way of foster and care homes outside Wigan, in streets where the only other outsiders were Indian or Pakistani. “Those Lancashire villages were incredibly hostile to the Indian community who had come in originally to work the mills at night because no one else would,” he says. “When the mills closed they opened shops that stayed open late and got worse stick for that. But the food they have brought to our country has changed our idea of food forever.”

    Related: Colm Toíbín: Brexit expats, Trump's Irish influence – and the right way to gouge an eye

    ‘I really am part of the family now, and I know it for a fact because they aren’t talking to me’

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    As a judge of this year’s Forward poetry prizes, the illustrator was inspired to create sketches for each of the poets on the best collection shortlist

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