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

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    On World Animal Day, novelist Henrietta Rose-Innes looks at some of the best depictions of this ‘crucial human task’, by James Herriot, Karen Joy Fowler and others

    Understanding how we engage with the creatures who share our planet seems to me a crucial human task in this dire portion of the Anthropocene. In my last two novels, I’ve pondered this in different ways. In Nineveh, human figures are literally overwhelmed by the multifarious beings that share the urban space with them (beetles, in particular). It’s about being in a relationship with the natural world, even if it creeps us out. My last novel, Green Lion, is a more sombre look at the other side of that coin: in a world rapidly emptying of species, we yearn for closer kinship with creatures we may never understand – and who we may well destroy before we get a chance to know them.

    Our interactions with animals are many and various, ranging from devotion to a pet goldfish, say, to the raw violence that take place in a dogfighting ring or factory farm. The relationships I’m drawn to, and have chosen to highlight below, are intimate, enigmatic and mostly benign, characterised by hopeful longing for communion with minds and bodies like but unlike our own.

    Related: Top 10 books about intelligent animals

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    Kaur’s verses on love, sex and race have made her the most revered – and reviled – of today’s ‘instapoets’. As a new collection The Sun and Her Flowers hits shelves, is the social media star a dark omen for poetry or a fresh voice in literature?

    Rupi Kaur has achieved a rare feat for a modern poet: mainstream popularity. Part of a new generation of instapoets– young poets publishing verse primarily on social media – Kaur, who turns 25 this month, pairs her dreamy, aphoristic poems with doodles reminiscent of those found in the margins of old school books. Kaur writes about love, sex, rejection and relationships, all topics common on social media, but she also deals with darker material: abuse, beauty standards, racism. Her debut collection, Milk and Honey, has sold 1.4m copies – so far – and she has 1.6 million followers on Instagram.

    But success often comes with a backlash, and for every ardent fan, there is a sneering keyboard critic. Her trademark fragmented free verse makes her easy prey for online sceptics. Their mimicry is often witty, and close enough to Kaur’s formula to sting: examples include “I wanted / Chick-fil-a / but / you / were / a Sunday morning” and “I understand / why guacamole is / extra / it is because / you / were never / enough.”

    there's a difference between
    someone telling you they're ordering pizza
    and them actually
    ordering pizza
    -rupi kaur

    this was one of the first poems i wrote after some rather tough circumstances in life. i kept blaming myself again. and again. and again. i'm not sure how i got out of it and i'm not sure if i have. but learning to forgive myself and begin loving me. even when everything within me told me no. was one of the first steps i took. hope your monday is giving you bliss ❤️

    Related: Verse goes viral: how young feminist writers are reclaiming poetry for the digital age

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    Like Kate Tempest and Inua Ellams, the Nigerian-born performer is breaking new ground with Coat, his tale of two cultures, told while he cooks up a stew on stage

    ‘It’s amazing how not-so-simple something simple can be.” This line, near the start of Yomi Sode’s show Coat, gains a fragrance and pungency over the hour like the tomato stew that he lovingly cooks up on stage, chanting its ingredients as he chops and stirs: “Olive oil, onion, tatashe, plum tomatoes, Maggi … and my secret ingredient.”

    He is preparing the stew for a meal with his mother while his child sleeps in a back room. What appears at first to be a simple act of hospitality darkens and deepens as he recounts the life story of a Nigerian like himself, who was transported to London at the age of nine. By the end, the meal has become a reckoning with his family’s expectations of him, and by extension with the social and racial identity of any 21st-century immigrant who finds themselves stuck between two cultures.

    Were it produced by a theatre company, it might have a four-week run, and be regarded as a play

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  • 10/05/17--10:27: Peter Howard obituary
  • My friend Peter Howard, who has died of cancer aged 60, performed with the poets’ group the Joy of Six. His published works included Low Probability of Racoons, Game Theory, one full collection, Weighing the Air (2007), and poems in magazines, anthologies and online. He won prizes and was second in the Arvon in 2000. Involved in many digital initiatives, he ran workshops on internet literature, and designed his own poetry generating programme, written in Javascript.

    When I first met Peter on a poetry course in Wales he had the aura of a successful professional in the real world. His career was high-end software programming, though we had to winkle that out of him – Peter was self-effacing to a degree and devoid of self-promotion.

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    The Flame collects unpublished poetry, as well as notebook entries and song lyrics, and offers ‘an intimate look inside the life and mind of a singular artist’

    A book of Leonard Cohen’s final poems, completed in the months before his death and tackling “the flame and how our culture threatened its extinction”, according to his manager, will be published next year.

    Describing the collection, The Flame, as “an enormously powerful final chapter in Cohen’s storied literary career”, publisher Canongate said that the Canadian singer-songwriter had chosen and ordered the poems in the months before his death in November 2016. The overwhelming majority of the book, which will be published next October, will be new material, it added.

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    Young rebel poets are bringing about a power shift in contemporary poetry and drawing a wider audience to the art form

    Forget page-turners and celebrity memoirs, Brits have rekindled their love of verse.

    More than a million poetry books were sold in the last year, the highest number on record, as the popularity of social media sensations such as Rupi Kaur continues to reinvigorate the art form. Sales are up 13%, to £10.5m, according to figures from Nielsen Book Research.

    Related: Rupi Kaur: the inevitable backlash against Instagram's favourite poet

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    A roistering comic satire, finding black comedy in the trenches, this is a spry dig at the lumbering machinery of war

    Pershing at the Front

    The General came in a new tin hat
    To the shell-torn front where the war was at;
    With a faithful Aide at his good right hand
    He made his way toward No Man’s Land,
    And a tough Top Sergeant there they found,
    And a Captain, too, to show them round.

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    Brian Sonia-Wallace was selected to pen poems at the Mall of America. In a shrine to consumerism, he regularly brought visitors to tears

    In March of 2017, I responded to a ridiculous post that a friend shared on Facebook.

    “Apply now! Mall of America seeks writer-in-residence to celebrate its 25th birthday!”

    This vision

    is about writing as connection – poetry as a service industry.

    We never stopped believing in faeries…

    we were lost boys, both of us

    There is no one

    I would rather

    Related: Big, bold … and broken: is the US shopping mall in a fatal decline?

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  • 10/11/17--02:37: Top 10 modern Nordic books
  • As a year-long festival celebrating the region’s writers gets under way in London, Icelandic novelist Sjón selects essential reading from the far north

    With the cold wave of Nordic literature crashing on UK shores over recent years and Danish, Swedish, Greenlandic, Finnish, Norwegian and Icelandic authors coming to the Southbank Centre in London this month for talks and readings, I am glad to suggest 10 books for those who want to prepare themselves.

    Some of the authors I choose here will be appearing at the Southbank Centre and some are featured in the anthology that I have edited with Ted Hodgkinson, The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat and Other Stories from the North. Others are to be found at all hours of day and night in their books.

    Related: Sjón: 'Behind my book lies another I will never write'

    Related: Sjón's top 10 island stories

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    Jill Bialosky’s Poetry Will Save Your Life was charged with extensive use of others’ writing, but peers say accidental repetitions ‘were not egregious theft’

    More than 70 authors, including Pulitzer prize winners Jennifer Egan and Louise Glück, have come to the defence of the editor and poet Jill Bialosky after she was accused of plagiarism, saying that Bialosky’s “inadvertent repetition of biographical boilerplate was not an egregious theft intentionally performed”.

    A scathing review of Bialosky’s memoir, Poetry Will Save Your Life, by the poet William Logan in the Tourniquet Review last week accused her of having “plagiarised numerous passages from Wikipedia and the websites of the Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation” when writing biographical details of poets including Robert Louis Stevenson, Emily Dickinson and Robert Lowell.

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    Don’t trust a woman who wears too much perfume and know your limits – Viv Groskop on the 10 top tips Chekhov, Tolstoy and others have for us today

    War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
    This is the five-page kernel of what Henry James called “the large, loose, baggy monster” (read from page 1,074 of the Penguin Classics edition). The character of Platon Karatayev, the everyman muzhik (peasant), pops up fleetingly to proffer a potato sprinkled with salt to Pierre Bezukhov and deliver the most important message of Tolstoy’s entire oeuvre: love your parents, have children of your own, bear your fate with acceptance and patience. And relish every mouthful of that salty potato.

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    As a huge projection over London’s Southbank Centre illuminates the wishes of the city’s displaced people, participants explain some of their stories

    Mohammed, a gangly 17-year-old who fled Syria with no hope of seeing his family again, dreams of being a footballer. Drita saw a side to humanity no 16-year-old should during her journey from eastern Europe. Now, she has pinned her hopes on becoming a teacher.

    Abu has a dream too. The 18-year-old longs to stand in his grandmother’s kitchen in South Sudan, mouth watering in anticipation of her cooking. It is a dream he has consigned to fantasy. “I can’t see me being able to go back,” he says.

    Four boys, hoodies up, ribbed each other, but another said: “I want to write poetry. I like it.”

    Related: Man Booker prize 2017 and poet Kayo Chingonyi – books podcast

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    To mark the centenary of Russia’s revolution, an energetic reflection on how to make similarly radical art in a startling Scots translation by Edwin Morgan

    Ay, But Can Ye?

    Wi a jaup the darg-day map’s owre-pentit –
    I jibbled colour frae a tea-gless;
    Ashets o jellyteen presentit
    To me the gret sea’s camshach cheek-bleds.
    A tin fish, ilka scale a mou –
    I’ve read the cries o a new warld through’t.
    But you
    Wi denty thrapple
    Can ye wheeple
    Nocturnes frae a rone-pipe flute?

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    Writer faces racist and vulgar posts on Facebook after her poem Mango is used as a sample text in Year 12 exam

    The head of the New South Wales education standards authority has said he is “appalled” after an Australian poet became the target of online abuse from high school students because one of her pieces was used in end-of-year exams.

    Ellen van Neerven, an Indigenous writer and poet who won the prestigious David Unaipon Award in 2013, became the unwitting target of angry school students on Monday after one her poems, Mango, was used as a sample text in the New South Wales year 12 higher school certificate English exam.

    The poem, and question. pic.twitter.com/qOR1h2NK72

    Students "venting" about Ellen must already know that "venting" is chatting to your friends, not @-ing an author on their personal accounts.

    These are not children, they are young adults who are presumably meant to go on to university after this exam. They are clearly unprepared.

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  • 10/17/17--05:23: Richard Wilbur obituary
  • US poet laureate, translator and Pulitzer prizewinner with the ability to touch unsettling truths beneath the surface in his work

    In 1957, when he won the Pulitzer prize for his third book of poetry, Things of This World, Richard Wilbur, who has died aged 96, was clearly one of the leading young poets in the US. He combined seemingly casual elegance with painstaking craft, and his ability to touch unsettling truths beneath the surface made him heir apparent to Robert Frost. Tall, handsome and as graceful as his poetry, Wilbur might have been cast as a poet by Hollywood. That his reputation never matched that of his mentor Frost was not due to any failing in his work, but to the times in which he lived.

    Wilbur’s ascent coincided with a sea change in the landscape of American poetry, a reaction to the academic strictness of “new criticism” in the 1950s, and to the highly structured poetry which it prescribed. The poet Donald Hall said, “the typical ghastly poem of the 50s was a Wilbur poem not written by Wilbur”. In this context, Wilbur’s extraordinary ability became somehow a liability. Even while praising a Wilbur poem as “the most nearly perfect any American has written,” Randall Jarrell complained that his poems “compose themselves into a little too regular a beauty”.

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    In a poem that has been widely shared by fans after his death, the comic thinks of his ashes being scattered in a bar – and getting a mention in the Guardian

    ‘Charming, soulful, a proper comic’: Sean Hughes tributes

    I want to be cremated

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    We’re bombarded by instant thoughts on everything. Luckily I’ve seen the future of poetry – and it’s bright

    “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off,” said the American poet Emily Dickinson, “I know that is poetry.” I’m not sure that’s exactly what happened to me last Sunday, but it wasn’t that far off. It’s 50 years since Ted Hughes started Poetry International. It’s nearly 30 years since it was resurrected on the South Bank Centre in London by the poet Maura Dooley. I worked with her on the festival in the 90s for several years. We met and heard some of the greatest voices in 20th-century poetry, from Hughes and Seamus Heaney to Derek Walcott, Sharon Olds and Octavio Paz.

    Related: Poem of the week: Ay, But Can Ye? by Vladimir Mayakovsky

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    At Sheba Feminist Press we published Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, The Cancer Journals, Our Dead Behind Us, and A Burst of Light: and Other Essays, writes Sue O’Sullivan

    RO Kwon’s review of a welcome new collection of Audre Lorde’s work (4 October) rightly highlights the late American writer’s relevance for today. But her assertion that Lorde was never published in the UK is wrong. At Sheba Feminist Press we published Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (UK 1984, republished 1990), The Cancer Journals (1985), Our Dead Behind Us (1987), and A Burst of Light: and Other Essays (1988). Sheba also hosted Lorde on her trips to the UK when many hundreds of women heard her speak. For a wonderful evocation of Audre’s impact as a writer and person, read Jackie Kay’s article in a recent edition of the New Statesman (30 September). When Zami was first published here, Jackie was working at Sheba.
    Sue O’Sullivan
    London

    • Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

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    Poet Solli Raphael from Coffs Harbour in New South Wales delivers an encore performance at the Australian Poetry Slam national final to a full house at the Sydney Opera House, becoming the competition's youngest winner yet

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    By tweeting Blake’s poem A Poison Tree without comment after her Weinstein allegations, McGowan has helped illuminate its complex meanings

    As the Weinstein scandal begins to look like a red pill moment for the film industry – revealing the widespread abuse that was there all along – the most startling intervention came from Rose McGowan, a defiant survivor of Weinstein’s alleged assault. Without comment, she tweeted the text of William Blake’s poem A Poison Tree, a stark, mysterious work whose complex meanings McGowan may actually have done more to reveal than anyone else in modern times. It begins with “I was angry with my friend/ I told my wrath, my wrath did end” and ends with a poison tree being grown, created by and feeding on the dammed-up rage and hurt at a powerful enemy that is not expressed, and watered by the false smiles that the victim has been compelled to put on, and eventually bringing forth an “apple bright”. I once studied that poem at university – but never understood it the way I do now, in McGowan’s fierce retelling: Eve’s revenge against the smug serpent-Adams of this world. From now on, English students reading Blake will also have to study McGowan’s exegesis of this poem, and the light it sheds on an aggressor’s poison entering the ecosystem and finally returning to its originator.

    pic.twitter.com/YXau4S0e3P

    Related: Take it from me - British TV and film are rife with sexual bullying | Arabella Weir

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