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

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    Are you lonely, nervous about Christmas or frustrated with relatives? William Sieghart of the much-loved Poetry Pharmacy will be in to prescribe you a poem for your problems on Friday 15 December at 1pm GMT. Post your requests in the comments below

    One day as he was crossing a street, National Poetry Day founder William Sieghart saw a man be hit by a car. After getting his heart beating again, William was left with blood on his hands – and a poem in his head: Ambulances by Philip Larkin. It did not comfort him, but it offered complicity, William says: “Poetry is not a lullaby. Poems help you feel you are not mad, that what you are going through has been experienced by others.”

    Motivated by his wish to “get people to drop their fear of the P-word”, William began setting up a tent at literary festivals with two armchairs and a prescription pad and allocated visitors 10-minute slots. Hours later, people would still be queuing to get their poem – and have their stories and feelings heard. After collecting poems to help people with everything from feeling overwhelmed by news to sexual repression, from loneliness to romantic boredom, William published The Poetry Pharmacy: Tried-and-True Prescriptions for the Heart, Mind and Soul.

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    What the critics thought of Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey; Jaron Lanier’s Dawn of the New Everything: and Artemis by Andy Weir

    Emily Wilson’s translation of TheOdyssey is “[a] literary event; it is the first published English translation of the epic by a woman”, wrote Helen Morales in the Times Literary Supplement. “She translates the poem through a politically progressive lens … in a way that resonates with today’s politics. Her translation, spare and provocative, will engage a new generation of students.” Nilanjana Roy in the Financial Times also thought that Wilson “tells the old story for our modern times ...” and found the translation “radical”: “Wilson’s Odyssey feels like a restoration of an old, familiar building that had over the years been encrusted with too much gilt … She scrapes away at old encrusted layers, until she exposes what lies beneath.” The New York Times’s Gregory Hays was another fan: “To read a translation is like looking at a photo of a sculpture: It shows the thing, but not from every angle. Like every translator, Wilson brings out some features more clearly than others. But altogether it’s as good an Odyssey as one could hope for”, he wrote.

    Dawn of the New Everything: A Journey Through Virtual Reality describes our technological present and its author Jaron Lanier’s personal past. “It’s about technology and the way the brain works. It’s about how virtual reality actually functions. We get to see inside the mind of Lanier, one of the true pioneers of Silicon Valley. He tells us his life story. It’s vivid and absolutely extraordinary … this is a terrific book by a supremely intelligent guy,” enthusedWilliam Leithin the Evening Standard. The Observer’s Simon Parkin was pleased that: “By interspersing drier chapters that explore the general ideas, principles and promise of VR with intimate autobiography, a human and, often, romantic (if meandering) route into what might otherwise be a somewhat dry subject matter is laid.” While the Times’s Hugo Rifkind cut to the chase: “He’s as weird as hell, and fascinating as life itself … He is, I suspect, something of a mansplainer … What a wild, roaming mind, though, particularly when compared with the sly, corporate automatons who run Silicon Valley today. Lanier says little about the contemporary tech industry ... He doesn’t even say much about modern VR ... Probably, he finds it all a little disappointing and unambitious. How thrilling to be part of the dawn of a new everything. How sad that we’ve ended up with data harvesting, and cat photos, and masturbation, and making a buck.”

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    Rome city council overturns banishment of ‘one of the greatest poets’ more than 2,000 years after Augustus forced him to leave

    More than 2,000 years after Augustus banished him to deepest Romania, the poet Ovid has been rehabilitated.

    Rome city council on Thursday unanimously approved a motion tabled by the populist M5S party to “repair the serious wrong” suffered by Ovid, thought of as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature along with Virgil and Horace.

    Related: The 10 best ancient Romans

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    A collection of poetry and a book of walks round the city might help the US president with his foreign policy

    Donald Trump is not a great reader. He has said that he does not in fact need to read widely, because he makes decisions based on the knowledge he already has, along with a dose of common sense. When it comes to making decisions about Jerusalem, and the location of the US embassy, a little reading might have been useful. So in choosing a Christmas present for the president to buttress his existing knowledge, I’ve avoided histories and selected two books that will give him the greatest insight in the shortest space of time: the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai’s series of poems about Jerusalem and the Palestinian lawyer Raja Shehadeh’s book Palestinian Walks. Each gives a lateral, original perspective with a resonant sense of place. And both can be read in small portions (every chapter of Shehadeh’s book is a self-contained walk), perfect for a president who has said: “I want it short.”

    Amichai, Israel’s most celebrated poet, lived in Jerusalem. He died in 2000. His remarkable poems about the city capture the pervasive weight of its history in a singularly brooding atmosphere: “Jerusalem, the only city in the world / where the right to vote is granted even to the dead.” He describes the city as crouched among the hills “unlike New York”, forever locked in the same starting-line position for 2,000 years. “How can any man be the mayor of a city like that?” asks Amichai in another poem. “What can he do with her? / He will build, and build, and build.” In a terrifying image, the poet imagines the stones of the hills crawling down towards the stone houses at night like wolves. Jerusalem’s biblical past co-exists with the present through language that moves between ancient imagery and contemporary idiom: prophets, buses, bombs, fig trees and laundry. This is a city of tension and repressed violence “built on the vaulted foundations of a held-back scream”. Amichai’s Jerusalem inspires awe. It is not a place that you would want to mess with.

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    A fierce, small masterpiece, this addresses huge questions of language and war with beguiling ease

    The Cool Web

    Children are dumb to say how hot the day is,
    How hot the scent is of the summer rose,
    How dreadful the black wastes of evening sky,
    How dreadful the tall soldiers drumming by.

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    Honour goes to Northern Irishman who has produced 12 major collections of poetry and teaches at Princeton University

    Paul Muldoon has been named the winner of the Queen’s gold medal for poetry 2017.

    The Northern Ireland-born writer has produced 12 major collections of poetry as well as children’s books and song lyrics.

    Related: Poem of the week: Medley for Morin Khur by Paul Muldoon

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    Our pop culture expert on wallowing in the words of a stranger when things are dark and gloomy

    Until school forced me, I do not remember consuming much poetry. Finally, I went beyond the pop culture nuggets of Auden and Larkin and the sonnets, and instead learned to dissect Heaney and Hughes and “conflict poetry” to the standards of an exam board. The curriculum tried: my first Walcott came in Year 10 or 11, and Love After Love is perhaps my favourite poem, still – but well, you know.

    At least I learned a valuable lesson from reading the works of those many dead, white poets: I go to poetry to be moved. I know; it is a spectacular burden to place on a literary form. And yet when I first read, “We took turns to bury each other”, the opening line from Burial, a poem by South African poet Koleka Putuma, it felt to me like that burden weighed nothing at all.

    Related: Why I love Joan Didion

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    Amid great walking trails, fantastic fishing, and literary heritage, Ballynahinch Castle hotel delivers the best of Connemara – and you don’t need to be a poet to appreciate it

    There are few things I’d rather do, on a cold December morning, with ice in the puddles and a crisp blue sky overhead, than go rambling for an hour or two in the woods around Ballynahinch Castle hotel in County Galway.

    There is a hot whiskey waiting for me when I get back from my walk, and a roaring fire in the bar

    Ambassadors and armers have been known to bond over a pint at the bar and get animated about the state of fishing

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    A neatly observed vignette of social rules working differently for the wealthy is delicately drawn, and leaves the moral judgments to the reader

    Outside

    under the arcade
    and the floor-length glass shop front:
    a green pop-up dome

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    I first read his poetry in my late teens. He can be difficult but the images he conjures are concrete and recognisable

    WH Auden said “poetry must be entered into by a personal encounter, or it must be left alone”. His poems have been personal for me for 30 years; they’re a touchstone I use now and then to take the measure of my world. There’s just something about him: the stars he sees align with mine. I can trace my own journeys – political, psychological, philosophical, spiritual – along the routes he has mapped.

    I first opened Auden’s Selected Poems in my late teens. I’d taken it off my mother’s bookshelf – I knew his name and his fame; I thought I should be reading him. I started with the shorter, less obscure poems. Sometimes my eye even darted between poems, reading a stanza here, a stanza there. I felt I had to ease in slowly – graze around the edges of the feast.

    Related: How I fell in love with country music | Martin Farrer

    Related: Unseen WH Auden diary sheds light on famous poem and personal life

    Uncertain and afraid
    As the clever hopes expire
    Of a low dishonest decade

    Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
    A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
    Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

    When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
    And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

    I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
    Till China and Africa meet,
    And the river jumps over the mountain
    And the salmon sing in the street,

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    As the horror unfolded from the Manchester Arena and I learned that my mother and sister were safe, it was words that gave me hope against terror

    It is with welcome relief that we reach the end of 2017 – a year enveloped by terror. Five attacks in the UK and 35 people killed. But we are through it, and we endure. Others have been less fortunate, and it is hard to imagine how their families feel. For them, it wasn’t a year punctured by the feeling that the whole world is falling apart, but a year punctured by the feeling that their world has already fallen apart.

    My mother and my sister were on the brink of such tragedy. At their millionth Ariana Grande concert, they heard a bang and they ran. They escaped by a back exit of the Manchester Arena and saw nothing but smoke. Usually they leave before the encore to beat traffic, and if they had done so on 22 May, they probably would have stepped right into the path of the attacker, Salman Abedi.

    For so long, Heaney’s poetry performed this function – to articulate the horror that surrounded him

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    An informal 30-minute encounter with Mr and Mrs Heaney showed me that change doesn’t always happen in big, dramatic chunks

    At lunchtime on 31 December 1999, our phone rang. I answered.

    “Is that Conor?”

    We don’t see it at the time. We just recognise, looking back, what it was

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    After two years of careful reading, moving backwards through time, Robert McCrum has concluded his selection of the 100 greatest nonfiction books. Take a quick look at five centuries of great writing

    1. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (2014)
    An engrossing account of the looming catastrophe caused by ecology’s “neighbours from hell” – mankind.

    2. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)
    This steely and devastating examination of the author’s grief following the sudden death of her husband changed the nature of writing about bereavement.

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    A reflection on the meaning of welcome, this etymologically alert work is calm and joyful

    Thanked for kindness, I said
    you’re welcome, and welcome
    spun back to what it meant,
    before. Welcome, come
    in, in accord with my will.
    Come into warmth, you
    are wanted, were waited
    for. Welcome to these
    arms, spread out, exposing
    the bearer’s heart.
    You are well come, it is well
    you have come for me.

    And if night swallows
    us, it will be well, we
    will be welcome –
    the gates swing wide,
    the bridge arcs tenderly
    up over the river.
    I laid a path, pruned
    trees for your body
    to pass through.
    My bread, your bread.
    My rafters, yours, timber
    above our heads, or
    to float on.

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    Licensing deal means businesses using This is the Place must donate to charity that funds thousands of local projects

    The poem that became a proud symbol of Greater Manchester after the arena bomb attack is to be “gifted” to the region to raise money for thousands of community projects.

    This is the Place became an instant worldwide hit when it was performed by the poet Tony Walsh at a vigil in the city’s Albert Square on 23 May, the day after the terrorist attack.

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    Dunmore wins poetry category, while Jon McGregor takes best novel prize for Reservoir 13 and Gail Honeyman’s bestselling debut Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine lands first novel award

    The poet Helen Dunmore is in the running to become the second posthumous winner of the Costa book of the year award for her final collection, Inside the Wave – which was written in the last weeks of her life – triumphing in the poetry category of the annual literary prize.

    Expressly rewarding enjoyability, the Costa book awards are open only to writers in the UK and Ireland. There are five categories – novel, first novel, biography, poetry and children’s book – with the winner of each then vying for the overall £30,000 book of the year prize. If she wins this, Dunmore will be the second writer to take the top gong posthumously in the prize’s 46-year history, after fellow poet Ted Hughes won for Birthday Letters in 1998.

    Related: Inside the Wave by Helen Dunmore – generous and contemplative

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    Dorothy Wordsworth’s black pudding, Eleanor Roosevelt and clams, Barbara Pym’s tinned spaghetti ... What does the food these women devoured – or detested – tell us about their lives?

    “Tell me what you eat,” wrote the philosopher-gourmand Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, “and I shall tell you what you are.” It’s one of the most famous aphorisms in the literature of food, and I thought about it many times as I was probing the lives of the six women in my book What She Ate. Food was my entry point into their worlds, so naturally I wanted to know what they ate, but I wanted to know everything else, too. Tell me what you eat, I longed to say to each woman, and then tell me whether you like to eat alone, and if you really taste the flavours of food or ignore them, or forget all about them a moment later. Tell me what hunger feels like to you, and if you’ve ever experienced it without knowing when you’re going to eat next. Tell me where you buy food, and how you choose it, and whether you spend too much.

    Related: Food poverty is the ‘new normal’ in the UK. We adopted it from the States

    If she glimpsed a well-dressed woman in a cafe pouring ketchup over fish and chips, Pym came away with a character

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    Essays from Zadie Smith, Arnhem from Antony Beevor and novels from Julian Barnes, Sarah Perry, Pat Barker, Rachel Cusk … and Bill Clinton. Place your book orders now

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    The novelist and short-story writer on grime music, a play about the Falklands conflict, and the educational benefits of coffee

    Born in Bermuda and raised in Norfolk, Jon McGregor wrote his first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, while working in a vegetarian restaurant. The novel was long-listed for the 2002 Booker prize, making McGregor, then 26, the youngest ever contender. He has written two more novels as well as short fiction. The University of Nottingham gave him an honorary doctorate in 2010, and later appointed him professor of creative writing in its school of English. His fourth novel, Reservoir 13, which last week won the Costa award for best novel of 2017, is out in paperback on 25 January; its “prequel” The Reservoir Tapes, is a series of specially commissioned stories for BBC Radio 4.

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    Reflecting on the dramatic migration of swans to Britain from the far north, this arrestingly wintry work reonates with echoes from the deep past

    A Bone Flute
    made from the radius bone of a whooper swan wing, circa 40,000 years ago

    Swans flying in across the lagoon at dusk, muscled as horses;
    sky filling with bells. The swans dip and rock, lanterns

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older | 1 | .... | 126 | 127 | (Page 128) | 129 | 130 | .... | 145 | newer