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

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    Poet to write works inspired by mysterious objects – both grand and modest – found in ancient graves and kept at British Museum

    Almost 2,000 years after a precious bronze mirror was buried at the hip of a woman in Dorset, the poet Michael Rosen stretched out his hand, protectively sheathed in a lurid purple plastic glove, to trace the delicate curves and swirls incised on its back.

    “It’s quite hypnotic,” he said in wonder. “You feel that it has meaning, that it has stories, that it is not just a static object. What was it to her, and what did she see in it?”

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    Spiegeltent, Sydney festival
    Jesus is hit with pool noodles and a stripper throws chips at the crowd in a show that struggles to add up to the sum of its parts

    Imagine an Avalanches song as a stage show – some sampling, some spoken word, some disco and pop beats all jumbled together – and you have an idea what the genre-defying show Riot is about.

    Taking the primetime slot in the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent for this year’s Sydney festival, Riot is a mix of dance, drag, circus, spoken-word poetry and contortion, with a bit of blasphemy and a lot of politics thrown in.

    Related: You Animal, You review – Force Majeure's new work a gladiatorial dance contest with no clear objective

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    Authors fear that large collection of poet’s papers held by Northamptonshire libraries will be threatened by further cuts expected to its service

    Hilary Mantel, Alan Moore and Simon Armitage have joined authors raising “grave concerns” about the custodianship of the poet John Clare’s manuscripts in advance of major planned cuts to the library service in Northamptonshire.

    The 19th-century nature poet was born in the Northamptonshire village of Helpston to illiterate parents, and worked as a labourer. Known for works celebrating rural life, including The Shepherd’s Calendar and Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery, a large collection of his manuscripts, letters and books is housed at Northampton central library, as the John Clare Collection. Authors and academics led by Simon Kövesi, editor of the John Clare Society Journal, have written to the Guardian to voice concern that the collection will be hit by the swingeing cuts expected for the region’s libraries.

    Related: John Clare archive under threat from library cuts | Letters

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    Writers and academics including Hilary Mantel, Philip Pullman, Simon Armitage and Josie Long appeal to Northampton county council to preserve a unique collection of works by the great poet of the English countryside

    We write with grave concern at cuts being planned to the library services across Northamptonshire, options for which are currently out for public consultation through the council’s Review of library services in Northamptonshire. While we believe any retraction of library provision will have a debilitating impact upon those who rely on them (including future generations too), we write with particular concern about a library not mentioned in the various “options” that Northamptonshire county council sets out: the Northampton central library, on Abington Street, Northampton, home to an important collection of the manuscripts and books of the poet John Clare.

    The council’s plans seem to mask the fact that this library will also be hugely affected by reductions in the number, seniority, qualifications and experience of staff that will be retained in that library. Many staff in this library – not mentioned in the plans – are threatened with redundancy or an effective downgrading of their post, no matter what option is chosen.

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    The Islington, London
    A weedy sound system prevents the Philadelphian poet, musician and activist from tapping into true dread

    Police brutality, domestic violence, race riots and western imperialism – the raw material for Camae Ayewa’s noise-infested “DIY time travel” performances as Moor Mother could hardly be more bleak. But the Philadelphia poet, activist and self-taught musician possesses a free-form energy and a knack for piercing visual imagery that can bring her subject matter to vivid life – usually while it’s still bleeding. “A husband beats a body raw,” she raps with a snarl, her dreadlocks falling like a veil over her face, “police drag a dead body on the floor.”

    On her reputation-making 2016 album Fetish Bones, Ayewa used spoken word, free jazz, raw noise and sampled voices – including those of women such as Natasha McKenna, who died after being Tasered in prison – to create a homebrew twist on the Afrofuturism of fellow Philly artist-philosopher Sun Ra. Tonight’s show, however, finds her sharing a stage with soprano saxophonist Steve Montenegro, also known as Mental Jewelry, her collaborator on last year’s dub and dancehall-influenced Crime Waves EP. While Ayewa coaxes mangled, strangled noises from her array of glowing boxes, Montenegro channels the wild, squawking energy of Albert Ayler in an unbroken improvisation.

    Related: Moor Mother: 'We have yet to truly understand what enslavement means'

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    Larkin’s influence is still strong in this collection, which illuminates the natural world and the coming of old age

    The Hebrew for fly, zvuv, “is surely one of the most magically exact onomatopoeias in any language”, Steven Connor writes in his study of the insect, Fly. News that Douglas Dunn’s poetic muse has taken wing again, 17 years after his last collection, deserves an onomatopoeic outburst of its own of relief and delight. Slacking is hardly a trait one associates with the diligent Dunn, but the opening quatrain, “Idleness”, listens out for “The sigh of an exhausted garden-ghost. / A poem trapped in an empty fountain pen.” There are ghosts and exhaustion aplenty in The Noise of a Fly, shortlisted for next week’s TS Eliot prize, but rarely if ever does the poet find himself stuck for words.

    It is almost a half a century since Dunn made his debut with the northern realism of Terry Street, but the influence of his fellow Hull librarian Philip Larkin still remains strong. Dunn is 75 (12 years older than Larkin was when he died), and his poems of ageing show all manner of convergences with the bard of Pearson Park. “Beneath it all, desire of oblivion runs,” wrote Larkin. Dunn broadly agrees: “So much time wasted wanting to be remembered / Ends with desire to be forgotten.” “Gave yet another lecture. God, I’m boring,” begins “Thursday”: “Dear God, it’s true, I’m just an ancient bore.”

    Related: Why the TS Eliot prize shortlist hails a return to the status quo

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    These poems, rarely more than five lines long, ‘form a ricochet of echoes’

    If poems are like other people’s photographs in which we recognise ourselves, David Harsent’s writing catches us at our most vulnerable, vicious and unnervingly visceral. Reading through his back catalogue gives you the measure of his oeuvre: A Violent Country, After Dark, Dreams of the Dead, Mr Punch, Night. Stalking through an often nightmarish territory of half-apprehended horror and bleakness, the narrators of his poems survey human fear and frailty against the backdrop of an elemental, unforgiving world. Like a scene from a Hitchcockian movie, the worst always seems to be held just out of shot, all the more present for its apparent absence. Redemption and absolution are rarely on offer. Harsent may have a beautiful technical facility for language, its measure, weight and texture, but the ends to which it is put are as black as a darkroom negative.

    Salt is Harsent’s first collection since Fire Songs, winner of the 2014 TS Eliot prize. Its poems form a strange sequence of sorts, though their author is resistant to such definitions: “the poems belong to each other”, we are told in a prefatory note, “by way of certain images and words that form a ricochet of echoes”. Fragmentary, fleeting and impressionistic, the poems in Salt are rarely longer than five lines, issued from an anonymous speaker who gives next to nothing away, just as the poems so often explore the apparent next to nothing – a moment, seemingly insignificant, is mined for its sudden significance, as revelation, brief history or omen. Take the following piece, quoted here in full:

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    After 2017’s Cambridge Companion to Irish Poets included only four women, 250 writers have agreed to boycott anthologies, conferences and festivals where women are not fairly represented

    Irish women poets are rising up en masse against their repeated exclusion from literary history, signing a pledge of refusal to participate in anthologies, conferences and festivals in which the gender balance is skewed.

    The pledge was conceived after the publication of the Cambridge Companion to Irish Poets in 2017. Covering Irish poetry from the 17th century to the present, it features essays on four women poets and 26 men, with just four female contributors. According to the 250 poets, academics and writers who have now signed the pledge, the book “repeats the minimisation or obliteration of women’s poetry by previous anthologies and surveys” and “leads to a distorted impression of our national literature and to a simplification of women’s roles within it”.

    The narrative states that the women poets emerged in the 1970s. Nope! They were ignored until the 1970s.

    Related: 'Women are better writers than men': novelist John Boyne sets the record straight

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    Sean Day-Lewis says the poem, quoted in a recent Guardian article, is as relevant today as it was when first published more than half a century ago

    It was good to see the last couplet of my father’s Walking Away properly quoted by Saskia Sarginson (Empty nest? Not a chance, Family, 6 January). But she is a little off-message with her view that this Cecil Day-Lewis poem was “written for a different society”.

    It can be argued that much of his poetry, now well out of fashion, belonged to its time. But this poem is very much for all times. It is a memory poem, looking back to my nervous first day at school in 1938. But it was published, some while after he walked away from my mother into a second marriage, in his 1962 volume of verse The Gate. Believe it or not, society of 1962 was much like that of 2018. It is the craziness of our governance that has changed.

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    As Scott Walker publishes Sundog, a book of his lyrics, he talks about big-budget burnout, his debt to Britain, and why he’s a huge fan of FKA twigs

    A wintry afternoon and London’s roads are rammed with traffic. Mortifyingly, I am late to meet Scott Walker, the musical legend who rarely gives interviews, and ring, filled with apologies. No problem, assures his manager, Scott’s late too, he’s stuck on the bus. If rock’n’roll is the story of men who, in Bob Geldof’s description of Phil Lynott, “couldn’t imagine a life not in leather trousers, with a limousine taking him to work every day”, Walker is its antithesis. When we finally sit down, I could more easily picture the figure in front of me, snaggle-toothed and with a cap firmly pulled down over his eyes, as the protagonist of a Raymond Carver short story, about to grind his way through another day.

    Not that he isn’t perfectly cheerful, in his own fashion, with occasional hints of mischief and lugubrious humour. Of Sundog– a selection of his lyrics over six decades – he reveals that one of the challenges in assembling it was having to go back: “It requires listening – and I didn’t want to do that. Cos, you know, I don’t listen to anything I’ve done once I’ve done it.”

    (January 10, 1965)  Take It Easy With the Walker Brothers

    I feel the lyric will always guide you to what to do with the music. Get the lyric right, everything else will follow

    Related: 10 of the best: Scott Walker

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    Reflecting on the traumatic changes that have transformed the city of Newcastle, a poet casts a steady gaze at its past and present

    Moving On

    In the Haymarket a bus station has been transformed
    from cattle crush to airport lounge. I no longer miss
    Marlborough Crescent, open to weather. From there, I’d rush
    for the trolley bus to school while the abattoir let
    blood flow unchecked along the gutter, stinking through fumes
    as drivers climbed in their cabs and, one by one, engines
    vibrated, buses pulled into stands. I’d leap across,
    never connecting that red stream with the death it meant
    or managing to link this to cattle sometimes glimpsed.
    Our city made blood, tanks and ships. It still stood on coal.

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    Philip and Eva Larkin corresponded twice weekly for about 35 years, with the pair exchanging minute details of one another’s daily lives

    He was terrified of marriage, living a life of tangled relationships with women who became his muses. Poet Philip Larkin’s view of marriage may partly have been coloured by his mother’s warnings of its disadvantages, previously unpublished letters reveal.

    In 1952, Eva Larkin told her son: “Marriage would be no certain guarantee as to socks being always mended, or meals ready when they are wanted. Neither would it be wise to marry just for those comforts. There are other things just as important.”

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    Night Sky With Exit Wounds, the debut collection by a poet who is the first literate person in his family, hailed as ‘the definitive arrival of a significant voice’

    After becoming the first literate person in his family and a prize-winning poet festooned with awards, Ocean Vuong has now won perhaps his most prestigious accolade yet for his debut collection: the TS Eliot prize.

    Reflecting on the aftermath of war over three generations, 29-year-old Vuong’s first collection, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, has already landed the Forward prize for best first collection, as well as the Whiting and the Thom Gunn awards. The book has also been critically acclaimed, with Observer critic Kate Kellaway describing it as“a conduit for a life in which violence and delicacy collide”, and the New York Times’s Michiko Kakutani praising Vuong’s “tensile precision reminiscent of Emily Dickinson’s work, combined with a Gerard Manley Hopkins-like appreciation for the sound and rhythms of words”.

    Related: War baby: the amazing story of Ocean Vuong, former refugee and prize-winning poet

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  • 01/19/18--09:50: Jenny Joseph obituary
  • Popular poet with a disarming sense of the oddity and pathos of the human condition

    The poet Jenny Joseph, who has died aged 85, might well have wondered a little ruefully whether WH Auden was altogether correct in maintaining that “poetry makes nothing happen”. Her famous Warning (“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple/ With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me ... ”) was written when she was 28, and after its appearance in an early book went almost unnoticed for 25 years. Then, because of its contention that growing old should be a defiant process, it gradually began to be slotted into serious selections of writing about old age, and for its merit ended up in one or two grander places, such as Philip Larkin’s Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse in 1973.

    With unforeseen consequences. It was eventually spotted by a retired public relations aide to Lady Bird Johnson, widow of the US president Lyndon Johnson, who enthused about it in an article in Reader’s Digest as an encouragement to older women looking to feel defiant and active again after recovering from illness.

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    Funfair rides provide a giddying setting for an ambiguous – and perilous – erotic merry-go-round

    Carnival

    Pretty eyes, he said to you,
    let’s get tickets
    let’s get two
    let’s get on the tilt-a-whirl
    then watch the house of mirrors swirl

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  • 01/22/18--10:01: Landeg White obituary
  • My friend and former colleague Landeg White, who has died at his home in Portugal aged 77, was an academic and poet, one of the most versatile and prolific of the Africanists who began work in the post-independence era.

    He was born in Taff’s Well, near Cardiff, the son of Reginald White, known as REO White, who became principal of the Scottish Baptist College, and Gwyneth (nee Landeg). After schooling at Rutherglen Academy in Lanarkshire and Birkenhead Institute on the Wirral, Landeg graduated in English from Liverpool University then began work teaching English literature at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad, in 1964. A product of his time there was his critical introduction to the work of VS Naipaul (1975).

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    Flynn’s entertaining new collection of poems really gets under the skin, with topics ranging from new motherhood to Alzheimer’s

    Anybody with an interest in poetry should be reading Leontia Flynn. Those with no interest should be reading her too: she has what it takes to overcome resistance. All mothers – especially new mothers – should read her. Her understanding of what it is to be a woman is one of the things (by no means the only thing) that makes this collection so powerful. Her thinking is complicated but never arrogantly inaccessible. I was bowled over by this, her fourth collection. I kept returning to poems for the sheer pleasure of them – no slog involved.

    The title poem describes a Belfast childhood in which the news was broadcast by a radio that, at other times, kept trouble at bay:

    She wants to know what goes on beneath the skin, in the brain, behind the scenes. She wants to see what is beyond her

    Related: Profit and Loss by Leontia Flynn – review

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    Proof of The Bell Jar among items shedding light on poet’s life and marriage to Ted Hughes

    The story of the last months of the life of Sylvia Plath is tracked on the flyleaves of the proof and author’s copies of her only novel, The Bell Jar. The books are inscribed in her firm, clear handwriting with addresses showing that, around the time of publication, her marriage to the poet Ted Hughes had finally collapsed and she moved with her two small children to the flat in north London where she would die in February 1963.

    The books are part of a collection of Plath’s possessions, including clothes, jewellery, furniture, books with loving inscriptions from Hughes, her heavily annotated cookery book, and the Hermes typewriter on which she wrote The Bell Jar, now being sold by her only surviving child, Frieda Hughes.

    Related: Sylvia Plath, a voice that can’t be silenced | Sarah Churchwell

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    Writing in PN Review, Rebecca Watts has slammed the popularity of writers such as Rupi Kaur and Hollie McNish as ‘consumer-driven content’

    Giving a fresh meaning to the notion of a poetry slam, the august poetry journal PN Review has published a stinging critique of the “rise of a cohort of young female poets” led by the likes of Kate Tempest, Hollie McNish and Rupi Kaur, describing their work as characterised by “the open denigration of intellectual engagement and rejection of craft”.

    Poet Rebecca Watts took to the pages of PN Review to lay out her disdain for “the cult of the noble amateur”, and her despair at the effect of social media on poetry. Highlighting the work of poets such as Kaur (whose debut collection Milk and Honey has sold more than 1m copies worldwide), Tempest and, in particular, McNish, Watts attacks the “cohort of young female poets who are currently being lauded by the poetic establishment for their ‘honesty’ and ‘accessibility’”.

    Related: Hollie McNish's 'funny and serious' poetry wins Ted Hughes prize

    Some seem to think poetry is primarily an excuse for having rather mean-spirited conversations about poetry

    I’ll tell you the point I stopped reading, when Rebecca Watts compared Kate & Hollie’s popularity to Trump. When trying to rip two esteemed poets who write for the greater good apart, don’t use Trump as your analogy. Any nobel amateur could tell you that. Love to @holliepoetry. https://t.co/nzogtbkwny

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    Ahead of this year’s Burns Night, the 18th-century bard has come under harsh scrutiny from Liz Lochhead over his treatment of women

    A year ago, Nicola Sturgeon marked Robert Burns’s 25 January birthday by posting a video celebrating his poetry, praising Scotland’s national bard for his “enduring values of equality, inclusion and internationalism” and inviting Scots to toast his memory at that evening’s Burns Night parties.

    After an intervening year that has seen the rise of #MeToo, Scotland’s first minister may feel a need to insert a feminist caveat or two as she gives the address on Thursday at a Burns supper hosted by the SNP’s Govan branch, after Liz Lochhead recently called Burns “Weinsteinian” and “a sex pest”, and prompted a controversy that has raged in the Scottish press for the past fortnight.

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