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

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  • 01/24/18--07:22: Ursula K Le Guin obituary
  • Science fiction and fantasy writer whose great books include The Left Hand of Darkness and A Wizard of Earthsea

    The writer Ursula K Le Guin, who has died aged 88, presided over American science fiction for nearly half a century. Her reputation as an author of the first rank, and her role as ambassador for the genres of the fantastic, began in 1968 with her fourth novel, A Wizard of Earthsea. It has not been out of print since.

    A few months later, Le Guin published The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), which won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards for its year, and which soon became the novel most heavily taught in universities during the first flourishing of scholarly interest in science fiction as a form of writing peculiarly well adapted to make arguments about the changing world. The book, a quietly revolutionary study in gender, has become a central feminist text.

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  • 01/25/18--09:52: RG Gregory obituary
  • My father, RG Gregory, who has died aged 89, was a poet, playwright, theatre-in-the-round director and inventor of Instant Theatre, a technique that involves actors and audiences in the creation of stories.

    In 1972 he founded the language-arts company Word and Action (Dorset) and was committed to working in the round as a way of liberating people’s imagination.

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    A takedown of young, accessible female poets is brave. But remember, Keats and Auden were first met with as much bewilderment as praise

    O poetry! What will we do with you? You’re in the headlines again for the only reasons you ever are, ie the wrong ones.

    This month the poetry journal PN Review published a takedown of Hollie McNish and the spoken-word poetry scene (and of me, as McNish’s editor, in an efficient sideswipe). The debate about whether hugely popular poets such as McNish, Kate Tempest and Rupi Kaur deserve the support of the “poetic establishment” spilled out into the wider world.

    Spoken word poetry might fail by Watts’ own favoured house rules, but it has its own code by which it deserves to be judged

    Related: Poetry world split over polemic attacking 'amateur' work by 'young female poets'

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    Poetry of all tastes and genres should be celebrated, say Angela Croft and Catherine Roome

    Further to the critique in PN Review that you report (Literary world split as poet attacks rise of social media ‘noble amateur’, 24 January), the wonderful thing about the current poetry scene is there is room for all – both experimental and traditional. I enjoyed listening to Hollie McNish on YouTube as much as I enjoyed listening to those nominated for the TS Eliot prize; and to poets reading at Kings Place and other venues across London and elsewhere.

    The appreciation of poetry is highly subjective and, it is encouraging to find workshops and readings across the country embracing people of all ages and from all walks of life. I am neither a professor of English nor a publisher, but as for some poetry being “easy to read” and containing “few challenges” – that can be refreshing compared with the pretentious work sometimes promoted, which can be off-putting if not innovative beyond comprehension. Each poet has his/her own voice and variety is surely to be welcomed above cultural homogenisation. The more the merrier, I say (cliche notwithstanding.)
    Angela Croft
    London

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    When I read Men Past 40, I remember thinking, ‘If this is what poetry is, I’m in.’

    MEN PAST 40
    GET UP NIGHTS
    And look out
    At city lights,
    Wondering where they
    Made the wrong
    Turn, and why life
    Is so long.

    I had this poem – eight lines, 25 words – thumb-tacked to my dorm room wall when I entered UC Berkeley. It’s a tad on the depressing side but I was kind of a forlorn freshman. Nonetheless, this reveals how poems are capable of expressing not just profound thoughts and deep emotions but entire worlds with remarkable brevity. I remember thinking, “If this is what poetry is, I’m in.”

    Related: How I fell in love with a song called Delia | Gareth Hutchens

    Related: How I fell in love with kebabs | Gabrielle Jackson

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    Rastafarian wordsmith tells of abuse and life of crime as a child in new autobiography

    Benjamin Zephaniah, the Rastafarian acclaimed as Britain’s “people’s laureate”, has revealed the abuse he suffered as a child, and the pressure he came under as a gang member to commit crimes – even to take part in an attack on a gay man. He has made no secret of serving time in borstal and prison, but now he is revealing details of his troubled early life in a forthcoming autobiography and tour.

    Related: Benjamin Zephaniah: ‘I’m almost 60 and I’m still angry. Everyone told me I would mellow’

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    Rebecca Watts has sparked a literary spat we can all enjoy

    I may have seen too many films about infirm lady authoresses swooning in their corsets while contemplating God, or pale consumptive vagabonds coughing up couplets about unrequited love, but still, the lively squabbling of the modern poetry world never fails to surprise me.

    Rebecca Watts’ essay The Cult of the Noble Amateur, published in PN Review to much scandalised outcry, laments what she calls “the open denigration of intellectual engagement” found in the work of young female poets, such as Rupi Kaur, Hollie McNish and Kate Tempest, all of whom are popular, and popular online.

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    Smith’s dear white america was a viral phenomenon. Launching a new collection, Don’t Call Us Dead, the poet is in polemical mood about the black experience in the US

    If you watch Danez Smith’s poem dear white america on YouTube– where it has racked up more than 300,000 viewings (not the sort of figures poetry usually attracts) – it is easy to see why Smith is becoming a phenomenon. The video is a powerful introduction to the collection Don’t Call Us Dead (a finalist in the US’s National Book award for poetry), which is about to be published in the UK. Smith has a colossal gift for performance. You are moved – shaken – as if you had been involved in an argument you couldn’t win. And, in a sense, if you are white, that describes the position. The poem – set out like prose – is a raging, calculated polemic that needs no critic (though the New Yorker has devoted pages to Smith), and that contains its own commentary. It imagines leaving Earth in search of somewhere black people can uncomplicatedly reside. It builds quickly, turns emotion inside out, presents valediction as protest. Smith has the first and last word, and all those in between.

    This is a significant moment for poetry. We are meeting days after Ocean Vuong (gay, Vietnamese and a friend of Smith’s) won the TS Eliot prize, and it is tempting to think poetry is at a turning point, belatedly diversifying, relaxing its borders. The reality is that there is still a long way to go, but this is a flicker of intent, the poetic ghettoising becoming less flagrant. It’s a mainstream momentum that began in 2014 with Claudia Rankine’s Citizen– the distinguished, award-winning and bestselling collection interrogating racism in America.

    If you had been paying attention to racism, the attitude to immigrants, homophobia – you can follow the path to Trump

    Related: TS Eliot prize goes to Ocean Vuong's 'compellingly assured' debut collection

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    A complex story springs from the shared parental experience of seeing offspring leave home

    How Are The Children Robin
    For Robin Skelton

    It does not matter how are you how are
    The children flying leaving home so early?
    The song is lost asleep, the blackthorn breaks
    Into its white flourish. The poet walks
    At all odd times hoping the road is empty.
    I mean me walking hoping the road is empty.

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    The Waste Land inspires art exhibition in seaside town where TS Eliot wrote his poem

    Nearly 100 art works by 60 artists that can, in varying ways, be linked to the greatest poem of the 20th century are to go on display in the seaside town that gave him inspiration as he wrote it.

    An exhibition at the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate will open on Saturday inspired by TS Eliot’s The Waste Land.

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    Winning for her final poetry collection, written in the last weeks of her life, Dunmore is only the second posthumous winner in the literary prize’s history

    The poet and author Helen Dunmore, who died in June 2017, has been awarded the Costa book of the year for her final poetry collection, Inside the Wave.

    Related: Helen Dunmore obituary

    Related: ‘My life’s stem was cut’ – a final poem by Helen Dunmore

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    The writer is only the second person to posthumously win the Costa award. To celebrate, we present a poem from her winning collection, Inside the Wave

    Whatever the tribal allegiances at Tuesday’s Costa awards in London, the warmth was tangible when the book of the year gong went to Helen Dunmore, who died in June. Dunmore excelled over more than three decades in most of the categories in contention for the prize, but returned to her roots to claim it, not with her fine fiction for adults or children, but with her 12th and final poetry collection, Inside the Wave. The irony is that, if she were still alive, she would have been unlikely to win this avowedly populist prize.

    Five of the eight poetry collections that have won it since the book of the year category was introduced in 1985, in what were then the Whitbreads, have been animated by illness or death: Douglas Dunn and Christopher Reid mourned the deaths of their wives, while Jo Shapcott circled around her cancer diagnosis. Ted Hughes died before taking the prize for the second time with Birthday Letters in 1999.

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    This week’s show is bursting with food for thought: poetry for the mind and gastronomy for the belly. Claire and Sian start with a discussion of the late Helen Dunmore’s triumph at the 2017 Costa book awards, which saw her become the second posthumous winner of the book of the year award. Her poetry collection Inside the Wave was crowned the best book of last year – was it the right decision?

    Then Laura Shapiro sits down with Sian to discuss her book What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories. Exploring the diets of women as varied as Dorothy Wordsworth and Eva Braun, Shapiro sets out to tell their life stories through what they did – and didn’t – eat.

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    An intense, short reflection conjures a paradoxically worldly sense of the sacred

    The Light, Changed by Yves Bonnefoy

    We no longer see each other in the same light,
    We no longer have the same eyes, the same hands.
    The tree is closer, and the water’s voice more lively,
    Our steps go deeper now, among the dead.

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    Anger, generosity and dark humour electrify a collection that confronts America racism and speaks urgently for change

    In addressing US national identity and collectivism, Danez Smith (who goes by the gender-neutral pronoun “they”) echoes the plural, expanded lyric voices of poets such as Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka and Langston Hughes. Like Smith’s prize-winning debut collection, [insert] boy, their follow-up Don’t Call Us Dead excoriates America for its violence towards citizens outside a white heterosexual majority. But whereas Ginsberg resolved finally, if reluctantly, in his poem “America” to put his “queer shoulder to the wheel” of the American project, Smith declares it dead. In the apocalyptic age of Trump, a man who “has no words / & hair beyond simile”, Smith prophesies an end from which a new beginning might spring.

    Throughout Don’t Call Us Dead, hope appears as a form of resistance and rebirth. The book opens with the poem “summer, somewhere”, which imagines a utopia where young black victims of police killings are resurrected in a parallel season: “history is what it is. it knows what it did./ bad dog. bad blood. bad day to be a boy // colour of a July well spent. but here, not earth / not heaven, we can’t recall our white shirts // turned ruby gowns. here, there’s no language / for officer or law, no color to call white. // if snow fell, it’d fall black. please, don’t call / us dead, call us alive someplace better.”

    Related: ‘Every poem is political’: Danez Smith, the YouTube star shaking up poetry

    Smith’s looks death in the eye and seizes from it language that is fertile with myth, beauty and intellect

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    The former addict whose novel Narcopolis was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize on the western whitewashing of saints and the diagnosis that forced him to write

    Jeet Thayil is everywhere at the Jaipur literary festival. The poet, novelist and former drug addict moves between panels on the future of the novel, moderating sessions with poets and a spoken word gig. He also finds time to talk about his new novel, The Book of Chocolate Saints, which, he says, “reclaims for the east the historical figures that had been whitewashed by the west, from Jesus Christ to Saint Augustine”. In person, the 58-year-old is softly spoken, polite and extremely self-contained. At several points during our time together, there are long pauses. In those moments, he cries.

    Thayil’s work draws deeply on life experiences from which many would not recover. His years as a drug addict in Mumbai and New York were poured into his 2012 debut Narcopolis, an experimental novel set in the Indian city’s opium dens, which began with a bravura six and a half page opening sentence. Narcopolis was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, won that year by Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, and went on to win the DSC prize for South Asian literature in 2013, making Thayil the first Indian writer to take home the $50,000 (£35,842) award.

    So many of the saints we think of as white were not. They were swarthy, dark skinned, black haired, unwashed

    A younger me would have despised this person who has written a couple of novels and is promoting them at a festival

    Related: Jeet Thayil becomes first Indian winner of South Asian literature prize

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    The 69-year-old performance poet on not owning a mobile phone, going to bed at 5am and why he hates badminton

    I thrive on four hours. There is always something on telly, and I consider the morning hours to be golden. I go to bed about 4-5am and I’m up by 10 at the latest. There are only three things that stop me sleeping: hunger, the odd bad dream and cramp in the arches of my feet – it’s crippling, as if somebody’s trying to tie your foot in a reef knot.

    Related: Helena Morrissey: ‘We have nine children. I plan every day on a whiteboard’

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    Gliding over frozen rivers and lakes was once a popular winter pastime across northern Europe. A new wild skating tour of Sweden hopes to revive it, and revel in the sublime scenery, too

    A whitish-orange glow from the setting sun was reflected in the ice that, for once on our trip, was actually mirror-like. Exhausted but elated, we skated for a while in silence, save for the sound of our skates gliding, scratching (and sometimes stumbling) across Östjutenlake, in south-east Sweden. A sublime, lonesome scene. Even animal sightings were rare in this isolated landscape, though we passed tree trunks gnawed by beavers.

    Related: In awe of Åre, the Swedish ski resort now reached by budget flights

    Related: Nights on ice in Sweden's Arctic wonderland

    Helping each other out on the first day “broke the ice” – but only in social terms

    Related: 10 of the best-value family ski trips

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    At the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act that paved the way for universal suffrage, this ringing, turn-of-the-century denunciation of domestic servitude has not lost its bite

    The Housewife
    Here is the House to hold me – cradle of all the race;
    Here is my lord and my love, here are my children dear–
    Here is the House enclosing, the dear-loved dwelling place;
    Why should I ever weary for aught that I find not here?

    Here for the hours of the day and the hours of the night;
    Bound with the bands of Duty, rivetted tight;
    Duty older than Adam – Duty that saw
    Acceptance utter and hopeless in the eyes of the serving squaw.

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    The poet’s modernist masterpiece gathered fragments of an arduous life, some of which can be traced to a seafront shelter in Margate

    In 1921, having taken time off from his job at Lloyds Bank for what would now be called depression, TS Eliot spent three weeks convalescing in Margate. It was the hottest October in years. Every day, he got the tram from the Albemarle Hotel in Cliftonville to the sea front, and, sitting in Nayland Rock shelter, he wrote “some 50 lines” of his poem The Waste Land.

    These days, the hotel is a block of flats, and while the shelter is still a shelter, it is at present fenced off. Yet Eliot’s time in Margate, a brief interlude before travelling to a Swiss sanatorium, is preserved in Part III of The Waste Land: “On Margate Sands,” he wrote, “I can connect / Nothing with Nothing. / The broken fingernails of dirty hands.” If this, among the fragmented voices of a poem designed to disorient, directly reflects the poet’s psychological state, it also reflects the enterprise: connecting “Nothing with Nothing”, and stitching together disparate parts of history and literature to make a polyphonic, modern masterpiece.

    Related: TS Eliot letters reveal anguish over failure of first marriage

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