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

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    Be careful with that limerick …

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    A novelist recommends favourite writing about a country that has undergone a giddying transformation in recent decades

    Historically known as the Hermit Kingdom for turning away western envoys, as well as the Land of the Morning Calm for its regal mountain ranges and tranquil valleys, South Korea has become a nation famous for its cutting-edge technology and pop-star mania, and continuously features in news headlines for its tense relations with its neighbour, North Korea. At the end of the Korean war in 1953, South Korea was one of the poorest nations in the world. Its people were starving and its cities were in ruins. Following a succession of civilian governments overtaken by military regimes and autocrats, South Korea’s Sixth Republic has finally established a liberal democracy that has seen its nation flourish. Today, many South Koreans are looking back at their nation’s past to make sense of the world they now find themselves in. The stark differences make the stories we read about this fascinating country all the more appealing.

    While researching Korean history for my novel White Chrysanthemum, I was interested in both modern and historical material for the dual timelines. I came across many books that quickly became favourites – fiction and non-fiction. Each of them takes the reader into the South Korean psyche, often exploring the past and the present country. The country has a strong literary tradition, and with increasing interest in the country, translations of Korean works into other languages have given the rest of the world the chance to view it through the eyes and words of its own people.

    Related: Korean literature - books podcast

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    The prolific novelist on Walt Whitman and crying over her page proofs

    The book I am currently reading
    A wonderful new anthology – It Occurs to Me That I Am America, edited by Jonathan Santlofer – on the theme of imperilled democracy. (Disclosure: there is a prose piece of mine in it.)

    The book that changed my life
    Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass certainly had a profound effect on both my life and my writing.

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    Lauded by Lena Dunham and the basis of a character in TV show Transparent, the poet discusses newfound fame, dogs and a ‘screwy memoir of queerness’

    Afterglow is described on the jacket as a “dog memoir”, and by Eileen Myles as “a weirdo, Kafka-type book” that is also a “screwy memoir of queerness”. For those familiar with Myles’s work, these descriptions shouldn’t surprise; for the past 40 years, Myles has lived in accordance with the principle, expressed in the 1991 poem “Peanut Butter”: “I am absolutely in opposition / to all kinds of / goals”. The book, like the life, defies categories. What is surprising, perhaps, is that at 68 Myles has been taken up by the mainstream, featuring in a New York Times magazine shoot last year, lauded by Lena Dunham and Maggie Nelson, and providing the basis for a character in Transparent. The world of fringe poetry can be unforgiving and in previous years, on the basis of much milder success, Myles was accused by some peers of selling out. And now? The poet smiles, and says drily: “I think I would know if I had written Eat, Pray, Love.”

    Related: Transparent review – the best thing on TV at the moment

    Twitter gives us this opportunity … It’s not the stream of crap in my apartment, it’s the stream of crap on the internet

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    There is real music to this understated tribute to a young woman’s beauty by a poet who has been unjustly neglected

    Fiametta
    Fiametta walks under the quincebuds
    In a gown the color of flowers;
    Her small breasts shine through the silken stuff
    Like raindrops after showers.
    The green hem of her dress is silk, but duller
    Than her eye’s green color.

    Her shadow restores the grass’s green
    Where the sun had gilded it;
    The air has given her copper hair
    The sanguine that was requisite.
    Whatever her flaws, my lady
    Has no fault in her young body.

    She leans with her long slender arms
    To pull down morning upon her
    Fragrance of quince, white light and falling cloud.
    The day shall have lacked due honor
    Until I shall have rightly praised
    Her standing thus with slight arms upraised.

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    A new edition of work by the American poet Wendell Barnes draws its slow-moving brilliance from the stillness of nature

    This column is usually reserved for new collections, but there is a reason to break this rule for Wendell Berry. It is extraordinary that he is not better known. I was on the verge of saying he should be a household name, but households have never been his thing. His selected verse, in a new edition by Penguin, is the work of an outdoorsman; it aspires to Gerard Manley Hopkins’s idea that nature is, for all the depredations, “never spent”. This is poetry to lower blood pressure, to induce calm.

    Berry’s gift, as a Kentucky farmer and as a writer, is to root himself as a tree might – not to commandeer nature but to cherish it. I do not think it fanciful to see these poems as a form of manual labour – of necessary work. The title poem – his best known – is, at the same time, a secular prayer. The language is slightly churchy, which might not be to everyone’s taste, although there is pleasure in seeing church and meadow come together harmoniously. Berry repeatedly finds a remedy in nature, yet never comes to it in quite the same way.

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    There are so many literary prizes these days that they could be regarded as an industry in their own right – but they’re needed to change the status quo

    How many literary prizes are there in the UK today? To Wikipedia’s tally of around 70, I can immediately add half a dozen more – and still they come. It doesn’t seem too much of an exaggeration to see them as an industry in their own right, involving flotillas of administrators, squads of judges and hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in prize money.

    The value of this industry has long been hotly debated, with some writers going so far as to maintain that having so many prizes deforms the literary culture. The Man Booker prize, in particular, has been charged with dictating the sort of novel that is thought to be worth publishing and promoting, thereby influencing the books authors have felt compelled to write over the last 50 years.

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    She was once deemed ‘the greatest woman poet since Sappho’ and won a Pulitzer – but Millay’s legacy has been overshadowed by her sexuality and addictions

    When pseudonymous Elena Ferrante’s identity was reportedly revealed in 2016, she reflected on the dangers of an author’s life dominating their work. “The book functions like a pop star’s sweaty T-shirt,” she wrote, “a garment that without the aura of the star is completely meaningless.”

    Ferrante’s sentiment could easily be applied to Edna St Vincent Millay, another incandescent literary talent who lived decades before (born on 22 February, 1892). For far too long, Millay’s work has been overshadowed by her reputation. A party girl poet. A sexually adventurous bisexual. A morphine addict. But then Millay also won the Pulitzer for poetry in 1923; the following year, literary critic Harriet Monroe called Millay was “the greatest woman poet since Sappho”. In a review of a 2001 Millay anthology, the Atlantic proclaimed that “the first rule of modern literary biography is that the life renders the work incidental” – but what happens when the life begins to obscure the richness of the work? Focusing on Millay’s relationships with both men and women has been de rigueur for the last half century – so it is high time that her words were allowed the limelight again.

    Related: The roaring (drunk) 20s: literature's biggest party animals

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    The American sociologist on climate-change art, Janáček’s quartets and having a black thumb

    Born in Chicago in 1943, Richard Sennett has been called “one of the boldest social thinkers of his generation”. His work focuses on ethnography, urban design and social theory and he teaches at the LSE and New York University. His many books include The Fall of Public Man (1977), Flesh and Stone (1994) and The Corrosion of Character (1998) and he has written three novels. Sennett’s latest book, Building and Dwelling, has just been published by Allen Lane.

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    From a star of the Harlem Renaissance, this is a vivid hymn to imaginative freedom

    That Bright Chimeric Beast
    That bright chimeric beast
    Conceived yet never born,
    Save in the poet’s breast,
    The white-flanked unicorn,
    Never may be shaken
    From his solitude;
    Never may be taken
    In any earthly wood.

    That bird forever feathered,
    Of its new self the sire,
    After aeons weathered,
    Reincarnate by fire,
    Falcon may not nor eagle
    Swerve from his eyrie,
    Nor any crumb inveigle
    Down to an earthly tree.

    That fish of the dread regime
    Invented to become
    The fable and the dream
    Of the Lord’s aquarium,
    Leviathan, the jointed
    Harpoon was never wrought
    By which the Lord’s anointed
    Will suffer to be caught.

    Bird of the deathless breast,
    Fish of the frantic fin,
    That bright chimeric beast
    Flashing the argent skin, –
    If beasts like these you’d harry,
    Plumb then the poet’s dream;
    Make it your aviary,
    Make it your wood and stream.

    There only shall the swish
    Be heard of the regal fish;
    There like a golden knife
    Dart the feet of the unicorn,
    And there, death brought to life,
    The dead bird be reborn.

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    The poet shares the story behind Invisible Kisses, a poem that impressed on him the true value of family

    Subscribe and review on Apple Podcasts or Acast, and join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter

    At 21, Lemn Sissay was in love with and proposed to his then-girlfriend – a fellow student and New Yorker. When the engagement was called off, the poet travelled to her family home to make sense of what had happened and soon felt the weight of his situation compounded by the realisation that he had no family to turn to.

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    Poetry reflecting on nationhood, sex and whiskey, written in 1970 after Lou Reed left the Velvet Underground, is to be published for the first time

    “We are the crystal gaze returned through the density and immensity of a berserk nation.” It’s a line that could have been written by an angry young poet from Trump’s America, but it was actually penned decades previously, by the bard of New York’s grimy rock’n’roll underbelly: Lou Reed.

    A collection of the songwriter’s previously unseen poems will be published later this year, along with recordings of him performing them at St Mark’s Church, New York, in 1971 (with Allen Ginsberg in the audience). The book, entitled Do Angels Need Haircuts? and published in April, will also feature an afterword by his widow Laurie Anderson, as well as Reed’s own introductions to the poems. Of the 12 poems and short stories in the collection, only three have been published before, one as a Velvet Underground song and two in small-press poetry zines.

    We are the people without land. We are the people without tradition. We are the people who do not know how to die peacefully and at ease. We are the thoughts of sorrows. Endings of tomorrows. We are the wisps of rulers and the jokers of kings.

    We are the people without right. We are the people who have known only lies and desperation. We are the people without a country, a voice or a mirror. We are the crystal gaze returned through the density and immensity of a berserk nation. We are the victims of the untold manifesto of the lack of depth of full and heavy emptiness.

    Related: Laurie Anderson: ‘I see Lou all the time. He’s a continued, powerful presence’

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    The 84-year-old Nobel favourite ‘flatly denies charges of habitual misconduct’, writing in a statement that he had ‘done nothing which might bring shame on my wife or myself’

    Korea’s most famous literary export Ko Un, a former Buddhist monk who is often named a frontrunner for the Nobel prize in literature, is at the centre of sexual harassment accusations. It has led to his poems being removed from textbooks and the shuttering of a library established by Seoul local government in his name.

    The allegations, which have been denied by Ko in a statement provided to the Guardian, surfaced in the form of a poem by the poet Choi Young-mi. In The Beast, published in December, Choi did not name the major poet she accused of sexual harassment in the poem, instead calling him En.

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    In the 1960s, writers such as BJ Johnson, Ann Quin and Bob Cobbing were ripping up the rules of fiction, fighting the establishment - and each other. What, if anything, of their legacy lives on?

    Of all the curious artefacts gathering dust in the BBC’s Sound Archive, one of the very weirdest dates from an evening in 1969. John Peel’s guest on his late-night radio show is the sound poet Bob Cobbing. Stationed alongside is the Scottish monologist Ivor Cutler. Urged on by his captivated host, Cobbing plays the tape of a recording made with his French collaborator François Dufrêne. What follows is a kind of aural collage from the very edge of language: repetitive pantings, groans, sighs, whispers and primal gibberish. After it judders to a halt, Peel turns to the somewhat nonplussed Cutler to inquire: has he ever tried anything similar? “You mean making a noise?” Cutler sceptically lobs back.

    As the spectacle of Cobbing in full shamanistic flow on a Radio 1 pop show confirms, the literary 1960s was an era in which, for the first time in nearly 40 years, the avant garde veered dangerously close to the mainstream. It was an age in which (sometimes rather to their surprise) experimental writers found themselves contracted to major commercial publishers, in which novels could cheerfully be issued in random fragments under the cover of a cardboard box (BS Johnson’s The Unfortunates), and ambitious debutants embark on their careers with the assumption that, as Eva Figes once put it: “I and a few other writers with similar ideas could change the face of English fiction.”

    BS Johnson phoned AS Byatt after the publication of her well-received second novel to tell her she was ‘no competition’

    Quin's 1964 debut Berg is like watching Match of the Day when someone has removed the ball

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    A deceptively plain description of the comforts of political refuge serves to outline their limitations

    Political Asylum

    My closest friends were killed. I have a life
    That’s comfortable in almost every way.
    I haven’t got a job yet, but my wife
    Has found a good position with good pay –

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  • 03/07/18--09:32: MAR Taleghany obituary
  • My father, MAR Taleghany, who has died aged 82, was a professor of law and a renowned scholar of the work of the 13th-century Persian Sufi Muslim poet, theologian and mystic Rumi. He could recite Rumi’s complete works from memory, and gave lectures and life lessons from Rumi at universities and retreats around the world.

    My father expressed the view that “mysticism frees you from all rules so you can be at peace”. He especially believed in the wheel of life continuously turning – “Each time I die, I move up a little. This life is not the end of the game ” – and the idea that life is a circle, so that “part of humanity is elevating all the time”.

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    An elegy for a lost pet by a rock star of the spoken word takes in love, death and animal vision

    Eileen Myles is a New York poet, maybe the New York poet, a swaggering troubadour of casually roving brilliance. Born in 1949, a third-generation participant in the New York School of Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery, they (“they” is Myles’s preferred pronoun) have written more than 20 books, which rollick between novel, memoir, poetry and art criticism. Like I Love Dick, by Myles’s friend Chris Kraus, these loping experiments in autofiction have hit new audiences in the last few years. Myles’s 1994 non-fiction novel Chelsea Girls was republished in 2015 to ecstatic reviews and round-the-block queues at readings. That same winter, the television series Transparent featured a lesbian poet modelled on the author. “My shirts are tighter,” Myles observed.

    Afterglow is Myles’s dog book, a work of surpassing strangeness that takes the form of an elegy for a lost pet and converts it into a weird and agitated philosophical inquiry into – well, love, life, death, the bardo states in between, plaid, pathetic art, Manichaeism, lost parents, animal vision, alcoholism, Ireland, gender, ecstasy and grief.

    My favourite digression concerns George Bush’s true identity as an alien snake queen, impregnated in the White House

    Related: Punk poet Eileen Myles, on their dog memoir: 'We were regarded as an unruly pair'

    Other dogs followed, but this one was the teacher in showing her supposed owner how to be a live animal, awake in time

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  • 03/09/18--08:13: Sir Wilson Harris obituary
  • Writer and leading figure in postcolonial literature whose work was inspired by Guyana, the place of his birth

    Sir Wilson Harris, who has died aged 96, was a towering figure among the writers of the Caribbean and Central America. Concerned with the human condition, in particular with the marginalised, Harris sought a revolution in form as well as approach. The writing style he developed succeeded in conveying what William Blake called “fourfold vision”: grounded in the real world, transformed by metaphor, cultivating empathy, and having a universal perspective.

    It was while working as a surveyor in Guyana in the 1950s, discovering the enigmatic silences of remnant Amerindian cultures and the haunting landscapes of the rainforests, that Harris pioneered his individual and expressive voice, first revealed in poems published in Georgetown in the magazine Kyk-Over-Al and later in a privately printed collection, Eternity to Season (1954).

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    It wasn’t just men such as Coleridge and De Quincey who took drugs, study of Mary Robinson and Harriet Martineau reveals

    The fantastical poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the scandalous journal of “opium eater” Thomas De Quincey notoriously celebrate the influence of opium. Now, beyond Coleridge’s “caverns measureless to man” and De Quincey’s nightmarish visions, a new academic study is to reveal that many of the female stars of the British literary scene of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were equally dependent on the drug.

    “While men like De Quincey and Coleridge were among the first to write openly about opium’s creative effects and so are seen as the originators of the tradition of British drug literature, contemporary women writers tended instead to view it as a comfort, a way of coping with the demands of artistic life,” said Dr Joseph Crawford, a senior lecturer at Exeter University, whose paper is due to be published as part of research titled Psychopharmacology and British Literature.

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    This complex reflection on the world the poet’s baby son is coming to know takes in many themes, most strikingly the fraught allegiance to place

    Twice a River

    After studying our faces for months
    My son knows to beam
    Is the thing to do

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