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

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    A pair of contrasting monologues set in 1920s Ireland are witty and humane to an outstanding degree

    Kitty Donovan, a dressmaker in the time of the Irish war of independence, arrives on the opening page of this book fully formed. It is 1919. She does not seem invented. You hear her voice in your head – insistent, opinionated, revved up – and long to hear her speak aloud for this poetic monologue is just begging to be performed. Martina Evans’s outstanding book needs to be taken on as a radio piece without delay – or, perhaps, put on stage. Its second half belongs to another Irish woman, Babe Cronin, who, like Kitty, vents about life, but times have now changed and it is 1924. Babe is a stenographer in London who has fallen in love with a young revolutionary and their monologues are intertwined because Eileen, the woman with whom Babe has fallen in love, once lived and sewed with Kitty, an orphaned apprentice.

    I loved everything about this book: its tragicomic shambles of an opening involves a husband lost and found (is he a vision, a side-effect of the laudanum to which Kitty is hooked?) alongside a mislaid hat. “After twelve years/Could he have clambered out the other/side of Sullivan’s Quay that night in Cork/ran away fast with his bowler under/his arm? We never found the hat although/Eileen Murphy and myself searched high/and low, tearing the damp walls, our hands/bright green from the moss.”

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    She lived a sensational life – but it was her assumption of her equality that made Maya Angelou radical, as I rediscovered when turning I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings into radio drama

    I’ve been adapting novels and plays for radio for well over a decade. And I’ve adapted wonderful work: Beloved, The Darker Face of the Earth, Small Island, The Color Purple. But adapting the work of Maya Angelou for BBC Radio 4 was the first time I dramatised a memoir. I am used to ferreting out the intentions of the writer between the lines of a play and among the events in a novel. With Maya Angelou’s memoirs, she was right there in front of me, looking me in the eye. It is a bold adapter who wouldn’t feel intimidated. It would also be a foolish one who didn’t grab the opportunity to bring her words to the ear.

    The intimacy of radio meant that having Maya’s words spoken by a narrated version of herself was a given. Without the distraction of visuals, life in the deep south during Jim Crow, the characters hustling on the streets of postwar San Francisco, a teenaged Maya driving over the Mexican border having never driven before, and her life as an expat in Ghana can all be imagined and savoured. But there were decisions to be made about which moments would take to being dramatised, which ones should be reported, and which should not be included in this adaptation. I can’t tell you how difficult it was to make these omissions.

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    The creation of the health service changed Britain. Yet while this vision is under severe threat, it has also never been more keenly cherished

    In writing To Provide All People, I hoped to create a lyrical bridge between the birth of the most radical and beautiful idea we’ve ever made manifest and the people who embody that idea today: the staff and patients of the National Health Service. Moving between the story of its coming into being in 1948 and personal experiences of the service today, my aspiration was to paint a philosophical and emotional map of our NHS rather than a journalistic or political survey. I wanted to excavate what the idea of healthcare free at the point of delivery means for us as individuals and as a society. What are the patterns of psychological resonance of such a national act of compassion and how has the ethos of the idea informed and formed us, as individuals and as a country?

    Related: Life as an NHS nurse in the 1950s: ‘Patients never had to wait on trolleys’

    To talk with these patients was also to be reminded of what Bevan called the service’s 'secret, silent column'

    Related: Life as an NHS nurse in the 1940s: ‘You have to forget about yourself’

    Nurses are the most vital connective tissue that binds the grand scale of the NHS’s philosophy with the intimacy of its practice

    Related: Life as an NHS nurse in the 1990s: ‘Patient expectation has risen’

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    • Daughter confirms death at home in New Hampshire
    • Hall was known for work on love, loss, baseball and the past

    Donald Hall, a prolific and award-winning poet and man of letters who was widely admired for his sharp humor and painful candor about nature, mortality, baseball and the distant past, has died. He was 89.

    Hall’s daughter, Philippa Smith, confirmed on Sunday that her father died on Saturday at his home in Wilmot, New Hampshire, after being in hospice care for some time.

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    After her final show on 5 June, the trailblazer said, ‘I have finally arrived at where I needed to be’

    Australia’s literary community has paid tribute to award-winning spoken word artist and activist Candy Royalle, who has died aged 37 after suffering from ovarian cancer.

    Announcing her death on Facebook on Sunday, her family wrote she died on Saturday afternoon, “after years of struggling with her illness”.

    Absolutely gutted to hear about the passing of my dear friend Candy Royalle. What a powerhouse of love, what a force of nature. She lived love, emanated love. Let us keep doing the same. Sending condolences to her fam and loved ones. Rest in power, poet warrior. xx

    Vale, Candy Royalle. Just saw the news that my friend, peer, and fellow queer Arab is no longer with us. She was such a fierce bright light. I'm devastated. Just devastated. Allah yerhama.

    I am devastated about Candy Royalle. I became friends with this fierce, empathetic, eloquent poet just a short time ago and she rocked my world. Two weeks ago she asked me to see her perform; and I am so glad I did. Her poems made me laugh, cry dance. She burned. I will miss her.

    Last night, being able to play with the band for the first time in a yr, feeling that spiritual magic course through me, just beyond words. So blessed to have such a trusting audience. My heart is full of gratitude that you turned up to exchange that energy with us. Thank you x

    Related: Ali Cobby Eckermann's poetry: inspiring those of us who feel like outsiders

    Vale Candy Royalle our sister poet and dear friend. What an incredible performer and activist. Rest in peace.

    Saddened by the news of Candy Royalle's passing. Her strength, passion and courage were so contagious. As was her smile.

    We lost a real one today.

    I hope you're at peace now

    Vale @CandyRoyalle, a fierce storyteller, poet and activist that enriched the literary community. We are privileged to have heard Candy speak about her Stella Spark, Ali Cobby Eckermann, in 2017. Her talent, creativity and power will not be forgotten.

    It is with the heaviest of hearts that we post that Candy Royalle passed away yesterday after a hard battle with cancer. She was and always will be a giant in our world - someone who spoke with so much eloquence, passion and conviction that she inspired thousands. Rest In Peace.

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    Novelist Kirsty Gunn chooses books that explore a very literary kind of longing

    In Katherine Mansfield’s exquisite long short story At the Bay, Beryl, a middle-aged woman still fantasising about the young girl she once was and the lovers she could have captured then, stands in a darkened room half-imagining someone is out there in the dark, desiring her. So much of fiction is about desire, a yearning of some kind or another … the love of reading itself a sort of intense affair.

    These thoughts and more were whirling around in my mind when I wrote my own novel about unrequited love, Caroline’s Bikini, the story of middle-aged Evan’s great love for his landlady, the desirable but always just out of reach Caroline Beresford.

    Related: Caroline’s Bikini by Kirsty Gunn – review

    Related: Top 10 lost women's classics

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    The much-loved American author’s inventive collection is intelligent, accessible – perhaps a little too cosy at times

    Dubbed the “most popular poet in America” by the New York Times, Billy Collins has won countless admirers for his chatty, witty, wholly dependable poetry. At pains to welcome the reader with avuncular charm, he writes lines that are more serious than they seem, though by how much, you’d be hard pressed to say. Wry and self-mocking, his favoured territory is the suburban everyday – a pop song stuck in your head; people-watching on public transport; a “perfect” spring day – though he is most at home striking a knowing and self-referential pose, “looking every inch the writer / right down to the little writer’s frown on my face”. “If This Were a Job I’d Be Fired”, quips the title of one poem, its narrator swanning off, having penned the most inconsequential of verses. Philip Larkin would have surely labelled him the “shit in the shuttered chateau”. But while some critics have called Collins a philistine, there is a productive quirkiness to his poems, finding surprise and profundity in unpicking objects, phrases and peculiar factoids. As a poet who is especially reader conscious, his writing is both unusual and praiseworthy for attempting to balance accessibility with intelligence, “picking up the phone / to imagine your unimaginable number”.

    Aimless Love follows on from Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes (2000) as the second selection of Collins’s poems for a UK audience. It draws on his four collections published since then, alongside 50 new poems. “Aimless Love” is as trademark a Collins poem as any, typifying what you may find to admire or dislike in his work, depending on your taste. It finds our poet wandering about, falling for just about every creature that meets his happy gaze, whether “a wren”, “a mouse / the cat had dropped under the dining room table”, or even a bar of “patient and soluble” soap. Some will gag at this kind of whimsical fancy, but it’s worth noting that Collins is rarely committed to a poem’s initial stance; the concept is the occasion to get things going. In this case, it turns out to be a reflection on love, imagining how it might exist “without recompense, without gifts, / or silence on the telephone”. “But my heart is always propped up / in a field on its tripod”, the speaker laments, “ready for the next arrow”. Though we calculate between its revivifying promise and its emotional cost, the poem suggests, most of us are victims to love’s unpredictable strangeness.

    Billy Collins remains to ​​middle America what John Betjeman was to postwar England: popular, nostalgic, gently comic.

    Related: The Saturday poem: Tanager

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    Mpanga says ‘out of nowhere’ officers put him in a van after sold-out show in Islington

    The acclaimed spoken word artist George the Poet has said he was strip-searched by police without cause after a gig in London.

    The Cambridge graduate, real name George Mpanga, who grew up in Harlesden, north-west London, said the incident took place outside his parents’ house on Thursday night. Earlier, he had performed at the Screen on the Green in Islington.

    Last night after a beautiful sold out show I was chilling outside my parents' house when police rolled up in that big van asking questions about my car. I answered and verified. Then they told me to move my hand from my waistband. Out of nowhere they cuffed me and searched my car for weapons. After the car itself was the first issue . They put me in the van and did a strip search. They then took 20 mins to write my search slip, being rude to my parents and neighbours the whole time • This week I've done talks on diversity in Cambridge and Cardiff. Both were amazing experiences. Last night I delivered a show about all aspects of English life - school, relationships, politics, colonialism. Police didn't get a mention once cos as a grown man I'm sick of talking about them. They will never change and they don't deserve my energy. But to be cuffed and dragged around in front of my parents while they make up lies about me being aggressive and having's a reminder that we don't fight on our own terms, we fight on theirs. To all my young boys who are locked in conflict with each other, please wake up and realise who your real enemies are. Realise how much harder you're making it for your children. These people don't wanna see us up, but still like dust we'll rise • I don't like sharing images of me being handled like a second class citizen by public servants whose salaries we pay taxes for. This is not how I see myself, and it's not what I invite into my life. But these images should be an education for anyone who doesn't understand the toxic energies that are quietly spread throughout our community by state actors. Imagine if my nephews woke up and saw their big famous uncle getting handled like this. What seeds would that sow in them? Writing this post was boring, I've got better things to do. Sorry to anyone who was woken up by the noise.

    So sorry this happened @GeorgeThePoet. Sadly still happens to young black men too often. Evidence-based stop and search can be a tool against crime. But random stops like this take too many resources for what they achieve, and in the end only poison police-community relations.

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  • 06/29/18--10:16: John James obituary
  • The sensual brevity of John James’s poetry reflected his personality. John, who has died aged 79, was stylish, casual, elegant, unstudied. His Welsh-Irish origins, too, underpinned his work.

    The only child of Lil (nee O’Reilly), from Cork, and Charlie James, a royal marine, John was born in Cardiff, not long before the outbreak of the second world war. To avoid the blitz on Swansea’s refineries, the family upped sticks for Portsmouth, only to be bombed there. On their return to Cardiff, John was taught by the Lasalle Brothers at Saint Illtyd’s College.

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    Ahead of a Dublin exhibition of the poet’s archive, the Heaney family explain how they put together a new collection to reflect his life as a husband and father, as well as a Nobel laureate

    In 2011, when Seamus Heaney announced that he would donate his papers to the National Library of Ireland (NLI), it was a source of much pride, and a little relief, for the library. There had been some speculation that the archive would go to Harvard, where Heaney had taught for many years. When the day came for the papers to be delivered, “I think the director of the library presumed there’d be a van and minions”, recalls Heaney’s son Michael. “But there was Dad carrying the boxes. He’d put them in the back of the family car and brought them round himself. It was all done very casually, but there was also a weird sense of momentousness, so much so that it felt right for us to have a drink to mark the occasion with my brother, Christopher, afterwards.”

    The episode is emblematic of Heaney’s status in Ireland as a figure who is not only hugely revered for his creativity and intellect, but also loved for being approachable and down to earth. Two years later, when Heaney died unexpectedly aged 74, his family learned just how much he had meant to people, and not just in Ireland. “I was utterly taken aback by the response,” says his widow, Marie. “And I wondered whether he would have been, too. But there he was, above the fold on the front page of the New York Times, with a story about Obama and Syria down the side. It was something extraordinary to experience alongside our shock and our grief.”

    There are countless examples of how the poetry has entered the everyday lives of people

    Related: Seamus Heaney obituary

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    She has debated with presidents, been comforted by the Dalai Lama, and been called one of the world’s most inspiring women – but it’s as a poet that Emtithal Mahmoud truly shines

    Emtithal Mahmoud was brimming with rage and misery when she sat down to write her poem Mama. Her grandmother had just died in Sudan, her mother was on a plane to the funeral and she felt consumed by anger.

    “I wrote it in one of the darkest times of my life,” she says. “It felt like my grandmother had survived everything, the war, famine, and in the end it was not just cancer, it was lack of access to proper medical research. It was a very dark time. And that poem helped me get through it.”

    My parents got death threats every single day when I was walking. We were constantly under surveillance

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    An only apparently informal riff on an only apparently straightforward concept of identity finds some sparky complications


    If you ask me, us takes in undulations
    each wave in the sea, all insides compressed –
    as if, from one coast, you could reach out to

    Related: Poem of the week: Typewriter by Matthew Francis

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  • 07/05/18--04:01: Meic Stephens obituary
  • Literary editor, arts administrator, translator and poet who promoted Welsh cultural causes

    Meic Stephens, who has died aged 79, was one of the most productive and influential figures in Welsh writing in English. After a few years teaching in Ebbw Vale, and one as a journalist in Cardiff, in 1967 he joined the newly designated Welsh Arts Council, which he served as literature director for 23 years. He had no background in arts administration, but in the early 1960s, while still teaching, he had established his own publishing imprint, the Triskel Press, and in 1965 launched Poetry Wales.

    Under his editorship the magazine was committed to the causes of Welsh nationhood, the Welsh language and building bridges between what were then known as Anglo-Welsh writers and those who wrote in the senior language of Wales. It became the principal vehicle of “the second flowering” of Welsh writing in English (the first having been in the 1930s). Among the new voices it introduced in the late 1960s and 70s were Gillian Clarke and Robert Minhinnick; it also resuscitated lapsed talents such as those of John Ormond, Leslie Norris and Harri Webb, bringing them to impressive maturity.

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    Surrealist artists, dogged detectives, modern lovers and spies behaving badly ... leading authors pick their best books to enjoy these holidays

    Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion (Chatto) is wonderfully dense and wise, a page-turner that succeeds both at character and ideas. It felt true to life.

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    From an ancient set of Welsh eulogies and elegies, these verses on the impact of war remain potent – and very readable

    The men went to Catraeth; they were renowned;
    Wine and mead from golden cups was their beverage;
    The year was to them of exalted solemnity;
    Three warriors and three score and three hundred, wearing the golden torques.
    Of those who hurried forth after the excess of revelling,
    But three escaped by the prowess of the gashing sword,
    The two war-dogs of Aeron and Cenon the dauntless,
    And myself from the spilling of my blood, the reward of my sacred song.

    The leader of war with eagerness conducts the battle,
    A mighty country loves mighty reapers.
    Blood is a heavy return for new mead.
    His cheeks are covered with armour all around,
    There is a trampling of accoutrements – accoutrements are trampled.
    He calls for death and brings desolation.
    In the first onset his lances penetrate the targets,
    And for light on the course, shrubs blaze on the spears.

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    Pop’s high priestess bares her soul in this candid collection charting her transition from wild child to grownup

    You’d think, after four hugely successful albums, that Florence Welch would know her own voice. Yet the Florence + the Machine singer’s first lyrics and poetry collection is all about learning to speak. “What would I say / If it was just me / Not full of choirs, singing fucking constantly,” asks Song, its tricksily named keynote poem.

    It makes sense. “Force of nature” is a cliche that Welch’s powerful voice often inspires, but it has a grain of truth: a song, for her, is something that blows through her from elsewhere. “I am a conduit but totally oblivious to its wisdom,” she says in her preface.

    In Honeymoon, she feels the shells of those she’s hurt rattling behind her like Marley’s chains

    Related: Florence Welch: ‘I wonder sometimes, did I dream too big?’

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    Clay slab believed to date from 3rd century AD discovered near ancient city of Olympia

    Archaeologists have unearthed an ancient tablet engraved with 13 verses of the Odyssey in the ancient city of Olympia, southern Greece, in what could be the earliest record of the epic poem, the Greek culture ministry said.

    Related: The Odyssey by Homer – the first step

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    A poetry anthology by immigrant schoolchildren in Oxford are full of heart and resolve

    This is the work of pupils at Oxford Spires academy, written over the nine years the poet Kate Clanchy has been writer in residence there. The school is a comprehensive in what she describes as “the poverty-stricken east of the sprawling, industrial, undreamy conurbation of Oxford, well out of sight of the famous spires”. There is a mix of different nationalities in the classroom – Lithuanian, Korean, Syrian, Brazilian, Tanzanian, Afghan, Polish. But what is even more extraordinary is that this is a school where poetry is encouraged as though it were a sport. Clanchy has set out to stifle any notion that “poetry belongs only to the privileged”. In this school, the invitation is to express what might not be expressed elsewhere – poetry is a place, if never quite a home.

    The question of home and the various countries these writers (aged between 11 and 19) have left behind, often in traumatic circumstances, dominates. The book may have “England” in its title, but what is striking is how – aside from an unflattering snapshot or two of Oxford’s Cowley Road, where what stands out for 17-year-old Asima Qayyum is its ethnic mix (“aka the Road of Nationalities”) – England seldom comes into focus. It is the lost countries that are more vivid. And where you might expect exotic variety (writing styles themselves range from simple to sophisticated, with a handful of translations from Arabic), what is most moving is the sense that exile has a collective voice, a shared tone. Stoicism, sadness, resolve – this writing is hard won. There is an inwardness and, at the same time, the poems invoke one another. And they are not depressing, even when the subject matter distresses. On the contrary, they shine.

    Related: Poem of the week: Leaving home at 10 by Harry Garuba

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    The comedian’s new show questions how to cope with the relentlessness of today’s politics. He discusses the ‘cult’ of Catholicism, his love of poetry and giving up his vices

    “I’ve been doing this for a quarter of a century,” points out Dylan Moran. “I’m probably going to know about as much as I’m ever going to know on a working level. There’s a liberty in that.” It’s hard to believe so much time has passed since the Irish comic first shuffled on to the stage, cigarette and drink at the ready, and appeared not to know what on earth he was doing there. In 1996, aged 24, he became the youngest person to win the Perrier comedy award at the Edinburgh festival, and embarked on his first UK tour the year after. TV and film opportunities followed, often playing various iterations of his rumpled, grumpy stage persona: in the 1998 sitcom How Do You Want Me?, with the late Charlotte Coleman; a cameo as a shameless shoplifter in the Richard Curtis film Notting Hill; roles in the Simon Pegg vehicles Shaun of the Dead and Run, Fatboy, Run. More recently he’s appeared in the 2014 Irish film Calvary and the TV sitcom Uncle.

    But the show he remains best known for is cult favourite Black Books, co-created with Graham Linehan, in which Moran took centre stage as the operatically bad-tempered secondhand bookshop owner Bernard Black, a petty tyrant to his sweet-natured assistant, played by Bill Bailey. An extended love letter to booze, fags, dusty bookshops and stubborn individuality, it ran for three series, from 2000 to 2004, and still inspires enormous affection.

    Standup was like throwing my cards in the air – or trying on a suit that fits and it’s just perfect

    This country has two zombie political parties having a pretend show of political debate that will never lead to anything

    Related: 50 shows to see at the Edinburgh fringe 2018

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    A plainly spoken reflection on a violent, guilty world adds up to a kind of ‘anti-prayer’ that does not rule out belief

    Animal Planet

    Less guilty, though not innocent,
    In this universe where
    The laws of nature decide
    Who should kill whom
    And whoever kills most is king.
    How admiringly they film
    The placid and ferocious lion as it tears a fawn to pieces!
    And whenever I close my eyes or switch off the telly,
    I feel that I participate less in the crime,
    Even though the candle of life
    Will always need blood to go on burning –
    The blood of another.

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