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

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    Income inequality has spawned a new subgenre of art – less dystopian than manic and absurd

    Critics – and people at dinner parties – like to remark how dystopian television shows such as The Handmaid’s Tale or Black Mirror offer the sharpest reflections of our grim times.

    I disagree.

    Related: Outclassed: how your neighbor’s income might affect your happiness

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    The prizewinning poet on the pleasures of Andrea Lawlor, Willie Perdomo and the ‘best novel ever written’

    The book I am currently reading
    I’m loving Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor. It’s pulling at my little queer midwestern heartstrings to read magical Paul navigate desire and friendship in his body that he can change into whatever shape or sex he wants.

    The book that changed my life
    In my freshman year at college I was given a copy of Smoking Lovely by Willie Perdomo, and it was the first time I had seen a book of poetry. Perdomo’s poems helped me make sense of the addiction that lived in my family and me, while also showing me how alive poems could be on the page.

    Douglas Kearney’s sensibilities are wild and inspired my own wildness to grow

    Related: Danez Smith becomes youngest winner of Forward poetry prize

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    From Mary Oliver’s verse to a touching tale by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, reading can be a salve for the soul

    Q: What books do you recommend to help me combat my growing misanthropy caused by despair over the increasingly gloomy outlook for our planet?
    Anonymous teacher, 55, US

    Alex Preston, author and Observer critic, writes:
    I think, in fact, that reading as a whole is a cure for misanthropy. There’s nothing like a book to persuade you that you’re not alone. John Steinbeck said: “We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story, begging the listener to say – and to feel – ‘Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.’”

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    Eighty years after Old Possum, a companion collection of dog poems pays tribute to the literary giant

    From Macavity to Rum Tum Tugger, TS Eliot’s poems about cats, originally intended as gifts for his godchildren, have thrilled generations of children and adults alike, becoming a cultural phenomenon in the process.

    Now Eliot’s publishing house Faber & Faber is marking next year’s 80th anniversary of the publication of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats with a long-dreamt-of sequel. Old Toffer’s Book of Consequential Dogs, which contains 22 new poems by Costa award-winning poet and former Faber poetry editor Christopher Reid, is out this month, kickstarting a year of celebrations as the publisher heads towards its 90th year.

    Eliot's cats have full personalities and I wanted my dogs to be seen in the same way

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    The spoken word artist from north London on drill music, using art to educate young people and the joy of podcasting

    Spoken-word artist George the Poet, or George Mpanga, 27, grew up in Neasden in north-west London before attending Cambridge University. As a writer of socially charged rap and poetry, he has become a spokesperson for issues faced by multicultural inner-city communities. Earlier this year, he opened the BBC’s coverage of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and appeared twice on Question Time. His podcast series, Have You Heard George’s Podcast?, is performed to a live audience, who are given the option to wear a blindfold and encouraged to focus on the immersive sound effects and different voices.

    What drew you to being a performer?
    When I was a teenager, grime was blossoming. I caught the bug. Writing lyrics, recording music and performing at community events grew me as a person. My engagement in school sharpened because I was putting my vocabulary to use.

    Drill is part of a long tradition of young black men creating an artistic expression that captures the attention of people around the world

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    This ghostly Icelandic parable of patriarchy subtly defies predictable sexual politics

    Three Poetesses

    Three poetesses
    in white bras
    sit around a low
    round-table.
    With books in hand.

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    The Wound in Time by Carol Ann Duffy was written for commemorations being led by the director at beaches around the UK and Ireland

    A new poem by Carol Ann Duffy, a sonnet in which the poet laureate mourns the “wound in Time” left by the first world war, will be read aloud on beaches on Armistice Day as part of a nationwide gesture of remembrance for next month’s centenary.

    The poem, published on Monday, was commissioned by the director and producer Danny Boyle as part of his commemoration of Armistice Day, Pages of the Sea, which will see thousands of people gathering on beaches in the UK and the Republic of Ireland at low tide on 11 November. As well as readings of Duffy’s poem, the event will see the portrait of a casualty from the war, designed by sand artists Sand in Your Eye, drawn into the sand on beaches around the country, until it is washed away by the tide.

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    Melanie Mununggurr-Williams from Darwin has been crowned champion of the 2018 Australian Poetry Slam National Final, after she dropped a stunning slam on Aboriginal identity on Sunday night at Sydney Opera House

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  • 10/22/18--09:20: Gwenyth Shaw obituary
  • My mother, Gwenyth Shaw, who has died aged 95, gave up a lectureship in economics at Liverpool University in 1946 – the year she married – to follow her new husband, Roy Shaw, to his first job as a Workers’ Educational Association tutor in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

    Although she taught adult classes in railway economics at Hull University during the winter of 1946-47, thereafter she devoted herself largely to raising their five sons and twin daughters. She found time, however, to gain a first in humanities from the Open University (her second degree), to lecture in further education in Stoke-on-Trent and to teach courses on the poetry of Philip Larkin jointly with Roy after he retired in 1983.

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    A poet struggles for words during a marriage proposal, leading to the question: Is poetry really better at capturing our feelings than plain old prose? Tell us in the comments

    What makes us reach for poetry? I have often heard the claim that it is extreme events — a birth or death or love, for example — that sends people in search of verse to calm or enlighten or explain the particulars lost in the tumult of such emotion. It’s a strange claim to me because to be born, to die and to love are in no way extremes; they are perhaps the only three natural certainties available to human animals. When my father died last year at 53 years of age, I did not turn to poetry, I turned to family and I turned inward. When I decided to propose to my partner Hannah recently, I offered only three words, followed by the question.

    Related: Poem of the week: Manhattan by Lola Ridge

    Related: I'm face to face with Ningaloo's living miracles and it feels holy | Tim Winton

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  • 10/23/18--07:20: Judith Kazantzis obituary
  • Poet, writer and activist who examined the traps and seductions of power relationships – domestic, sexual and social

    Judith Kazantzis, who has died aged 78, produced tense, taut poems as delicate and strong as spiders’ webs. Her lifelong passion for weaving words together in playful and intriguing ways mirrored her simultaneous commitment to making connections in life and politics, between love and activism, and, as an artist, between words and images.

    She published 12 collections of poetry, as well as essays, and a novel, Of Love and Terror (2002). Part of an impressive generation of female poets including Fleur Adcock, Gillian Clarke, Alison Fell and Penelope Shuttle, she examined the traps and seductions of power relationships, domestic, sexual, social. She could be savagely witty; never didactic. New wine demanded new bottles: beginning with Minefield (1977) she composed spare, tightly controlled free verse unafraid of gaps and jumps. She employed a vernacular that could be tart, bawdy, lyrical, satirical by turns.

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    A new poem commissioned by the Children’s Society will win the hearts of a new generation of readers

    In a recent column for the Guardian, the Booker-shortlisted writer Robin Robertson declared himself “vaguely appalled” by the poetry world, of which (though a newcomer to the novel) he has long been a feted member. It was, he wrote, small and polarised, and often either simplistic or incomprehensible. “I’m allergic to light verse because it seems a betrayal of the purpose of poetry. Equally, poetry that sets out to be deliberately opaque is betraying the purpose of language.”

    One can only assume that a poem launched today by the Children’s Society will bring him out in hives, with its sentimental five-stanza invocation of starlight and candles, and its insistence that “No child should reach out their hand and find nothing/ No child should ever be left in the snow”. Light a Candle was commissioned from the poet Clare Shaw, and will be sung by choirs across the UK, in a setting by the Royal Academy of Music PhD student Louise Drewett, with an outing on BBC One’s Songs of Praise in early December. Shaw, the Yorkshire-based author of three collections, whose work has been hailed as “startling, searing, scorching”, says this secular, 21st-century descendant of Christina Rossetti’s In the Bleak Midwinter is one of the most taxing things she has ever tried to write.

    Related: First Macavity the cat, now Molly the mutt: the sequel TS Eliot dreamed of writing

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    Rifles in India | Blood donors | Chuka Umunna | Poetry | Charlie Brown

    Peter Betts is quite right (Letters, 23 October). Ever since the so-called “mutiny” of 1857, British Indian troops were habitually armed with obsolete weapons. The then state-of-the-art 1850s Enfield rifle-musket was replaced with an inferior smooth-bored version, and when regular troops received the lever-action Martini Henry in 1879, the poor old Indian service had to make do with the relatively primitive 1867 Snider-Enfield conversion. And so on. The extent to which all this was a matter of conscious colonial control or sheer logistical expediency remains a matter of debate.
    Jeremy Muldowney
    Heworth, North Yorkshire

    • I applaud Marc Quinn’s message in an article about his new artwork (Artwork taps 5,000 blood donors for refugee message, 24 October). Years ago a neighbour, who was a blood donor and whose heritage was Indian, said she always hoped that a white racist might get her blood – a silent attack on their views from the inside!
    Linda Rhead
    Hampton, London

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    He believed he’d found the secret key to unlock all of Shakespeare’s work. Twenty years after Hughes’s death, this is the story of the lifelong fixation he feared would destroy him

    Ted Hughes, who quarried much of his life and work from myth and folklore, was hyperconscious of literary tradition. In a 1995 interview with the Paris Review, he identified his “sacred canon” as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, Coleridge, Hopkins, Eliot and Yeats. This sombre obeisance to his lyric forebears is dignified and appropriate, but slightly misleading. Hughes had grown up with Yeats and Eliot, and was often linked with Wordsworth, but there was one writer with whom he was particularly obsessed: Shakespeare. Indeed, in the year that he died he confessed to a friend that he believed this lifelong fixation to have been fatal.

    Hughes, in his 20s, never ceased reading and rereading the playwright’s work. The spell it cast over him goes back to his Cambridge days, and predates his meeting Sylvia Plath. In February 1952, he described his undergraduate routine to his sister Olwyn: “I get up at 6, and read a Shakespeare play before 9 … That early bout puts me ahead all day.” Five years later, he confided to a friend that he was “reading all Shakespeare in what I consider the order of their being written.”

    Related: Unseen Sylvia Plath letters claim domestic abuse by Ted Hughes

    Hughes hot-wires the reader into the wild voltage of his fascination with myth, language and folklore

    Writing critical prose actually damaged my immune system

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    After 10 years, the poet laureate is preparing to step down. She talks politics, swearing – and how poetry has changed since she started writing

    “Combover ... twitter-rat, tweet-twat, tripe-gob, muckspout” … so runs the first stanza of “Swearing In” by Carol Ann Duffy. “That was fun to write”, the poet laureate says, laughing. The poem uses kennings, an ancient form that describes something using compound words – in this case a Duffyesque litany of insults, mixing medieval and Elizabethan phrases with modern or invented coinages (“tie-treader”: “he wears very long ties”). “‘Mandrake mymmerkin’ … I’ll leave you to research that,” she says. If you haven’t guessed the subject, the poem ends: “welcome to the White House”.

    In her new collection, Sincerity, her last as laureate, Duffy is not pulling any punches. “I like the word ‘sincerity’,” she says. “To speak and act out of one’s beliefs, thoughts, feelings.” She was also drawn to its etymology, derived from the way in which “dodgy sculptors” in ancient Greece and Rome would conceal mistakes or flaws by covering them with wax. So “without wax” (sine cera in Latin), “means genuine, not duplicitous,” she explains. “I liked that as a title.”

    'I’ve never thought "I’m going to write a political poem”. It's the relentless pressure that squeezes them out of you'

    'You have to find where the voice of poetry can be added to the national babble and blether and jabber'

    Related: Carol Ann Duffy's royal wedding poem: Long Walk

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    The poet-performer talks to Tim Adams about his new book and tour and, further down, answers questions from readers and famous fans

    John Cooper Clarke has, arguably, not only the most recognisable silhouette in show business, but also the most infectious of poetic voices. Mention that the Bard of Salford was to visit the Observer office for this interview last week immediately prompted snatches of extemporised quotation from some of Clarke’s more famous lyrics – I Wanna Be Yours, Evidently Chickentown, I Married a Monster from Outer Space – from those colleagues who had some grounding in his snarly Mancunian vowels and those who were not afraid of pretending. Nick Cohen, our columnist, broke off from columnising to recite extended passages of Clarke’s verse first committed to memory when the poet was sharing spittle-flecked stages with Buzzcocks and the Sex Pistols back in the day. Dr Clarke, as he styles himself, wearing his honorary doctorate from Salford University with pride, has always had that effect; to the many devotees of his live performances over five decades, he is both much imitated and inimitable.

    He arrived in traditional garb: pointed boots, strides clinging to stick-insect legs, dark jacket, buttoned-up white shirt, generous shades, Ronnie Wood hair beneath a tall grey felt hat. He will turn 70 next year. One of the more fortunate breaks in his poetic career, he suggests, was that he looked like a punk before punk rock arrived. He had fixed on his sartorial style in the unlikely arena of Bernard Manning’s Embassy Club, where he acted as compere in the early 1970s, warming up an audience united by their shared antipathy to performance poetry. The outfit was another form of fighting talk, one he has stuck with in a journey that has seen some extremes.

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    As summer makes its exit, it’s still possible to enjoy the lusty energy of this madrigal maypole dance

    Strike it up, Tabor

    Strike it up, Tabor,
    And pipe us a favour!
    Thou shalt be well-paid for thy labour.
    I mean to spend my shoe-sole
    To dance about the may-pole!
    I will be blithe and brisk,
    Leap and skip,
    Hop and trip,
    Turn about
    In the rout,
    Until the weary joints can scarce frisk!

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    As the midterm elections loom, we welcome a poet whose verse is carved from this divided moment and search for the deep roots of political writing

    This week we examine the political power of the written word over the course of more than 1,000 years.

    We start with our faces pressed up against the present moment, as the TS Eliot prize-shortlisted poet Terrance Hayes joins us to discuss a collection of poems written to the fevered rhythm of our 24-hour news culture. He explains how he started writing his American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin in the raw days after Donald Trump’s election victory in November 2016, how Wanda Coleman allowed him to unlock his anger and confusion, and how writing a sonnet a day is a challenge the present moment won’t let him put aside.

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    The songwriter and poet’s final writings are full of youthful spark, beauty and romance

    The first time I came across Leonard Cohen – before I had ever heard his songs – I was an opinionated 16-year-old. I was drawn to a volume of his poetry in a bookshop but when I got it home dismissed it as a) too depressed and b) – more snootily – as not literature. Now, decades later, I no longer care whether Cohen’s work is literature. This grand book, The Flame, elegantly and posthumously published by Canongate, includes lyrics of last-gasp beauty from You Want It Darker– his final album with its against-the-odds satisfactions (to do partly with the octogenarian unlikeliness of its existing at all). The Flame is also a selection of the Canadian singer-songwriter’s unpublished work. Cohen’s son, Adam, has been its sensitive custodian. And as for the depression, it has a heroism now. Perhaps there was too much of the old man in the younger poet; youthful spark in the older writer is a finer thing.

    Whatever the truth, what is remarkable is that Cohen remained an unreconstructed romantic right to the end (he died in 2016, aged 82). Some of his late poems (balanced between illusion and disillusion) are about trying to resist erotic temptation, as in the wonderful On the Level, about love’s beckoning ecstasies. “I said I best be moving on / You said, we have all day / You smiled at me like I was young / It took my breath away.” He uses the ballad to make life bearable: discord finds harmony. His songs are also a dance; this is the poetry of relationship.

    Related: Leonard Cohen: 10 of his best songs

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    Honorees include Claire Collison, whose works include a performance piece about female beauty that she performs with her mastectomy scars revealed

    A breast cancer survivor who performs a monologue with her mastectomy scars exposed in order to address attitudes towards female beauty is among three recipients of the inaugural Women Poets’ prize. The award aims to celebrate the empowerment of women and reward “creatively ambitious practitioners who are making or are capable of making a significant contribution to the UK poetry landscape”.

    Claire Collison, who moved to writing poetry and prose after working for 30 years as a visual artist, was awarded the prize alongside New Zealand-born Nina Mingya Powles and London-based Anita Pati.

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