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

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    An essential collection of prose poems from across the globe, by old masters and new, reveals the form’s astonishing range

    You might think of a prose poem as a bastardised form – neither one thing nor another; a modernist mongrel. But this anthology is an invitation to rethink its place in literature (mongrels are, after all, prized for their intelligence). It is a wonderful book – an invigorating revelation. Jeremy Noel-Tod has done a stupendous job in corralling 200 poems from around the world. His definition of the prose poem boils down to “the simplest common denominator… a poem without line breaks”. Not a single piece here is unworthy of notice and the excitement is that, alongside indispensable familiars – Turgenev, Oscar Wilde, Seamus Heaney, Geoffrey Hill, Czeslaw Milosz – there are many unusual suspects. Noel-Tod maintains that the prose poem “drives the reading mind beyond the city limits”. It does – and its suburbs are extraordinary.

    Baudelaire is usually hailed as the originator of the prose poem with his Petits poèmes en prose (1869), followed by Rimbaud with Les Illuminations (1886), but Noel-Tod reveals that Edgar Allan Poe got there first with Eureka: A Prose Poem (1848), an “unclassifiable essay, both mystical and scientific”. This anthology, which contains its own share of the unclassifiable, is published in reverse chronological order: contemporary, postmodern and modern. To qualify for inclusion, prose poems needed to have been previously published as poetry. And what emerges is that the prose poem has always been a liberating space and that being “neither one thing nor another” is its power: it lends itself to the liminal, experimental, to dreams and in-between feelings – especially about writing itself.

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    Our favourite authors on the most outstanding books they read this year

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    This meditation on defeat was written around the time the author was declared insane, but shows a thoroughly lucid artistry

    Sonnet – September 1922

    Fierce indignation is best understood by those
    Who have time or no fear, or a hope in its real good.
    One loses it with a filed soul or in sentimental mood.
    Anger is gone with sunset, or flows as flows
    The water in easy mill-runs; the earth that ploughs
    Forgets protestation in its turning, the rood
    Prepares, considers, fulfils; and the poppy’s blood
    Makes old the old changing of the headland’s brows.

    But the toad under the harrow toadiness
    Is known to forget, and even the butterfly
    Has doubts of wisdom when that clanking thing goes by
    And’s not distressed. A twisted thing keeps still –
    That thing easier twisted than a grocer’s bill –
    And no history of November keeps the guy.

    Related: Poem of the week: The Mangel-Bury by Ivor Gurney

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    Readers Veronica Edwards, Clive Boutle and John Osborne rush to the defence of Cornish literature

    Max Liu’s portrayal of Cornwall (Why neglected Cornwall needs a literature of its own, 3 December) is not one I wholly accept. Having lived there for 35 years, I saw what could amount to almost revolutionary changes. True, Cornwall was deprived in many areas, but never off the map thanks to its thriving mining, fishing and farming industries whose demise had a profound effect.

    EU money made a dramatic difference and resulted in the renewal of the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project.

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    Border Districts described as ‘crowning achievement of a singular literary career’, beating works by Peter Carey and Richard Flanagan

    Gerald Murnane has beaten Peter Carey, Richard Flanagan, Kim Scott and Michelle de Kretser to win $80,000 for his novel Border Districts in the fiction category at the 2018 Prime Minister’s Literary awards.

    Judged by panel, the awards are among the most prestigious in Australia and the richest, with $600,000 in total prize money awarded across six categories, including $5,000 for each of the 30 shortlisted authors.

    Related: 'It's uncanny': acclaim at last for Gerald Murnane, lost genius of Australian letters

    Related: Gerald Murnane: one of Australia's greatest writers you may never have heard of

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    Correspondence from 1907 sees the 19-year-old poet advising college friend that ‘I am sorry you have placed me on a pedestal’

    An unpublished letter in which a young Rupert Brooke advises his lovelorn friend Ernst Goldschmidt to not “place … me on a pedestal”, has been found in Goldschmidt’s archives, bundled together with two unsent letters from Goldschmidt in which he tries to lay out his feelings for the poet.

    Brooke was 19 when he wrote to Goldschmidt on 25 March 1907, telling him that “I am sorry you have ‘built an altar in my heart’, and placed me on a pedestal … It is a mistake I made myself, once. Life is one of those ridiculous jests of which one never sees the point – until it is too late, and one does not appreciate the humour.”

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    Several authors have accused Ailey O’Toole of using their poems to write her own, including the Pushcart-nominated Gun Metal

    A prize-nominated poet’s debut collection has been cancelled and her work removed from online publications after multiple writers accused her of plagiarising their work.

    On Saturday, Ailey O’Toole, an American poet who was nominated for a Pushcart prize for the poem Gun Metal, was publicly accused by Rachel McKibbens of taking lines from her poem, three strikes, and using them in Gun Metal. McKibbens’ poem, which draws on her childhood trauma, reads: “Hell-spangled girl / spitting teeth into the sink, / I’d trace the broken / landscape of my body / & find God / within myself.” O’Toole’s Gun Metal reads: “Ramshackle / girl spitting teeth / in the sink. I trace the / foreign topography of / my body, find God / in my skin.”

    Related: 'Plagiarists never do it once': meet the sleuth tracking down the poetry cheats

    We are still processing the recent events but please know we have taken all necessary steps to rectify the recent disturbing developments. Please know we do NOT accept or tolerate plagiarism. We are hurt, we feel the pain & anger of those who have had work stolen.

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    The Scottish poet and editor on defying conventions of genre, the elusive nature of what he does, and the importance of external validation

    Robin Robertson is an acclaimed poet who has won all three of the Forward poetry prizes. His latest work, The Long Take, a narrative poem, is set in the years immediately after the second world war. The story unfolds in New York, San Francisco and, most importantly, Los Angeles, and follows Walker, a traumatised D-day veteran from Nova Scotia, as he tries to piece his life together just as the American dream is beginning to fray at its edges. It was shortlisted for the Booker prize and, last month, won the Goldsmiths prize for fiction, awarded to works that “open up new possibilities for the novel form”. Robertson also works as an editor at Jonathan Cape, where he publishes, among many others, Michael Ondaatje, Alice Oswald and Adam Thorpe.

    When you come to look back on this year, and the fact that what you took for a poem has been so celebrated as a novel, what will you think?
    That it’s all been a terrible accident? It is rather dreamlike. But this confusion over genre. I’ve been asked about it a lot. It is a long narrative poem; I don’t want to apologise for that. However, it’s also sui generis. It has prose in it, too. It’s to do with how you propel narrative; with how you make the reader pay attention to particular aspects of the story. Writing it as I did allowed for more control over some of those techniques.

    Related: Robin Robertson wins Goldsmiths prize for innovative fiction with The Long Take

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    Plus essays from Alice Pung, a new Garry Disher thriller, a biography of Germaine Greer and short stories from a Miles Franklin winner

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  • 12/09/18--01:00: Best books of 2018
  • Observer critics pick their must reads of 2018, from life in 50s Harlem to a tale about the Troubles via Michael Wolff’s lurid profile of Donald Trump

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    Silence, and what might be contained in nothing, gets quiet attention in this satisfyingly calm work

    Event

    Nothing is happening
    Nothing

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    On this week’s show, Richard looks at whether the prose poem could be the next big thing, with poets Claudia Rankine, Jeremy Noel-Tod and Emily Berry. Claire and Sian join him in the studio to chat about their favourite books of the year, to help with those Christmas catch-ups.

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    Our favourite authors on the most outstanding books they read this year

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    The first song in Welsh to hit 1m plays on Spotify is part of a wave spreading the joy of my country’s culture

    When you’re a speaker of a minority language, you become fairly used to that language and culture being ignored by the rest of the world. If you move away from home, encountering another speaker of that language can feel strangely exciting: moving, even. As you chat, your corner of the planet suddenly feels less small and insignificant, and long buried personality traits start to shine out – every multilingual person I have met says their character differs depending on the language they are speaking. These traits can spend months in hibernation, and then a fellow speaker comes along who truly sees and understands you.

    Imagine my excitement, as a Welsh expat, when I read that two lads from down the road had produced the first Welsh song to hit 1m Spotify plays. The rock duo Alffa’s song Gwenwyn (meaning Poison) is being streamed as far away as Brazil, having been placed on influential rock playlists by the Welsh music distributor PYST.

    Related: Huw Stephens: 'There are no limits to where Welsh language music can go'

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    As Jeremy Corbyn found with Shelley’s Masque of Anarchy, a resonant poem can help us make sense of the tumult

    “Never be afraid of saying you like poetry,” Jeremy Corbyn told thousands of people at Glastonbury last year, after reciting the end of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy: “Rise like lions after slumber ... / Shake your chains to earth like dew … / Ye are many, they are few”. Shelley wrote that poem – an apocalyptic vision of Britain’s destructive, corrupt, hypocritical rulers – after the Peterloo massacre in 1819, when the cavalry charged a peaceful crowd listening to speeches on parliamentary reform. Fifteen people died. “I met Murder on the way/ He had a mask like Castlereagh/ Very smooth he looked, yet grim;/ Seven blood-hounds followed him”.

    In the following stanzas, the foreign secretary, prime minister and lord chancellor of the day accompany Lord Castlereagh, the leader of the House of Commons, through the groaning land, along with Anarchy, Shelley’s name for capitalism. The procession is stopped by a young woman called Hope (who “looked more like Despair”), who lay down in front of the horses.

    Related: The bloody clash that changed Britain

    Related: Curses and verses: the spoken-word row splitting the poetry world apart | Don Paterson

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    Mary Gameson wants to see poetry on our front pages, while Joan Lewis looks into Sats results and reading ability

    Poets are writing about the “tumultuous events of our day” – Ruth Padel cites Ben Okri’s poem on Grenfell Tower as an example (In dark times turn to your inner poet, 13 December), and there was Tony Walsh’s moving poem entitled This is the Place, recited after the Manchester Arena bombing. However, the Guardian could do more to boost the impact of poetry. It will always be regarded as an addendum to the arts if the media also regard it as a less important lens.

    Just as photos show the terrible horrors of war, a poem on the front page, perhaps alongside a photo, could portray the depths of the lived experience of being in a war zone. I remember the impact of A Cold Coming by Tony Harrison, published by the Guardian in 1991 and again in 2003 – the emotional response created by that poem was seared on to my memory. That is the true power of poetry.

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    Writing prose with the rhythm, the harmony, the images that characterise a poem is a death trap

    I grew up with the idea that being a poet is for truly exceptional people, while anyone can have a go at prose. Maybe it was the fault of my school, which instilled a sort of awe for anyone who writes poetry. Schoolbooks and teachers portrayed poets as superior beings, with great virtues and sometimes fascinating vices; they were in permanent dialogue with the gods, thanks to the Muses – able to look at past and future as no one else did, and naturally they had an exceptional talent for language. I found this paralysing, and so at a certain point I reduced their status in my mind. But I became an assiduous reader of poetry.

    I love the connections poetry makes, so unexpected and bold that they become indecipherable. I’m sure that writing mediocre poems is a mortal sin; if people still mainly told their stories in verse, as they did for many centuries, I would be too embarrassed to write. But even if, after a long battle, prose now occupies almost all the narrative space, deep inside I feel that it’s a constitutionally inferior form of writing. This is probably what has driven me since I was a girl to exaggerate with language; part of me aspires to the poetic and hates the prosaic – I want to prove that I’m not inferior.

    Related: Elena Ferrante: ‘I don’t believe people who swear they’re not the jealous type’

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    Famous insomniacs include William Wordsworth, Emily Brontë, Vladimir Nabokov and Marcel Proust so could there be a positive side to sleeplessness, asks Marina Benjamin

    “A bad night is not always a bad thing,” wrote the late science fiction author Brian Aldiss. A long-time insomniac, he appears to have been searching for the silver lining of a condition that, in chronic form, can suck the lifeblood from you.

    One does not have to try hard to build the case against insomnia – the way its vampire clutch leaves just a hollow shell of you to ghost walk through your days; the way it trips you up and compromises your cognitive integrity. But Aldiss was after compensation. The “great attraction of insomnia”, he observed, is that “the night seems to release a little more of our vast backward inheritance of instinct and feelings; as with the dawn, a little honey is allowed to ooze between the lips of the sandwich, a little of the stuff of dreams to drip into the waking mind.”

    [Sleep is] the most moronic fraternity in the world … [a] nightly betrayal of reason, humanity, genius

    Related: Finally, a cure for insomnia?

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    The poet on west London’s libraries, Indian restaurants and returning to ‘Bunny park’ and Horsenden hill with her son

    I was born in Northolt, then in Middlesex, during the snowiest winter anyone remembered. “It was the winter of discontent,” stories began. The milk bottles were left uncollected, the streets were filled with rubbish, Mrs Thatcher was about to come to power. By the time she was gone, I was at senior school.

    By then my parents had moved to Hanwell, London W7, the western extension of west Ealing. West of us was mostly open space, golf courses, the “Bunny park” with its splendid viaduct by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. There were a lot of canals. It was rural enough to spend an afternoon scooping frogspawn out of ditches and blackberrying in the lane that ran down to Greenford; urban enough that the river in the park was unpaddlable, a few brown inches of water that smelled of sponges. When I pulled out the pockets of my coat, bright sugared aniseeds were often stuck in the lining: the remnants of birthday parties at big, richly decorated Indian restaurants in Southall. On St Patrick’s Day I wore a wet bit of shamrock twisted in silver foil on my school jumper. I thought that when I grew up I might want to trade on exchange rates, like a friend’s father. I especially wanted to do this if it meant I could talk ceremoniously on a cream brick-shaped mobile phone.

    I spent a lot of time in public libraries: books about astrology, ballet, the Plantaganet kings, Just William

    Related: Nikesh Shukla on Harrow: ‘You’re thinking about that posh school on the hill. That ain’t Harrow’

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    A rich and intriguing verse biography that balances intimacy and distance, the word and the flesh

    Among the stranger moments in the saga that is Brexit was Michael Gove’s suggestion that Theresa May, “our first Catholic prime minister”, is insufficiently attuned to the mood of Protestant Britain to see the project through. This would be the same Michael Gove who hailed Geoffrey Hill as “our greatest living poet”, despite that writer’s saturation in Anglo-Catholicism, the counter-reformation and proneness to celebrate visionary European saints and mystics. In her splendid Francis: A Life in Songs, Ann Wroe has produced a book that Hill, for one, might have relished, however awkwardly it sits with Britain’s current difficulties with Catholic Europe.

    As a non-fiction writer whose previous books have included studies of the Iran-Contra scandal and Perkin Warbeck, Wroe’s embrace of the verse biography carries an element of surprise. Her choice of genre, she writes, was inspired by Francis “having lived in poetry rather than prose”. He is frequently compared to a troubadour, and A Life in Songs rings with echoes of his poems, or canticles. Inspired by the saint’s devotion to the fourfold sign of the Cross, Wroe pursues a fourfold pattern of her own: quotations from contemporary hagiographies, a poem about Francis, a poem in a modern setting and a short free-floating fragment.

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