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

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    More than 80 ways of looking in verse at floods, torrents, waterspouts, seas, rain - and a faraway desert

    The Cumbrian town of Cockermouth has been a model of how to revive a community following a disaster. It was helped in the early days after the devastating floods of 2009 by its Northumbrian sister Morpeth, and learned well. In turn, it has lent a hand when time and resources have allowed, to its neighbour down the Derwent – and fellow victim of the swollen river - Workington.

    Benefits have included a wholesale restoration of Cockermouth town centre shops which won several heritage awards, and a raft of community projects given extra impetus by the rallying-round and neighbourly spirit which characterised the recovery. One of these is a poetry anthology which has involved the whole place sitting down and writing verses about watery and wet things, with the help of some illustrious visitors, outsiders and luminaries from the past.

    The Guardian Northerner wrote about the town's original post-flood poetry trail here, flagging up the idea of an eventual book. Now we've been sent a copy by Michael Baron, indefatigable source of info about everything from scansion to nuclear waste disposal, and co-editor of the anthology – The Cockermouth Poets– with another local, Joan Hetherington.

    Their enthusiasm has rallied almost 100 contributors, from William Wordsworth to teenagers at the very excellent Cockermouth School. Each gets a short but informative biography at the end.

    Baron is very good at extracting pledges of coverage from journalists and you see from the picture how seriously we take them. I read The Cockermouth Poets on the Pacific coast of Mexico, not far from the spot where John Keats imagined 'stout Cortez' staring for the first time at the second ocean. (Was he actually stout, as well as metaphorically? Hard to find out in Mexico which does not have a single statue of him).

    The selection of poems is so catholic that no one could put down the book without some moments of pleasure. If you don't care for Carol Ann Duffy, who nicely brackets Workington and Cockermouth in her 11-liner, there's a witty play on Wordsworth by her predecessor as poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion. If he is too elegant for you, try the 42 lines of Cumbrian dialect by Stanley Martin, aka Gwordie Greenup, who lived from 1848 to 1893.

    My two favourite lines come from one of the school pupils, Elizabeth Field-Harvey, who starts her poem with the couplet:

    Sometimes clear, sometimes blue
    You never thought I would turn on you


    while Paul Farley has the most memorable metaphor for a heron's cumbersome take-off which he describes as

    fucking hell, all right, all right,
    I'll go to the garage for your flaming fags.

    Does it all get a bit too damp? Yes. But Baron and Hetherington have a saving sense of humour. One of their star guests is Percy Bysshe Shelley on the cheeky grounds that in February 1812 he travelled from Keswick to Whitehaven to catch the Isle of Man packet boat

    on the post-coach the Good Intent and took refreshment at the Globe Inn in Main Street, Cockermouth.

    His contribution is Ozymandias, which is set in a waterless desert.

    The Cockermouth Poets is published by Octogenary Press, 28 South Street, Cockermouth, CA13 9RT and costs £8.50. Proceeds go to Cockermouth mountain rescue team and Save the Children. More details online here.


    guardian.co.uk© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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    Fiona Sampson reads two poems by the seventeenth-century Anglo-Welsh poet George Herbert, "Love" and "Heaven".



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    Poet plans to travel from Minehead to the Scilly Isles this summer, giving poetry readings in return for food and shelter

    The award-winning poet Simon Armitage is preparing to throw himself on the hospitality of the people of south-west England this summer when he sets out to walk the coast path alone, paying his way with poetry.

    Armitage, recovered from the challenge of walking the Pennine Way in 2010, will set out from Minehead on 29 August, intending to arrive in Land's End on 17 September, a distance of around 260 miles. He hopes to barter his way "from start to finish", giving poetry readings in local pubs, schools and village halls in return for food and shelter.

    "The whole idea is that of the barter. All I've got to offer is my work, and the reading of it," said Armitage, who was awarded the CBE for services to poetry in 2010. "Will that be enough for people to say I can stay at their home, or that they'll give me some sandwiches? I'm looking for anyone who can tolerate me … In the Pennines there was never a night when I didn't have anywhere to stay, even if it was in someone's front room."

    Armitage's Pennine walk gave rise to the book Walking Home, and he is planning to write a follow-up, Walking Away, about his journey through Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.

    "The first book turned out to be about people and their stories, and that's what I'm hoping to find this time," he said. "I don't imagine as much jeopardy as there was in the Pennines, where I got lost quite a few times; but the south-west coast path has its own peculiarities and tricky sections: a lot of valleys and ravines. And it'll be a completely different rhythm – the rhythm of the tides, rather than the rhythm of the rain clouds in the Pennines. And there'll be this constant companion of the sea on one side."

    Armitage also hopes that locals will be keen to walk along with him. "On the Pennine Way, quite often people turned up to walk with me, so I'd get unexpected expert analysis," he said. "That idea of the companion was my most valued aspect of the Pennine Way, although I was on my own a lot too. You do want those Wordsworthian moments of tranquility, although in this case it will be Coleridgian, but you also want the person from Porlock to interrupt you."

    Once he reaches Land's End, Armitage will travel across to the Scilly Isles, where when the tide is lowest he hopes to walk between the islands of Tresco, Bryher and Samson. "The idea is to get there at the lowest tide on a full moon, which in theory means it's possible to walk between two or three of the islands," he said. "I hope they like poetry."


    guardian.co.uk© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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    Ollie Lambert, a teen who created The Poetry Challenge on the Movellas website, explains the appeal of sharing poetry online

    Find out more about how sites such as Movellas are kickstarting teen poetry

    Why did you decide to join Movellas and what do you get from the site?

    My time on Movellas all started last summer, in the holidays.  I was at home with nothing to do, so decided to try my hand at some creative writing – a sort of spur of the moment thing. I had done creative writing before, but only as school work. I enjoyed myself, writing the first couple of chapters of what turned out to be a romance novel. It got to the point where I really wanted some feedback on my writing,  but I knew that if I was to ask family or friends for their opinion, it might be biased.

    A good friend of mine who wants to pursue creative writing as a career had told me about the site before and how she enjoyed sharing her writing on there and getting honest feedback. I decided to make an account and try my luck. If other members liked my story, then it would give me the confidence to carry on writing as a hobby, and if they didn't like it, well, there would be no harm done, but it would be good to be writing for a real audience.

    After a day of having my account open with my story up, I was already receiving favourable comments. People were favouriting my writing, fanning me, and even asking for more.  I found myself with the unexpected problem though - writers' block. I could always wait a while and try again later, but the feeling all the supportive comments gave me, and the fact that people thought I had a real talent was amazing.  

    My other passion is for music. I love composing and I write songs, which of course have lyrics. I had the idea of posting my song lyrics as poems on the site, to see if other people liked them. By now, having not only a story, but poems on my profile as well, I was accessing a wider audience. I did wonder whether or not everyone was just being nice, and if they tended to avoid criticism on the site, so that they would only get flattering comments about their work in return, but if you scroll through the site you can see that users in fact do not fight shy of constructive criticism.

    I started to write more and more poetry and I even ended up co-authoring with the most popular user on the site, to write a couple of poems for her story. In the end, I set up a sort of game on my Movellas blog. It was called The Poetry Challenge. People would leave a comment on my blog requesting a poem on a specific subject/theme and I would write it for them. I suppose, if I have a strength, it has turned out to be being able to write poems to order. I can write a poem in about five minutes. Some might say that poetry should not be rushed. However, this constraint imposes its own sort of discipline, I think, and the more prolific you are, the more useful feedback you get. For the poems I choose to write, I do take my time though, proof reading at least three times, for example, before publishing them on Movellas. The Poetry Challenge became more and more of a challenge, as time went on, as opposed to the game it was originally meant to be. People were specifying subjects ranging from "a panda during deforestation" to "paperclips" and "My Big Toe"!  

    However, by the time the biggest poetry competition on the site ever was being advertised, I had already written 70+ poems, thanks to The Poetry Challenge. I entered the competition, and could hardly believe it when I won second prize. There are lots of competitions on Movellas, whatever genre of writing you are into. I started to get interested in writing as a profession, asking people like Jordan [the site editor] what sort of things publishers are looking for.  From what I gathered, nowadays if you have a wide fan base prior to contacting a publisher it doesn't mean you will succeed in getting your work published, but it may help.  I already had/have over 120 fans on the site, with some of my work reaching nearly 10,000 views, but I had read somewhere that having a twitter account based on my writing hobby, might bring my work to a wider audience. I created one (@Ollie_Lambo if you're interested) to see if this was true. I followed a couple of publishers and writers on twitter, and a lot of them followed me back. I don't think this made a huge impact on my writing itself - I have 400+ followers on twitter now, but I have only made contact with about 20 of them. However, of course the conversations I have had with these writers about how one gets work published have been enlightening, and so, thanks originally to Movellas,  I began to feel part of a community with a shared interest. This is important, because writing is essentially a very private activity and it is easy to feel isolated. I decided I wanted to share the information I was collecting, as I thought there must be other teenagers out there looking for advice on how to get published.

    This is when I created my blog (ollielambert.wordpress.com) which includes writing tips, interviews not only with established authors and journalists, but also young writers, just starting out. It also contains some book reviews of mine, just so that people can get a taste of my writing and evaluation style. Obviously the site is in its early stages and needs to be developed further, but it shows that Movellas has been a source of inspiration, both in my writing and in motivating me to think about the process of writing itself. It is also a very reliable site, and my parents are happy for me to be using it, as it is run by a team of people who oversee it very closely, to make sure it is not open to misuse. They are easy to contact, are interested in user feedback and always respond to messages. There is no doubt, when I compare the first poems I wrote to more recent ones, that Movellas has improved my writing, and I think this is largely because it provides the spur simply to keep on writing. A music teacher once told me "An amateur practises until he gets it right, but a professional practises until he cannot get it wrong." I think that is true of creative writing, too.

    Why do you write poetry - and did you do it before you joined the site anyway?

    I didn't write anything voluntarily before joining the site, but actually, since joining Movellas, I have also joined a Saturday morning creative writing workshop at school. Why I write poetry is a more complicated question. I suppose I like the fact that it seems to distil experiences and emotions; to communicate ideas in a powerful, yet economic way, and having tried various styles of writing, the feedback I got on my poetry from Movellas encouraged me to develop this particular aspect of my writing.

    Which of your poems do you think are the best?

    My most popular poem  is a piece called "Dedications". In it, each of my fans get their own chapter, dedicated to them which includes a very short, normally four-line poem. It is my way of saying thank you to all the people who have taken the time to read and criticise my work. Of course, I am aware of the fact that some people may be fanning me simply to get their own poem.

    Personally, I don't like to include this in my collection of poems,  because
    although statistically it is the most popular of mine, with nearing 60 likes and almost 10,000 reads, that doesn't mean it is the best.. Other popular poems are one called "Star Gazing" and "Bring Her Back To Me". "Star Gazing" is a poem I wrote when my ex-English teacher invited me back to read at an event held at school for last year's National Poetry Day. "Bring Her Back To Me" is one of my earliest publications on Movellas. A set of lyrics I had written for one of my songs, and decided to try out as a poem. With 27 likes, this is my most popular poem on the site. My family likes "Paperclips". I wrote this because it was requested by a user in the Poetry Challenge. It's short and quirky.

    Do you read other people's poetry on the site?

    Towards the beginning of my time on Movellas I used to read a lot of poems on the site that I had to locate myself, offering constructive criticism, and (hopefully) helpful feedback. Nowadays, because of the way Movellas works other poets on the site ask me directly for advice. I enjoy reading poetry on the site, and of course it's free.

    Do you buy poetry from bookshops?

    Not until recently, but reading other people's work is an important way of developing one's own skills, so occasionally I buy an anthology,  and now I get given them as presents by family too, and of course Movellas gives poetry books as prizes.

    Why do you think poetry is so popular among teenagers online?

    There are some obvious reasons why poetry is so appealing to young writers online:

    It's free. Teenagers have no income, and therefore what little money they have through pocket money, has many demand made on it. Poetry anthologies are not necessarily top of the list. You can't know if you enjoy something or not until you try it, so this is something that gets you reading, without using up all your allowance. Also, we were brought up with e-books etc., so we like the convenience of literature online, rather than in paper format.

    It's an opportunity to meet other writers of the same age and compare work from a diverse range of people. Without the internet, the only way to access constructive criticism would be through people you know personally, (eg family, friends) who you can't count on to provide unbiased feedback.

    We all know how hard it is nowadays to get published in book form.  Movellas offers you that chance to be published, no matter what your level of experience. It is a place for people who want to share their work and develop at the same time. Accessibility is key.  Especially among the younger generation. With the internet, publishing is easier than ever before. You don't have to wait months to hear back from a publisher, or worry about constant rejections, which can be off-putting.  Instead you can load your piece onto Movellas and know that people will read it within days. This makes writing online very attractive to young writers.


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    Sites such as Movellas and Wattpad are seeing huge numbers of teens writing, reading and sharing poetry. Alison Flood investigates the phenomenon and talks to some of the teens publishing their poetry online

    Read about Ollie's experience on Movellas and his advice for other teen writers

    Talk to publishers or booksellers about poetry, and you'll hear the same refrain. It's niche, it's difficult to sell - and young people just aren't interested. Look online and you'll see a different picture. More than 20,000 teenagers are writing poetry on the social reading website Wattpad, and over 100,000 are actively reading Wattpad's poems on both web and mobile, while on the young adult community writing site Movellas, there are 20 to 30 new poems uploaded a day, with the most popular read up to 15,000 times, receiving between 20 and 200 comments. That's not a particularly convincing display of indifference.

    Today, there's a mixture of love, angst and comedy to be found in the most popular poems on Movellas. Rawrz is doing well with "Secrets" ("I can't run away from the secrets, / They're everywhere"), Tess Towler with "All I Have Is My Words" ("I look at you / But my glance has no meaning / For all I have is words"), and Niall the Nerd with "Why me?" ("Why must you be? / So mean to me? / Do your friends say you're cool? When you're being so cruel?").

    On Wattpad, 14-year-old Abby Meyer - who goes by SnowDrop07 online - is still reeling after being shortlisted for a competition judged by Margaret Atwood alongside much older competitors. She had to write 10 poems, including, impressively, a sonnet, a villanelle and a cento, but thinks her narrative poem Metamorphosis was her best. "Half-dimmed coffee shop lights. / Residents stir dusty rumours / Into mugs full of soap"...

    "Many teenagers can be very self-conscious, and afraid to be themselves or show their emotions to people close to them. I know that I was initially very nervous about showing my poetry to my family, for fear that it wasn't good enough, or that they wouldn't like it," says Meyer. "But with an account online, anyone can post poetry, and let out emotions that they don't want others to know about, or write poetry that they felt wasn't good enough to show to others. On the internet, it doesn't matter if your poetry is dreadful, because most likely, the only people who are going to read it are strangers, and it doesn't matter so much what they think."

    Chloe Smith, 16, writes as sleepisfortheweak on Movellas, and joined when the teacher running her creative writing club asked the class to do so. "Since then, I've been hooked," she says. "I seem to be starting to get a lot more recognition on Movellas now that I've started publishing my poems, especially from the more popular people on there, which is good as it means more people see my work. I get criticism that helps me build on my ideas and improve them so that they are even better than before, and it helps me become better at writing."

    Poetry is a good fit for teenagers, she feels, because it "seems like a way to convey a person's emotions, and because teens seem to be going through so much with exams and relationships that they need to be able to put it down somewhere". Meyer feels similarly. "I think that teenagers like writing poetry to let out their 'teenage angst', or to write about things they wouldn't have otherwise known much about. When you write a poem in the point of view of someone else, you have to put yourself in their shoes, and feel everything that they would have felt. It gives you a unique view on events, and I don't know if other teens feel the same about it as me, but it is certainly why I like to write poetry. As for reading poetry online… I think that it gives teens reassurance that other people their age feel the same way as them, and are going through the same emotional changes."

    Movellas, which launched in Denmark in 2010, made its UK debut last February. It now has 20,000 "movellas" on the site, one of which - a fan fiction story about One Direction - was signed up by Penguin last autumn. And poetry, says editor Jordan Philips, is the site's second biggest category behind fan fiction, bigger than fantasy, science fiction and romance. "We've 2,500 poems on the UK site, and a similar number on the Danish site. It grows by 20-30 poems every day," says Philips. "When we saw how big it was, we ran a competition with the Poetry Society and had 250 entries in four weeks. [And] we released a poetry app on the iPhone last week and had 3,500 downloads in six days."

    Ollie Lambert, 15 (known as WriterMan), came second in the Movellas competition for his poem "Walk". "Why I write poetry is a ... complicated question," he says. "I suppose I like the fact that it seems to distil experiences and emotions; to communicate ideas in a powerful, yet economic way, and having tried various styles of writing, the feedback I got on my poetry from Movellas encouraged me to develop this particular aspect of my writing."

    On Canadian site Wattpad, in the past six months teens have read poems almost a million times, and added over 100,000 to the site's library of poetry. "It tends to be emotions - what teens are facing every day. In the past, teenagers would write their own poetry, and the only person who'd read it was themselves," says the site's founder Allen Lau. "Now, they can share it with someone 5,000 miles away. That by itself is so exciting. It's not only self-expression but the ability to have someone to appreciate your work."

    Both Lau and Philips believe that the mushrooming interest in online poetry could mark big changes for the genre. "I think we are really seeing a renaissance of poetry," says Lau. "It's very hard to make poetry financially feasible in print. I think digital is really trying to resurrect that genre."

    "There's something about mobile and the internet and self-publishing which works really well with poetry," agreed Philips. "I had a conversation with someone at a publisher who said 'we can't sell poetry to young adults'. I think it's something about the difference between engaging with poetry as a community online, where you can write and talk to each other, and poetry written by adults for young adults."

    Movellas, he says, is showcasing "poetry in a digital age". "It's talking to [teenagers] in the right way, and perhaps the way publishers do it is a bit more academic, a bit more highbrow. Perhaps - and we're seeing this with our site - it doesn't have to be very formal and academic, studied at university. Perhaps it can be really accessible, really enjoyable," he says. "Whenever we tell people about how well poetry is doing, they all say, 'I would have been on that site if I was 16'. Anyone interested in writing had this phase, writing in a little black journal in their dark room. It's just taking that idea, that everyone's written poetry even if they've shown it to no one - and putting it online."

    He's right - teenagers Smith and Meyer are both avid readers of poetry online, but don't tend to buy collections from bookshops. "I enjoy reading lots of poetry on the site, and I have found some poetry collections that are really good. It is a shame that people say there isn't a market for poetry, because some poems seem to me to deserve to be published," says Meyer. "I don't regularly buy poetry - mostly because I've not seen much of a range of poetry in bookshops. However, I often borrow poetry books off my mum, and when I was younger, my grandma and grandad bought me a poetry anthology that first sparked my interest in poetry. It would be great to be able to buy poetry easily from bookshops."

    "I always look at the new poetry published on Movellas. It's great to see so many new ones published every day; it always keeps me busy! I like providing constructive criticism to newer poets, and following my favourite Movellians as they publish newer pieces," says Smith. "I've never really bought poetry from a bookshop; I prefer reading novels in books, and I've never found any poetry in my local shops. It's quite distressing how it's mostly all online now; I think Movellas should start publishing books of the top pieces of each category, especially poetry."

    Movellas is already there: the site has just announced a poetry competition in conjunction with Macmillan Children's Books, in which the 25 winners will see their poems included in an ebook anthology from Macmillan this June. The site is likely to be flooded with entries.

    "We all know how hard it is nowadays to get published in book form," says Lambert. "Movellas offers you that chance to be published, no matter what your level of experience. It is a place for people who want to share their work and develop at the same time. Accessibility is key. Especially among the younger generation. With the internet, publishing is easier than ever before. You don't have to wait months to hear back from a publisher, or worry about constant rejections, which can be off-putting. Instead you can load your piece onto Movellas and know that people will read it within days. This makes writing online very attractive to young writers."


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    In our series of poets reading their favourite work written by others, Michael Symmons Roberts reads an early poem by John Donne: Elegy 19 To His Mistress Going To Bed.



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    The latest podcast in our series of poets choosing their favourite poem finds Fleur Adcock reading Judith Wright's Request To A Year



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    The man Mussolini hailed as a John the Baptist of fascism was a national hero with an insatiable appetite for sex

    On 7 August 1915, Gabriele d'Annunzio and Giuseppe Miraglia took off from Venice in a plane bound for Trieste, then still part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, with a cargo of bombs and propaganda. Miraglia, the pilot, was a 32-year-old army officer; d'Annunzio, in the passenger seat, 20 years older than his companion, was famous throughout Italy, Europe and beyond as a writer, libertine and rabid nationalist. He had a notebook with him, in which he jotted down his impressions of Venice from the air ("the twisting canals are green as malachite") and passed messages to Miraglia: "Would you like some coffee?"

    Reaching Trieste, they came under fire. Miraglia brought the plane in low over the marina. D'Annunzio dropped bombs on the Austrian submarines and pamphlets (he'd written them himself) into the piazzas. Turning back, they realised one of the bombs had got stuck. "See if you can push it so it falls out," Miraglia wrote in d'Annunzio's notebook. "But don't twist it." He must have managed it somehow, because they landed safely back in Venice. D'Annunzio "had embarked on his new life as national hero", Lucy Hughes-Hallett writes in her enthralling new biography of the "poet, seducer and preacher of war".

    He was born in Abruzzo in 1863. His father, a landowner and wine merchant, was the mayor of Pescara, on the Adriatic coast. At the age of 11 d'Annunzio was sent to boarding school in Prato, 400 kilometres away across the Apennines. His first book of poems, Primo Vere, was published when he was 16, at his father's expense. It was well reviewed in the influential cultural weekly Fanfulla della Domenica. Just before an expanded second edition came out the following year, a newspaper editor in Florence received an anonymous postcard from Pescara saying that d'Annunzio had fallen off his horse and died. The news, reported in papers all over Italy, wasn't even remotely true: d'Annunzio – already displaying not only his precocious talents as a writer but also his gift for self-promotion – had sent the postcard himself.

    After that, there was no stopping him. Soon enough he was in Rome, writing prolifically – poetry, journalism, short stories; spending prodigiously – however little or however much he was earning, he always lived way beyond his means, with a fatal weakness for lavish interior décor; and sexual promiscuity. The pattern for his life was set. For the next 20 years he would punctuate his otherwise non-stop thrill-seeking – horse-riding, fox-hunting, motoring, flying, and endless, endless sex – with periods of withdrawal for writing. He wrote the first of his seven novels, Pleasure, in five months in 1888, shut away in a friend's house in Abruzzo. The hero, Andrea Sperelli, is a worldweary young libertine about Rome. Henry James admired its "splendid visual sense" and "ample and exquisite style" (one of the reasons it seems rather dated now). It also sold fantastically well, transforming d'Annunzio into an international celebrity.

    A problem for a biographer is that d'Annunzio's personal appeal seems to have lain largely in his voice and in his sexual prowess, which makes it difficult to convey on the page. His insatiable sexual appetite left a trail of ruined women, variously disowned by their fathers, abandoned by their husbands and committed to insane asylums. His superhuman selfishness, his foaming nationalist rhetoric about soaking the earth with blood: they're clear enough. But we simply have to take everyone's word for it that he was irresistibly attractive (well, not quite everyone's: Hemingway thought he was a "jerk", and the courtesan Liane de Pougy called him "a frightful gnome with red-rimmed eyes and no eyelashes, no hair, greenish teeth, bad breath and the manners of a mountebank"). One of the best descriptions of d'Annunzio's mesmerising voice comes from the teenage daughter of the composer Pietro Mascagni: "When Signor d'Annunzio speaks, it always seems as though he is telling one a secret. Even if he is only saying good morning." She met him in Paris, where he'd fled in 1910, no longer able to evade his creditors in Italy.

    He returned home in triumph in May 1915, invited to speak at the unveiling of a monument to Garibaldi in Quarto, near Genoa. He turned his magical voice on the vast crowds that gathered to greet him – 100,000 of them, according to the Corriere della Sera, when he reached Rome on 12 May – calling for Italy to enter the war and complete the unification of the country by annexing great swathes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. On 23 May, Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary – though, as it happened, the decision had been irrevocably made while d'Annunzio was still in France.

    The mass slaughter and three-year stalemate in the Dolomites did nothing to dim d'Annunzio's enthusiasm for war. He lost many friends, including Miraglia, and was permanently blinded in one eye when a plane he was in was shot down. But after the armistice he wrote: "I smell the stench of peace." And the war for d'Annunzio wasn't over: in September 1919 he led an army of irregulars and mutineers into the disputed city of Fiume (now Rijeka in Croatia) and set himself up as dictator. For 15 months he reigned as Duce, until the Italian navy bombed him out.

    In February 1921 he moved into the house above Lake Garda where he would live in semi-seclusion until his death in 1938, dedicating himself to the delights of cocaine, coitus and interior design. His retirement was largely funded by the fascist government, who were keen to keep him quiet and out of the way. Mussolini wanted to promote d'Annunzio as the John the Baptist of fascism, which was easier to do if the man himself, who didn't see things that way, wasn't around to argue.

    "Though d'Annunzio was not a fascist," Hughes-Hallett observes, "fascism was d'Annunzian." In 1892 he had written that "men will be divided into two races. To the superior ones, who have raised themselves by the pure energy of their will, everything will be permitted, to the inferior ones nothing, or very little." Admiring some of the work, and insisting on looking at d'Annunzio in context, Hughes-Hallett does her best to withhold judgment on the life: she is, she says, "a woman writing about a self-styled 'poet of virility' and a pacifist writing about a warmonger, but disapproval is not an interesting response". Having said that, she calls him "appalling" on several occasions. As indeed in many ways he was. Disapproval may not always be interesting, but sometimes it's unavoidable.


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    Alice Oswald rounds off the first week in our series of poets choosing their favourite poem with a reading of a nursery rhyme, There Was a Man of Double Deed



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    Poet and professor Michael Edwards, 74, from Barnes, joins elite learned body that defends the purity of the French language

    A poet, critic and literature professor from Barnes in southwest London has become the first British-born writer to be elected to the elite Académie française, France's highest learned body charged with defending the purity of the French language.

    Michael Edwards, 74, was voted into the exclusive group known as "The Immortals" on his third attempt, and will now take a seat among up to 40 members in their gold-braided uniforms under the gilded dome of the Institut de France. A commission chosen from among them advises on what new words should be entered into the French dictionary, studiously defending French against foreign impurities, notably those from English.

    Edwards, a poet, translator, and literary critic specialising in French language and literature, was born in Barnes and first discovered French aged 11 at Kingston Grammar School in Surrey. Married to a French wife, he has dual British and French nationality, and is acclaimed for his writing in both French and English – often shifting between the two in the same work or poem. He formerly held the chairs of French and English at the University of Warwick, but also held the first joint chair in poetry and English literature at Paris's prestigious College de France. He has written on Shakespeare, Molière and Racine and Rimbaud.

    Edwards told the Guardian: "French is not just another language, it's another way of understanding the world, a way of being, of sensing emotion." He said the French had "an intimacy with their language" which English people did not necessarily have. They also felt they were being "invaded" by English – "a kind of Anglo-American small talk which isn't really elegant English at all" – as well as the pressure for intellectuals to write in English language publications. Asked what role he would play in defending French, he said: "The French talk of the purity of their language and they are right. On the other hand, languages do change and they thrive by change, and they thrive very often by a kind of impurity. Elizabethan English changed and became immensely rich by borrowing from other languages and by inventing words continuously. The French do like to purify. But there was a letter to the Académie française by Fénelon in 1714 in which he said we have purified the language, we have also impoverished it a bit and it would be a good idea now to enrich it. That's the sort of message I would like to bring, with the humility of being just one person."

    The Académie française was founded in the 17th century by Cardinal Richelieu to keep watch over the French language and has included writers, philosophers, politicians and military figures. There is no rule that members must be born in France. Several current members were born outside France, including the Lebanese-born writer Amin Maalouf and Chinese-born writer François Cheng. But Edwards is the first British-born writer and academic to be elected.

    In the vote this week, Edwards beat Jean-Noël Jeanneney, a former minister and president of Radio France.

    In Le Figaro, Christophe Carlier, who has written on the Académie française, said Edwards appointment "would allow the Académie to come out of the anti-Franglais posture" to which he said it was too often accused of being confined.


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    Beverley Bie Brahic is charmed by a collection of taut, laconic lyrics from Greece's preeminent poet

    I don't know if it's the same in Greek, but in French, en secret is a loaded phrase, with the usual connotations of "secret", but also of "in solitary confinement", which seems apt for the poetry of a man who spent a good part of his life resisting fascism, sometimes in prison.

    Yannis Ritsos (1909-1990) is one of Greece's preeminent 20th-century poets. Revered in his own country and abroad, he's a perennial bridesmaid on the Nobel Prize list. He wrote broadly and copiously; his translator, David Harsent, gives us in this attractive volume a selection of short lyrics, many of them political, that show Ritsos's sympathy for the lives of ordinary folk: women airing sheets, mourners "scuffing their feet, heads down … wearing coats that no longer quite fit": the eternal carriers-on.

    Ritsos's style is plain but taut; his sentences are understatedly declarative, even flat; between the lines, however, there's a lot going on. The first poem, "A Break in Routine", takes pronouns for protagonists:

    They came to the door and read names from a list.
    If you heard your name you had to get ready fast:
    a busted suitcase, a bundle you might carry
    over your shoulder, perhaps; forget the rest.
    With each new departure, the place seemed to shrink.

    He thereby involves the reader in separating the good, who mostly come to no good, from their persecutors; and suggests the dehumanising (and bureaucratising) nature of tyranny. A few laconic but concrete details almost always suffice to sketch a situation and its potential for black comedy – in "A Break in Routine" (note the irony of the title) there's an anecdote involving an alarm clock.

    Many poems have a surrealist element. They juxtapose rather than proceed chronologically or logically, from cause to effect; they contain enigmatic and startling images that give the reader the pleasure of ferreting out connections, much as we do when we look at a cubist painting that combines figures and colour planes, or at a surrealist painting by, say, De Chirico, with its congealed dreamscapes. Here is "The Acrobat", a favourite subject of Picasso and Apollinaire:

    He walked on his hands, so perfectly upside-down
    that he seemed to make past present, present past.

    Then the floor opened and swallowed him.
    We looked at each other: who would ever believe us?

    A moment later, the doorbell rang.
    There he stood, with a basket of oranges.

    It's sleight of word, and utterly charming. Perhaps the best method of reading such a poem is to turn the thing over and over in one's hands and get the feel of it. And as with Apollinaire, and the surrealists who came along after the first world war, the presence of women is strong; it stokes the erotic muse: "He thinks there must be a woman in every mirror, naked, locked in. / He thinks the woman he's thinking of fell asleep // smelling the faint odour of a distant star, / the self-same whiff of scorch that now keeps him awake." ("The Same Star"). A Ritsos poem's protagonists, male and female, are equally prey to the terror of daily life: "Men and women. Gardens and books. They come and go. / And that tinny tinkle you heard / just before dawn wasn't the mail arriving. / It was the old bell-wether leading lambs to the slaughter." ("The Bell").

    In Secret, which David Harsent calls "adaptation or hommage" rather than close translations, will be a fine addition to one's Ritsos shelf, or a good place to start one.

    • Beverley Bie Brahic's White Sheets and Apollinaire: The Little Auto, are both published by CB editions.


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    by Robin Robertson

    The last bottle of lemonade is nodding
    in the rock pool, keeping cold. A childhood,
    put away for later. I'm too busy to notice
    the sun is going, that they're packing up,
    that it's almost time for home. The low waves
    warm round my knees as I dig in,
    panning for light, happy to be here, dreaming
    of the evening I'll wake on the lilo
    singing my head off, somewhere
    in the sea-lanes to Stavanger, or Oslo.


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    Emily Berry has a refreshingly free, not to say incendiary approach to poetry

    Emily Berry's debut is a treat. She is a new yet anything but hesitant voice. What is stimulating is that she approaches poetry as a flexible, permissive, dynamic ally. She seems to have complete freedom with form and will use a poem – whenever helpful – as a vehicle for escape, a getaway car. In the title poem, Dear Boy, she does not dwell on what the dear boy has done. He is leaving messages on her answerphone to apologise for misconduct: "I can explain everything." She responds: "You know perfectly well I believe/ nothing worthwhile is explainable".

    She goes on, without fuss, to propose that instead of being detained by reality's flat excuses, "We can make something up" and it is then that, in every sense, the poem takes off. It soars to its fearless, fantastic, parasailing finale: "We were a knot in the grain of the world,/ Suddenly the sea was a blunt spur at our heels, remember?" It is the pleasing oddity of the sea as "blunt spur" that gives pause for thought. The relationship, even in fantasy, may be doomed.

    Whatever the case, it is knowing that it is always possible to "make something up" that is the key to this collection. Berry is seriously playful and, in her best poems, gives fantasy free rein. The opening poem, Our Love Could Spoil Dinner, is a polished tease, a mini-fiction. I'd be curious to read a novel about its characters (although emphatically not a biography by "the biographer"). We can embark on our own biography of him and his malaise: a coffee-swigging, sexually inhibited, ex-public school boy with an enthusiasm for grapefruit knives and squeamish relations with his publisher. It is a poem that describes a false start – as does, many times over, the poem that follows it, Letter to Husband, in which opening greetings are abandoned, including a salutation of which the "biographer" would approve: "Dearest serrated husband". Greetings pile up, create panic, amplify the poem's cry for help: "Please come."

    Some Fears is an SOS too. A wayward list includes "fear of unfamiliar elbows", which seem likely to nudge you until the climax and its redeeming seriousness: "Fear of asking for, receiving, refusing, giving, or being denied help". What Berry avoids is slavish autobiography. Her writing is too rebellious for that. There is a constant sense of surprise and movement (not unlike the meal that freaks her out in a Japanese restaurant in New York: "When the food arrived it looked like it was moving"). This sense of the poem running away with itself is especially apparent in A Short Guide to Corseting, which tightens at speed, and disturbing wit, as a man binds his woman: "Now/ that I wear a fourteen-inch I use only the top half of/ my lungs; there's just room to breathe. I've still got/ more than enough. I've realised how little we need."

    Berry's range is amazing. I especially loved London Love Song – a subtle evocation of an omnivorous city in which she describes youth thrown away: "The more we lost –/ first kisses, last trains, our nerve, dignity – the more/ you claimed". I enjoyed, too, her strange Preparations for the Journey describing, in what seems as clear as a line drawing, a horse – except, as you look more closely, everything wavers. A poem about doubt. And Nothing Sets My Heart Aflame is a brilliantly shrewd piece about buying into the past. It ends: "Every time I think a new thought I can smell an old one burning." And that means an enormous fire – so many new thoughts are kindled here.


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    Lucretius's Epicurean philosophy doesn't deny gods' existence, only that they affect us. Instead, we must aim to be as them

    Lucretius follows a materialist philosophy that denies any purpose to the creation of the universe or humanity and asserts that the soul is mortal and there is no afterlife. It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to deduce that the author of De Rerum Natura was not going to be the most popular Latin poet after Constantine's conversion to Christianity. One of the few biographical snippets we have of Lucretius, written by St Jerome, claims that he drank a love potion, went mad, wrote his poem in intervals of lucidity and then killed himself. Although less than 100 years ago some scholars were still attributing aspects of the poem to Lucretius's philtre-induced insanity, it's now generally agreed that Jerome's story is an invention designed to discredit the poet and his philosophy. But Lucretius is not, at least on paper, an atheist, nor is Epicureanism an atheist philosophy. De Rerum Natura discusses the gods, their nature and their relationship with us on more than one occasion, offering us a decent glimpse of Epicurean theology.

    In the Epicurean universe, there undoubtedly are gods. Humans perceive the gods – they receive images of them – and those perceptions are true. They do not, however, indulge in any of the bed-hopping, hissy fit-throwing and meddling in human affairs that characterise the gods in Homer or Greek tragedy. The images we receive are of beautiful and untroubled creatures, a model of the repose that Epicurean humans are aiming for. However, our minds often leap from a perception that is true to an opinion that is false, and that happened in the case of the gods: trying to explain earthquakes, thunderbolts and the like, early humans decided that the extraordinary and beautiful gods whose images they received must be the ones shaking the Earth or rending the sky.

    The reality couldn't be further removed. Lucretius informs us in no uncertain tones that intrinsic to the very nature of the gods is a complete lack of interest in human affairs. They exist in places utterly unlike our own world (Epicureans believed they lived in the gaps between worlds, with access to unending streams of atoms to replenish their bodies, which enables them to be immortal); they are perceptible only mentally, and are completely intangible (Lucretius promises in book five to explain their physical make-up in greater detail, but that explanation seems never to have been written). Remote from and unlike us, they have no need of us: our offerings, prayers and gratitude are completely irrelevant to them. As for the thunderbolts and earthquakes, they are of course, among the many natural physical phenomena for which Lucretius gives a host of explanations in his fifth and sixth books; none of those explanations, of course, involve the gods.

    Lucretius is, on occasion, less than flattering about some aspects of religious ritual: there is a tour de force condemnation of the sacrifice of Iphigenia in book one, and a cameo appearance by a mother cow whose calf has been bloodily sacrificed in book two. But Epicureans did participate in religious practice. The aim, as Lucretius expresses in book 6, was to do so with the untroubled, fearless heart that is the product of understanding the gods' nature in the first place. We are also allowed to talk about gods metonymically or allegorically, calling wine Bacchus or the earth the mother of the gods, provided we remember that this is simply imagery and implies nothing true about the universe.

    That is handy for Lucretius, as, being an epic poet, he mentions the gods on more than one occasion: indeed, the reason he clarifies that we can use phrases such as "mother of the gods" is that he has just spent a good few lines describing the rituals of the earth mother goddess, Magna Mater, with allegorical details that he himself makes clear are all false. The poem opens with a picture of Venus, the goddess mother of Aeneas, as the force underlying all creation – genetrix is the Latin word used – asking her to be Lucretius's ally as he writes. That passage has caused much scholarly head-scratching, but the solution to it seems to lie in the warning Lucretius gives us after Magna Mater. Say these things by all means, if you understand why they aren't true – which, of course, Lucretius does, and we too will by the time we have finished reading his poem, and have learnt that atoms are what actually generate everything (Lucretius often calls them genitalia corpora), and that the Venus called genetrix at the poem's start is a poetic licence. The conventional gods who strike so much fear into our hearts are just another weapon in the argumentative arsenal the poet deploys to get us to think and live like the actual gods.


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    This loose-limbed lyric on the elemental power of language seems rooted in a distinctly Welsh landscape

    Poets choose their words with the utmost care, don't they? "The best words in the best order" and all that? In this week's poem, "Words", Edward Thomas echoes John Keats rather than Coleridge, calling on words to choose him. This is perhaps extreme negative capability.

    But, despite Keats, and although Thomas is specifically addressing "English words", it's a poem that seems unusually attuned to the London-born poet's Celtic origins.

    Both his parents were, as he said, "mainly Welsh", and he spent numerous holidays in Wales. He formed friendships there, a significant one being with the poet and preacher John Jenkins, known by his bardic name, Gwili. There's an entrancement with language and rhythm, a generally elevated tone, and a concern with national identity in "Words" which carry echoes from Welsh poetry, past and future.

    Thomas may have known little of his forebears' language, but he certainly heard Welsh spoken, and, with Gwili's help, he made notes on Welsh verse-forms. Whatever cadences he was imagining as he wrote it, the long sentence comprising the first stanza is curiously un-English. It begins with a subordinate clause. It then brilliantly employs what I'd call a rhetoric of postponement. The adverb "sometimes" makes us wait, and the conceit of the winds whistling of "joy or pain" makes us wait longer. The inversion ("their joy or pain/ to whistle through") further complicates the syntax. These seeming distractions legitimise the repetition of the all-important verb "choose". His question is "Will you choose me, English words?" but he has so played the sentence that, by the time we reach its end, we hear an imperative: "Choose me, English words." The most significant word, "me", is the one that has no rhyme.

    Rhymes are thickly strewn, but not enforced by symmetrical pattern. Their chimes are sometimes distant – all/wall, for instance, six lines apart in the first stanza. The non-rhymes are as deliberately plotted as the rhymes themselves really are, but this casual-seeming technique increases the sense that "Words" is more free of fixings than fixed, a kind of meandering stream or dry-stone wall of a poem. And this is surely the intended effect. Words, compared significantly to the wind, are treated as an elemental, and also nearly supernatural, force.

    The second stanza is looser than the first, and at times more impressionistic than precise. "Light as dreams" and "tough as oak" make an effective antithesis, as, more subtly, do "poppies" and "corn" but "precious as gold" is less compelling, and the addition of the "old cloak" barely gets away with such obvious rhyme-reaching. The bards seem to hover again, exalted and be-robed. Thomas's adjectives, sweet, strange, dear, etc, and the superlatives, dearest, oldest, are catch-all words – vague but highly emotive. He enjoys playing grammatical variations on them, and the pun-paradox "worn new" confirms the exuberance.

    But the poem often out-sings its logic. Why are English words "familiar as lost homes are"? It's a lovely and thought-provoking line but how, for an English poet, can English words suggest lost homes? Could he really thinking at this moment of the Welsh language – which might, in other circumstances, have been his mother tongue?

    The comparatives of the second stanza form a landscape – old hills, newly swollen streams – but why are these features specifically English? Isn't it sentimental to suggest they are? They might just as well belong to Wales as to England. And how do English words (or the words of any nation) prove love of earth?

    I think at this point Thomas has moved instinctively from language to identity. "Make me content/ With some sweetness/ From Wales" clarifies the shift. He's no longer talking about linguistic influence so much as his own heredity. Perhaps the intended move to America triggers the quest. The poem's uncharacteristic buoyancy may well reflect the optimism Thomas felt in 1915 as he made those never-fulfilled plans of joining Robert Frost in New Hampshire. But, besides the optimism, there's anxiety at the prospect of losing his native landscapes. Words, grounded in locality, may no longer come to him. This fear might explain the earlier preoccupation with familiar strangeness and the old made new.

    There's a nice, humorous little tribute to Welsh poets in stanza three: they sing like wingless, ie human, nightingales. (Could he be thinking of Gwili, in particular?) But the "sweetness" he asks to be content with, doesn't end with Wales: the sentence continues with three English counties ("and the villages there"), including Thomas's favourite Wiltshire. Deeply explored in his writing, and part of his identity, none of these beloved English places is, however, specifically connected in the poem to actual words. The reference to "the names, and the things/ No less" is, of course, evocative: we imagine farm implements, wildflowers like the "burnet rose" mentioned earlier, nicknames, the colouring of different dialects. But wouldn't the poem be stronger if Thomas had included more of these names and things, and less of the windy dance and trance of inspiration, less of the "sweetness", whether of Wales or Wilts?

    While I love Thomas's poetry, I read "Words" with mixed feelings. I especially wonder why, at the end, this most scrupulous of poets seems to distance himself from his vocation – in the line "As poets do"? It might be a wry little joke, I suppose, meant to raise a smile from an admiring friend, like Gwili or Frost. (Both would certainly have approved of the insight that the poet is both "fixed and free" when he rhymes.) But the last stanza becomes more credible if you imagine that Thomas is continuing to ask the really pressing question: will America cost him his identity, not only his Welshness and Englishness, but his identity as a poet?

    "Words" overall is a powerful poem, with an important governing insight. Once more we can hark back to Keats's "negative capability". But, equally, we should remember another of Thomas's Welsh friends, the "tramp-poet" WH Davies, and his emphasis on taking time "to stand and stare". Thomas's poem can be read as an extended metaphor drawn from such ideas of receptivity. If "Words" lacks the pure focus of his greatest poems, the lessons it embodies are no less valuable. The sources of poetry are local to the poet. And it's not bardic mysticism but good psychology for any artist to be free-floating rather than manipulative during the first stages of creation, and only later to apply the fixative.

    Words

    Out of us all
    That make rhymes,
    Will you choose
    Sometimes –
    As the winds use
    A crack in the wall
    Or a drain,
    Their joy or their pain
    To whistle through –
    Choose me,
    You English words?

    I know you:
    You are light as dreams,
    Tough as oak,
    Precious as gold,
    As poppies and corn,
    Or an old cloak:
    Sweet as our birds
    To the ear,
    As the burnet rose
    In the heat
    Of Midsummer:
    Strange as the races
    Of dead and unborn:
    Strange and sweet,
    Equally,
    And familiar,
    To the eye,
    As the dearest faces
    That a man knows,
    And as lost homes are:
    But though older far
    Than oldest yew, -
    As our hills are, old, -
    Worn new
    Again and again:
    Young as our streams
    After rain:
    And as dear
    As the earth which you prove
    That we love.

    Make me content
    With some sweetness
    From Wales
    Whose nightingales
    Have no wings, –
    From Wiltshire and Kent
    And Herefordshire,
    And the villages there, –
    From the names, and the things
    No less.
    Let me sometimes dance
    With you,
    Or climb,
    Or stand perchance
    In ecstasy,
    Fixed and free
    In a rhyme,
    As poets do.


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    Imtiaz Dharker launches our second week of poets choosing their favourite poems with a dazzling trio: One Art by Elizabeth Bishop, Meeting Point by Louis MacNeice and Yeshwant Rao by Arun Kolatkar



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    Scholar unearths trove of unpublished work by poet voted Britain's favourite

    Kipling scholars are celebrating the publication of lost poems by the author whose exhortations in "If" to "keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you" are regularly voted the nation's favourite poem. Discovered by the American scholar Thomas Pinney in an array of hiding places including family papers, the archive of a former head of the Cunard Line and during renovations at a Manhattan house, more than 50 previously unpublished poems by Rudyard Kipling will be released for the first time next month.

    The collection includes several poems dating from the first world war, which Kipling initially supported, helping his son John to gain a commission in the Irish Guards.

    A short poem, "The Gambler", finishes with the couplet: "Three times wounded; three times gassed / Three times wrecked – I lost at last", while another fragment runs: "This was a Godlike soul before it was crazed / No matter. The grave makes whole."

    After his son's death at the Battle of Loos in 1915, Kipling regretted his earlier enthusiasm for the conflict, writing in his "Epitaphs of the War": "If any question why we died / Tell them, because our fathers lied".

    Another poem discovered by Pinney, "The Press", prefigures contemporary worries over media intrusion: "Have you any morals? / Does your genius burn? / Was your wife a what's its name? / How much did she earn?" wrote the poet in a fit of anger at the questions he was asked by journalists. "Why don't you write a play - / Why don't you cut your hair? / Do you trim your toe-nails round / Or do you trim them square?" (The complete poem is reproduced at the foot of this article.)

    A discovery in a lighter mood is a stash of comic verse that Kipling wrote on a ship sailing from Adelaide to Ceylon, which is believed to have been read aloud by the author to his fellow passengers. "It was a ship of the P&O / Put forth to sail the sea," wrote Kipling, going on to mourn the slow progress of the liner across the ocean. "The children played on the rotten deck / A monthly growing band / Of sea-bred sin born innocents / That never knew the land."

    "Kipling has long been neglected by scholars probably for political reasons," said Pinney, emeritus professor of English at the University of California. Despite winning the Nobel prize, Kipling's reputation has suffered over his association with British imperialism – he was described as a "jingo imperialist" by George Orwell, who also called him "the prophet of British Imperialism".

    "His texts have never properly been studied but things are starting to change," said Pinney. "There is a treasure trove of uncollected, unpublished and unidentified work out there. I discovered another unrecorded item only recently and that sort of thing will keep happening. It is a tremendously exciting time for scholars and for fans of Kipling."

    The 50 unpublished poems are being included alongside more than 1,300 of Kipling's poems in the three-volume Cambridge Edition of The Poems of Rudyard Kipling, the first ever complete edition of his verse, out on 7 March.

    "They are all very engaging, and grab you immediately. A lot are very emotional little poems about the war, about his great identification with the ordinary British soldier, and his anger with the authorities," said Linda Bree, arts and literature editorial director at Cambridge University Press.

    Bree agreed with Pinney that Kipling, who died in 1936 leaving behind books including The Jungle Book, Just So Stories and Kim, had been neglected by scholars until now. "I think, personally, it's because his poems are very simple. They are about simple situations, and perhaps for that reason scholars have steered clear a little," she said. "Perhaps they speak more clearly to the ordinary reader for that reason. And of course the imperial issue does make things more difficult. [But] he is one of the nation's greatest poets … 'If' is one of the most popular poems in the English language, [and] this edition shows that he wrote much else to entertain, engage and challenge readers."

    The Press by Rudyard Kipling

    Why don't you write a play –
      Why don't you cut your hair?
    Do you trim your toe-nails round
      Or do you trim them square?
    Tell it to the papers,
      Tell it every day.
    But, en passant, may I ask
      Why don't you write a play?

    What's your last religion?
      Have you got a creed?
    Do you dress in Jaeger-wool
      Sackcloth, silk or tweed?
    Name the books that helped you
      On the path you've trod.
    Do you use a little g
      When you write of God?

    Do you hope to enter
      Fame's immortal dome?
    Do you put the washing out
      Or have it done at home?
    Have you any morals?
      Does your genius burn?
    Was you wife a what's its name?
      How much did she earn?

    Had your friend a secret
      Sorrow, shame or vice –
    Have you promised not to tell
      What's your lowest price?
    All the housemaid fancied
      All the butler guessed
    Tell it to the public press
      And we will do the rest.

    Why don't you write a play?

                    [September 1899]

    • From The Cambridge Edition of the Poems of Rudyard Kipling, published by Cambridge University Press, £200, reproduced by kind permission of The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty


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    Our series of poets reading favourite works continues with Paul Farley reading 'Innocence' by Patrick Kavanagh



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    Programme for May's three-week arts celebration – released today – will feature Emil and the Detectives, Judith Kerr and Michael Rosen's orchestral work for kids, The Great Enormo

    Emil and the Detectives– Erich Kästner's 1929 classic story about a boy who enlists the help of friends to foil a bank robber – is the book at the heart of this year's Brighton festival, which is guest-directed by author, broadcaster and former children's laureate Michael Rosen.

    Rosen, who was read the book in weekly instalments by his class teacher when he was nine – and who remembers elaborating and acting out episodes of it with his friends – said the book was "very special in a variety of ways. It was the first of its kind: the first book in which children are detectives and solve a crime. And it was completely new in its attitude to the city. There's a tradition in literature of cities being described as dens of iniquity. Very few cities, when Kästner was writing, were celebrated for their vivacity, but this is what he did."

    The work had a huge influence, he said, on writing for children from Enid Blyton to Charlie Higson; its celebration of the sounds and textures of urban life make it a truly modernist tale.

    The centre of the celebrations of Emil and the Detectives (an adaptation of which, coincidentally, will be this winter's Christmas show at the National Theatre) will be a schools event with Rosen at Theatre Royal Brighton. But the festival, which runs from 4 to 26 May, will also explore Emil's world in other ways: Kästner was also an adult novelist, a poet, a pacifist, an author of cabaret songs – and a critic of the Nazi regime, whose books were burned. The entire 15-and-a-half hours of Fassbinder's classic TV series Berlin Alexanderplatz will be screened, and an evening of Brecht and Weill songs, performed by Nina Hagen, David McAlmont, and Jamie McDermott and his band the Irrepressibles will summon up the sounds of the Weimar Republic's counterculture.

    Rosen will also host an appearance by Judith Kerr, the author of the famous children's war story When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, her semi-autobiographical tale about the rise of Hitler. "She is a living link with the Weimar Republic," said Rosen of the 89-year-old writer.

    By coincidence, Billy Wilder's 1931 screen adaptation of Emil and the Detectives was Benjamin Britten's favourite film, and in the composer's centenary year Brighton festival presents a version of his Canticles with singers including tenor Ian Bostridge, staged by Brighton-based director Neil Bartlett with lighting designer Paule Constable and the war artist John Keane.

    Other theatrical highlights of the festival, for which the Guardian is media partner, include the UK premiere of a new work devised by acclaimed Argentinian writer and director Lola Arias, bringing her work to Britain for the first time. My Life After draws on the memories and family lives of a group of actors brought up in the 1970s and 80s – some whose families were associated with the military, and some whose parents suffered under the junta.

    Rosen will also co-create The Great Enormo: A Kerfuffle in B Flat for Orchestra, Wasps and Soprano – a children's guide to the orchestra. "Orchestral music has tried to invent ways of introducing children to the orchestra," he said. We all know about Peter and the Wolf and The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. There's been a bit of a gap in recent years in finding ways to do it." His version will narrate the tale of Mr Enormo Biggins, as he attempts to find a theme tune to go with his new time-travel theme park.


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    Today John Burnside chooses The Retrieval System by Maxine Kumin, a look at doubling mirrored in its intricate rhyme scheme



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