Articles on this Page
- 09/23/13--04:42: _Ghanaian poet Kofi ...
- 09/23/13--10:01: _Kofi Awoonor obituary
- 09/24/13--06:51: _Poem pulled from Fo...
- 09/25/13--01:26: _Alice Oswald wins W...
- 09/25/13--03:31: _Lisa Appignanesi's ...
- 09/26/13--03:43: _Robert Frost's snow...
- 09/26/13--03:46: _Poetry Please: The ...
- 09/26/13--05:13: _Romantic rhymes to ...
- 09/26/13--10:43: _Miley Cyrus and Jus...
- 09/27/13--07:59: _Drysalter by Michae...
- 11/02/13--09:52: _The Saturday Poem: ...
- 11/04/13--02:48: _Poem of the week: C...
- 11/07/13--08:11: _Are there more fema...
- 11/08/13--02:28: _Dylan Thomas prize:...
- 11/08/13--10:15: _Songs of St Kilda
- 11/08/13--10:59: _Selected Poems by R...
- 11/09/13--00:00: _The Saturday Poem: ...
- 11/11/13--04:20: _Poem of the week: R...
- 11/11/13--08:37: _Relive John Donne's...
- 11/12/13--09:37: _Roger Waters pens p...
- 09/23/13--04:42: Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor among Westgate mall victims
- 09/23/13--10:01: Kofi Awoonor obituary
- 09/24/13--06:51: Poem pulled from Forward prize shortlist after plagiarism row
- 09/25/13--01:26: Alice Oswald wins Warwick prize
- 09/25/13--03:31: Lisa Appignanesi's top 10 books about Paris
- 09/26/13--03:46: Poetry Please: The poetic pulse of a nation
- 09/26/13--05:13: Romantic rhymes to Michael Gove – share your sentiments
- 09/26/13--10:43: Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber: celebrity friends for ever
- 09/27/13--07:59: Drysalter by Michael Symmons Roberts – review
- 11/02/13--09:52: The Saturday Poem: The Long Evenings of their Leavetakings
- 11/04/13--02:48: Poem of the week: Cartography for Beginners by Emily Hasler
- 11/08/13--02:28: Dylan Thomas prize: a judge's notes
- 11/08/13--10:15: Songs of St Kilda
- 11/08/13--10:59: Selected Poems by Robert Graves – review
- 11/09/13--00:00: The Saturday Poem: Similes of the Mallorcan Midwife Toad
- 11/11/13--04:20: Poem of the week: Returning, We Hear Larks by Isaac Rosenberg
- 11/11/13--08:37: Relive John Donne's 17th-century sermons in virtual reality project
- 11/12/13--09:37: Roger Waters pens poem for veteran who found father's place of death
Former diplomat killed and son injured in Nairobi shopping centre attack after travelling to Kenya for literary festival
Latest news from the Kenyan mall siege
A renowned Ghanaian poet was among the scores of casualties of the Westgate shopping mall attack in Kenya.
Prof Kofi Awoonor, a former diplomat, was killed in the attack in Nairobi. He was in the city attending the Storymoja Hay literary festival, a celebration of pan-African writing and storytelling.
His fellow Ghanaian poet Nii Ayikewei Parkes said people attending the festival had realised something was wrong when Awoonor, known affectionately by many in Ghana as "Prof", failed to turn up for a session at which poets from west Africa and east Africa were due to perform a reading.
"Professor Awoonor and I and two other poets were representing west Africa, and there were four poets from east Africa," said Parkes, author of Tail of the Blue Bird, who is also Awoonor's nephew.
"The high commissioner had phoned to say that [Awoonor's] son Afetfi was injured in an attack at the mall, and that they had lost track of [Awoonor].
"Later that night the high commissioner phoned and said that his body had been found."
Awoonor is believed to have gone to the Westgate mall with his son, Afetfi Awoonor, who left him in the car. It was unclear whether Awoonor was attacked in the car park, or whether he entered the mall looking for his son after hearing initial gunfire.
Afetfi Awoonor, who had travelled to Nairobi to support his 78-year-old-father, was shot in the shoulder and is believed to be recovering in Nairobi but is said to be "in shock".
"It was the first time I had met [Awoonor]," said Parkes. "He was very witty, wise and incredibly magnanimous. The Ghanaian high commissioner and several very successful Ghanaians in Nairobi dropped everything when they heard that he was speaking to come and hear him. Yet he was humble and warm," Parkes said.
A memorial tribute has been organised at Nairobi's national museum on Monday, where wellwishers have been invited to carry a candle in honour of the poet, and to sign a sympathy book for his family.
Awoonor, who is known for his experimental writing and poetry including the acclaimed novel This Earth, My Brother, was also a public figure in Ghana, with a particularly close relationship to the late president John Atta Mills.
"Professor Awoonor was a great African, a leading light whose footsteps leave big footprints," the Storymoja Hay organisers said. "His legend must live on."
Leading Ghanaian poet, novelist and political activist whose work was firmly rooted in the traditions of the Ewe people
The African poet and novelist Kofi Awoonor has died aged 78 in the terrorist attack by al-Shabaab militants at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. Awoonor was the most eminent of several African authors invited to participate in the Storymoja Hay festival, a celebration of writing and storytelling, in the Kenyan capital last week. His work was deeply rooted in the poetic and mythic traditions of the Ewe people in Ghana. He was also a diplomat and political activist who spent some time in prison when the party he supported was in opposition.
Born of mixed Togolese and Sierra Leonean ancestry in Wheta, south-eastern Ghana (then called the Gold Coast), he was originally named George Awoonor Williams and published his first collection, Rediscovery and Other Poems, under that name in 1964 while still a student at the University of Ghana. Those poems drew on the Ewe oral traditions he knew as a youth, and some of them have been frequently anthologised, such as the first of his Songs of Sorrow, an invocation of a traditional Ewe dirge, which includes these lines:
My people, I have been somewhere
If I turn here, the rain beats me
If I turn there, the sun burns me
The firewood of this world
Is for only those who can take heart
That is why not all can gather it.
After graduating, Awoonor worked for the Ghana Film Corporation, where he soon became director. He also founded the Ghana Playhouse. In the 1960s he edited the literary magazine Okyeame and was an associate editor of the pan-African journal Transition. After the 1966 military coup which removed Ghana's president Kwame Nkrumah from power, he spent several years in Britain studying for an MA in literature at the University of London and wrote radio plays for the BBC including Lament, a short, poetic and poignant drama. He then studied at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he subsequently became visiting professor in African literature and chairman of the comparative literature programme.
In America, Awoonor published a second volume of poetry, Night of My Blood, and a novel, This Earth, My Brother… (both 1971). These works drew on Ewe oral traditions but also allude to Dante, Pablo Neruda, TS Eliot and European writers. The novel intersperses intensely lyrical passages with a realist narrative contrasting the corruption and disillusion of contemporary Ghana with the idealism that characterised the early years of independence. A slightly ambivalent preface by Chinua Achebe comments on its "rather unusual and highly personal form" and the novel's success in presenting an allegory of betrayal of trust and responsibility in Africa's newly independent states.
Awoonor's third volume of poetry, Ride Me, Memory (1973), featured what he called "American Profiles" and "African Memories". The former includes ripe invective in the tradition of African oral verse, sharply satirising superficial and self-serving "revolutionaries":
You showed your dirty face first in Detroit
Slandered me, in your ugly missionary voice.
If the season were right
I would have broken your bones across my knees.
I heard you have taken to playing an accordion
in the Washington night, scaring foreign diplomats
with your horror show.
You joined the revolutionaries of Azania
only to betray them for multicoloured blankets
and a battered copy of The Pilgrim's Progress.
The title of another poem in the collection, On Having Been an Experimental Sacred Cow for Four Years, and a Token African on Faculty, indicates Awoonor's reason for leaving the US and returning to Ghana in 1975. As he demonstrated in his influential history of African literary traditions, The Breast of the Earth (1975), his research interests were focused on the links between African vernacular traditions and the written literature emerging from the continent.
Awoonor returned to become head of the English department at the University of Cape Coast. Shortly afterwards he was arrested on a charge of aiding someone accused of involvement in an attempt to overthrow the military government. Awoonor was imprisoned without trial for nearly a year. From this experience came a fine volume of prison poems, The House by the Sea (1978).
During the next decade his energies were mainly focused on politics. He published Ghana: A Political History from Pre-European to Modern Times (1990), served as ambassador to Cuba and then Brazil, and was appointed by President Jerry Rawlings to be Ghana's ambassador to the United Nations (1990-94). He was an active member of the party founded by Rawlings, the National Democratic Congress. During this period he also published two more volumes of poetry and a satirical novel, Comes the Voyager at Last (1992), mocking among others his fellow Ghanaian novelist Ayi Kwei Armah.
One of the foremost literary critics of African and European poetry, Robert Fraser, has commented on Awoonor's "superbly flexible muse". Ghana's president, John Mahama, called him "a writer, politician and traditionalist with great wit".
Awoonor had six children; one of his sons was injured in the attack.
• Kofi Awoonor, writer, poet and diplomat, born 13 March 1935; died 21 September 2013
Poet Matthew Welton discovered CJ Allen's previous work lifted themes and phrases from his own poems
Plagiarism is considered the worst of sins among writers, but the latest scandal – in which poet CJ Allen has pulled out of this year's Forward prize for poetry competition admitting that some of his earlier works were plagiarised – confirms that passing off is a real problem in the poetry community.
Allen's exit from the prize, in which he was shortlisted for best single poem for Explaining the Plot of Blade Runner to My Mother Who Has Alzheimer's, is the third case of poetry plagiarism to come to light this year.
The latest case of copying was revealed in a blog by poet Matthew Welton on the website of poetry publisher Carcanet, after he noticed similarities between his own work and Allen's while at a poetry reading in Nottingham in May 2012. Welton decided to go public after hearing of Allen's Forward prize shortlisting.
He wrote: "It was as I paged through Allen's At the Oblivion Tea-Rooms, which had recently come out with the small Birmingham poetry publisher Nine Arches, that I noticed that a number of the poems were in fact versions of my own poems with a few changes made."
To illustrate the point, Welton compared passages from his own poem, London Sundays, from his collection, The Book of Matthew, with Allen's The Memory of Rain.
"His approach is methodical, if not very imaginative," writes Welton. "Often he takes the words or phrases in my poem and simply swaps them for something closely related: 'snatches of summer' becomes 'rain'; 'gin' becomes 'alcohol'; 'rumour' becomes 'banter'. And, of course, he keeps the entire structure and the rhyme sounds, and usually the actual rhyming words too," Welton wrote.
Allen emailed the Forward Arts Foundation and withdrew from the competition following the revelation. He wrote: "I accept that I did plagiarise certain poems (although it was genuinely not my intention to deceive), and I am withdrawing from the competition because of the intolerable strain of the recent, negative publicity surrounding this. However, I continue to maintain that the poem submitted to the Forward prize is original."
Susannah Herbert, director of the Forward Arts Foundation, told the Bookseller the judges had been divided over Allen's withdrawal, with Jeanette Winterson in favour of keeping him on the shortlist but others feeling differently. Herbert said: "The situation is not ideal, but I'm keen that the conversation about poetry becomes more intelligent and more diverse. To have a really good talk about what plagiarism is and what it means strikes me as not a bad thing."
Winterson, chair of the 2013 Forward prizes judging panel, said: "We thought the poem had depth, wit, truth and elegance. Maybe CJ Allen is a shyster, maybe not. Our job wasn't to pass judgment on people or process, but to find good poems."
In January, poet Christian Ward said he had had "no intention of deliberately plagiarising" the work of another writer after it was discovered that his poem The Deer at Exmoor, which won the Exmoor Society's Hope Bourne poetry prize, was lifted "almost word-for-word" from a poem by Helen Mort.
And poet David R Morgan admitted in May that he felt "very ashamed and regret hurting people by my stupidity", after he was skewered for multiple instances of lifting lines and phrases from other people's work. The extent of his plagiarism was uncovered after US poet Charles O Hartmann noticed that Morgan's Dead Wife Singing was almost identical to his own, three-decades-old work, A Little Song.
The Forward prize for best single poem is worth £1,000 to the winner and, if Allen had won, it would have significantly enhanced his reputation. Instead, the revelations have led Allen's publisher Nine Arches to withdraw his book from sale, while John McAuliffe, editor of the Manchester Review, removed one of his poems from its website. Havant literary festival is to strip Allen of the prize he won last October for his poem Exordium, after it was alleged that it plagiarised Exordium and Terminus, a 2002 poem by US poet Gerald Stern, and has asked him to return his £250 prize money.
However, the first printing of the anthology The Forward Book of Poetry, which includes Allen's shortlisted poem, is to stay on sale while stocks last.
On his blog, Welton wrote: "After [Allen's] book was withdrawn, he contacted me at the university and tried to justify his plagiarism. He claimed to hold my work 'in high regard' and said his use of my poems had been 'as a framework against which to build my own poem'."
The Forward prizes, which are awarded on 1 October, also recognise best collection, with a prize of £10,000, and best first collection, worth £5,000. The remaining shortlisted authors for best single poem are Patience Agbabi, Nick MacKinnon, Rosie Sheppard and Hugo Williams.
Judges praise 'imaginative and intellectual ambition' of Memorial, British poet's reworking of Homer's The Iliad
Alice Oswald has become the first poet to win the £25,000 Warwick prize for writing. It was for Memorial, her reworking of Homer's Iliad, in which she aims to rescue the work from its popular status as a "public school poem" and a "cliched, British empire part of our culture", according to a Guardian interview.
Oswald said she was "surprised and grateful, both to the judges and to Homer", on winning the prize. Memorial retells Homer's epic poem by way of the back stories of its doomed soldiers, remembering each one and "filleting" seven-eighths of Homer's narrative.
The bodies pile up as the poem progresses: "EPICLES a Southerner from sunlit Lycia" who was "knocked backwards by a rock/ And sank like a diver"; "AXYLUS son of Teuthras" who "so loved his friends" but "died side by side with Calesius/ In a daze of loneliness"; "POLYDORUS … who loved running/ Now somebody has to tell his father/ That exhausted man leaning on the wall/ Looking for his favourite son."
Oswald was shortlisted for a Forward poetry prize at the age of 30 for her first collection, The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile, and won the TS Eliot prize in 2002 with her second, a book-length poem about the River Dart in Devon. After leaving school, she spent her year out reading The Iliad, and has said all her poems "have been more or less responses to my initial delight at reading Homer".
Professor Ian Sansom, chair of the judges for the Warwick prize, said: "It was a unanimous decision to award the Warwick prize for writing 2013 to Memorial: this is a book that forges its own unique medium of expression. Memorial is a book that looks to the present as well as the past, which combines the personal with the political, and my fellow judges and I were thrilled by its imaginative and intellectual ambition."
The other books shortlisted for the prize were Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways, Jim al-Khalili's Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science, and Delusions of Gender by neuroscientist Cordelia Fine; and in fiction, Etgar Keret's short story collection Suddenly, a Knock on the Door, and the novel Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth.
The Warwick prize is awarded once every two years for a substantial piece of writing in English in any genre or form. The previous winner was Peter Forbes for Dazzled and Deceived in 2011, and the inaugural winner, in 2009, was Naomi Klein for The Shock Doctrine.
From Baudelaire to Balzac to Proust, these 10 titles provide an insider's guide to a city of intrigue, romance and squalor
By an accident of history, I spent part of my early childhood in Paris and French became my first spoken language.
Ever since, no matter how often I've returned, once to live opposite Balzac's failed printing works, Paris has been a city of memory and myth for me. Oddly angled sights and childhood smells live side by side with that dream city built up of the words of novelists and poets.
This is the Paris of crowds and contrasts, of forbidden pleasure and desperation, of glitter and nerves, of urbanity and poverty. It's the very essence of the cosmopolitan: dangerous and desirable. My novel Paris Requiem is set in the mystery of its teeming streets as the city moves into the 20th century.
1. Le Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac
Along with Lost Illusions, this is one of my great favourites in Balzac's many-volumed and populous Human Comedy. Balzac's depiction of Restoration Paris from the vantage point of an aspiring innocent from the provinces shows it to be a ruthlessly inhuman capital of inequality: only vice and manipulative corruption triumph. Seduction, love, talent are all tools for climbing the greasy pole to success, and along with filthy lucre, a means of buying a foothold at the aristocratic summit. Balzac's detail allows us to smell the grimy boarding house, the Maison Vauquer on Rue Neuve-Saint-Geneviève, where his provincial law student, Rastignac, begins his Parisian odyssey. At the end, after old Goriot's funeral, Rastignac stands on the heights of the Père Lachaise Cemetery and launches his challenge to the city: "A nous deux maintenant." ("It's between us two now.")
2. Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire
Censored in its original 1857 edition for its "insult to public decency" – largely on the grounds of its lesbian poems – Baudelaire's enlarged Flowers of Evil of 1861 captures a city thrust into a shuddering modernity by Baron Haussmann's renovations. The poet-flaneur takes us, his hypocrite readers, on a 24-hour tour through the life of the changing streets. He walks, observes, takes in new sensations, mourns fleeting time, bumps into a putrifying cadaver, locks eyes with a desirable woman and loses her again in the crowd. He conjures up the unsung greats, the ragpickers, beggars, whores, gamblers: the workers whom bourgeois order casts aside.
3. Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert
Published in 1869, this is the great prose master's ironic tale of city life, to counterpoint with his provincial Madame Bovary, who yearns for the capital. Set around the revolution of 1848, which put an end to Louis Philippe's materialist reign and inadvertently ushered in a new emperor, this is the novel of modern disaffection and anomie. Frederic Moreau, an intellectual manque, floats through life, paralysed by the many choices the city offers and able to decide on none. The city induces shifts in attention, passing sensations. Ultimately both the city and this new god comprised of sex, money and power defeat him.
4. Nana by Émile Zola
Zola's innocent blonde Venus rises from dire streetwalker's poverty to soar like a mythic amoral angel through the corrupt society of the second empire. Made for love, she enraptures with her performances and proceeds to wreak destruction on the corrupt male hordes who desire her. Zola's descriptions of the Parisian demi-monde, as well as his crowd scenes, are unequalled. Her death coincides with the announcement of the Franco-Prussian war.
5. The Ambassadors by Henry James
I have to confess that the plotline of my Paris Requiem was in part inspired by James's wonderful 1903 novel, in which New Englander Lambert Strether goes on a mission to rescue his straight-laced fiance's son from the corruptions (and illicit pleasures) of Paris. James is ever alert to the delights and dangers of the capital and is happy to have Strether seduced and bewildered and emerge all the wiser for the experience.
6. A la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust
Alongside its archeology of the emotions, Proust's great novel gives us a remarkable topography of the city. He was a psychogeographer ahead of time. Young Marcel "wrestles" with his childhood love, Gilberte, in the leafy pastoral of the Champs-Élysées and watches fashionable aristocrats and courtesans, dressed for spectacle and assignation, in the Bois de Boulogne. One of these last is Gilberte's mother, Odette. As a woman of the demi-monde, she used to live in a small house behind the Trocadero to which the dandy Swann drove her in a carriage, where they performed their first "cattleya" – the flower that stands in for their sexual congress. By the end, they've arrived at the aristocratic summit, the Faubourg Saint-Germain. (The "secret" homosexual brothel in which the book's wartime "apocalypse" takes place lies halfway between Proust's childhood home and the Boulevard Haussmann, where he wrote his novel.)
7. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Published posthumously in 1963, this splendid memoir of Hemingway's life in Paris during the 20s amid a bohemian circle of writers and artists has hugely contributed to the city's mythic appeal. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Gertrude Stein and many more figure in its star-studded pages, meeting, drinking and talking in the Ritz, in Montparnasse cafes and bars and in any number of apartments, some seedy, some elegant, that then make their way into novels.
8. The autobiographies of Simone de Beauvoir
I learned a lot of my Paris from De Beauvoir. Her autobiographies, from her Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter on, provide a fascinating 20th-century history and cultural geography of the city. Born in the then new area of Montparnasse in 1908, De Beauvoir guides us through the cafes and clubs of her frolics and writing, as well as the hotels where she and Sartre largely lived – many of these no more than a brisk walk away from her birthplace. Her wartime Paris is particularly graphic.
9. Maigret by Georges Simenon
Any and all of the Maigret novels paint an unrivalled picture of the city and its inhabitants. Simenon and his detective are astute observers of the psychopathology of everyday life and the houses and streets in which it unfurls. From the bonne bourgeoise Madame Maigret in her floral summer dresses – worn to the little restaurant on the Boulevard de Montparnasse, where the couple dine on stewed mutton on the terasse – to the overbred (and murdered) Comte and Comtesse de Saint-Hilaire in the Rue de Varenne, Simenon is unequalled in his understanding of the city.
10. Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick
In this taut and witty homage to Henry James, the great Ozick takes her morally upright teacher, Bea Nightingale, on a journey into the murky depths of 1950s Paris, where wartime refugees jostle with intoxicated American expats, and Jewishness has different meanings according to which side of the Atlantic you're on. This is a virtuouso novel to rival the master's own in its understanding of the textures and shades that make up a (good) life.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening displaces verse by Kipling and Eliot as most-requested on BBC's Poetry Please programme
Polls to discover the nation's favourite poem have traditionally crowned Rudyard Kipling's If as No 1, while TS Eliot has been hailed as the greatest poet, but now an audit of the poems most-requested on BBC Radio 4's Poetry Please has found that US poet Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening is the piece that listeners most want to hear.
Programme producer Tim Dee has totted up every poem featured on the programme since it began in 1979, to produce a list of the most popular. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening has been read out 17 times in the show's 35 years on air.
Dee said: "The number of broadcasts is a direct ratio to the number of requests, so it's the one that people are most asking to listen to. It was a surprise. It's humanly thwarted, not getting to where it wants to get to, and there's that wonderful opening out at the end, like a prayer or a meditation; it speaks of human vulnerability. If you're living in a world where If is voted as the nation's favourite poem and TS Eliot is the favourite poet, it comes as a soft surprise."
The poem's last lines run:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
"To see Frost at the top is a nice correction to the patriotism of the 'nation's favourite' poems or poets. It's much more human," Dee added.
In second place on the Poetry Please requests list, broadcast 16 times in 35 years, is Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways, and in joint third place, having been read out 14 times, are Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas and Adlestrop by Edward Thomas, both poems associated with place.
"Adlestrop is a crowd-pleaser, but it's also a lovely, open-ended piece. Robert Frost was the poet who made Ed Thomas into the writer he was. They lived in adjacent villages in Gloucester and Frost helped him," Dee said.
The opening of Thomas's poem runs:
Yes. I remember Adlestrop –
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
Listeners most often request poems as a way of marking an emotional life event, whether it is the poem that wooed their spouse, the birth of a grandchild or the death of somebody close to them. Requests for the purposes of showing off are "quite rare", Dee said.
The list is notable for having no contemporary or even particularly recent poems on it – the most recent is Fern Hill, first published in 1945. There is no Simon Armitage, no Carol Ann Duffy, no Philip Larkin or Sylvia Plath, and no Seamus Heaney in the top 10. Eliot appears further down the list, with Journey of the Magi (nine readings), Macavity the Mystery Cat (six readings), and The Love Song of Alfred Prufrock, and Skimbleshanks (both five readings).
One feature shared by Poetry Please's top 10 most-requested poems – as well as their mostly emotional rather than intellectual concerns – is brevity: the majority of the top 10 poems are no more than a page or two long.
The top-most-requested poems are being collected in an anthology, Poetry Please: The Nation's Best-Loved Poems, with a foreword by poet Roger McGough, the programme's presenter, to be published by Faber on 3 October.
Poetry Please: the most requested poems
1. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost
2. How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43), by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
3. Adlestrop, by Edward Thomas
4. Fern Hill, by Dylan Thomas
5. The Darkling Thrush, by Thomas Hardy
6. Dover Beach, by Matthew Arnold
7. Sonnet 116 (Let me not to the marriage of true minds), William Shakespeare
8. The Listeners, by Walter De La Mare
9. Remember, by Christina Rossetti
10. To His Coy Mistress, by Andrew Marvell
We reveal the 10 most requested poems by listeners to the world's longest-running radio poetry show
What is a poem for? Every time we produce an edition of Poetry Please– the longest running (and now probably only) poetry request show on any radio station anywhere in the world – we are forced to think about this question. Poems, stowed quietly in their various volumes, slim and not so slim, do not seek any role. Indeed, one of the best things about a poem may be that it is not for anything other than itself. But Poetry Please proves that this isn't the end of the story and demonstrates that not only does poetry have work to do, but that it does it remarkably well.
Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is the most broadcast requested poem. This might be a surprise to some, though not perhaps to the programme's listeners. It is a quiet and inward piece, and apparently miles away from a poem such as Kipling's "If", which topped a poll of the nation's favourites in 1995. Though we are not exactly comparing like with like (a one-off television-viewers' poll and the accumulating totals of a radio request programme) we might still ask what has happened to poetic taste and preference in the last years to promote a poem such as Frost's. Why do we continue to want to hear it? Though Frost was an American and lived long decades into the 20th century, long after many he knew and wrote alongside were dead (including Edward Thomas, whose "Adlestrop" is also among the top 10 most requested), and though his poetry is very place-specific, it commonly transcends both its pre-modern feel and its American plots. Here are 16 short-rhymed lines recalling a moment's pause on a horseback journey through a winter woodland. The scene is captured with economical precision. The silence of the snow is broken only once – by the jingling bells of the restive animal. We sense the fairytale terror-allure of the muted woods. And in the last three lines we are ushered towards something wider and deeper still, where the suggestion of unfinished business makes a parable and becomes incantatory. It is like listening to a lullaby designed to keep you awake. All of this has things to say to poetry, to radio, and to the listening to and craving for poetry on the radio.
The 30 minutes of Poetry Please is broadcast on half of the Sunday afternoons of the year – and has been for 35 years. Each edition is repeated the following Saturday night. People who listen to the programme (and more than a million do) ask to hear a poem they like and we give them a reading of the poem they have requested. It is one of the simplest things on radio.
Each broadcast begins life in a room in a large 19th-century house in Bristol. The programme's producers share that room with its administrator and several photographs of its presenter, Roger McGough. Every few weeks these pictures come to life when the real McGough joins the production team from his home in London. The office has two striking features. In an increasingly bookless BBC (BBC libraries have been the victims of repeated cuts, almost to the point of extinction), its bookshelves seem like something miraculously alive in a world of digits and screens: two-and-a-half walls, floor to ceiling, crammed with voices waiting to have their volume turned up. The second oddity is a filing cabinet – there aren't many of those left at the BBC either. Here are kept all the poetry requests that the programme has received but is yet to grant, filed under the name of the poet: Abse to Zagajewski.
Often the requests are accompanied by more than a name or address: my wife died last month and she loved this poem; my son is getting married and I want this poem to cheer for him and his bride; I am sad and nothing makes sense, but these verses still manage to lift me up; I half recall these words but can you finish the couplet for me and help me to get it out of my head; I am ill and old but give me some John Donne to remind me that I was once young and in love; I am young and in love and please don't use my name but play this poem for my heart's desire. And on they go, a kind of cardiogram of the country written through its poetry and lodged in four grey metal drawers in the corner of a room in Bristol.
This year is my 25th as a radio producer at the BBC; for half those years I had nothing to do with Poetry Please. Before I was asked to make it, I heard it as a mildewed and musty monument of public service, giving the wrong poems to the wrong people. Then one day I looked through the filing cabinet. Discovering a thousand times over that someone's words had meant so much to someone else changed my mind completely.
There are still those who don't care for Poetry Please – or its poems. I recently heard John Cooper Clarke raise a sneery laugh with talk of Roger McGough as the silver fox of poetry. There are jokes about the programme on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue– that sacred cow of radio comedy. But spare me the angry performance poet who thinks their shouty rhymes are fluttering poetry's dovecote and are relevant in a way Donne cannot be; spare me also the received idea that the programme trades solely in poetic warm beer (cricket, the sun going down, spinsters on bicycles, guildhalls, the carved, bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang etc). To think like this is rather evidence of cloth-eared listening. It also betrays a more depressing thought: that poetry, old or new, has nothing to say to us today. Poetry Please asserts the opposite.
The programme runs throughout the year. Sometimes we pitch the mood for wintry Sunday afternoons, the dusking hour and the drawing of curtains; sometimes we make it more summery, closer to Test Match Special, thinking of a radio playing through an open window and sprinkling words across a sunny lawn; sometimes the late night repeat of the programme is in our minds, with many listeners already in bed and being floated into sleep and dreams by the poems – the programme is then like the Shipping Forecast cradling all of our islands as we drift off.
The Shipping Forecast itself has inspired more poems than any other radio programme. Carol Ann Duffy's "Prayer" and Seamus Heaney's "The Shipping Forecast" are among several often requested. It makes you think there must be some common traffic involved, that the weather is a poem itself, and a poem is a broadcast, that these airwaves – radio, poetry and weather – come together to make something like our national climate.
How has that climate changed? Shakespeare and poems of the long 19th century still dominate the list of the most broadcast. Kipling doesn't make the top 10, though he wasn't far off, though neither was TS Eliot, nor Simon Armitage, nor Charles Causley, nor Stevie Smith, nor Sylvia Plath. Modernism (and whatever has followed it) remains a strange fruit for many; the most recently published poet on the top 10 list is Dylan Thomas, who was born 100 years ago and wrote more from the lush side of life than most of his contemporaries. The change is more obvious in the sorts of poems (rather than in the poets) that are being requested. The top 10 list is beautifully weathered: it contains poems of doubt and trepidation, reflections on human vulnerabilities and on a world denied the certainty of God, there are cautious announcements of love, some rescue remedies and annotations of what remains, footnotes for fallen lives and echoes of the song of the earth, and much tenacious hunger for life. Modernity, or life as it is now, is written into all of these poems. They speak to us today, with each of their poets reaching with their living hands back towards us, as Keats said he would, from beyond the grave.
The 10 Most Broadcast Poems on Poetry Please
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening – Robert Frost
'How do I love thee? Let me count the ways' – Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Adlestrop – Edward Thomas
Fern Hill – Dylan Thomas
The Darkling Thrush – Thomas Hardy
Dover Beach – Matthew Arnold
'Let me not to the marriage of true minds' – William Shakespeare
The Listeners – Walter De La Mare
Remember – Christina Rossetti
To His Coy Mistress – Andrew Marvell
As Michael Gove tells young people to scrap sexts for love poems, we ask teachers to tweet us their verses for the education secretary
• Add your poem to the collection by posting in the comment thread or tweeting us @guardianteach
Education secretary Michael Gove revealed himself as an old romantic this week, when he told young people they should send love poems, not 'sexts' to their amours.
Promoting, Love Book, an app which allows users to record themselves reading poetry to their dearest, Gove said: "It [the app] will allow children to make sense of their own feelings in a way that is more graceful, expressive and beautiful [than sexting].
"Technology does not have to mean that expression becomes clumsier."
In response, we invited teachers to tweet us poems that convey the depth and fervency of emotion that they have for Gove.
Here are our favourites. To add yours to the collection tweet us @guardianteach or post in the comment thread.
Helen J Williams @helenjwc
Mighty Mr Gove
we wish you'd move
to agriculture where u
can dig a hole and fall in.
Alan Mills @alanmills405
Gove's enduring love for Latin is beyond dispute,
But his education philosophy is like that fruit.
Peter Spencer @PeterSpencer88
Michael Gove is like a red red rose,
Prickly, superficial and in the end useless.
Thou art ill-tempered and un-fair
and gone completely nuts they say
Compare thee to a summer's day?
Absolutely not, no way.
Roses are red, violets are blue,
Sadly for children, you don't have a clue.
Michael Gove the minister
Always behaved so sinister
He huffed & he puffed
Cos we said-get stuffed
And wouldn't let him administer.
This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. Looking for your next role? Take a look at Guardian jobs for schools for thousands of the latest teaching, leadership and support jobs.
In a Rolling Stone interview, Cyrus reveals that she views herself as Bieber's mentor. Think of her as Ben Kenobi to his Luke Skywalker
Wordsworth and Coleridge, Van Gogh and Gauguin, Lewis and Tolkien, Cyrus and Bieber. To the canon of Significant Artistic Friendships, then, and a thrilling new entry, as Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber reveal the role they play not just in each other's lives, but in the cultural life of the early 21st century.
As your records will show, Miley recently deposed Gwyneth Paltrow as Earth's most polarising figure, with the entire planet required to stop what they were doing and declare whether they were for or against her. No vignette better sums up the hilarious overreaction to her VMA performance than the fact that Fox Sports actually dredged up the creator of the foam finger, who genuinely appeared to feel Miley rubbing herself with one had compromised the innate nobility of his invention. "Fortunately, the foam finger has been around long enough that it will survive this incident," this gentleman concluded. But: "She took an honourable icon that is seen in sporting venues everywhere and degraded it," he lamented, studiously ignoring the fact that the foam finger has itself degraded any number of classic rock tracks, and even elements of sport itself. (Anyone who can hear Queen's Another One Bites the Dust without imagining his creation being waved idiotically at some departing Twenty20 batsman's back is a purer soul than me.)
Mostly, as far as Lost in Showbiz can work out, you're supposed to be against Miley, with your outraged brothers-in-arms featuring everyone from all human parents to a zombie Walt Disney, who has been freed from his cryonic bonds beneath Cinderella Castle in Disneyland, and is hellbent on avenging the twerking of his legacy, of which Miley – who made her cultural debut as Disney's Hannah Montana – was once such a cookie-cutter custodian.
Is it wrong to really want Miley to simulate a threesome with Mickey and Minnie on her next stage outing? I expect so, but Lost in Showbiz can't help but see her as an amusing rejoinder to George Bernard Shaw's dreary suggestion that youth is wasted on the young. A rebel whose only cause is herself, Miley is incapable of opening her mouth without unleashing a weapons-grade version of the solipsism of the average teen – and an old square like me can get quite wistful just listening to it.
As for Miley's inability to listen to herself, that remains the proverbial gift that keeps on giving. This week, it was delivered in the form of her Rolling Stone cover story, in which she graciously styled herself as the Ben Kenobi figure to Justin Bieber's Luke Skywalker.
"I'm not that much older than him, so I never want it to feel like I'm mentoring him," began her discourse on Bieber. "But I do mentor him in a way. Because I've been doing this shit for a long time, and I've transitioned, and I don't think he's done it yet."
Now, come come. Out-of-control badboy Bieber did recently swear at a picture of Bill Clinton – and I know he personally apologised to the former president thereafter, but still … As for Miley's apparent conviction that she's "transitioned" from Hannah Montana to Tony Montana, we'll leave that one hanging for now, as madam has a little more undermining to do.
"He's trying really hard," Miley explains of Bieber. "People don't take him seriously," she insists caringly, "but he really can play the drums, he really can play the guitar, he really can sing. I just don't want to see him fuck that up, to where people think he's Vanilla Ice."
Lost in Showbiz ADORES this sort of mentoring, which resembles little so much as Dangerous Liaisons for the twerk generation. Miley in the Glenn Close role, obviously.
"I tell him that," she explains of her private fears, voiced in the biggest magazine interview of her career, that Justin Bieber will become the modern day version of the least credible, most laughable white homie – fauxmie, if you will – to ever stalk popular culture. "Like: 'You don't want to become a joke … But the thing is," Miley laughs, "I think boys are like, seven years behind. So in his head, he's really, like, 12."
As I say, Miley has something of a tin ear for her own pronouncements, but even she appears to have read these sentiments back and judged an emergency tweet was in order.
"Always have ALWAYS will root for @justinbieber," this ran. "He always has and ALWAYS will be the shit. #onlylamestwistwords" Mmm. Your move, Bieber.
"All good," replied Bieber, possibly through gritted teeth. "I know what it is." But for the benefit of humans too unsophisticated to know what it is he observed to Miley that: "We keep it interesting."
And so they do, these titans of the age, whose belief that they are its most fascinating creatures says infinitely more about the age than it does about their egos. "The VMAs was nothing more than God or the Universe showing you how powerful anything you do is," runs a text Miley receives from Pharrell during the Rolling Stone inteview. "It's like uranium – it has the power to take over lives and power entire countries. Now that you've seen your power, master it."
And on that nuclear bombshell …
Adam Newey admires a spiritual, Forward-shortlisted collection whose assertions of belief are hedged with both certainty and doubt
The titles alone in Michael Symmons Roberts's Forward-shortlisted new collection make plain the territory we're in: here are pieces called "Song of Ascent", "Through a Glass Darkly", a series of poems titled "The Wounds". There are also plenty of "Hymns" to the mundane – to a car factory, a photo booth, a roller coaster.
For the secular reader, then, this is a poet who requires what you might call a willing suspension of agnosticism. The urge to find the immanent in the ordinary material world is paramount for Symmons Roberts. From the first poem – "World into Fragments" – to the final one – "Fragments into World" – there appears to be an arc of design, a wish to discern an ordering amid chaos. Which, of course, is precisely what any poet does when sitting down to forge something from the raw materials of language, whatever her faith or lack of it.
The world we are in is, without question, a fallen one: the speaker in "The Tourists" carries a copy of "Baedeker's Eden"; Paradise is "an old zoo/ abandoned by its keepers" ("Elegy for John Milton"), though it is always "on the edge of evolving into song". And we have fallen selves, our better natures caged by brute instinct: "the bruised fist/ of the heart, its inner walls a cave-art/ record of the beasts that make us hunter, hunted" ("Animal of Light").
Even in that fallen state, there may yet be moments of human interaction that approach something like redemption. One of two pieces titled "Soul Song" (titles recur throughout the collection) is a particularly affecting love poem that points longingly towards – though it finally rejects – the idea of a complete spiritual union between two people. More typical, one feels, is the tawdry encounter in "Hymn to a Karaoke Booth", which seems to offer knowledge of "the true of you long-dead", but ends with the karaoke lyrics "burnt into the locked screen …/ you will never never never know me."
The fierce, seemingly unbreakable grip that "all this ersatz world" maintains on us is what holds Drysalter together. Far from being the result of divine agency, the visible world, it seems, is mere illusion; the great convulsions of human history are purposeless, the operation of blind chance: "there is no such being as the wind,// simply a transfer of pressure", we are told in "Portrait of the Psalmist as an Old Man"; "History is like this …/ blind currents that ruck up empires, eras,/ squall them into heaps of leaves." But, like Plato's cave, it is an illusion that we are unequipped to see through: "its coincidence and chaos,// feels inevitable, utter" ("The Wounds III").
There is, of course, another kind of world, presumably non-ersatz, which is hinted at though barely ever glimpsed. Like a latter-day Blake or Stanley Spencer, Symmons Roberts places his revelatory imagery within a defiantly ordinary, contemporary setting, which both hints at its transcendant strangeness and brings that strangeness down to earth. But, as with the titanic, motionless deity-figure in "Immortal, Invisible, Wise" who "has held so long this, his repose, /that no one sees him any more", this other reality is mostly lost to plain sight in the fretful human world.
Each poem in this substantial collection is just 15 lines long (though they are divided up in different ways), as if the poet were following a sort of spiritual rule to sharpen the senses through variant repetition. If the writing on occasion feels a little over-designed – the move from "prey" to "pray", for instance, in "Through a Glass Darkly" – there is plenty of excellent stuff that more than compensates. The same poem's invocation of the "flaked face of brick/ frostbitten, verdigris and icicles on statues. A world drawn tight" has a calm, poised precision to it that is typical of Symmons Roberts's best writing. The description of the world's reassembly in "Fragments into World" is a wonderful film-played-backwards image of the broken moon's shards being "combed / from shattered sun in utter darkness.// Then like wrong rain it falls up, gathers in the sky."
And if sometimes one resists plain assertions of belief, as in one or two of the "Wounds" poems, then there are pieces such as "On Easter Saturday" that are wholly convincing in their depiction of a faith hedged with doubt and uncertainty. One of three poems titled "Something and Nothing" gives a God's-eye view of the world as a piece of ripe fruit "a-buzz with what you take/ for wasps but is in truth all human life". It is a truly startling image, carried through with real virtuosity, to an ending in which: "The world's sick sweetness hooks your throat,/ and all our songs and lamentations coalesce – / a hornet's nest that will not let you sleep."
The striking thing about Symmons Roberts's worldview isn't so much his faith, as his determination to confront dogmatic atheism with a reasoned sense that our complacent materialism is as much a constructed fiction, a story, as anything else. Like the hound that dreams on the porch in "The End of Civilisation As We Know It", we may not be in any position to privilege one view of reality over another, to be certain that our dream-life isn't just "an openness through which the wilderness/ will pour itself, a foothold, first step to our towns,/ our homes, the crack that lets the desert in."
by Eavan Boland
My mother was married by the water.
She wore a grey coat and a winter rose.
She said her vows beside a cold seam of the Irish coast.
She said her vows near the shore where
the emigrants set down their consonantal n:
on afternoon, on the end of everything, at the start of ever.
Yellow vestments took in light
a chalice hid underneath its veil.
Her hands were full of calla and cold weather lilies.
The mail packet dropped anchor.
A black headed gull swerved across the harbour.
Icy promises rose beside a cross-hatch of ocean and horizon.
I am waiting for the words of the service. I am waiting for
keep thee only and all my earthly.
All I hear is an afternoon's worth of never.
• From New and Selected Poems, published by Carcanet, RRP £12.95. To order a copy for £X.XX with free UK p&p go to guardianbookshop.co.uk or call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846.
Ambiguity and precision overlap in these very personal instructions for map-making
I discovered this week's poem – and poet – in issue 76 of Michael Mackmin's influential Norwich-based poetry journal, The Rialto . It was the tone of Emily Hasler's "Cartography for Beginners" that particularly attracted me: colloquial, playful, assured. The playfulness and assurance extend to the way the poem remodels and subverts what a cartographer might call its "ground-truth" – a lesson on how to draw a map.
That the speaker is only pretending to issue a set of useful instructions, meanwhile creating her own myth of map-making, quickly becomes clear in the ordering of priorities, beginning with that emphasis on "the correct blue". When, in lines two and three, the speaker advises that the shade of blue should not be "too watery" because "people do not like wet feet", the map and the place mapped are suddenly fused, and we might even suspect the tutee is in on the joke. A mock-didactic poem needs two people to play the game.
Blue could be associated with feelings too, of course, and perhaps an openness to feeling. Beyond its aesthetic potential, water constantly draws the speaker's attention. It becomes so significant that, even if there's no actual water to be indicated, she insists that the choice of blue still has to be made. Later, she will go farther and say that, if the area has no water, "I have to question why you are bothering". The most powerful image or symbol in the poem, water connects, through baptism, to the church (listed in the places of worship) and, of course, to the pub. Finally, the poem considers the possibility of a completely submerged East Anglia. Its resemblance to "a sodden Constable" suggests that the place is not so much a place as a picture of a place – the converse idea of a map which causes wet feet.
Elements from both art and science, the disciplines the making of maps traditionally employs are allowed to unsettle one another. That unsettling is inherent in many kinds of mapping, of course. Perhaps the key reference is to "the twin and warring gods of Precision/ and Wild Abandon". In mentioning the coastline paradox the poem reveals an awareness of the difficulty of exactly conveying complex spatial information on paper.
Precision, symbolised by Mandelbrot's investigation, is burdensome, but cannot be jettisoned ("get a stepladder"). "Wild Abandon" is hinted in "licence" (line 13) and, more resolutely projected at the end, when the speaker seems to be persuading the addressee towards a real, physical encounter and an implied sexual landscape. Tensions exist in the antipathy of wet and dry, public and private. The map is interpreted as an act of communication with "people", an intimate space between friends or lovers, and a delightful playground for the solitary imagination.
Formally, there's a resistance to end-stopping. The many enjambed lines create their own variable coastline – the line-endings – and flow gracefully over the edge. There is a civility in the poem that recalls Elizabeth Bishop's finely controlled, often ruefully humorous, navigating potentially dangerous emotional waves.
"People do not like/ to be lost", the speaker remarks in lines 10/11, but, of course, some discoveries can be made only when one is lost. This poem disorientates us, but in a gentle and fruitful way. While we're not allowed to find out, metaphorically, exactly where we are, some East Anglian locations towards the end are reassuring. And they allow an affectionate poem of place to emerge from an intimate address to a particular individual.
Originally from Felixstowe in Suffolk, Hasler has published work in various magazines and anthologies, and her first pamphlet natural histories appeared from Salt in their "modern voices" series, and is still available. "Cartography for Beginners" is from an unpublished sequence of four poems, "The Map Lover". I look forward to seeing this, and more of Hasler's work, in a first full-length collection.
Cartography for Beginners
First of all, you will need to choose the correct blue
to indicate water. This should not be too watery.
You must remember: people do not like wet feet.
If there is no water to indicate, no matter,
you must still elect a blue. Let me recommend
eggshell, at a push, azure. Choose a symbol
for church/temple/mosque/synagogue. Choose
a symbol for pub. Dedicate your life
to the twin and warring gods of Precision
and Wild Abandon. People do not like
to be lost. Buy Mandelbrot's 1967 paper
on the coastline paradox, put it on the highest shelf –
but get a stepladder. Take a little licence with rivers,
especially their curves and estuaries. Add
an oxbow lake if at all possible. If the area you
are mapping has no seas/lakes/rivers/streams,
I have to question why you are bothering. You
won't get to use that lovely blue you spent so long
deciding upon. Do the Norfolk fens instead. Better
yet, East Anglia in its future state, quite utterly
submerged like a sodden Constable. Come on,
get your coat, I'll show you. You won't need your shoes.
The spike in young female performance poetry champions suggests that visible role models can have real impact
Ollie O'Neill, wearing a checked shirt and standing in front of a stark white brick wall, introduces her poem 'Dyke'. Glancing out from beneath a sweeping red fringe, she says: "The first time I heard this word I was 11-years-old and it was cold against my skin."
Her words are part of a performance posted on YouTube. At just 18, O'Neill is one of a growing number of successful young female spoken word poets making themselves known online. The first ever female poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, was appointed in 2009 after 341 years of the honour being awarded to males. Has this had a trickle down affect on younger poets, or are wider currents at play in the spoken word scene?
The Foyle's Young Poets of the Year Award, launched in 2001 and open to 11 to 17-year-olds, has seen the number of female prize winners rise from 60% in 2009, to 80% in 2013. And while spoken word poetry is known for being more diverse, Joelle Taylor, artistic director of Slambassadors UK, a national youth spoken word poetry competition, says that when she started her career in 1984 it was still a predominately male scene: "It doesn't feel as unequal now as it once did."
This, Taylor says, is both evidenced and helped by the fact that two of the most famous spoken word artists in the country right now are women. "You have Kate Tempest and Hollie McNish," she says. "Now kids can look at YouTube at home and see McNish is getting 1.5 million views."
Kate Tempest brought spoken word to the world's attention by winning the Ted Hughes award, which celebrates poetic innovation, for 2013. Taylor says the success of these two poets has been a key factor in young female poets taking to the stage, arguing that poets need to "recognise themselves in an artist to develop as one".
This year's Slambassadors UK competition, open to 12 to 18-year-olds, has resulted in an all-female winners list. Of the 403 entrants this year, the shortlist was made up of 33 names, and only two of them were boys.
O'Neill's poem, a reflection on sexual identity, was selected along with the work of six other young female performance writers. She says young people are interested in spoken word because it is a way to get their voice heard. Social media has also played a significant part in the renaissance of spoken word poetry in recent years by allowing artists to connect online. Apples and Snakes, another organisation for spoken word and performance poetry, says the number of events it puts on has doubled to well over 150 a year in the past four years.
Jenny Burville-Riley, 14, another Slambassadors winner, says that spoken word or performance poetry is defined by its diversity, including not only women but also "people of different ethnicity and belief".
A major theme of the poetry of Nafeesa Mohammed, 15, whose poem Tattoos was also selected for the winners list, is religion. "I am Muslim," says Mohammed, "and I have struggled with that personally. The idea of being Asian in such a western culture has affected me quite a lot." Mohammed cites as her inspiration poets like Andrea Gibson and Alysia Harris, saying that she has noticed "more women coming through at the moment in what was previously a male dominated area".
Hollie McNish, one of the judges of this year's Slambassadors show, says that in the last two years spoken word has come into the mainstream, with poetry featuring at major music festivals like Glastonbury – and not just at fringe events. However, she adds a qualification. "I am quite often the only female in a set of poets, and I don't know if this is me reading into it but I often get booked a few weeks before a gig and I look at the line-up and it is all males," she says, indicating that the invitation can feel like a token gesture.
Jacob Sam-La Rose is a poet, spoken word educator and artistic director of 2012's Shake The Dust, which describes itself as "the biggest youth poetry slam the UK has ever seen". Sam-La Rose has noticed an increased interest in spoken word among the young, with a whole generation being exposed to poetry in school through spoken word education programmes.
He is less convinced by the supposed spike in interest among young women, saying that traditionally he has found it harder to engage boys. He does acknowledge, however, the rise in mid-career female spoken word poets.
"Poetry has always been considered an activity that's more appropriate for young women to pursue," he says. "The question is surely whether those young women are proportionally represented by more established artists, and whether the rise in 'successful' female spoken word artists encourages other young women to take spoken word more seriously."
Lucy Crompton-Reid, director of Apples and Snakes, has noticed more women taking to the stage at open-mic nights as headline acts, and also in poetry slams: "While I think it would be fair to say that, currently, there are probably more male spoken word artists working at a particular level in terms of their public profile, it feels like we are at a point of real change, with more female poets bringing their work to a wider audience."
The award is as international as they come, but this year's Nevadan winner has benefited from Dylan Thomas's Welsh legacy in more ways than one
The shortlist for this year's Dylan Thomas prize – for writers under 30 – was notable for being a clean sweep for independent publishers. Congratulations to Atlantic, who had two books on the list, OneWorld, Quercus, Salt, Granta and Parthian. And the sheer length of this roll call indicates the second notable aspect of the shortlist: it wasn't really very short. A total of seven writers – a testament to the quality of the longlist rather than judgely indecision – were in competition for the £30,000 prize, which in the end myself and my fellow judges, led by Hay festival supremo Peter Florence and including musician and BBC 6 Music presenter Cerys Matthews unanimously awarded to American writer Claire Vaye Watkins for her remarkably assured and arresting collection of stories, Battleborn, which draws on both her own family history – her father, who died when she was six, was a close associate of Charles Manson and testified against him– as well as life among the casinos, brothels and deserts of her native Nevada.
Vaye Watkins picked up the award at a ceremony in Thomas's own "ugly lovely town" of Swansea on Thursday night. (It is a melancholy quirk of a prize that celebrates youth that it is awarded on a date determined by the tragically early death of Thomas himself, aged only 39, in 1953.) Despite the name and location, the prize has never been exclusively for Welsh writers – although one, the poet Jemma L King, was shortlisted this year – but has always been an international competition that was way ahead of the Booker in allowing Americans to join in from the outset. This year's hopefuls came from Australia via Sudan, India via Missouri, South Africa, Nevada, England and Wales. All forms of fictional writing are accepted and so two volumes of poetry (King's The Shape of a Forest and James Brookes's Sins of the Leopard) were up against a brace of short-story collections (Vaye Watkins's Battleborn and Prajwal Parajuly's The Gurkha's Daughter), and three novels (The Last King of Lydia by Tim Leach, Call It Dog by Marli Roode and Beneath the Darkening Sky by Majok Tulba).
The award's focus on youth is an acknowledgment of Thomas's own precocious gifts, which saw many of his most famous poems written well before he was 30. It is a focus that takes practical form in all the shortlistees spending a week in Swansea in the run-up to the prize – they are billeted together in a shared house, an experience one of last year's writers described as a combination of Big Brother and The Hunger Games – where they give readings and talks at local schools and colleges.
Peter Stead, prize chair and guiding spirit, says that education has always been a key element: "We're more than just a monetary award. We genuinely want to make a difference to the future of aspiring young writers. It is exciting to think that, in this way, the prize may be stimulating new young writers in Wales – and maybe even fostering the development of one of its future winners!"
Ambitious talk, but if you want an example of the way that a combination of Dylan Thomas and education can pay off, look no further than Vaye Watkins herself. Speaking just after she had picked up the prize she recalled that "at school I had a teacher who made us memorise and recite two poems. One of them was Dylan Thomas's Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night which I loved and I loved learning." And the other? "Stephen Crane's In the Desert, which I used as the epigraph for Battleborn."
Robin Robertson journeyed to the bleak and unforgiving beauty of St Kilda to write poetry. But, inspired by the archipelago's folklore, and a collaboration with a musician, he instead rendered this strange place in song
We were entering our sixth hour at sea, sailing west into the Atlantic from the Outer Hebrides, when we finally saw St Kilda. I knew what to look for – a volcanic stone outcrop in the middle of the ocean – but I had no idea quite what to expect. The rocks rose out of the sea like Mordor: the black sea-towers of Stac Lee and Stac an Armin looming like sentry guards, and beyond them the main island, Hirta, its great peaks wreathed in banner-cloud. I'd read that St Kilda is so far out into the Atlantic it has its own weather: the storm systems roll across from Canada and catch here on the jagged heights of Conachair and Mullach Mòr like sheep's wool on a barbed-wire fence. Even from six or seven miles away the archipelago before us was a mountain range – rising over 1,400 feet and tearing up through the flat grey fabric of the sea.
St Kilda is the most remote part of the British Isles and one of the most extraordinary. Thought to have been inhabited for at least two thousand years, there are traces of Neolithic sites and of a Norse presence prior to the settlement by Gaelic-speaking Scots. That this place was inhabited at all is remarkable, given the unforgiving landscape and weather, its remoteness, and the great difficulty in ever being able to land there. The Atlantic swell is almost always heavy, and if the wind is blowing from the wrong direction (and almost every way is the wrong way around St Kilda) then no landfall can be made, and the boat must turn round and sail the unhappy six or seven hours back to the Sound of Harris. People did live here, though, among these inhospitable rocks, and the last 36 islanders were only evacuated in 1930. Before that, they and their forbears had survived for many hundreds of years. Their diet was not fish, as one might expect, as the seas are too treacherous; instead they subsisted on seabirds – gannets and fulmars mostly – which they caught and used for food, and much else. The meat was dried and stored and the eggs were eaten; their oil provided fuel for lamps, and their feathers were stored and sold to the infrequent visitors. Every part of the bird was used: the beaks became brooch-pins, the bones were fashioned into needles, the skins of gannets were turned into shoes. It is still hard to imagine that people in Britain were living like this only 83 years ago.
This was why we found ourselves in early August 2007 in a blizzard of seabirds drawing in – through the open mouth between Oiseval and Dùn – to anchorage in Village Bay. As our sea-legs steadied and we came ashore and started walking down the row of ruined, roofless blackhouses of the last settlement – the Street, as it was known – with the whitewashed manse and kirk and near-circular graveyard, all built perfectly from the gathered stone, we looked up and saw what seemed like a tidal wave rolling off the mountain down towards us, 1,100 feet below. The clouds that had capped the high peaks were now pouring down the slopes of Mullach Mòr like dry ice, and it was clear that this place was never going to be straightforward or comfortable, never going to stop looking like a painting by John Martin. After all, we were walking on the rim of a volcano that first erupted 50 million years ago, with the highest cliffs and sea stacks in Britain and a breeding ground for a quarter of the world's northern gannets and a major sanctuary for fulmars, puffins and petrels.
And so, after walking on Hirta, after circumnavigating the whole archipelago the next day, from Village Bay anticlockwise to Soay and round back to Dùn, then sailing the four miles north-east to the hunting grounds of Boreray and its outriders, Stac an Armin, Stack of the Warrior – nearly 650 feet of sheer-sided rock – and Stac Lee, with its huge gannet colony and its cacophony of screaming birds, it was time to leave. After this bewilderingly intense experience, filmic and immersive, we were heading away – back to a world that seemed suddenly mediocre.
I knew I had to write about St Kilda, but the poem that came was really just a list of place names – a litany of Scots and Gaelic and Norse, along with the common folk-names in English: Cleft of the Sea-Shepherd, the Brae of Weepings, the Plain of Spells, Landing Place of the Strangers, the Lobster Precipice, the Cave of Ruin, Skull Rock of the Fleeces. While naming is important in folk culture, and although it gave some sense of the scale of the place, and allowed for the sea-rhythms, the poem had lots of topography, but no real narrative. Given that part of my fascination with St Kilda stems from the people and their stories, their legends, I wanted to try something else, and started talking to my friend, the Scottish folk musician, Alasdair Roberts. Alasdair writes new songs that seem to be hundreds of years old, and sings songs that are hundreds of years old but sound as though they were written yesterday. He is such an interesting lyricist that he scarcely needs any help from me, but he also thrives on collaboration (with Drag City label-mates Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Bill Callahan; with the late Jason Molina; with Isobel Campbell and Karine Polwart) and he and I had worked together before. We agreed that I would write the words and he would put them to music.
I wanted to address some of the most interesting aspects of St Kildan life: fowling for gannets and fulmars on sea cliffs with all the attendant perils, but also the islanders' belief in the old ways – the legends and superstitions, the folk remedies and music that were suppressed by the missionaries of the Church of Scotland. The last song – I knew – would be about the evacuation of 1930, when the islanders left their ancestral home, never to return: a candle burning in each window, the doors flung wide, and on each table of every house, the Bible, laid open on the first page of Exodus.
I'd forgotten how utterly different songs are from poems, and how complicated it is to make the transition from one form to the other. The kind of poetry I write is clotted and densely worked, and though I pay great attention to internal rhyming and rhythm I don't employ end-rhyme. Working on Hirta Songs I had to constantly remind myself that I wasn't trying to write a poem, I was trying to write lyrics – words that would only come alive when Alasdair put them to music.
As it turned out, the process was provocative and fascinating. I emailed the first draft to Alasdair in early 2011, and he started to find appropriate musical settings – beginning, wherever possible, with existing Gaelic melodies. The long process of fitting the words into the music felt like a kind of carpentry: close and careful work towards a neat dovetailing. As we edited my text for his singing voice we were recalibrating stresses, adjusting syllables, and – in so doing – coming up with better words or phrases. Often my instinct towards reticulated densities of sound and sense hobbled the song's progression – and Alasdair would diplomatically unpick the knot. After a few months of emails and phonecalls between London and Glasgow, and some rough demos through the post, we arrived at versions we were both happy with, and Alasdair moved to the next step: the gathering of the band.
The studio was in West Pilton, Edinburgh – Trainspotting territory – and Alasdair had asked some of his favourite musicians, friends he'd played with for years: Tom Crossley on drums and flute, Rafe Fitzpatrick on fiddle and Stevie Jones on upright bass – to be joined later by Corrina Hewat on harp and Robin Williamson, once of the Incredible String Band, on Hardanger fiddle. Song by song, the musicians started to feel their way into the music – and the words, miraculously, seemed to sit there, right at home. Over just two days of recording in this enclave of St Kilda in the middle of a busy city, Alasdair and his band had made a record that I think says something about a desolate outpost of our people – a place harrowed by wind and haunted by birds – and a way of life that is gone now forever.
We were standing in the drum time
when the pibroch's turning blade
caught the sunlight like a bright
on the waves of Boreray.
The greatness of Robert Graves, one of the outstanding poetic voices of the 20th century, was forged in the first world war
"I write poems for poets, and satires or grotesques for wits. For people in general I write prose, and am content that they should be unaware that I do anything else. To write poems for other than poets is wasteful." This is Robert Graves in 1945, with the characteristic blend of arrogance and self-effacement that later led him to proclaim his own status as "minor" while simultaneously damning every "major" poet on the block. He is right in one sense too, since such bestselling works as I, Claudius or Goodbye to All That are probably more widely known than anything else he ever wrote. But it's also fair to say he didn't make life easy for his poetry-reading fans. Graves progressively edited out of the eight different Collected Poems published during his lifetime work that might be considered a "digression". By the time of the last Collected in 1975, such "digressions" accounted for around two-thirds of the poetry he published between 1916 and 1960. He thereby excluded many of his best-known and best-loved poems and most of his first world war poems.
The time is ripe for a new Selected that both brings Graves back to his readership and introduces him to a new one. Graves, one of the outstanding poetic voices of the 20th century, is loved by more "people in general" than he gave himself credit for, and he finds himself in good hands here, served better by Michael Longley than he might have served himself. "Blow on a dead man's embers," Graves writes in "To Bring the Dead to Life", "And a live flame will start." Graves was, as Longley tells us in the introduction, "one of [his] heroes"; he and Derek Mahon, while undergraduates at Trinity College, Dublin in the early 1960s, "read his poems aloud to each other, counting the beats with our hands and scattering cigarette ash into the gully of the 1959 Collected Poems". "[T]he poems we loved then," he continues, "are the heartbeat of this selection." In a critically astute yet intimate introduction, Longley implicitly affirms, through his own understanding and absorption of the earlier poet, the vibrancy and importance of Graves's monumental achievement for the several generations of poets who have followed him – from Auden, Dylan Thomas and Larkin through to Hughes, Heaney and Longley himself.
This finely judged selection from an almost dauntingly large oeuvre of around 1,000 poems includes a number of the Great war poems that proved so fruitful for Owen's development as well as Sassoon's. In "A Dead Boche" the "cure for lust of blood" has a graphic physicality that pre-dates Owen's own exposé of the horrors of war – a "dead Boche … Big-bellied, spectacled, crop-haired, / Dribbling black blood from nose and beard". These poems remind us that Graves's aesthetic was forged in the battlefields, where he "died" and was resurrected in 1916, that the experience of war determined the kind of poet and writer he was to be, even the extraordinary life he lived. "By wire and wood and stake we're bound," he writes of himself and Sassoon in "Two Fusiliers", "By Fricourt and by Festubert, / By whipping rain, by the sun's glare, / By all the misery and loud sound, / By a Spring day, / By Picard clay." If the technical quality of these early poems is occasionally uneven (compared with the flawless lyrics of his middle years), their power, and poignancy, is undiminished by the passage of time.
Interviewed in 1971, Graves said of the first world war: "You can't communicate noise. Noise never stopped for one moment – ever." Although capable of a higher-volume rhetorical flourish, as in "Rocky Acres" with its "first land that rose from Chaos and the Flood", Graves's lyrics often favour restraint over excess. His inventive, rhythmical syntax renders his poems utterly distinct: "She, then, like snow in a dark night / Fell secretly … ("Like Snow"). His nursery-rhyme poems, such as "Allie", affirm his mastery of the art that conceals art: "Allie, call the birds in, / the birds from the sky! / Allie calls, Allie sings, / Down they all fly." The love poems of his middle years possess a "measured quietude", in Yeats's phrase, that holds itself intact against the dark forces lurking beneath their smoothly crafted surface: "Be witness that on waking, this mid-winter, / I found her hand in mine laid closely / Who shall watch out the spring with me. / We stared in silence all around us / But found no winter anywhere to see" ("Mid-Winter Waking").
In "To Juan at the Winter Solstice", Graves writes: "There is one story and one story only / That will prove worth your telling." That story is one of service and sacrifice to the goddess, explored at length in his extraordinary prose work The White Goddess (1948) and encapsulated here with an eerie beauty in suffering: "Water to water, ark again to ark, / From woman back to woman: / So each new victim treads unfalteringly / The never altered circuit of his fate." In the poems of his last writing years, Graves repeated that one story too often, even if personally finding a necessary refuge – sanctuary even – in the mythology of his white and black goddesses. But, as this selection makes abundantly clear, he tells far more than "one story only"; and without the multi-faceted and contradictory Graves – war poet, love poet, muse poet, satirist, classicist, romantic, lyric perfectionist and mischief-maker – the story of modern poetry itself is incomplete.
by Glyn Maxwell
Like the Coelacanth and the Rock Rat of Laos
And the Nightcap Oak and the Mountain Pygmy Possum
We are lazarus taxon.
We are back who were never gone.
We were here and you never knew.
We thought you'd died out too.
Like the Lumpsucker Fish and the Giant Water Bug
And the Seahorse and the Three-Spined Stickleback
We have such helpful males
You make astounding tales
Of what's natural to our kind.
But among us kind means kind.
Like the Bermuda Petrel and the Formosan
Rock Macaque and the Rhinos of Java
We are endemic. So
We've nowhere else to go.
But the look in your eyes reveals
You know how that shit feels.
Like the Toadfish and the Black-capped Chickadee,
The Beluga Whale and the Mexican Free-tailed Bat,
The Pacific Chorus Frog and the Nightingale,
The Malabar Whistling Thrush and the Antelope Squirrel
We sing. We don't know how
But hey. We are singing now.
We sing for the world is new.
Like you, we imagine, do.
• Glyn Maxwell, shortlisted for the 2013 Forward prize, will read at the ZSL Writers Talks on Endangered Animals, chaired by Ruth Padel, on 12 November at London Zoo, London N1. www.zsl.org/writerstalks
Soldiers reaching camp after a nighttime mission are surprised by birdsong in this classic poem by the first world war great
This week's poem, Returning, We Hear Larks, is one of Isaac Rosenberg's most popular war poems, but I often wonder if he'd have made further revisions, given time. It's among the last handful of poems he wrote, working on scraps of paper in circumstances that would have silenced a less motivated artist. Yet the piece is typically his own, while laying bare the diverse influences integral to his style.
Rosenberg's life and work are a fusion of conflicting energies. To begin with the obvious ones: he was a painter and playwright as well as a poet. His first language was Yiddish; his first literary inspiration the Old Testament. Some of his best prewar poems are in the style of Blake– and not shallow imitations, either. Symbolist, realist, modernist, Romantic: Rosenberg could be selectively anthologised to embody any of these movements.
Most critics have favoured those of his war poems that use a vernacular idiom and free-verse structure to expose the misery and grotesqueness of everyday soldiering. You might argue that, like Owen, Rosenberg was released by war from self-conscious literariness. But you'd only be partly right. His finest war poem, Dead Man's Dump, is highly literary, a fused montage of the biblical, the Blakean and the Whitmanesque. Returning, We Hear Larks comes from a similar mould.
One revision we know about comes in the first line, which originally read, "Sombre the night hangs." Changing "hangs" to "is" shows good judgment: simpler is stronger. But simplicity is only one aspect of Rosenberg's method. The line's grammatical inversion is good judgment working in a different direction. That trochaic opening bell-stroke of "Sombre" is a dramatic, mood-setting call to attention. Although the thought continues in the next two lines, a full-stop after the assertion ensures a resonant pause. Another simple verb, "have" in "we have our lives" suggests these "lives" are like solid objects, to be grasped and owned in the face of the "sinister threat" that "lurks there" (ie in the sombre night), waiting to snatch them away.
From the next tercet we learn the men are returning to camp at dawn after a nocturnal sortie. Rosenberg is probably recalling an occasion from his time in the works battalion servicing the Hindenburg Line, in February 1917. The irregular, almost ragged tercets convey the limping, shambling gait of exhausted men. Adjectival phrases such as "anguished limbs" may seem overdone, but they help retard the rhythm, and accentuate the sense of relief, the clarity and lightness of getting back to camp and "a little safe sleep".
Linguistic excess can pay off. Rosenberg loved inventing compound words, and the coined adjective "poison-blasted" seems a brilliant stroke. The poet never deluded himself about the war: he viewed it as "a demonstration in vast and tragic forms of the stupidity and ineffectiveness of our species". War's blasts and poisons are moral as well as literal, and this compound detonates an array of meanings.
Rosenberg's challenge in the poem is to lend combat-credibility to a subject bathed in Romantic luminescence. It doesn't deter him from using the biblical language of "hark" and "lo" or the repetition of "joy", however, and in lines seven and eight, his speaker might have stepped out of one of his Old Testament plays.
Shelley's To a Skylark is echoed in the metaphorical description of the birdsong as rain-showers: "Music showering our upturned list'ning faces." But Rosenberg needs a stronger objective correlative than rain to express his sense of the miraculous. He finds the solution in a magnificent phrase: "heights of night ringing with unseen larks". This has a muscular musicality unlike the finespun ethereality of Shelley. "Ringing" achieves a piercing and reverberating sound effect, and just possibly hints at the urgency of communication signalled by field telephones. It visualises the larks gathered invisibly round, like an ambush, or a protective fortress. That the birds are "unseen" contrasts tantalisingly with the loud nearness of their voices. And beneath them, the men are also perhaps enclosed by their shared experience, forming a ring of "upturned list'ning faces". As Rosenberg biographer Jean Moorcroft Wilson says, the image relates to a charcoal drawing he made in 1912, entitled Hark, Hark the Lark. She tells us there was also a painting, now lost, which Rosenberg submitted to a Slade School competition. It was called Joy, and concluding the prose description Rosenberg had written: "Joy – joy – the birds sing joy". Writing his "lark" poem in 1917, under desperate pressures, he's surely not merely recycling earlier material but asserting the continuum of his creative identity.
The last section begins abruptly, with a statement of stark truthfulness, which then turns complicated. "But song only dropped" is interestingly ambiguous. "Dropped" is a word more applicable to bombs and rain than birdsong. It makes sense to apply "only" to the noun rather than the verb, but the qualifier's positioning casts doubt. It can also be read as a faintly sardonic reference to the frailty and incompleteness of the experience: the song simply dropped away and disappeared.
This reading may be borne out by the ensuing similes. The blind man's dreams are swept away, or dropped, "By dangerous tides". The girl is an unwittingly predatory sexual figure, perhaps related to the war goddess Rosenberg imagines elsewhere – a traitor and devourer of men.
Neither impressionistic sketch nor realist narrative, though drawing on both, partly rhymed and partly free, haunted by an antithesis of innocence and experience almost too painful to translate into language, the poem seems to look into the heart of Romantic epiphany and find an abyss. Less than a year later, on 1 April 1918, Private Rosenberg was killed at dawn after a night patrol.
Returning, We Hear Larks
Sombre the night is.
And though we have our lives, we know
What sinister threat lurks there.
Dragging these anguished limbs, we only know
This poison-blasted track opens on our camp –
On a little safe sleep.
But hark! joy – joy – strange joy.
Lo! heights of night ringing with unseen larks.
Music showering our upturned list'ning faces.
Death could drop from the dark
As easily as song –
But song only dropped,
Like a blind man's dreams on the sand
By dangerous tides,
Like a girl's dark hair for she dreams no ruin lies there,
Or her kisses where a serpent hides.
University researchers build acoustic and visual models to recreate poet's 1622 Gunpowder Day sermon
Researchers have created an auditory and visual simulation of what it might have been like to stand in front of St Paul's Cross pulpit in the courtyard of St Paul's Cathedral almost 400 years ago, being preached to by poet John Donne.
Literature and architecture researchers at North Carolina State university created a script and built an acoustic model to simulate the way Donne's 1622 Gunpowder Day sermon would have sounded from different vantage points within St Paul's courtyard.
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Donne is best remembered as a metaphysical poet, but in addition to penning love poems such as The Flea, he was an experienced preacher who became dean of St Paul's in 1621.
Dr John Wall, professor of English at NC State and leader of the Virtual Paul's Cross Project, said: "We know that large crowds showed up to hear Donne's sermons, but it was unclear whether they could even hear what was being said. By using the models we created for this project, we learned that the courtyard space allowed sound to reverberate, amplifying the voice of the speaker."
He continued: "This means the sermon had to be delivered at a measured pace to keep the speech from being garbled as the reverberating sounds overlapped. Those are insights we wouldn't have without this project."
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The recreated sermon was originally delivered on Gunpowder Day, 5 November 1622 by Donne, speaking from Paul's Cross pulpit in the courtyard of St Paul's Cathedral. It was written to reassure English puritans that King James I's desire to secure an allegiance with the Spanish, by arranging a match between his son Charles and the Spanish princess Maria Anna, did not presage a return to Catholicism for England.
Donne was urged to take up holy orders by the King, and was sometimes prevailed upon to preach in his favour; the Gunpowder Day sermon was supposed to remind listeners that the king had been the primary target of Guy Fawkes pro-Catholic plot 17 years earlier.
St Paul's was burned to the ground in 1666, so the NC State University used historic documents and images to create a visual model showing architectural details of the gothic St Paul's Cathedral, and a sound model that takes account of the acoustic properties of materials such as stone, glass and brick.
Pink Floyd frontman pays tribute to Henry Shindler after he documented final hours of the soldier father he never knew
After a career writing songs and film scripts about his father, who went missing in action in the second world war, Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters has returned to the theme in a new poem he presented to a 93-year-old war veteran who has solved the mystery of where his father was killed.
The British veteran, Harry Shindler, who has spent years cracking the cases of soldiers lost in Italy, received the poem from a grateful Waters after he discovered documents revealing the exact time and place where the singer's father died during a German attack, shortly after the Allied landing at Anzio in 1944.
"Waters is delighted and so am I," said Shindler from his home in Italy. "He is a man who has spent his whole life trying to find his father and now he's done it."
Waters's father, Lieutenant Eric Fletcher Waters – who died when his son was five months old – is central to Pink Floyd's The Wall, in which the disturbed protagonist, Pink, grows up longing for a father figure.
"I was very angry," Waters has said about never knowing his father. "Because he was missing in action, presumed killed, until quite recently I expected him to come home."
Shindler had never heard of Pink Floyd, but knew of Waters and decided to help him when the singer this year visited the Commonwealth war graves cemetery at Monte Cassino, where his father's name is listed.
"I read about how he didn't know his dad and I felt great affection for him," said Shindler, who also landed at Anzio and is the head of a veterans' association.
Shindler tracked down a report of fighting after the Anzio landing at the National Archives in Kew, which revealed Waters was killed in a ditch at 11.30am on 18 February 1944, after his company was surrounded during "stiff fighting". His body has never been found.
More importantly, Shindler found a map reference, which he matched with a then rural spot that is now at the centre of the town of Aprilia.
"Waters didn't know where his dad was killed, but nobody had lifted a finger," said Shindler. "I knew there had to be a war diary, but I never thought it had been kept for 70 years."
Signing it, "To Harry, with gratitude," Waters sent Shindler his poem, One River, which was published on Monday in Italy's La Repubblica and contains the lines: "My father, distant now but live and warm and strong / In uniform tobacco haze."
"I am now talking to the council in Aprilia about unveiling a plaque and holding a ceremony next 18 February, to which Waters could come," said Shindler. "He might well think his war is over now."