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

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    Recalling Donne's sermon on Job 19:26, with a bit of Ovidian metamorphosis thrown in, this modern meditation on memory and resurrection shifts between past, present and future

    Resurrection takes various forms in this week's poem, Present Tense, from Stories of My Life by Michael Schmidt. In the opening lines, it's an organic recycling, begun by worms and helped by the digestive processes of other small industrious creatures. The geographical dimension of bodily decomposition ("north and south") recalls John Donne's sermon on Job 19:26: "Shall I imagine a difficulty in my body because I have lost an Arme in the East and a leg in the West some bloud in the North and some bones in the South?" But here there's nothing distressed or macabre in this. A calmly regular trimeter pulse helps the process seem natural and benign, while the verb "travels" lets light into underground darkness. As for Donne, the bodily dispersal complicates, but in no way cancels, the promise of personal resurrection: "Christ will have to raise/ An entire field "

    There's also an Ovidian kind of metamorphosis that is central to the poem. The literalised concept of resurrection on judgment day ("an entire field") leads to the older, pagan image of woman as tree ("like Laura"). When Daphne was changed into a laurel tree in Metamorphosis, her first awareness began with finding "her feet benumb'd and fastened to the ground." So the woman in Schmidt's poem will "stand/ On trunks for feet and pray/ Like Laura turned to tree/ With bough and bloom " The simile: "like Laura," leads, of course, to Petrarch, Number 23 of the Canzoniere, as well as to Ovid. At Apollo's decree, laurel provided the wreath for acclaimed poets and military victors. Is either profession significant to the old man?

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    A small fragment has never revealed so much. Look closely and you'll see Eliot reaching his pitch of emotional pain

    TS Eliot's conversion to high Anglican Christianity came as a colossal shock to Bloomsbury his friends saw themselves as a conspiracy of the enlightened against stodgy leftovers of the world that had created the war, and here was one of their best and brightest telling them that they were wrong. Really they should not have been surprised. The pages of his magazine, the Criterion, were full of bile towards their world of adultery and smart parties and he published it even though when socially convenient he was able to blame Vivienne for writing it. The best of his own work of the time between The Waste Land and the first poems of conversion is full of anger and contempt. The Waste Land and the quatrain poems in which Sweeney first appears works of bright idealistic optimism compared to Sweeney Agonistes and The Hollow Men.

    The Hollow Men is, after all, headed A penny for the Old Guy, which is to say it offers something up to be burned, something wrong and damnable and a threat to proper order. It uses as its epigraph "Mistah Kurtz he dead" from Conrad's Heart of Darkness Eliot had earlier contemplated another quotation from that work "the horror, the horror" as epigraph for The Waste Land until Pound talked him out of it. Since there is no evidence in either case that Eliot was especially concerned about Conrad's excoriation of Belgian colonial policy, it seems more likely that what drew Eliot to the novella was a desire to pick up on Conrad's sense of London, and modernity, as "one of the dark places of the earth". The idealistic dead his father, Verdenal are gone from us; what is left are scarecrows, stuffed shapes, presiding over fields no longer capable of fertility; the world is ending "not with a bang but a whimper".

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    Beat legend's personal report of trip to communist bloc comes up for auction next month

    A postcard from Allen Ginsberg, in which the Beat poet writes of how "communism just doesn't work" after witnessing it in action in what he called the "Red Lands" of eastern Europe, is set to go up for auction.

    Writing eight years before the fall of the Berlin Wall to his fellow poet Diane di Prima, Ginsberg tells how he spent some months travelling on both sides of the Iron Curtain with his partner Peter Orlovsky, a poet and actor.

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    The late Polish author's work bears witness to the worst of the 20th century without surrendering its human sympathy

    Tadeusz Róewicz, who has died at the age of 92, was one of the great European "witness" poets whose own lives were directly affected by the seismic events of the 20th century. "My decimated generation is now departed and dying, duped and disillusioned," he said soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He saw the forgetting of history as a disaster, "the falling of tears on the stock exchange" as he wrote in a poem of 1994.

    That generation, born just after the first world war, amid the great chaotic redrawing of maps, saw the rise of fascism, the terrors of the second world war (both Róewicz and his brother Janusz also a poet served in the Polish Underground, Janusz being killed by the Gestapo in 1944), then watched the Iron Curtain descend across Europe and survived, if they did, Stalinism without being jailed or killed to see the clock tick towards 1989 and what they sometimes considered the false reinterpretation of their own pasts.

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    by Fiona Benson

    It begins as a roughness,
    then spreads to a lichenous crust
    that helmets your head for months,
    and for months a cuckoo-spit salve
    wets down your scalp
    as we try to soak it off.

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    The poet's meditative writings in the late 1920s and early 30s mask a certain chill

    TS Eliot was one of the most intellectually adroit of poets, a fine mind with a breadth of cultural and other knowledge that few writers since can equal or even attempt to emulate. He often felt humbled by the weight of all that had come before him; much of what he says in his essay Tradition and the Individual Talent is attractively modest in the limited programme it proposes for poetry not to explore ever finer and newer and more original emotion, but to find, through technique, a coldly rational way of honing language for its own sake "not the expression of personality but an escape from personality Only those who have personality and emotions can know what it means to want to escape from those things".

    Like Stravinsky setting aside the rhythmic invention and freedom of Le Sacre du Printemps for the chill neo-classical beauty of Orpheus or Apollon Musagete, Eliot wanted in the later 1920s and early 30s a poetry of concentration and meditation rather than the brilliant insightful dangerous randomness of The Waste Land. His conversion to high Anglican Christianity, and the growing dominance of his work by devotional and religious themes, made this programme inevitable he could not allow himself to stray again into the dangerous irrational territory of Sweeney Agonistes. Indeed, in his 1933 lectures After Strange Gods, he specifically calls the irrationalist neo-primitivist strain in modernism diabolical, especially in the case of DH Lawrence, whom he admires but sees as a source of spiritual danger to anyone less versed in the true meaning of orthodoxy than Eliot himself.

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    A consideration of how to write finds unexpected analogies with everything from whalers to nurses to waiters

    Niall Campbell's first full-length collection, Moontide, published last week by Bloodaxe, reveals an un-showy craftsman, feet firmly on good local ground, even as his imagination takes off. Campbell is not given to self-conscious pronouncements about poetry, which is perhaps why, when he ventures into that territory in this week's poem, The Work, the result is gently, wittily illuminating.

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    He was the much loved author of Cider With Rosie. But in another life, Laurie Lee dreamed of being an artist. His daughter Jessy Lee shares his secret side

    These are edited extracts from Laurie Lee: A Folio by Jessy Lee, published today by Unicorn Press, £24.99

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    Whether as a beacon of labour solidarity, a herald of summer or a good excuse for a day off, May Day means something to most of us. How much do you know about the writing it has inspired? Continue reading...

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    As part of a joint EU and Welsh Assembly project, a group of academics hope that linking fiction with farming can prepare food producers for future

    Literature is full of references to food. Think of Chilean writer and politician Pablo Neruda's Ode to Onion, Alice in Wonderland's tea party, or Miss Haversham's wedding feast in Dickens' Great Expectations.

    So, hungry for inspiration, chefs and artists are now delving into library shelves in search of novel ways to feed our foodie-fanatic appetites. Take US graphic designer Dinah Fried, whose new book Fictitious Dishes beautifully recreates 50 famous literary meals, from Moby Dick's clam chowder to Oliver Twist's gruel. If you're after a meal inspired by poetry, on the other hand, then US poet Nicole Gulotta's Eat This Poem blog has a pantry-full of them.

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    Padlocks to deadlocks, lockets to lockdowns, skeletons to safes, turn in your key and lock songs to open a new combination

    Thousands of times he turned, and then entered. He was a conduit to dreams, a gatekeeper to optimism, this mild-mannered man, this estate agent. He showed thousands of nervous singles, tense couples and excited families into their new homes, into their new lives. And then, when all was arranged, he gave them the keys and left. But he didn't entirely. He kept copies. He kept copies of all the keys, of all the properties he had handled in his career, over decades. Why? Perhaps to gain entry himself, at any time in the future

    This is more or less how I'd describe the setting of a brilliantly creepy and supremely paced novel I'm currently reading A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan. Keys are banal objects we all carry with us and though among our most trusted possessions, are barely ever thought about except during the few seconds they are used. They are symbols of safety and security. But behind every key, and lock, there's a room or a secret place full of objects, thoughts and feelings. And often with these, the theme of keys or locks can shape or feature in songs.

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    John Malkovich will also star in biopic about the New York death of hard-drinking Under Milk Wood writer

    Rhys Ifans to star in adaptation of Under Milk Wood

    Rhys Ifans will play Dylan Thomas in a biopic set during the days leading up to the death of the iconic Welsh poet, according to Variety.

    Ifans, who is also appearing in a new film adaptation of Thomas's radio play Under Milk Wood and is presenting a documentary about the poet, will join John Malkovich and Diego Luna in Dominion, which is being directed and written by Decoding Annie Parker's Steven Bernstein. Dominion will be set in 1953 in New York, where Thomas, who had alcoholism, died at the age of 39 after multiple visits to White Horse Tavern, in Greenwich Village. He'd also received from a local doctor a series of "injections" designed to help him complete public performances of Under Milk Wood. The poet died on 9 November, four weeks after arriving in the US for a tour of poetry readings and talks. He had been feeling ill throughout but continued to drink regularly, and may have also suffered from the effects of a debilitating smog that had hit the Big Apple.

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    These awesome creatures have inspired much poetry. Now it's your turn let your muse take flight

    Driving home late the other week I was startled by a sudden apparition that flew out of the night, passed in front of my car and disappeared again. It was, of course, an owl, that great symbolic bird whose associations with the night, death, wisdom and the numinous make it one of the most written-about of all birds of prey. There was a kind of calm dignity to this chance encounter that led me to reconsider a poem I had recently discovered, Polly Atkin's the bird that makes you afraid [PDF], a title that derives from the Cameroonian name for owl. Atkin's poem is a catalogue of reasons to fear, and yet my encounter resulted in a feeling that was quite different, a kind of calm awe.

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  • 05/02/14--06:50: Rosemary Tonks obituary
  • Poet and novelist who turned her back on the literary world for four decades

    The poet Rosemary Tonks, who has died aged 85, famously "disappeared" in the 1970s. The author of two poetry collections and six published novels, she turned her back on the literary world after a series of personal tragedies and medical crises which made her question the value of literature and embark on a restless, self-torturing spiritual quest.

    Interviewed in 1967, she spoke of Baudelaire and Rimbaud as her direct literary forebears: "They were both poets of the modern metropolis as we know it and no one has bothered to learn what there is to be learned from them The main duty of the poet is to excite to send the senses reeling."

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    David Wheatley on the pleasures of caustic glamour and stylised paranoia

    A whole secret history of contemporary poetry could be written from its chapbooks and pamphlets, those lo-fi leftovers from a simpler age of stapled-together print runs, embarrassing covers, and poems seen once in public and never again. Have you read Medbh McGuckian's Single Ladies, Derek Mahon's Ecclesiastes, Paul Muldoon's The Wishbone? If not, you're missing out. It is revealing that the most significant "lost" item in the Heaney corpus combines the pamphlet and that other poetry oddity, the prose poem: Stations, published in 1975, and now commanding dizzying prices on rare book sites.

    Recent years have seen a revival of the pamphlet, as published by enterprising presses such as Tall Lighthouse, Oystercatcher, Landfill, Rack and Egg Box, and as celebrated by the Poetry Society's Michael Marks award. With Standard Twin Fantasy, Sam Riviere follows up his state-of-the-nation collection 81 Austerities with an elliptical amuse-bouche served up with no blurb, biographical note or anything else by way of authorial explanation. The text, too, is much like being at a party where you know no one and no one bothers with introductions. A woman called Kimberly is weighing a marble egg while harpsichord music plays, Veronique fiddles with a remote control, and "Bathsheba complicates the shadows of a fern".

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    Raffaella Barker, daughter of the poet George Barker, grew up thinking she had four siblings. Then she found out she was actually number 11 of his considerable brood of 15

    My big family crept up on me, I was about 10 before I realised that some of the adults wandering in and out of our life in Norfolk were my brothers and sisters. No one had ever formally introduced us to Rose, Georgina, Sebastian and Christopher; they were kind, glamorous grownups who sometimes appeared for weekends. My four younger siblings Alexander, Roderick, Sam and Lily and I didn't ask about them. Why would we? My parents had many friends who came and went, and as children, our own life with animals, bikes and the freedom of wild countryside to roam through in the 1970s was engrossing. Our lives were full already.

    Equally, the right moment never occurred for us to be told about the eldest of my father, the poet George Barker's quiver-full of children, so Anastasia, Anthony and Kate, all older than my mother, remained unknown for several more years. They continue now as my more shadowy siblings, generations apart and living in the US, but the others Jimmy, Edward and Francis, all born a handful of years before me are vivid, beloved brothers.

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    by Stewart Conn

    (for David and Mim)

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    Hungarian-born poet George Szirtes writes in both English and his native tongue. He contemplates bilingualism and belonging

    Sometimes language seems no more than a piece of tissue paper carried on the wind: flimsy, semi-transparent, endlessly vulnerable, like a deflated talks-bubble, almost weightless. At other times it is a brick wall, or worse still a room with dense walls and no exit, with only the sense of voices beyond the wall, faintly audible and never clear enough, everything they say immediately becoming part of the wall. Always provisional, language appears this or that way to us according to our own disposition and relation to it.

    That is something Eva Hoffman well knew in writing her classic on exile and language, Lost in Translation. On moving languages and cultures her family left Krakow, Poland, for Vancouver, Canada, when she was a young girl something immediately drained out of her identity. In one often quoted passage, she tells how full of meaning the word rzeka Polish for "river" was for her, and how empty the English "river" appeared at first: no associations, no stories, no presence, no background of literature, song or image. Her very name changes from Ewa to Eva. She has become someone else. Rzeka was the deflated talks bubble; river the blank wall. But she resolved this in due course and became a successful writer in the language of the initial wall.

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    In this digressive, consuming 'anti-memoir' the poet traces his development in prose that's full of wonders

    John Burnside's I Put a Spell on You is an anti-memoir. It involves trying to give himself the slip, something he also attempts as a poet although the paradox is that losing and finding yourself often turn out to mean the same thing.

    As a reader, you need to approach this book with no bossy preconception of what a memoir ought to be, for it is made up of digressions they are its core. You have to trust and go wherever Burnside's singular fancy takes you. When in Finland, he decides not to do as the Finns do but to strike out in the snow without a compass in death-defying rashness. Intellectually, he is often tempted, too, to throw the compass into the snow, to see where unknown paths lead, to risk perdition. He is an advocate for wildness and Scottish non-conformity (you will find a wackily attractive retake on the story of Narcissus and a long, startling theory about the drowned girl in every post-adolescent boy). The Celtic word he takes to mean "just outside the societal" is thrawn and comes up a lot.

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  • 05/04/14--03:18: Tadeusz Róewicz obituary
  • Poet and dramatist haunted by the second world war and the suffering of Poland

    The terrible experiences of his native Poland and of his generation were vividly expressed in the poetry and plays of Tadeusz Róewicz, who has died aged 93. The second world war haunted Róewicz until his death, but so did the moral obligation to write about it because, as he wrote in I Did Espy a Marvellous Monster: "At home a job / awaited me: / To create poetry after Auschwitz." His first two volumes of poetry, Anxiety (1947) and The Red Glove (1948), were revolutionary in creating a new idiom to express the horrors he had witnessed. What he wrote was so different from prewar Polish poetry that he was credited with creating a new prosodic system in Polish verse affecting not only the poets who came after him but established poets too. The writer Seamus Heaney called him one of the great European poets of the 20th century.

    Róewicz's poems were ascetic, without metre, rhyme or metaphors, stripped bare of any rhetorical posturing and ornamentation or anything that could be considered aesthetically pleasing, to reflect the loss of absolute moral and cultural norms after the war. They attempted to answer the essential question of how to live in a post-Holocaust world. In what is probably his best-known poem, The Survivor, Róewicz wrote: "Virtue and crime weigh the same I've seen it: in a man who was both criminal and virtuous."

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