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

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    Prolific poet whose work combined technical panache with extraordinary linguistic range

    Hidden Identities, the first full collection from the poet John Hartley Williams, who has died aged 72 from cancer, made ripples when it was published by Chatto & Windus in 1982. The next, Bright River Yonder (1987), this time from Bloodaxe, became a Poetry Book Society recommendation. After that, collections seemed to follow each other faster than the eye could blink. As well as full-length books, there were pamphlets and works of translation, including a powerful version of Marin Sorescu's Censored Poems (2001), and Scar on the Stone: Contemporary Poetry from Bosnia (1998), of which Williams was a contributing translator.

    Son of David, a headteacher, and Sylvia, John was born in Cheadle, Cheshire, and grew up in London with two brothers, Hugh and Nigel. (The latter would become a well-known novelist.) From 1962, John studied English literature at Nottingham University, where, as a scabrous account in his 1995 prose work Ignoble Sentiments makes evident, he viewed his tutors with at best genial contempt. Nevertheless, at the end of three years of mildly dissolute behaviour and occasional flirtations with amateur dramatics, he emerged with a good degree, although not the first which his father, himself the author of a number of critical studies for the general reader, had requested of him. John went to teach English in France, before, in 1968, becoming an English lecturer at the University of Novi Sad, Serbia, where he met his future wife, Gizella.

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    Stage legends and members of public to perform all 154 sonnets in single evening which one would you read aloud?

    Barely has the quill dried on Michael Billington's series, Shakespeare's plays: as you like them in which our theatre critic picked his favourite productions of each and every work than another Bard marathon appears.

    Simon Russell Beale will be among 10 leading UK stage actors stepping up to read all 154 of Shakespeare's sonnets in a single evening at the Southbank Centre in London, as part of ongoing celebrations of the 450th anniversary of the playwright's birth.

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  • 05/15/14--10:41: Denise Inge obituary
  • My wife, Denise Inge, who has died of cancer aged 51, was a passionate champion of Thomas Traherne. Her work on the recently discovered manuscripts of the 17th-century poet and theologian has helped revolutionise his reputation. She once remarked that "readers with imagination fall for Traherne. He takes you on unexpected interior journeys into desire and lack, infinity, time and eternity." The same could be said of Denise herself.

    She was born in America, the youngest of five siblings, and grew up in Pennsylvania, where she developed a joy in the natural world to combine with her brilliant intelligence and an unshakable faith in God. She experienced the Bible Belt at its most concentrated when she attended Bob Jones, a Christian university in South Carolina, but she completed her degree at Gordon College, Massachusetts, before coming to England in 1986 to join two of her brothers.

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    Graves's superbly sardonic memoir should be essential reading for the centenary of the first world war

    Robert Graves's superbly sardonic account of his childhood, schooling, the great war and his first marriage was written in just four months in 1929, when he was 33. It was his attempt at "a formal good-bye to you and to you and to you and to me and to all that". By then he had separated from his wife and was living with the American poet Laura Riding. The idea of a farewell to the past was hers. In 1957, when Graves re-edited the memoir, "the book's hidden mentor was effaced", as Andrew Motion says in the introduction to this timely reissue of the original edition. It is a remarkable book, a "bitter leave-taking of England" as Graves described it. He hated Charterhouse school, where he was mercilessly bullied: "I came near a nervous breakdown." He enlisted within days of the outbreak of war because he "dreaded" going up to Oxford. His vivid account of life and death in the trenches is haunting: "I kept myself awake and alive by drinking about a bottle of whisky a day." Seriously wounded (and reported dead), he found life back in Blighty almost as bad: "everyone was mad". Essential reading for the centenary of the first world war.

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    A new BBC drama about Dylan Thomas's final days in New York will be broadcast as part of his centenary celebrations. Does it just add to the myth?

    Two weeks ago a large audience of Dylan Thomas enthusiasts gathered in a marquee in Laugharne, the pretty Carmarthenshire town where Thomas spent his last years, to view a screening of A Poet in New York, a new TV drama about his final days. It is the centrepiece of the BBC's Dylan Thomas season which marks the poet's centenary this year.

    At a post-screening Q&A with the writer Andrew Davies and actor Tom Hollander, who plays Thomas, one man said: "I have only known Thomas as a formidable poet. I knew nothing of his personal life and now you have destroyed that image of him for me. Why did you do that?"

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    by Carol Ann Duffy

    An apple's soft thump on the grass, somewhen
    in this place. What was it? Beauty of Bath.
    What was it? Yellow, vermillion, round, big, splendid;
    already escaping the edge of itself,
    like the mantra of bees,
    like the notes of rosemary, tarragon, thyme.
    Poppies scumble their colour onto the air,
    now and there, here, then and again.

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    The poet's death has deprived us of an original whose vision never wavered

    The popularity of John Betjeman's poetry has worked rather in his disfavour with parts of the literary establishment, as it did in the middle and later career of his beloved Tennyson. The comparison could be extended, in that both poets are always tending to a mood of loneliness and regret in their work, and there are technical parallels too.

    But differences abound. Perhaps the largest is in Tennyson's loss of power after the age of 40 or earlier and Betjeman's retention of his to the end. Nor did he Betjeman develop noticeably: he got it right from the start and stayed with it, another sin against critical orthodoxy, which likes artists to progress from an early period to maturity.

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    (Big Dada)

    Long before she won the Ted Hughes award for poetry last year, south Londoner Kate Tempest was a veteran of open-mic nights. She's returned to hip-hop for her debut album; uncluttered production is courtesy of the versatile Dan "Mr Dan" Carey (Bat for Lashes, Franz Ferdinand). An arts prize judging panel might call Everybody Down a song cycle, but really it's an urgent hip-hop record in which flawed but hopeful characters international relations graduates, lowlifes, lovers stumble into dramas. It's not unlike Plan B's Ill Manors, but with more female protagonists and more internal perspective. These are fictions, but they reflect raw truths in a way that draws you up short. "Them things you don't show, I can see/ Them things you don't say, speak to me," Tempest reckons. Her novel is due out later in 2014.

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    What happened when 10 European poets were asked to portray their home country in verse ahead of the European elections? Well, the first thing some of them did was cheat. Then they all became a little melancholic

    Some weeks ago, the German news magazine Die Zeit asked us if we would collaborate on a series of poems ahead of this week's European elections. Magazines across the continent not necessarily within the EU itself would commission a favourite poet to write four lines on their country. Please forgive the glaring omissions the result has been dictated by those who decided to take part and instead worry for Europa. Clearly this is not a continent suffering from bombastic self-confidence; in fact, quite the opposite. If, à la Eurovision, we are barred from handing the laurels to our choice the multi award-winning Don Paterson we'd have to give douze points to Kosovo's Shpëtim Selmani for a spectacular exercise in concise pessimism.

    Poems translated from the original by Michael Melis, Philip Oltermann, Katie Allen, Nabeelah Shabbir, Daan Louter

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    The former archbishop of Canterbury wears his faith lightly in this arresting and surprising compilation of poems

    This collection a vigorous compilation of old and new poems including translations of Rilke and of several Welsh poets gets off to an unexpected start with an introduction to a "Mrs Noah", who is drying ferns out on deck: "I am Mrs Noah: I call the beasts home/together, the cat to lie down with the slug" It is a charming poem and the unlikely bedfellows a fitting beginning for a motley volume filled with cultured reflection and surprise. One surprise is that the former archbishop of Canterbury does not wish to be thought of as a religious poet but as a poet to whom religious things matter "intensely".

    On the evidence here, the broader definition suits. Many poems are devotional in a secular way and some not obviously devotional at all. Take Dejeuner sur l'Herbe, presumably inspired by Manet's painting, in which Williams wonders (as everyone must) what happens next: "Shall there be wine to drop/on the drab summer grass/or only hours' worth of spent sands?" The oddity here, if he is alluding to the painting, is that there is no wine visible on canvas: it is the archbishop who brings a bottle to the party.

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    Dylan Thomas was tip-top, apart from the gout, gastritis, piles, boils, booze and sonorous recitals

    If you like your TV men drunk, white, middle-aged, sweaty, dishevelled, testy and self-loathing (and I know I do), this was the weekend for you. On BBC4, Detective Kurt Wallander was suspended after leaving his police revolver in a bar. Was that the wrong thing to do, his hound dog eyes asked his boss. On BBC2, Dylan Thomas stood on the threshold and told the latest woman in his bed: "I've had 18 straight whiskies. I think that's the record," before collapsing and dying a few days later in hospital aged 39.

    Which of them do you think unearthed the spy ring that covered up the suspicious death 30 years ago of a Swedish diver off the coast of Stockholm? Dylan Thomas. All drunk Welsh poets are undercover Swedish detectives. That's not Swedish they're talking, it's what Welsh sounds like after 18 whiskies.

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    These poems are about old age and regret, but also poetic structure and art. After them, there was nothing much left to say

    The greatness of the Four Quartets lies partly in their abstract considerations, but also in the way that they are so particular in their imagery. They are poems of long walks in the English countryside, and boating off the north-eastern US and of London in gloomy threatened peace and the dust and smoke of war; they are poems of middle age and a sense of fading powers. They are at once an attempt at making a final general statement about the spiritual life and an intense last flowering of the poetry of a very specific person.

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    A classical music broadcast foregrounds fears of a cheapening of culture, and the possibility of mass brutalisation, in this late work from a poet with a unique and original voice

    This week's poem, Sonnet of Irreconcilables, is from the 2006-2009 section of Christopher Middleton's Collected Later Poems, a magnificent winter harvest of recent work. It belongs to a gathering of poems headed For Want of an Axiom, whose epigraph quotes from Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia: "What an antique air had the almost effaced sundials, with their moral inscriptions, seeming coevals with that Time which they measured, and to take their revelations of its flight immediately from heaven, holding correspondence with the fountain of light!"

    "Time is for music, on with it," proclaims the speaker in Vasily Kalinnikov Composes, a neighbouring poem in For Want of an Axiom. Music and time are recurrent themes. Another preoccupation is corruption not as a natural, physical effacement, but as moral evil. That the breakdown may begin with language is implicated in the splintered structure of the sonnet, and the Orwellian insistence on responsibility towards "sensitive words" and, no less, to honest "statistics of bloodshed".

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    As the Australian critic, broadcaster and poet approaches the end of his life, he yearns to 'bask in the light I never left behind'

    Approaching the end of his life, the Australian critic, broadcaster and poet Clive James has expressed in verse his intense longing to return to Sydney and bask in the light I never left behind.

    Famously described by the New Yorker as a brilliant bunch of guys, Jamess output has remained varied and prolific even since he was diagnosed with leukaemia and emphysema in 2010.

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    A writer whose work is as highly regarded as his opinions are reviled, Céline was born on 27 May 1894 - a suitably perverse anniversary for us to bring you in for questioning about literature's extremists Continue reading...

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    A decade ago we invented a great new online resource for poetry lovers. Mellifluous new bells and whistles have just made it even greater

    Richard Carrington and I launched the online Poetry Archive a little under 10 years ago at poetryarchive.org. Our original intention was to combine three things: pleasure for the general reader/listener, by bringing together existing recordings of "historic" poets with new recordings of contemporaries that we would make or commission ourselves; help for students of all ages and their teachers, by combining these recordings with introductions, brief biographies, lesson plans, a glossary of terms, and all sorts of other educational bells and whistles; a safe haven for poet's voices, which would mean their voices were not lost to posterity (as for instance Hardy's voice, and Lawrence's voice, and Housman's voice have all been lost).

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    'Intensely bitter' draft of poem November 11th expresses horror at 'thoughtless and ignorant' crowds

    Robert Graves's early draft of a poem in which he condemns the crowds celebrating the Armistice as "thoughtless and ignorant scum", which the author had considered unprintable when he first wrote it in 1918, is appearing for the first time as a poem in its own right in a new anthology of war poetry.

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  • 05/28/14--07:55: Maya Angelou obituary
  • Writer, poet and civil rights campaigner lauded for her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

    The writer Maya Angelou, who has died aged 86, won acclaim for her first autobiographical memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), a scathing and sardonic indictment of the racial discrimination she experienced as a child in Arkansas and California. "If growing up is painful for the southern black girl," she wrote, "being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult."

    The book is also a celebration of the strength and integrity of black women such as Angelou's grandmother, who enforced the respect of white adults and endured the impudence of white children. Unlike Richard Wright's autobiographical Black Boy (1945), which has a similar setting and theme, it gives a sympathetic and compassionate account of a beleaguered black community while also humorously dramatising Angelou's need to find self-fulfilment outside it.

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    To celebrate the life of one of America's most influential poets, we're asking you to tell us how you'll remember her

    Maya Angelou, one of the most powerful voices of contemporary literature, died on Wednesday in her home in North Carolina. She was 86.

    Angelou's novels and poems have been laced into the canon of great American literature and cemented in the memories of people worldwide. Minutes after her death was announced, fans began sharing their memories of Angelou on Twitter.

    RIP Maya Angelou. I met you when I was 13, after reciting one of your poems. An inspiration to all young, black girls with a dream.

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  • 05/28/14--09:19: Maya Angelou: six key works
  • From memoirs to poems, here are some must-reads from the late American author and poet

    The first of her seven books of autobiography has been an inspirational bestseller. It covers the years from three to 16, beginning when her parents send her and her brother away to live with their grandparents. The young Maya endures racism, poverty and rape by her mothers lover; after the rapist is killed, she becomes mute, but later discovers a love of books and her own voice through an inspirational mentor, and becomes the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco. The title comes from a line in African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbars poem Sympathy - the birds song is a prayer for freedom.

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