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

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  • 06/06/14--02:46: Poster poems: lawns
  • Nature tamed or nature fighting to be wild again, the lawn is a great site for summer thoughts. Let's see what you can roll out for this month's challenge

    Summer is here at last it seems, with long evenings, the occasional glimpse of the sun between the showers, and the inevitable recommencement of the life and death battle with the patch of green outside the window. Yes, summer, the season of lawns, those slices of domesticated nature that have come to symbolise the march of civilisation, for good or ill.

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    The performance poet winner of the Radio 3 Verb New Voices award on moving to London, rubbing shoulders with Jarvis Cocker, and the poetry inspired by her soldier husband's return from Afghanistan

    It's the night before the press event that launches the new vision for BBC Arts and BBC Music. It feels like the night before Christmas. I'm stopping in London at a bijou flat belonging to a fellow Northerner. I forget to congratulate her on its convenient, and probably expensive, location.

    She's a TV producer and her lodger is a dancer. Not the exotic kind. They are both from Wigan.

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    A poet of the modern long-distance journey, Solie embraces the moment and observes the anxieties that come with choice

    Born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in central Canada, Karen Solie now lives in metropolitan Toronto, and there is something of Aesop's city mouse/country mouse to her semi-biographical poetry. She is rurally oriented, newly arrived in the big city but her small-town attitude is also jagged, sardonic, dry. She writes in "Be Reasonable": "I grew up comforted by coyotes in the evening but the news / from the suburbs is afraid." That sting at the end, the juxtaposition of comfort and fear, is part of Solie's appeal. Her poems open up and clasp tight in one gesture.

    Throughout the book, she engages with the designations and paradoxes of her surroundings: the agricultural and the commercial, the industrial and the residential. She lives between her backgrounds, revels in them. Her poem "Medicine Hat Calgary One-Way", which details a bus ride along "the dullest stretch of highway / on earth", sets the scene:

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    From Alfred Lord Tennyson to Alice Oswald, Andrew Motion chooses his
    favourite recordings of poems read aloud by those who wrote them

    Hear and download all of the recordings at poetryarchive.org, and nominate
    your favourite in the comments below Continue reading...

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    by Melissa Lee-Houghton

    You're a square man. Everything about you is
    square: your face, your chin, your body,
    the squareness of your opinions,
    the squareness of your emotional life.
    With so many sides and corners you can bump
    it away, the pains and the conflicts and the history:
    bump bump bump.
    We love you, square man.
    We eat the round food you make for us,
    chocolate puddings and cakes
    too round to fit inside you whole:
    we eat cream cream cream.
    Your brother and sister were triangles.
    You fitted together, three in a bed, you,
    the little square-head in the middle.
    When they died suddenly, you bumped it away:
    bump bump bump.
    You have never talked about it, never could.
    When you go away
    we get a square hug; we can put our arms around
    your sides and you pat us and pat us with your
    large square hands.

    From Beautiful Girls (Penned in the Margins £8.99). To order a copy for £7.19 with free UK p&p go to guardianbookshop.co.uk or call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846.

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    I first met Rosemary Tonks at the Group poetry meetings held in the 1970s at Edward Lucie-Smith's Chelsea house. She immediately gave the impression of a coiled spring waiting and needing to be unsprung. Surrounded by the voices of conventional wisdom, she manifested the loner's stare into, and the need to speak of, the indescribable future before it was too late. As she wrote in one of her poems included in her first book Notes on Cafes and Bedrooms:

    I knew the poet's rag-soft eyelid was
    the gutter's fee
    For the way down to life. I had
    My lodgings in that quarter of the city
    Like a cat's ear full of cankered
    passages
    Where November wraps the loiterer as
    spiders do their joints.

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    Fiona Benson transforms life's surprises, accidents and let-downs into poems of great beauty in her bold debut

    You might think Bright Travellers a fey title, but not once you have encountered the poem from which it has been parted. It describes a baby's intent, unfathomable way of looking at the world:

    She stares
    over my left shoulder
    into blank corners
    and seems to watch
    who knows what
    bright travellers.

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    George Szirtes (Poetry is felt, not fathomed, 3 June) seems unaware that his oddly elitist dismissal of "the People" (twice), and their alleged inability to "get" a "difficult" Eliot or Auden, seem to validate Jeremy Paxman's concerns (Today's poets write mostly for each other, says Paxman, 2 June) and to do a disservice to poetry itself as a relevant communicative art form.

    By dragging in while pretending to dismiss the outdated modern versus traditional dichotomy, he manages to imply that the very "comprehensibility" of a Betjeman, Larkin or Wendy Cope leaves them in some way lacking in his more obscurantist poetic stakes. He makes no mention of arguably the greatest of recent poets Seamus Heaney and Tony Harrison whose life's work in poetry has been very much about how to extend the reach of the "stolen" language of poetry to those disfranchised by background or neglect.

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    Not long before his cruelly early death, Douglas matched the grim reality of war with a lyric passion

    Seventy years ago, the poet Keith Douglas was killed during the Allied invasion of Normandy on 9 June, three days after D-Day. He was 24.

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    Whether you are rubbing shoulders with world leaders, grilling the latest literary stars or simply reclining in Charlotte Square with a glass of wine, Edinburgh is a book festival like no other

    When I close my eyes I can see Charlotte Square Gardens bedecked and tented for the Edinburgh International Book festival, and I always feel a thrill. I am still in awe of the Edinburgh Book festival, even after all these years, because without losing any of its intimacy, without seeming too commercial or, I might say, "over organised" it has grown and grown and is the biggest, best-known celebration of books in the world, and yet it still fits within the wrought iron fencing. It must be the only book festival in a Unesco world heritage site, and one can imagine the elegant restrained Robert Adam facades enjoying the colourful bohemian air that attends the city square in August.

    When you step off the pavement and into the marquee at the entrance, you enter a magical space, with an ecology all of its own. The best thing is, you are welcome whether you've paid to go to an event, or you simply want to take in the atmosphere, have a coffee or a picnic on the grass, or recline in a canvas deckchair decorated with a literary quote, or sip slightly indifferent wine and buy a book.

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    Constantine's lifelong devotion to the classics and to German is in evidence in poems that neither avoid death nor permit it to belittle life's gifts

    The publication of David Constantine's Elder marks the poet and translator's 70th birthday with a work of impressive range and scale. It manifests his lifelong devotion to the classics and to German, and enables us to see and hear more fully how they have contributed to his own inimitably passionate lyricism. In case anyone should underestimate the seriousness with which he regards the art of poetry, its powers and its responsibilities, Constantine has also published Poetry (OUP £12.99), a short guide to the subject more than that, a work of urgent advocacy.

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    by Kei Miller

    To them who knew to break free from dark hold of ships

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    Fredrik Sjöberg spent seven years hunting hoverflies on a small Swedish island and then wrote a genre-defying memoir about it

    'It's somewhere between a flute and an opium pipe," explains Fredrik Sjöberg, unfolding a small tubular contraption in his wild flower-filled garden. More alarming than this "pooter" is a jar decorated with a skull-and-crossbones. "Cyanide," nods the Swedish writer, clearing his throat as we stand by his bleached wooden jetty leading into a dark, limpid lake. "I have a dealer. I'm not totally sure if this is legal ..."

    Pfffft. In a flash, Sjöberg bends over a flower, sucks on the pooter and catches a microscopic bronze fly. If the general public regard butterfly collectors as "breathless twits", reasons Sjöberg, then a hoverfly hunter is "absurd". Perhaps the only thing crazier than a hoverfly obsessive would be to write a genre-defying memoir about it and expect to find a publisher and readers. This, of course, is exactly what the writer, translator and biologist has done with The Fly Trap, and a small book about an obscure branch of entomology has become unexpectedly big.

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    The death of his father and birth of his grandson prompted a return to poetry for Joyce and perhaps his finest work in the medium

    Bloomsday is 16 June, and what better poem to bring to a celebration of James Joyce's Ulysses, with its son-haunted protagonist Leopold Bloom, than Joyce's powerful lyric, Ecce Puer?

    Though a collection of romantic, song-like short poems, Chamber Music (1907), was Joyce's first published book, he soon rejected poetry's sentimental temptations in favour of the objective prose style of Dubliners. Chamber Music, he rightly declared, was a young man's book. There was a later collection, Pomes Penyeach, after which Joyce published only occasional poems; many of them comic or satirical, some touched by a cruder form of the exuberant wordplay associated with his mature fiction. Ecce Puer, written in February 1932, is the outstanding achievement among them.

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    In contrast to public praise of Les Misérables author, correspondence reveals private contempt

    Victor Hugo, revered author of Les Misérables and towering French literary giant, was also something of a nuisance at least according to his contemporary and fellow poet Charles Baudelaire.

    In a January 1860 letter to an unknown correspondent, Baudelaire bemoans how Hugo "keeps on sending me stupid letters", adding that Hugo's continuing missives have inspired him "to write an essay showing that, by a fatal law, a genius is always an idiot". The letter is being auctioned by Christie's in New York, alongside a first edition of Baudelaire's celebrated poetry collection Les Fleurs du Mal, containing the six poems that were deleted from the second edition. The set is expected to fetch up to $100,000 (£60,000), according to the auction house.

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    More than 20 unseen works found, which his publisher says amount to 'a literary event of universal significance'

    More than 20 unpublished poems by Pablo Neruda works of "extraordinary quality" according to his publisher have been unearthed among the papers of the late Nobel laureate in his native Chile.

    Neruda's Spanish publisher Seix Barral called the discovery "a literary event of universal importance", and "the biggest find in Spanish literature in recent years". The poems, which range from love poetry to poems dealing with everyday objects, were written by the mature Neruda, said the publisher, after 1950's Canto General. They are, said the poet and academic Pere Gimferrer, who is involved with the publication of the poems, as full of "the imaginative power, the overflowing expressive fullness and the same gift, the erotic or loving passion" as Neruda's best works.

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    The marble bust of Alexander Pope, created by Roubiliac, shows the writer as he wanted to be seen by posterity. But the face still reveals his constant pain and wildness

    Alexander Pope hasn't been a popular poet for decades now. In the early 1980s, as part of the English course at Oxford University, you had to spend a term reading one or two canonic poets Chaucer, Langland, Spenser, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Tennyson, Browning, Yeats and Eliot. (It was a source of disquiet, even in 1984 in Oxford, that no woman was included in the list). Most people did Wordsworth or Milton. I was in a tiny minority, having opted to spend eight weeks studying Pope, and was assigned to one of the stars of the faculty. Roger Lonsdale had just published his New Oxford Book of Eighteenth-Century Verse. It was that rare thing, an anthology that turned the study of an entire century's literary output on its head. Roger had followed the simple policy of simply reading every piece of poetry published in Britain in the eighteenth century, and deciding what was good or not. Thirty years on, it remains an astounding feat of navigation and human and literary interest. Before the anthology, it was still easy to think of Pope and his friends as at the centre of the literary universe, surrounded by a few interesting minor writers, and then a vast mob of talentless scribblers. Did he still exist at the centre, or was that his particular triumph of marketing, to sell his writing and the standards of judgment by which all literature should be improved at the same time?

    For eight weeks, I climbed the stairs in Balliol College, and we talked about one piece of Pope's career after another. Pope is not, on the surface, a particularly varied writer. Almost all his work is in the same metrical form: rhyming couplets in iambic pentameters. Most of it is in the same genre: formal satire. But going through his work inch by inch, you don't feel yourself limited by the constraints; the possibilities are transformative, and the way he looks at the world is immensely generous. We kept talking, I remember, about the rival poets and the poor victims of The Dunciad, Pope's epic assault on the bad writers of the day. (You can't study Pope as a special author at Oxford these days, but you can, interestingly, study one of the victims of The Dunciad, Eliza Haywood). Did he remain at the centre of things? He put himself there, and defined what "the centre" was, but he went on seeming bigger than almost anyone else. Reading Pope like this was one of the most important experiences of my life.

    Oh! If to dance all night, and dress all day
    Charm'd the smallpox, or chased old age away

    Another age shall see the golden ear
    Imbrown the slope, and nod on the parterre,
    Deep harvests bury all his pride has plann'd
    And laughing Ceres reassume the land.

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    by Kit Wright

    That was the summer as I recall,
    the man next door and I began
    to call each other Sir,
    in a kind of roguish formality or
    mock-combative collusion. Why,
    I cannot say, but keep it up
    we somehow did for some little time;
    for as long, you might almost say, as it took.
    "Are you all right, sir?" "Quite all right, sir.
    You all right, sir?" "Sir, I'm well."
    Nor did we fail to operate
    attendant quasi-theatrical business:
    the stiff half-turn; the ritual bow;
    the planted stare of profound regard,
    as we met on our doorsteps, housekeys poised
    or bellowed across the howling High Road
    "ARE YOU ALL RIGHT, SIR?" "QUITE ALL RIGHT, SIR!"
    as though in loyal defence of a principle
    both were prepared to die for, soon.
    But the ending seemed as inexplicable
    as the beginning: the disappearance,
    ambulance sirens, police, old pressmen
    hogging the bar at the Horse and Artichoke,
    cats gone skinny, the haunted dog.
    And of course I know no more than anyone
    else as I walk these streets at midnight,
    hoping to coax from neon or starlight
    a final reflexive Sir, I'm well.

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    Sarah Pickstone gathers writings from Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Olivia Laing and others to fine effect

    We are often invited to think of London's parks as the lungs of the city, its breathing spaces. Their function has never just been entirely corporeal though; they are equally the places in which the city has done its thinking. Every time I walk down Highgate Hill, on my way to work, past the little, missable, floor-level plaque that announces the now demolished cottage of poet Andrew Marvell, I'm reminded, looking down on the skyline from his vantage point, of his indelible aspiration: "annihilating all that's made, to a green thought, in a green shade".

    That desire has long been a Londoner's statement of intent. It might also serve as an introduction to Sarah Pickstone's beautifully crafted book, Park Notes. Pickstone is a painter, but it was words that set her green thoughts in motion. In October 2009 she was, she recalls, "sitting on a plastic bag on the damp grass of Regent's Park Inner Circle, coffee in one hand, pencil in the other trying to draw the sun". After a while, she gave up, put her pencil behind her ear and began to read a pamphlet she had just bought, which contained a story by Ali Smith, called The Definite Article.

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    It was a five-day fight for a square mile of Somme trees that left thousands dead. Now National Theatre Wales are recreating the Battle of Mametz Wood on a sheep farm

    It was the sound of the gunfire that caught you, they said: something between a muffled rumble and a roar, felt in the stomach long before you got anywhere near battle. After a while, you got used to it. Only when it stopped did you start to worry.

    The last place you'd expect to hear the guns of the western front would be on a sheep farm in Monmouthshire. But that's reckoning without National Theatre Wales. Having summoned to life such unlikely events as a re-enactment of Christ's Passion in industrial Port Talbot and ancient Greek tragedy in the Brecon Beacons, this summer NTW is attempting an even more audacious challenge: making site-specific theatre from the first world war.

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