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

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    Scotland's national poet is is a formidable rhetorical resource for Alex Salmond. Here are seven verses ripe for appropriation

    Scottish writers on the referendum
    Essay: Scottish independence literature and nationalism

    Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, is the most portable of writers, and it is no surprise that Alex Salmond should carry him everywhere. Burns, the great oracle of Scottish emotion, is a formidable rhetorical resource in a nationalist politician's locker. It allows the first minister to inspire his core vote with ready-made, recognisable passion at a time when nationalists are cannily trying to avoid seeming too hot-headed.

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    Peter is dead it is up to his abandoned parrot to detail his absence in a narrative of fits, starts and circles

    This week's poem, Squawks and Speech by Ian Gregson, is a vivid and disconcerting narrative from his 2008 collection, How We Met, and appears in the first of three sections, entitled Sideways at the War. As the neighbouring poems attest, war is defined in the widest metaphorical sense of social fracture and fragmentation. War includes the city's chaos, the loss of human connection and the dislocated individual consciousness.

    The protagonist, Peter, seems to have died suddenly at home. We're told few details about him, but enough to piece together a basic outline. We know he's affluent and sophisticated enough to own a futon and an exotic bird. The map left open on the table suggests he might have been anticipating a journey. When the poem begins, he has already been dead, or possibly comatose, for some time, and as it continues, the extent of his isolation becomes clear. The only witness, apart from the narrator, is Peter's parrot.

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    The Guardian's special projects editor, Francesca Panetta, outlines how we created an innovative multimedia guide to the first world war

    Today we launched our most recent multimedia interactive to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the first world war.

    Its a summary of the war, but with a global twist: stories from the outbreak of war to its aftermath are told through the voices of 10 historians from 10 different countries.

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    I first encountered the fabulous Gerard Benson in the very early 1970s when the Barrow Poets played in a scrubby basement in the Sir Christopher Wren pub in the old Paternoster Square, by St Paul's Cathedral in London, when I was barely old enough to buy a (legal) drink. While other young things were into Genesis or King Crimson, I was gripped by their spectrum of poetry and music, from their own compositions to Purcell, Byrd, Blake, Keats, Stevie Smith and lots of Anon.

    With the endlessly energetic Gerard, small and roundish, reciting, singing and playing kazoo and saw, the visually contrasting William Bealby-Wright, tall and thin and slightly lugubrious, on the homemade cacofiddle once described in the Guardian as "a kind of DIY, cymbal-augmented double bass, seemingly built by the Clangers" and the other wonderful musicians and poets, they were electrifying. Later they played in grand venues such as the Royal Festival Hall, but nothing could match the immediacy of the basement bar.

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    by Tony Williams

    i.m. Arnold Peters

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    Abbey choir commissions David Matthews, whose grandfather died weeks before armistice

    As Britain has remembered and commemorated the first world war, which plunged Europe into darkness and despair 100 years ago, there have been moments of argument and polemic.

    Was the greatest and bloodiest conflict the continent had ever known justified by the need to thwart Germany's aggressive expansionism? Or was the conflagration a collective folly leading to the needless sacrifice of millions of lives?

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    Two contrasting varieties of 'angel' provide a dynamic image of the writer's sense of liberation, and subtle premonitions of her fate

    This week's poem, Virginia Woolf's Angels 1919, comes from Patricia McCarthy's new collection, Horses Between Our Legs, a collection which includes the poem that won first prize last year in the National Poetry Society competition, Clothes that escaped the Great War.

    Set five years after the Battle of Mons, Virginia Woolf's Angels 1919 brings together in combat two distinct "Angel" myths, the "Angel in the House", and the Angel of Mons, to localise and dramatise a victory myth for Woolf herself.

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    In our new summer series, Charlotte Jones collates the perfect literary companions for four US city breaks. This week, the metropolis that has inspired writers from John Dos Passos to Don DeLillo

    From the "gilded age" of Edith Wharton and Henry James to the rhythms of the Harlem Renaissance and Beat poets, writers have long been drawn to the east coast's biggest city. The New York Times has planned a holiday itinerary based entirely around literary landmarks, but what would be the perfect reading list to accompany a visit?

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    Amid the chaos of refugee life, traditional verse is flourishing again as troops seek to drive militants from North Waziristan

    For more than five centuries, poets in remote north-western Pakistan have recited verses about the areas mountainous scenery, their tribal culture and love. That all changed as Islamist militants tightened their hold on Pakistans tribal regions after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. The Taliban and their allies quickly crushed the poets words and spirits. They were warned not to write phrases that referred to women or serenity and instead ordered to compose jihadist messages of war, brutality and conformity.

    Now about 50 poets are part of a mass migration of more than 700,000 Pakistanis who have been displaced from the North Waziristan region as the military seeks to dislodge Islamist militants there. And amid the chaos of refugee life, they are restoring tradition to their verses.

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    He was born on a farm in Gwynedd and died with half a million others at Passchendaele. In between he wrote some of Wales's most moving poetry. A century on, his nephew has dedicated himself to keeping the memory of Hedd Wyn alive

    In the parlour sit the chairs, six of them in all, from the simple four-square seat won in Bala in 1907 to the "black chair" of the 1917 National Eisteddfod. This throne of darkened oak has grown brittle as glass, but its ornate carvings are still clear: a Celtic cross, a fish, a ribbon, a sundial, a Welsh dragon, a serpent.

    Gerald Williams, their 85-year-old custodian, stands in the afternoon quiet, surveying them all. "I used to play in them as a child," he says. "They were just part of the furniture to me. Their significance came over time."

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  • 07/30/14--06:00: Top 10 war poems
  • This week marks a century since the outbreak of the first world war. Chosen from 1,000 years of English writing about war, poet and Oxford professor Jon Stallworthy selects some of the best attempts to think through this most extreme of human experiences

    Read more writers' top 10s

    "Poetry," Wordsworth reminds us, "is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings", and there can be no area of human experience that has generated a wider range of powerful feelings than war: hope and fear; exhilaration and humiliation; hatred not only for the enemy, but also for generals, politicians, and war-profiteers; love for fellow soldiers, for women and children left behind, for country (often) and cause (occasionally).

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    The author of The Rap Canterbury Tales explains how the ideals of poetry and performance that Chaucer championed live on in hip-hop culture

    The Canterbury Tales may seem an odd point of departure for a rap artist, but for me it has been the guiding text of a 12-year career. At the Edinburgh fringe this year there are several hip-hop themed shows, but when I first came to the festival in 2004 with my hip-hop-meets-Chaucer production The Rap Canterbury Tales, there wasn't any rap to be found in an Edinburgh theatre.

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    Cover blurbs aren't reviews, they're advertisements that offer no space for balanced, nuanced positivity

    Do you agree? And have you seen any over-the-top examples? Share them in the comment thread below

    Recently I was at a literature festival, being interviewed by a man who hadn't had the chance to read my novel. It was fine. These things happen and we muddle through.

    Unable to draw upon the themes of the work my kindly interviewer took to reading from the cover, attempting to bolster audience appreciation of me by quoting what someone else thought of my writing. He landed on a quote by the author Joe Dunthorne: "Terrific," Joe had said. "Engaging, funny and inventive." My interviewer grinned and asked how such a comment made me feel?

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    Tron, Glasgow
    A Greek chorus of narrators exploits Seamus Heaney's robust text for every bit of its narrative drive in this dramatic reading

    Grendel is dead. Beowulf is victorious. The mood is of celebration and so, in Seamus Heaney's taut and muscular adaptation, King Hrothgar calls for a bard to commemorate the defeat of the monster. What is needed, he says, is a work that links "a new theme to a strict metre".

    It is the observance of Heaney's own strict metre that distinguishes Lynne Parker's consummate staging of this Old English poem. Billed as a dramatic reading, her austere, controlled and gripping production splits the text between Helen McAlpine, Lorraine McIntosh and Anita Vettesse, a Greek chorus in muted greys who strike every syllable with urgent authority.

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    They can be vehicles for many subjects, so please rev up your imaginative engines and see where this month's topic takes you

    Towards the end of 1955, Marianne Moore was invited to submit suggestions for naming the latest model from the Ford range of cars. For an obscure poet, Moore was something of a celebrity, known for her eccentricity and love of baseball as much as for her verse, and was quick to accept the invitation. Sadly, none of her suggestions made the cut, and so Americans found themselves driving the new Edsel and not the Utopian Turtletop.

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    This collection of meditations on fear reveals Martinez de las Rivas's visionary disposition

    Jeremy Paxman, chair of this year's Forward prize judging panel, might be happier with Reader's Digest, but readers intrigued by Toby Martinez de las Rivas's 2009 Faber New Poets pamphlet will have waited eagerly for a full collection. Terror sustains the ambition and strangeness of that first handful of poems, and concedes nothing to the tribunal of Philistine resentment.

    Insofar as its title acknowledges contemporary conditions, the book includes them in a long view, as part of humanity's permanent crisis. "Terror", as Martinez de las Rivas seems to construe it, is the condition of consciousness. St Paul in Philippiansenjoins the believers to "work out your own salvation, in fear and trembling". But salvation is asking a good deal, and Terror is less a work of religious conviction than of ardent inquiry, and testimony to the imagination's findings: "In the darkness, falling / And falling like snowflakes beyond all light & knowledge."

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    by Yves Berger, translated by John Berger

    Spring covers with a green
    exiles never forget
    the hills where wandering herds
    graze the growing grass

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    Birth and death are never far apart in the Irish poet's cherishable new collection

    One of the most moving things about Michael Longley's tenth collection is the way in which he considers death, giving it no special treatment, not dressing it up or flattering it. It was Wittgenstein who said "death is not an event in life". But Longley would seem to disagree. It's an ordinary event, in his hands, and he goes straight in with the line: "I have been thinking about the music for my funeral."

    In this collection, lullabies are for the end of life as well as for the beginning, and birth and death are never far apart. In Deathbed, he imagines his deathbed as a sort of nest in which a couple of robins come and go, one more leggy than the other, feeding from a cheese dish and a saucer of water it's a poem of consoling eccentricity. In the beautiful Birthbed that follows pages later, he writes: "I waken in the bed where you were born," and remembers waiting to cradle a new child. These are poems that get under the skin. With the mastery of years of writing, Longley (b.1939) knows the shortcuts to the heart.

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    A metaphysical love poem that orchestrates a wealth of feeling at the edges of body and soul

    This week's poem, The Book, is by the South African poet, FT (Frank Templeton) Prince, who died 11 years ago on 7 August at the age of 90.

    His undeserved obscurity reminds us of the randomness of poetic canonisation. TS Eliot picked up Prince's first collection, Poems (1938) for Faber, but rejected subsequent work, and the next collection, Soldiers Bathing (1954), where this week's poem first appeared, was brought out by Fortune Press. As so often, readers should be grateful to the restorative efforts of Carcanet, which brings together all Prince's publications, and some new late work, in the Collected Poems 1935-1992 (2012).

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    Work combines sorrow with his characteristic humour, comparing his own plight to Napoleon's in The Emperor's Last Words

    Interview: Clive James

    Two new poems by Clive James see the gravely ill author and critic combine humour with sorrow as he quotes the last words of Napoleon and writes: "It's time to go. High time to go. High time."

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