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

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    The capital of New England literature offers many a literary guide through its past, present and future. What would you add? Let us know in the comment section and we'll include it in next week's reader-picked list

    New York in books: readers' picks
    Blog: New York in literature

    Boston, the city that ignited the American war of independence, is inextricable from the work of New England writers. As Linda Barnes joked in a recent detective novel, Lie Down With the Devil, these Massachusetts writers are interwoven into the fabric of the city:

    "In the summer of 1960, Boston's West End was bulldozed to rubble When the dust cleared, there was Charles River Park The tall, pale buildings had no ties to New England, so to grab some local flavor, they named the towers after Hawthorne, Whittier, Emerson, Lowell, and Longfellow. I like to imagine those old dead white guys rolling in their graves. Not to mention stogie-smoking Amy Lowell."

    "I reached Washington Street at the busiest point, and there I stood and laughed aloud For my life I could not have helped it, with such a mad humor was I moved at the sight of the interminable rows of stores Stores! stores! stores! miles of stores!"

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    Edinburgh Art Festival show explores appointed poets from Dryden to Duffy noting falling deference to the monarch but revived delight in the perk of the sherry sack

    "A crate of Oloroso sounds like a dream," wrote an excited Queen Mother to her friend the poet laureate Ted Hughes on hearing he was going to send her a few bottles. "I am not only very grateful but extremely touched that you should wish me to share in this lovely gift."

    The handwritten letter shines a light on the revival of a slightly eccentric tradition giving the poet laureate a butt of sherry and goes on public display for the first time in Edinburgh.

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    Think poetry is boring? Think again. Frank Adarads introduces us to a thriving modern poetry scene taking the internet and music festivals by storm

    It is easy to dismiss poetry as boring. Certainly until relatively recently, I was as guilty of this as anybody. But then I discovered something that made me realise this was a terrible mistake.

    In his introduction to the Bloodaxe Anthology of Modern Poetry, Neil Astley writes that "a strong poem is not just for crisis. Such a poem is there for all times, helping us face or embrace daily change and disruption. It will also speak to us when nothing seems to be happening, when the poem's importance is helping us stay alive in the world and stay true to ourselves." Essentially, Astley is defining a 'strong poem' as something that helps us to find some kind of peace within ourselves in times of difficulty. But surely there are other art forms which resonate with the feelings that we have in the twenty-first century where the sonnets of great poets such as Keats or Wilde (at first glance) may not?

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    Our man with the cam goes behind the scenes to snap Mark Watson playing darts, Carol Ann Duffy reading Tennyson and Simon Callow talking up the Roman poet Juvenal also featuring Richard Herring rewriting Rasputin, theatre in the icy Scottish sea and a bloody member of the walking dead

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    This poem for peace eschews flag-waving and forced sentiment in favour of a still moment of ceasefire

    This week's poem is Look-out by Ian House. It's from an unusual kind of commemorative anthology, The Arts of Peace, and simply and movingly encapsulates the editorial concept.

    The collection's title quotes Andrew Marvell's An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland: "So restless Cromwell could not cease/ In the inglorious arts of peace,/ But through advent'rous war/ Urged his active star." Conflicts undertaken in defence of the humane pursuits and values implied by "inglorious arts" may be won, only for lesser values to replace them. The Arts of Peace, writes Adam Piette in the introduction, turns from "anniversary fuelled flag-waving and fake tearfulness towards a measured and felt solidarity with those who have suffered, as well as a quiet celebration of the peacetime that is so easily lost, so quickly taken for granted, so undervalued." House finds symbols of that easily undervalued peacetime in a moment of ceasefire, abstracted from any specific war or battle, but not thereby neutralised. Look-out seems both local and universal.

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    'He's up for genuinely exploring his own experiences. That's what I aim for in standup'

    When I was 12, I sang in my local choir what a cool dude. We would do adaptations of Walt Whitman's poems, including One's-Self I Sing from his collection Leaves of Grass, in which he celebrates life's "passion, pulse and power". There's a great line: "The female equally with the male I sing." When I read it for the first time, I just thought: "Yes!"

    A few years later, I picked up one of his books for a quid. Some of his work is so epic, it's overwhelming. As a teenager, I read a lot of poetry that was very terse, like Sylvia Plath's, but Whitman is all over the place. I love all the Os and the exclamation marks it's like he just thought, "These are the things that I felt I must say today!" and "These are the things that have happened to me!" There are some powerful poems about the civil war, during which he worked as a nurse, but then some of it is really quite small too. He fits in all of human experience.

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    Despite being the political centre of America, literature set in and about Washington is not particularly urban. What would you add? Let us know for next week's readers list

    Blog: Boston in literature
    Boston books: readers' picks

    Washington DC is an awkward city. Like New York City, its significance transcends the geographical boundaries of the metropolis, but unlike New York, the city's urban design is such that it's almost hard to see it as a city at all. The boroughs of New York are demarcated and distinct, as are the north and south sides of Chicago; in Washington, the districts of Virginia, Maryland, and Columbia tend to blur city centre into suburb inextricably. The different tenor of the urban environment perhaps accounts for the way its literature is probably the least "urban" of all the cities on this list.

    Washington is predominantly, of course, America's political centre, and, "Bartleby" and Little Dorrit aside, bureaucracy doesn't tend to make for great literature. There are, however, some exceptions here: Democracy, by Henry Adams, is an incisive study of politicians, socialites, wannabes, and the nature of power that has aged remarkably little since its first publication, anonymously, in 1880. The political system is seen through the eyes of Madeleine Lee, an outsider who moves to the city seeking "the mysterious gem which must lie hidden somewhere in politics", and her salon soon becomes the place to see and be seen in Washington. But she rapidly becomes the object of an increasingly vicious conquest by two ambitious, machiavellian politicians, and by the end she leaves, disillusioned, for Egypt. Adams believed absolutely that the future of the world lay in the United States and that the future of the United States lay in Washington, but as Madeleine declares, "half of our wise men declare that the world is going straight to perdition; the other half that it is fast becoming perfect. Both cannot be right. [...] I must know whether America is right or wrong." It isn't clear if Adams himself could quite make his mind up.

    "In June of the year 1957, my half sister, Nina (known henceforward as Nini) Gore Auchincloss, married Newton Steers in St John's Church, 'the church of the presidents,' in Washington, DC. For over a century presidents, of a Sunday, would wander across the avenue that separates White House from Lafayette Square and its odd little church, whose chaste Puritan tower is topped by an unlikely gold Byzantine dome metaphor?"

    "And the streets how their throbbings throbb'd, and the cities pent lo, then and there,/
    Falling upon them all and among them all, enveloping me with the rest,/
    Appear'd the cloud, appear'd the long black trail,/
    And I knew death."

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    George RR Martin came back, Jackie Kay and Will Self delighted their crowds and Richard Dawkins talked about his childhood ... A lot can happen in two days at the international book festival

    Bertha seems to have passed, meteorological peace has been restored and Charlotte square is full of readers again. The top literary game has kept going at the Edinburgh international book festival in this very intense first week. Heres a round-up of what has happened in the last two days.

    .@NickSharratt1 draws a hippo. Children's illustrators are doodling for us at #edbookfesthttps://t.co/twc9it7Z61

    .@DavidMelling1 doodles a lovely Hugless Douglas for us at #edbookfesthttps://t.co/zqGba4OFwE via @GdnChildrensBks

    Spotted several audience members in tears at the end of Jackie Kay's incredibly beautiful and moving readings at #edbookfest. What a woman.

    Two rising stars of international fiction from India and Iran

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    Niall Campbells Moontide takes £20,000 Edwin Morgan prize with joyous evocation of Scottish island landscape

    A 29-year-old poet from the outer Hebrides has won the UKs richest poetry prize with a debut collection that evokes the island where he grew up with a recurring sense of wonder.

    Niall Campbell, who combines writing with looking after his five-month-old son, was awarded the £20,000 Edwin Morgan prize at the Edinburgh international book festival.

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    Thirty years after making his debut as Porky the Poet, Jupitus is still protesting. So whats new in political poetry?

    A book festival session on protest poetry on Saturday took a nostalgic Phill Jupitus on a canter through a career that started in the early 1980s when he was a civil servant by day and fought Thatcher by night, like a kind of ideological Batman. Clutching an armful of period fanzines, he recited the first poem he ever performed as Porky the Poet: Theyve all Grown up in the Beano/ Dennis the Menace has got pubic hair/ Biffo is well into anarchy now/ Hes more of a punk than a bear

    Some things change and some dont among them, Jupituss penchant for protest poetry compiled from found material

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    Wryly addressing a failure of romantic fidelity, with a very modern suspicion of work that 'smells of the inkhorn', this 16th-century lyric still fizzes

    George Gascoigne (1539?1577) had a disappointing career at court and perhaps this accounts for the pragmatic, rather sardonic nature of his poetry. Or perhaps these characteristics hindered his advancement? At any rate, there is an independence of mind here, and a voice and tone which cut through the centuries as he exclaims, "Fie pleasure fie! I cannot like of this" or sings a lullaby to his lost youth and his lost erection. He was a clever innovator in a variety of genres besides poetry, and some of his ideas about verse composition still have currency today.

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    Agbabi updates the Canterbury Tales with contemporary characters, and Greenlaw reinvents the poetry of Troilus and Criseyde

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    From the socially tough novels of naturalism, to intellectually demanding modernism, this city provides a thrilling challenge to the reader. What would you add? Let us know in the comment section and we'll include it in next week's reader-picked list

    In 1920 the literary critic and satirist HL Mencken wrote in the Nation that Chicago is the "Literary Capital of the United States". Given the city's relative provinciality, marooned way out in the Midwest, it is perhaps a surprising claim. And yet this is a city that can lay claim to being the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway and Philip K Dick; the alma mater of Philip Roth and Kurt Vonnegut, who both studied at its university after the second world war; and during the 1920s, the unexpected cultural centre of European modernism. So how to narrow down a reading list from an ever expanding range of possibilities?

    Chicago didn't really hit the big time until the late 19th century, when it became the bustling metropolis of an increasingly industrialised Midwest, and its economy based on pork, beef, and bicycles quickly aligned itself with a gritty literary consciousness; dubbed "Midland Realism". Authors such as Henry Blake Fuller practised a form of grubby urbanism whose inspiration was clearly the fin de siècle naturalism of Émile Zola. But where Zola's interest lies in the city as consumerist illusion and commercial spectacle, Midland Realism is comprehensively industrial, taking as its core narrative the futility of working class (typically immigrant) ambition eternally thwarted by a corrupt, white capitalist system.

    "I am an American, Chicago bornChicago, that somber cityand go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man's character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn't any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles."

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    'Lioness of Iran' who was nominated twice for the Nobel prize in literature dies aged 87 in Tehran hospital

    Famed Iranian poet Simin Behbahani, who wrote of the joys of love, demanded equal rights for women and spoke out about the challenges facing those living in her homeland, died on Thursday aged 87.

    Behbahani had been hospitalised and unconscious in Tehran since 6 August and later died of heart failure and breathing problems, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported.

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    An anthology of later work by the Nobel laureate will feature a last poem, In Time, written for his granddaughter Síofra

    Seamus Heaney obituary by Neil Corcoran

    A poem written for his granddaughter and never published before in the UK will form part of a new collection of selected poems by the late Seamus Heaney, spanning 25 years and "complet[ing] the arc of a remarkable career", his publisher announced on Thursday.

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    Merwin brings themes of memory, the natural world and love of place rapturously to life

    William Merwin is curiously under-read in Britain. Not so in his native US, where he was until recently poet laureate, and where his distinguished roster of awards includes two Pulitzer prizes. Now 86, he still lives in the house he built in the rainforest of Hawaii, and which is the setting for much of his later work.

    Merwin's signature refusal to use punctuation, and the way his push-me-pull-you lines capture the connectedness of time, space and the natural world, are unique in Anglo-American verse. So his new collection would be an event even if it consisted of nothing but fragments. But The Moon Before Morning is a book of drive, finesse and astonishing beauty. Far from fragmentary, it is also substantial, its more than 120 pages divided into four sections. Among its themes are remembering and forgetting, the natural world and love of place.

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    Searching for an art form that allows you to share your true identity with a crowd? You need slam poetry as site member sunsetskyfire reveals during our Amnesty teen takeover, slam poetry attracts the most diverse bunch of identities around

    On weekday evenings in starkly lit rooms, people come to turn their hearts out from their sleeves. They come from penthouse apartments and their friends's basements, they come young and old and male and female and in love and in pain, but they come. Sometimes they pay. They take the microphone in turn, and the room falls silent for each individual's story.

    This is the reality of spoken word poetry, but it only scratches the surface of how spoken word poems are created.

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    An elegantly interlocking biography of Dora Wordsworth and Sara Coleridge shows us that greatness casts a long shadow

    They might have believed that children should run "wild and free", but William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge both weighed heavily on the lives of their eldest daughters. Katie Waldegrave's elegantly interlocking biography of the two women lifelong friends, raised closely together sensitively highlights the frustrations and pain of their supposedly rarefied upbringing. Coleridge abandoned his family when Sara was a child, and his absence as powerful as his occasional presences, while Wordsworth's expectation that Dora would mimic Milton's daughters and devote herself to being his amanuensis tightly constrained her future.

    Both women managed to write their own books and Sara became editor of her father's work, but Waldegrave's meticulous double portrait shows lives notably lacking in poetry. All around them, there is illness and death: stillbirths, lost children, suddenly fatal sore throats and "rheumatic fevers", depression and madness. Dora, possibly suffering from anorexia, became horribly emaciated, while Sara, obsessed with her menstrual cycles, followed her father into opium addiction, with all its bowel-related indignities. These trials might not be unique to them, but the book's emphasis on physical debility underlines the feeling that greatness casts a dark, destructive shadow.

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    by Michael Longley

    This is our first birthday without you,
    My twin, July the twenty-seventh.
    Where are you now? I'm looking out for you.
    Have you been skinny-dipping at Allaran
    Where the jellies won't sting, or in the lake
    Among the reeds and damsel flies, sandwort
    Stars at your feet, grass of parnassus in bud?
    This year the residential swans have cygnets,
    Four of them. They won't mind you splashing,
    Nor will the sandpipers eyeing Dooaghtry
    For a nesting place among the pebbles
    At the samphire line. Now you know the spot.
    Choughs flock high above their acrobatic
    Cliff face and call to you antiquated
    Expletives pshaw pshaw pshaw. Again and
    Again I mention the erratic boulder
    Because so much happens there, five hares
    In the morning, then a squiggle of stoats.
    I've boiled organic beetroots for supper.
    Will your pee be pink in heaven? Oh,
    The infinite gradations of sunset here.
    Thank you for visiting Carrigskeewaun.
    Don't twist your ankle in a rabbit hole.
    I'll carry the torch across the duach.

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    Glück's prose-poem combines meditation with anecdote as she remembers the moment of loss after finishing a novel

    The expansive, leisurely poems in the new collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night, by Louise Glück, are interspersed with one-paragraph prose-poems miniature parables often framed as personal anecdotes, like this week's choice, A Work of Fiction.

    "I was torn between a structure of oppositions/ and a narrative structure", Glück writes in the book's neighbouring poem, The Story of a Day. It's a moment that sets you thinking about the differences and similarities between poetic and fictional storytelling. Inspired by her "faithful and virtuous" knight the night Glück is a mistress of the master-narrative, the narrative-as-meditation, in which a single consciousness connects disparate experiences. In this week's poem, the meditation-as-anecdote is not exactly a structure of oppositions, but one in which oppositions potently register: water and fire, real and fictional lives, the stars above and the tiny tobacco-star of a cigarette.

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