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

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    As National Poetry Day encourages Britain to embrace verse in everyday life, its favourite lines are revealed to be handed down through generations

    A poll of the nations most beloved childrens poems reveals that the three most popular verses are each over 100 years old. The Owl and the Pussycat was voted number one, with Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star coming second and Humpty Dumpty third.

    Edward Lears poem narrating the love story of The Owl and the Pussycat was written in 1871 and is held to be the most popular by both the youngest and oldest age categories in the poll, highlighting how classic British poems continue to be passed down and cherished among successive generations.

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  • 10/02/14--00:00: Why poetry belongs to us all
  • On Poetry Day, Sarah Crossan argues that poetry is everywhere. And it is ours. So sing and share your songs and dont be afraid to snatch poetry back into your life and use it!

    Read the first chapter of Sarah Crossans new novel Apple and Rain

    The first thing that happens when I offer someone a copy of my debut novel, The Weight of Water, is that I get a little smile. This has nothing to do with me or my writing, of course, but with my novels cover a gorgeous Oliver Jeffers illustration and a quote from the legendary Cathy Cassidy. Inevitably the book gets swiped from my hands with words along the lines of Thank you! Ill start it straight away.

    But I wait.

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    Today is National Poetry day. Former education minister Michael Gove previously insisted that children learn poetry off by heart, while others insist this can ruin the experience. Do you know a poem off by heart? Without Googling, share them with us. Continue reading...

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    Find out who won the Foyle Young Poets poetry competition, created just for children and read the 15 winning poems here! Congratulations to all the winners who are reading their poems in London at a celebration introduced by Julia Donaldson on Poetry Day Continue reading...

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    To mark National Poetry Day, share your nursery rhyme-free alternatives to the recent top 10 ranking of childrens poems

    The Owl and the Pussycat voted most popular childhood poem

    Can it really be true? The nation AKA 2,000 people polled for Waitrose has put Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Humpty Flipping Dumpty ahead of Jabberwocky in a vote for the UKs favourite childrens poem. Seriously, world? Or more accurately: seriously, 2,000 people?

    The top 10 is a bemusing mishmash of nursery rhymes and actual poems, thankfully topped by Edward Lear and his elegant fowl, and also featuring Wordsworth because many a child, Im sure, is a fan of I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.

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    Its National Poetry Day, and weve been celebrating by collecting videos you filmed while reciting poems you know by heart from Oscar Wilde to William Blake via a lot of Shakespeare. Here are some of our favourites

    Like these? Share your own via GuardianWitness

    National Poetry Day is here, and with it a celebration of the fine tradition of learning poems by heart. With this years event centring on the theme remember, the Forward Arts Foundation have been encouraging everyone to share the poem they carry in their head. In parallel, Cambridge University is launching a survey, called The Poetry and Memory project, to find out which poems are most deeply engraved in our collective memory, and how they are remembered.

    Are you any good at remembering poems? Is there a poem which has stuck from your time at school? What are the poems you remember, and why? Let us know in the comment thread below or, even better, follow the lead of the dozens of readers whove already sent us their poems. Here is a selection of our favourites so far. You can also join in the campaign on social media under the hashtag #thinkofapoem.

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    Collection features works from writers such as Roddy Doyle, Colm Tóibín and John Banville inspired by paintings on display at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin

    A poem Seamus Heaney finished 10 days before he died sees the Nobel laureate exploring the quiet beauty of a canal painted by the French artist Gustave Caillebotte, where time is slowed to a walking pace, and world stands still.

    Banks of a Canal will be published as part of a collection of essays, stories and poems by Irish writers inspired by paintings from the National Gallery of Ireland to celebrate the gallerys 150th anniversary. The poem is, typically for Heaney, rooted in the landscape. Say canal and theres that final vowel/ Towing silence with it, slowing time/ To a walking pace, a path, a whitewashed gleam/ Of dwellings at the skyline./ World stands still, writes Heaney, who died in August 2013, aged 74. I know that clay, the damp and dirt of it, the author of Digging writes, the grassy zest/ Of verges, the path not narrow but still straight/ Where soul could mind itself or stray beyond.

    Say canal and theres that final vowel

    Towing silence with it, slowing time

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  • 10/03/14--05:41: Poster poems: forgetting
  • National Poetry Day asked us to remember. Heres your chance to consider the other side of the coin, with your poems on the everyday phenomenon of obliteration

    Thursday was National Poetry Day, with this years theme being memory or at least I think it was. I seem to remember weve already covered memory on Poster poems, but before that slips entirely from our minds perhaps we should consider the other side of the coin.

    Forgetfulness can be sweet or bitter, sought after and welcomed or unwanted and fought against, depending on your circumstances. One way or the other, forgetting tends to be a process rather than an event, gradual and not sudden. Weve all had the experience of picking up a favourite book that we havent read for years and being unable to remember anything beyond the vague outlines of plot and character and a couple of vivid phrases. This everyday phenomenon serves as starting point for Billy Collinss poem Forgetfulness, an exploration of that slow descent into memory loss we call life.

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    The playwright used to feel baffled in the face of poetry. All the more reason to compile an anthology of popular poets, from Hardy to Larkin

    When I was young, I used to feel that literature was a club of which I would never be a proper member as a reader, let alone a writer. It wasn't that I didn't read books, or even the "right" books, but I always felt that the ones I read couldn't be literature, if only because I had read them. It was the books I couldn't get into (and these included most poetry) that constituted literature or, rather, Literature.

    After a lifetime, these feelings of impotence and exclusion are still fresh in my mind. I have only to hear someone extolling the charms of Byron, say, or Coleridge, neither of whom I've ever managed to read, to be reminded of how baffled one can feel in the face of books.

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  • 10/04/14--00:25: On Clapton Pond at dawn
  • by Kate Tempest

    The pond was calm
    the sky was new
    your voice was soft your lies were true.
    You were me and I was you
    and I was going blind with you.

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    She is a Next Generation poet, has been Mercury-nominated for her music and called the laureate of south-east London for her plays. Kate Tempest talks about going down a storm

    The Saturday Poem: On Clapton Pond at dawn

    The two primary voices that emerge from Kate Tempest's new collection of poetry, Hold Your Own, belong to Tempest herself and to Tiresias, the mysterious prophet of Greek myth, a figure who was both blind and sighted, a man and a woman, and who straddled the divide between this world and the underworld. "I read Sophocles in my mid-to-late teens and Tiresias got dragged on at the end to tell people stuff they didn't really want to hear," explains Tempest. "He was never really explained. He just sort of occurred as this blind prophet being led on by a child, and he's been on my mind ever since. When I was thinking about this collection I realised it could hold all the things I wanted to write about, but at the same time it could tell the story of this man who has lived all these different lives, and had to deal with them in order to be the person he becomes which is how everyone has to live, right?"

    Tempest, 28, does indeed cross boundaries as a rapper, poet, musician, social activist, dramatist and novelist. The many worlds in which she operates became clear last month when she was nominated for the 2014 Mercury music prize alongside the likes of Damon Albarn for her album Everybody Down, and was then named a Next Generation poet, following in the footsteps of Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage. "The press room at the Mercury awards was like an intricately constructed satire as to what it might be like to be in the press room at the Mercury awards," she laughs, a few days after the event. "As a music fan since I was pretty young I knew all about it. But I knew very little about the Next Generation poets until I was told I was on the list. In hindsight I can say that, at some level, it was a dream I couldn't quite bear to acknowledge. But it was not something I had consciously aspired to, and, until I got the call from Don, I didn't imagine I would ever be published as a poet."

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    This elegant poem by the late Irish-American writer showcases his talent for free-range anecdote, smart satire and humour

    Michael Donaghys Collected Poems, reissued by Picador, reminds us that the writer was more than one kind of poet. His poetry is often noted for its formal craftsmanship, but Donaghy could also be considered a verse-raconteur, a master of the apparently casual, free-range anecdote. This weeks poem, The Natural and Social Sciences, has a conversational brevity and slant reminiscent of early Paul Muldoon. Its an elegant example of Donaghys work in the oral tradition that is also painfully funny.

    In separate but thematically connected anecdotes, the speaker visits three Irish locations. Straidkilly, Tubbercurry and Gweedore are in counties Antrim, Sligo and Donegal, respectively real places, with real names. To the outsider, the place names might sound parodic or cod Irish like Dylan Thomass Llareggub, the fictional Welsh fishing village of Under Milk Wood. One suspects that Donaghy, a tactful satirist, was challenging his readers ability to distinguish reality from stereotype.

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    Three days before the winner is announced, novelist shares odds of 4/1 with Kenyan writer Ngg wa Thiongo, while Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich is third favourite at 7/1

    With just three days to go before the 2014 Nobel prize for literature is awarded, Haruki Murakami and the Kenyan writer Ngg wa Thiongo are joint favourites to win the literary worlds greatest honour.

    The Swedish Academy announced this morning that the winner of the literature Nobel would be revealed on Thursday 9 October at 1pm CET (noon BST). Ladbrokes, which has frequently seen the eventual victor surge to the top of its odds in the days before the announcement, said today that Ngg and Murakami were, at 4/1, joint favourites to win Thursdays eight million kronor (£693,000) prize.

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    A dinner-party encounter with a homeopathy fan was the spark for my rationalist anthem, now a YouTube hit and a graphic novel thanks to Storm the Animated Movie

    My 2006 solo show, So Rock, included a very short song with a very long title: If You Open Your Mind Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out (Take My Wife), a 90-second long refutation of the plausibility of astrology, psychics, homeopathy and an interventionist God. I found the titular quote in Francis Wheens How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World, and, inspired by James Randis Million Dollar Challenge, which offers a prize pot to anyone who can satisfactorily demonstrate paranormal ability, structured the song as a bet.

    People seemed to like that song, and I loved playing it, but I was aware that it was merely an assertion, not an argument. So in 2008, I set out to expand the ideas in Take My Wife into a piece that justified itself a bit more. I had said a lot about religion already, so I was keen to address some of the non-evidence-based claims outside religion. I wrote in my Ideas document: a poem/rant about the crazy/harmful shit people believe. Alt Med, psychics etc. And that was that, for a bit.

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    Dannie Abse was a steady supporter of other Welsh writers; he was, in a sense, our cultural attache in what Dylan Thomas called the "capital punishment" London. Dannie and his wife, Joan, often stayed at their home in Ogmore-by-Sea, Vale of Glamorgan, and generously allowed Poetry Wales Press, later Seren Books, to set up office at the place. Dannie was president of the Welsh Academy of Writers. Through his work and right up to the final collection Speak, Old Parrot (2013), Dannie drew on his boyhood in Cardiff, the landscape of Wales and especially his fascination with the ribald medieval Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym.

    He was a life-long supporter of Cardiff City FC, though his early claim to have played for them at Ninian Park was later clarified: Shrewsbury Town had turned up a player short and Dannie had swapped sides. It was not in a Bluebirds shirt that he broke his leg in that match and ended his career.

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    Elijah Wood stars in Andy Goddard's movie as John Brinnin, an aspiring poet who oversees Dylan Thomas's first tour to America in 1950. Celyn Jones plays Thomas, with support from Shirley Henderson and Kelly Reilly - as well a soundtrack by Gruff Rhys

    Set Fire to the Stars opens in the UK on 7 November Continue reading...

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    The Forward prize-winning collection mingles grammatically correct English with patois to emphasise the different ways in which a place can be known

    Kei Miller's superb Forward prize-winning collection puts two different types of knowledge represented by the figures of the western cartographer and the Jamaican rastaman in conversation with each other. Where the cartographer assumes that he can approach his work without bias, the rastaman expounds the inextricability of Jamaican history, place and people, an argument that the cartographer eventually concedes. The struggle is also one between the world as it exists in the form of the corrupt and corrupted Babylon, and the idea of a fairer, kinder place in Zion.

    While not minimising the racial aspects of this division, Miller's structuring of the book, and allowance for the cartographer's growth, puts broader issues before relations between races or nations. The link between knowledge and language, native land and native tongue, emerges in the interchange of the cartographer's grammatically correct English and the rastaman's mix of Rastafarianism and patois, with some of the book's most potent passages mingling languages, as in the sixth of the title poem's 28 sections:

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    by Liz Berry

    At Nanny's I ate brains for tea,
    mashed with hard-boiled egg,
    or trotters, groaty pudding,
    faggots minced with kidney and suet.


    Right bostin fittle, Nanny said.
    She knew hunger, knew how
    to press a blade sure and firm
    on the pig's fat ribs, clack the neck

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    The death of the author, poet and activist who became a distinctive post-apartheid voice is a devastating cultural blow

    Not long after the death of Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, South Africa has lost another literary icon. Poet, novelist, editor, storyteller and cultural activist, Christopher van Wyk, who lost his battle against cancer on 3 October 2014, was one of South Africas most endearing literary figures. While he never achieved the international fame or the literary accolades of his more celebrated compatriot, Van Wyk can perhaps claim to be more widely read within black South African communities, especially among children and teenagers.

    Born in 1957 in Riverlea, the coloured township adjacent to Soweto, in the west of Johannesburg, Van Wyk shot to fame through his widely anthologised poem In Detention, which satirised the strange reasons given by the apartheid establishment for the deaths of political prisoners in John Vorster Square, the notorious security police headquarters in Johannesburg.

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  • 10/12/14--10:06: John Moat obituary
  • Poet who co-founded the creative-writing venture Arvon

    A chance meeting in a Berkshire pub in 1963 between two young poets, John Fairfax and John Moat, began a friendship that was to lead, with the support of Ted Hughes and of Moat's wife Antoinette, to the founding of the Arvon Foundation. Its motto, "The fire in the flint shows not till it be struck", perfectly exemplifies the pair's basic assumption that every individual is capable of imaginative self-expression.

    Thousands have since attended Arvon's writing courses with experienced writers in the countryside and been inspired, not by the promise of outer success, but by a space in which to flicker safely. Exhaustion, pain and disappointment are part of the mix: writing is life.

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