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

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    Listen to John Agard read his well known poem Half Caste and talk about how his Guyanan upbringing helped him become the writer he is today Continue reading...

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    The 19th-century American poets free-verse parable about a nonsensical war reminds us that conflict rouses desire as powerfully as love

    Stephen Cranes poems are distinctive. Typically, theyre short, free-verse parables in which moral dilemmas are played out by archetypal characters. This weeks poem, Once there came a man, is the fifth in Black Riders and Other Lines, the first of Cranes two collections. The poems in the book are untitled, and given Roman numerals, a device that adds to the biblical flavour. But if they are verses from a bible, its Stephen Cranes own revisionist bible of scepticism.

    When the collection appeared in 1895, critics were scathing. This work wasnt fit to be called poetry. The New York Tribune declared it trash, but Crane was apparently pleased the book was making a stir. His fine novel about the American civil war, The Red Badge of Courage, though not yet published, had been serialised at the end of 1894, and Crane must have been confident of his artistic powers and moral vision.

    Supposing that I should have the courage
    To let a red sword of virtue
    Plunge into my heart,
    Letting to the weeds of the ground
    My sinful blood,
    What can you offer me?
    A gardened castle?
    A flowery kingdom?
    What? A hope?
    Then hence with your red sword of virtue.

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    Brangwyn Hall, Swansea
    Singers and orchestra rose well to the challenge of the composers work, more secular oratorio than song cycle

    John Corigliano felt an immediate affinity with the poetry of Dylan Thomas when first encountering it as a 21-year-old in 1959, six years after Thomass death in the composers native New York. Forty years in gestation, A Dylan Thomas Trilogy was completed in 1999, but this performance, in Thomass native Swansea for the centenary of his birth, surely marked a significant personal landmark for Corigliano.

    Having already set Thomass Fern Hill, then Poem on his Birthday, Corigliano chose Poem in October, to balance his reflection on the three ages of man. But, given the length and emotional landscape of these poems, the work is less an orchestral song cycle than a secular oratorio conceived on a Mahlerian scale. The combined resonance of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the BBCNOW Chorus, in the splendid Brangwyn Hall acoustic, made an undeniably strong impact, with conductor Grant Llewellyn handling the vast span with instinctive sympathy.

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    Chast is first cartoonist ever to make it onto the adult nonfiction prize, while fiction shortlist stacked with newcomers

    Comment: Doerr should win, but Robinson will

    For the first time in the National Book Awards 65-year history, a cartoonist is being honored in an adult category as a finalist.

    The National Book Foundation on Wednesday announced that Roz Chast, a staff cartoonist at the New Yorker, is among the five nonfiction finalists to make the cut less than a month after the longlists were released for the awards four categories: fiction, non-fiction, poetry and young peoples literature.

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    Think of Dylan Thomas and you think of Milk Wood and the endless green of Carmarthenshire. But was he as much a London writer as a Welsh one? Fellow Fitzrovian Griff Rhys Jones raises a glass to the poets bohemian drinking days

    A couple of years ago, I was sitting with Hannah Ellis in my office, which also happens to be my house. This is in a corner of northern Fitzrovia, just south of the Euston Road and a little west of the Tottenham Court Road. The customary, if slightly incredible, quiet had settled on the largely empty square outside the window. We were talking about Hannahs grandfather: Dylan Thomas. The centenary of his birth was then still two years away. I had undertaken to produce a drama for BBC2 to coincide with this, about his death at the shockingly early age of 39.

    We had already had the outlines of a script from Andrew Davies. Now we needed Hannahs assent. This was sensitive material. Dylan died in the throes of a last deadly wrestle with the distractions of New York. The city, any city, always seemed to be a dangerous embrace: an escape, a whirlwind, a place for excess. Would Hannah allow us to portray the story of the 18 straight whiskeys he allegedly sank before his collapse; the struggles with her grandmother, Caitlin; the parties and the dirty limericks and the womanising? She did.

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    Composer Sally Beamish has turned one of Andrew Motions war poems into a new oratorio. The former poet laureate explains their tribute to the damaged living

    One of the best things about my laureate decade was the chance to collaborate with Peter Maxwell Davis, who was then Master of the Queens Music. We did a few things for events in the royal calendar, and a couple of larger and independent commissions as well: he set the five sonnets I wrote about Harry Patch, drawing on his own childhood war memories, and I wrote six more sonnets to drop between the movements of his String Quartet No 7, which is a meditation on the architect Francesco Borromini.

    Id had other things set before, by Tarik ORegan and Jocelyn Pook among others, and enjoyed the experience very much. But the collaborations with Max, being larger in scale, made me think harder about what was involved. They made me reflect, for instance, on the various ways music can slow down words and make them hover in the mind, so the listener can concentrate on them more completely than might otherwise be possible.

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    This jaunty collection of light verse is also a conspicuous formal accomplishment

    In "Blemish", Kit Wright quotes 19th-century visitors who came to Tintern Abbey with preoccupations rather different from Wordsworth:

    "To them the mise en scene was not quite perfect, /For beggars buggered up the picturesque, / And the rhapsodising walkers/ Felt the peasants and their porkers / Were regrettably less gothic than grotesque."

    "Blithely in a post-chaise / We'd go lilting on our way, / All sorrow and all guilt would be undone / And with a pretty woman / My companion for the day, / Felicity would light me like the sun!"

    "You're much too much / And far too very-very / To ever be / In Webster's Dictionary."

    "In the Adam Ward of West Hammersmith Hospital, / Hoping I hadn't contracted the pox, / With six Hell's Angels I sat in the waiting room, / Rowdy and nervous, our minds on our cocks."

    "the white-robed cricketers / Had made their way down into the valley / To do their dance of stillness, / To do their courtly dance of almost stillness, / Dancing upon their graves before they died."

    "Widely regarded / As Mynton Parish Church's / Most talented sideman / Of the post-war period, / Eric Arthur Upton / Has handed in his plate. / Sombre and scrotal now / Hangs his collection bag, / Dark in the Vestry / In abandoned state."

    "The poisoned heart of this hotel, / So shrewd and dark and small, / I knew particularly well / For I co-wrote them all: / The crisis in the corridor, / The body on the store-room floor, / The outrage in the hall."

    "I sing a saint of Portugal, / Her name is Saint Uncumber, / And heaven does not hold a more / Resourceful little number."

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    by Pascale Petit

    In the late afternoon he begins his toilette
    he has limestone pyjamas threaded with fossils,
    a nightshirt of catacombs through which his dreams drip.
    He has a dressing gown woven with petrol fumes, between
    its folds
    echo car-horns and the murmur of tourists.
    He tries on the long rail of awakening suits.
    He dresses from the quarries that built Paris.
    He wears a cathedral cloak with chimera eyes.
    His raincoat is stuccoed with sprouting gargoyles.
    He has trousers that are stained-glass windows,
    casting shadows like candied fruit as he walks.
    His cravat is a knotted métro train,
    one tie is an escalator, another a fountain
    with Saint-Michel fighting Satan.
    A carousel turns silently between his knees
    and in it a boy is singing on a lacquered foal.
    He has a shirt of hotel fronts
    and a waistcoat of bridges under which bateaux mouches glide.
    He emerges from the trapdoors of nightclubs
    in a wedding suit of pavements that steam in the sun
    and in it he marries the dawn.
    He has a jacket made of wind-blown newspapers
    and a cocktail suit of cigarette smoke
    with balconies for pockets. Sometimes
    he wears a suit of ash that scatters when he moves.

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    The acclaimed conceptual artist on Hampstead Ponds, Mexican sculptures and the connection between raspberries and art

    French artist Laure Prouvost moved to London aged 18. After graduating from Central St Martins in 2002, she worked as an artists assistant to John Latham before studying at Goldsmiths College. Her work often comprises films and installations and in 2013 she won the Turner prize for her video installation Wantee, about her grandfather, a conceptual artist who may or may not be fictional. Her work can currently be seen in two group shows: Mirrorcity at the Hayward gallery, London SE1 and The Influence of Furniture on Love at the Wysing Arts Centre in Cambridgeshire.

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    The British poet tells the tale of a Russian-Jewish immigrant sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of an unpopular landlord in 1911

    Kit Wrights work is a bracing reminder that rhythm is a limitless resource of language, and that poetry need not sacrifice verbal subtleties to raise its voice in song. Speakable and readable, his new collection ranges from the manic mock heroics of the title poem, Ode to Didcot Power Station, to the descriptive intimacies of the sequence Talking to the Weeds. Not by any means a routinely formal poet, Wright typically invents his own brand of rhythmic repetition, drawing out chimes and patterns as a source of comic intensification. This weeks poem, Lament for Stinie Morrison, is tragedy rather than comedy, deploying a semi-cumulative form, faintly reminiscent of The House that Jack Built, to build up a blaze of outrage and regret.

    Stinie (sometimes Steinie) Morrison, originally Alexander Petropavloff, was a Russian-Jewish, East End immigrant and a convicted burglar. In 1911 he was found guilty, on thinly circumstantial evidence, of the murder of an unpopular local landlord, Leon Beron. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by Winston Churchill, the home secretary, and he died in Parkhurst prison in 1921 from the effects of a repeated hunger strike, having long given up hope of a retrial.

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    Rhyming Minervas Owl with Simon Cowell, 15 poets have fun hauling Byrons hero into the modern age

    Lord Byrons original poem stops abruptly in its 17th canto, after enough words to fill a fat novel, before his death in 1824. A couple of years ago, I read a modern continuation, and it worked very well: you could see how Byrons structure, the beat of his rhymes and rhythms, obliged the modern poet to think like him, become possessed by him. Because the Byron of Don Juan is so likable, as is the Don Juan of Don Juan, this isnt a bad thing.

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    The founders of the Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form are seeking a limerick for each meaning of every word in the English language by 2043. Have long have you got?

    Thanks to Neil Gaiman for pointing me towards this site, where I have whiled away much of the morning. Well, how could I not? Its the OEDILF (the Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form), and its currently looking for submissions on words beginning with the letters Aa- through Fo.

    Our goal is to write at least one limerick for each meaning of each and every word in the English language, say its founders. Our best limericks will clearly define their words in a humorous or interesting way, although some may provide more entertainment than definition, or vice versa.

    Here we have a concise demonstration
    Of unnecessary versification,
    Just written to mock
    This project: its floc-
    cinaucinihilipilification.

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    Bookies favourite Tempest has awards for her poetry but with hip-hop album Everybody Down she has moved towards the mainstream and the Mercury judges love a female MC

    Mercury nominees 2014: Jungle
    Mercury nominees 2014: GoGo Penguin
    Mercury nominees 2014: FKA twigs
    Mercury nominees 2014: East India Youth

    Who? Kate Esther Tempest is the Next Generation poet, playwright, social activist and rapper from south London whose observations cover class and relationships with warmth, sincerity, fragility and humour. She started out as a rapper and a spoken-word poet, shes lived in squats, studied music at the Brit school, created Everything Speaks in its Own Way, a collection of poems published on her own imprint Zingaro, The Glasshouse, a forum theatre play for Cardboard Citizens, the plays Wasted and Hopelessly Devoted and the award-winning poem Brand New Ancients. Her debut album proper, Everybody Down, tells the story of three individuals grappling with loneliness in the city, with each song representing a new chapter in their lives. The characters featured in this album, and her previous works, are being made into a novel due to be published next year.

    The album: Everybody Down

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    In this second volume of A David Moodys biography, the controversial poet, creator of The Cantos, is preoccupied by music and Mussolini

    Theres a gut-wrenching moment about 100 pages into this latest instalment of David Moodys three-volume biography of Ezra Pound. It is January 1928, and the long-established literary magazine the Dial has just awarded Pound a prize, describing him as one of the most valuable forces in contemporary literature. Cause for congratulations, perhaps? Not a bit of it. A renaissance, Pound announced in 1915, is a thing made by conscious propaganda. But the writers who benefited most from the renaissance his propaganda had made (Eliot, Joyce, Wyndham Lewis) were no longer in the mood to admit that they couldnt have done it without him. All Eliot could manage, in 1928, was the confession that he found himself seldom interested, these days, in what his old friend and colleague was saying, only in the way he says it. Lewis, the most wildly inventive member of the original gang, and among the neediest, had got into the habit of damning to rather different effect. Pound, he declared, had become an intellectual eunuch. Joyce, meanwhile, was minding his own business, as usual. Moody seems surprised by this negativity. His prose lapses, most uncharacteristically, into cliche, as he ponders the blackness of the ingratitude. The problem he seems unwilling to address is that by 1928, Pound, unlike the others, had little to show for all the propaganda.

    The despondency soon lifts. This is a critical biography, and its great strength lies in its conviction that the attitudes and activities of the man are primarily of interest insofar as they illuminate the poems he wrote. Not that there was any shortage of attitudes and activities during the decades covered by the current volume. Pound moved twice, with his wife Dorothy somewhat intermittently in tow: from London (the place lacking in interest, / last squalor, utter decrepitude etc) to Paris, in 1921; and then from Paris (ditto, but with less fog and mud) to Rapallo, on the Ligurian coast, in 1924. Shortly after, two children arrived: a biological daughter, Maria, by his lover, the violinist Olga Rudge, and a legal son, Omar (Dorothys, by another man). Moodys account of the man who had these experiences focuses on the two preoccupations that, in his view, did most to shape the work: music and Mussolini.

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    Ruth Padels exploration of religious understanding, Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth, and Kevin Powers Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting, drawing on his Iraq war service, among the 10-strong shortlist

    From Ruth Padels venture to the Middle East to Kevin Powers glimpse into the life of a soldier in Iraq, the shortlist for the prestigious TS Eliot prize for poetry spans continents to reflect musicality, mastery and ambition.

    This morning, the Poetry Book Society announced that Padels Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth, in which the award-winning British poet looks at the common ground shared between Christianity, Judaism and Islam, finding that Making is our defence against the dark, had been shortlisted for the prize alongside Iraq veteran Powers debut collection Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting. I tell her, writes Powers, how Pvt. Bartle says, offhand/ That war is just us/ Making little pieces of metal/ Pass through each other.

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  • 10/23/14--07:10: Frank Miller obituary
  • Frank Miller, who has died aged 86, was a well-known poet and jazz musician in New York, although wider public recognition evaded him. Whereas his contemporaries and, in some cases, his friends, such as the comedian Lenny Bruce, gained large followings, Frank remained in the shadows.

    His parents, William and Louise, divorced when Frank was 10. He learned to play the piano and trumpet at Bermudian Springs high school in York Springs, Pennsylvania. In the early 1950s he moved to New York, where he found work playing jazz and mixing with the artists and writers that were emerging as a new voice. Frank gradually became part of the beat generation and began to write freeform lyrics that he performed over his own improvisations.

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    It was a Christmas in South Carolina that reawakened the musician and Radio 6 DJs love for Thomas and inspired her to mark his centenary with her most ambitious project yet

    Dylan Thomas, whose centenary we will celebrate on Monday, was the most musical of poets. His work is so full of rhythm and melody that one of lifes great pleasures is to read him aloud, feeling those syllables roll around your mouth while the rhythms find their ebb and flow. It is no surprise that his poetry has exerted a special appeal to composers. It was his childhood friend Daniel Jones a fellow Kardomah boy with whom Dylan would talk Einstein and Epstein, Stravinsky and Greta Garbo, death and religion, Picasso and girls who provided music for the songs in Under Milk Wood as well as dedicating his Fourth Symphony to Dylans memory. Stravinsky himself set Do not go gentle into that good night. Later, jazz maestro Stan Tracey, composers John Corigliano, Mark Anthony Turnage and many others would be inspired by his work.

    I was brought up in Swansea. Our house enjoyed almost the same view over the crescent of Swansea Bay as had Dylans childhood home in Cwmdonkin Drive. I knew about Dylan and I read his work. But the idea that I should set his work to music didnt come until about 10 years ago, when I was living far from Swansea, in South Carolina.

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    Despite a lifetime of chaos and alcoholism, John Berrymans poetry is brilliantly funny. Sam Leith toasts his pal, whose work he has adored since he was a teenager

    The great American poet John Berryman would have been 100 today, had he lived. One of the things most people know about him is that he did not. He killed himself at 57 after a lifetime of chaos, alcoholism, mental illness and extremely hard work.

    During his lifetime he was competitive. One of his late collections was called Love & Fame, and he was very interested in both. When Robert Frost died in 1963, Berrymans reaction was: Its scarey [sic]. Whos number one? Whos number one? Cal is number one, isnt he? Cal was Robert Lowell.

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    One-time highest-paid female actor in the world has announced shes swapping front of screen work for a stint pursuing other creative endeavours such as directing and poetry

    Kristen Stewart, the Twilight star who just two years ago was named the highest-paid female actor in the world by Forbes magazine, has announced she is to take a break from acting.

    Speaking to USA Today, Stewart said she would take time off to pursue other creative endeavours after starring in 10 films in the past four years.

    Im taking some time off because Ive been working for two years, she said. Im an actor and thats my art form, and because I started so young, Ive always felt intimidated and insufficient when I think about other forms of art I want to create. Im going to take so much time off.

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    On St Crispins day, historically a day of battles, we look back at some of the literary canons most vivid depictions of the heroes and hell of combat

    Today is St Crispins day and, as such, the anniversary of two battles Agincourt and Balaclava that took place on 25 October and in a further coincidence resulted in arguably the two most famous examples of martial writing in literature: Henrys we happy few speech on St Crispins eve in Henry V, and Tennysons The Charge of the Light Brigade. Other depictions of battle run them close, however

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