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

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    Influenced by Baudelaire and Rimbaud, the late poet made her name in the 60s then disappeared from the world of literature thankfully, her poems are back

    The photograph of Rosemary Tonks on the cover of this book was taken by the Observers Jane Bown in the 1960s. Tonks sits in a Soho cafe wearing tweed trousers, with a mannish beauty and a determination about her stance that extends to the set of her jaw. What is most interesting is the strength of her presence, because what she would become famous for is absence. After making her name between 1963 and 1974 her work celebrated by Cyril Connolly, Al Alvarez and Philip Larkin she went missing in the 70s. In a 2009 Radio 4 documentary, Brian Patten speculated about her whereabouts in vain. And now, as one looks twice at the photo, it does seem as if she might be on the point of standing up and leaving the cafe for good.

    Forty years after her disappearance, this fascinating collection of her work returns her to us, and editor Neil Astley tells how 10 years ago he went in search of her (tipped off, one assumes, by her family, who knew where she was). Hers is an extraordinary, disturbing and melancholy tale. She broke with poetry as you might turn your back on a destructive love affair. She became a socially challenged Christian based in Bournemouth and changed her name to Mrs Rosemary Lightband. A hopeful name for a life that sounds more embattled than breezy. She died in April this year, aged 85. It is Astleys contention that she probably had a borderline personality disorder. He describes a shocking bonfire in which she burned priceless family heirlooms because she saw them as idolatrous a loss of oriental treasures to make Sothebys weep. Meanwhile the Bible had become the one book she would countenance. She would not have agreed to the publication of her collected poems, yet the delicate decision to overrule her is something Astley persuasively defends.

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    by Dylan Thomas

    Should lanterns shine, the holy face,
    Caught in an octagon of unaccustomed light,
    Would wither up, and any boy of love
    Look twice before he fell from grace.
    The features in their private dark
    Are formed of flesh, but let the false day come
    And from her lips the added pigments fall,
    The mummy cloths expose an ancient breast.

    I have been taught to reason by the heart,
    But heart, like head, leads helplessly;
    I have been told to reason by the pulse,
    And, when it quickens, alter the actions pace
    Till field and roof lie level and the same
    So fast I move defying time, the quiet gentleman
    Whose beard wags in Egyptian wind.

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    A poem that first appeared in 1967 explores the thirst of desire, necessary as wine, water and gin-fizz

    Rosemary Tonkss two collections of poetry excited many young English readers in the 1960s. So sassy, fresh, sexy and French, we thought and wanted more. But there were to be no more poems after the publication of Iliad of Broken Sentences (1967), the collection in which this weeks poem, Hydromaniac, first appeared. Tonks, more prolific as fiction-writer than poet, published the last of her six novels in 1972. Then, in the spirit of her admired Rimbaud, though for different reasons, she stopped writing. Neil Astley, who has recently edited the two poetry collections for Bloodaxe under the title Bedouin of the London Evening: Collected Poems fills in the biography in fascinating detail here. Tonkss poetry seems influenced both by the symbolists and the situationists, and sometimes feels like an erotic extension of the dérive, in which sex is an aspect of urban geography. Hydromaniac is one of the rare poems that finds rest. In the beginning, the speaker marks the loved body as if she were a marble-smith. The body gains solidity from an image that also suggests Michelangelo, planning to release the angel from the block of marble. Subsequently, the body resembles the pleasure page in a daily newspaper. The stroking fingers, were reminded, are those of a writer and reader, a hungry consumer as well as a thirsty lover.

    Hydromaniac has roots in an everyday metaphor. Desire is thirst; its satisfaction is blissful, necessary refreshment. Tonkss figurative language flows with a demotic ease, mixing the colloquial and the metaphorical so they form a single register. I sniffed you to quench my thirst is plain enough, while effecting a synaesthesia continued in the transferred epithet of the soaking wet chords. The adjectives in the phrase huge, damp sheets of lightning inevitably suggest bed linen, luxuriantly king-sized and moist with body fluids, as well as the sheet-lightning before the storm. Metamorphosis continues: the overflow of the music could float a canoe. Tear in line 8 is a verb, but tear cold also looks like a compound adjective minus hyphen. Somehow this cleverness is entirely unfussy.

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    Michael Hofmann is an essayist, poet and translator of over 70 books. Join him on Thursday 30 October at 3pm GMT to ask anything you want to know about writing, translating and the power of Kafka...

    Michael Hofmann is the translator of the superb edition of Metamorphosis And Other Stories that weve been following this month and on Thursday 30 October he will join us for a live Q&A.

    Hofmann has also translated Kafkas Amerika and The Zurau Aphorisms: he is, in other words, extremely well placed to answer questions about the great writer. But fascinating as Kafka is, it would be a shame to limit ourselves to one writer in the company of such a distinguished translator: Michael Hofmann has translated some 70 books from German into English, including Hans Falladas Alone in Berlin, as well as books by Joseph Roth, Patrick Suskind, Thomas Bernhard, Wim Wenders and Peter Stamm.

    Why I write? With the example of my father before me as I was growing up, it was all I ever wanted, or felt fitted to do. In obedience to a genetic imperative - my father wrote 12 novels in 12 years and dropped dead, my (maternal) grandfather edited the Brockhaus Encyclopaedia. Out of allegiance to certain twentieth-century practitioners, in particular Lowell, Brodsky, Benn and Montale. To bring confusion to my languages, and clarity to myself.

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    Welsh wordsmith Dylan Thomas was born on October 27 1914. Celebrate the 100th birthday of the author of Under Milk Wood by testing your knowledge of his life and work

    Cerys Matthews on setting Thomas's poems to music
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    A party where you pay to have verse read to you in a bordello-style setting is packing in the punters. Are poetry and sex work really comparable?

    I am in the back room of the Backroom cocktail bar in New York, reclining on a fur-covered day bed. Next to me is a woman. She wears a leather corset and harem pants, like a gypsy girl from a fairytale. She is barefoot. In the dim candlelight, she asks what Im in the mood for something sexy? Something dark? I tell her what will please me, and she reads me a poem.

    She calls herself a poetry whore, and I have paid for her company. For the next 10 minutes or so, she will read me her verses, converse with me, entertain me. Between sheer curtains I can see several other transactions unfolding around us, hear stanzas and lines being murmured in close quarters. Now and then, the madam passes unobtrusively through, keeping an eye on her rent boys and girls.

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  • 10/31/14--06:26: Poster poems: clouds
  • As changeable on the page as in the skies above, theyve inspired countless poets now share your poetic experiments in cloud-spotting

    Living on the ocean-facing side of an island in the North Atlantic, you cant but be aware of the ever-changing skyscape. The clouds tend to dominate much of the days activity and mood, and even their names are evocative, mysterious and a touch poetic. Stratus, cumulus, cirrus: theyre like names of characters in some lost Greek drama.

    Probably the best-known cloud in English poetry is Wordsworths lonely wanderer. In a typical example of Wordsworthian anthropocentricism, the cloud is not really a cloud at all it exists as a stand-in for the poet, who imposes his own supposed loneliness on it. I say supposed because, as Dorothy Wordsworths diary makes clear, Wordsworth wasnt actually alone when he saw the famous daffodils. But perhaps he felt lonely in her company.

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    Prichard-Jones Hall, Bangor
    Daniel Joness Fourth Symphony, composed in memory of the poet, was the centrepiece for this evening of striking and sensitive responses to Thomass work

    In the week of Dylan Thomass centenary, Bangor Universitys School of Music has staged one of the most inventive celebrations: their series of concerts, My Friend Dylan Thomas, examined how composers across the musical spectrum have been inspired by the poets words. The question of what his intended collaboration with Stravinsky might have produced remains tantalising. But at the heart of Bangors commemoration was the work of Thomass best friend, the composer Daniel Jones, whose own genius may be seen as an inspiring element in the poets early development.

    Following his incidental music for Under Milk Wood, Jones wrote his Fourth Symphony in memory of Thomas. In this performance by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, both the rawness of grief and the essentially lyrical nature of his elegy emerged. Conductor Grant Llewellyn sustained the long span of the work from the opening Maestoso, where a slow lamenting tread periodically breaks into anguished outbursts, through the exuberant and capricious scherzo to the final return to the inescapable fact of death.

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    She may have been pipped to the Mercury prize, but her latest collection is a winner

    At the heart of Kate Tempests latest work is a captivating dichotomy. On the one hand, she is the soul of modernity: now 28, she began her professional career as a rapper at 16; became the youngest-ever winner of the Ted Hughes prize for innovation in poetry for her spoken story, Brand New Ancients, last year; was named by the Poetry Book Society as one of its 20 Next Generation poets in September; and, this week, was tipped to win the Mercury prize for her debut album, Everybody Down, in which she lays out the lives of three friends struggling with loneliness and insecurity in 21stcentury London, over the course of 12 densely plotted, dashingly articulate tracks. By the notoriously fusty standards of the poetry world, in which performance poetry can still be regarded as daringly outre, she is beyond modern; shes practically science fiction.

    Then, intriguingly, theres the other hand. When it comes to straight poetry (and this, her first full-length collection with Picador, is the straightest thing she has done by far: looking and sounding like a traditional slim volume; conforming unselfconsciously to time-honoured conventions of line length and layout), Tempests focus is firmly classical. She is fascinated by the deep past. Hold Your Own, like Brand New Ancients before it, takes for its subject the lives of the gods and monsters of Greek mythology not, perhaps, what you would expect from an urban former rapper who cites Roots Manuva and the Wu Tang Clan among her other key influences. What makes her work so irresistible, then, is her method of synthesis; the manner in which she brings her hands together. Her poems arent simply routine retellings of time-worn tales; rather, she picks up the fabulous, familiar characters, dusts them down and hauls them into the present. In Brand New Ancients, the gods were recast as two warring, intergenerational south London families; here, the update is more sophisticated and, if anything, more compelling.

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    Ian Galbraith wins the open category of the annual competition with his rendition of Quince Jelly by the Hamburg poet Jan Wagner

    It was Stephen Spender, translator of Schiller, Rilke and Cavafy, who said: When you read and understand a poem, comprehending its rich and formal meanings, then you master chaos a little. It is in Spenders memory that hundreds of people enter the annual competition that bears his name, organised in association with the Guardian, by translating a poem of their choice, a process that requires mastery of the original text and thus a little triumph over the chaos of modernity. Their translation can be from verse in any language, ancient or modern, along with a brief commentary on the translation process. The competition is open to UK and Irish nationals and residents. Prizes are offered in three categories: 14-and-under, 18-and-under and open.

    The three other judges (academic Susan Bassnett and poets WN Herbert and Stephen Romer) and I swiftly agreed on this years winner of the open category, Iain Galbraith, whose translation of Quince Jelly by the Hamburg poet Jan Wagner conveys Wagners sensuality, mastery of form and laser-eye for detail, while converting the whole into idiomatic English poetry. The aural delicacy and soft vowels of The Wind, from the medieval Welsh of Dafydd ap Gwilym, ensured second prize was awarded to Gwyneth Lewis, former national poet of Wales, while third prize went to Robert Hull, who skilfully captured the droll exasperation of Martial, a Spaniard writing Latin epigrams in imperial Rome.

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    by Thomas Lux

    was sung after the first stone was thrown at a beast,
    after a spear in a mans hand
    brought down a pile of meat.
    Of course we sang of that!
    We hardly had a language and we sang.
    We sang the stories, which turned into better stories,
    which is why stories are told
    and told again. Then, when we had more time
    and bellies full enough with food,
    we sang of love. But it began
    with stones and sharpened sticks,
    then sharpened sticks hardened
    in fire.

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    A collaboration between a British poet, an Italian architect and a Germany publisher demonstrates the pan-global power of ebooks

    In her introduction to Alessandro Bava and Harry Burkes City of God, recently published by Version House, Spanish writer Luna Miguel quotes young Mexican poet David Meza: Poetry is like throwing stones at the spaceship where God is. City of God is a collaboration between a British poet and an Italian architect, published by a German publisher, and Miguel takes the quote to mean that Poets have finally come to understand that it is not necessary to belong to the same nation, not the same continent, to know that binding links tie them The stone has been ripped from the ground. The stone has been thrown into space.

    Burke himself makes a similar point, about the desire to publish now in electronic form. One of the ideas I have, he writes, is that if we can make this strong project that people download into their iTunes or Play Books library, even if they dont necessarily read it very thoroughly straight away, they might be stuck at a train station or airport while travelling without Wi-Fi or 3G and so read it because its the only thing they seem to have on their iPad. The point is to stand out as a precursor to not just an emerging market but emerging habits, and find a place for things like poetry there.

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    This lyrical work by the Welsh poet is a fine elegy on the death of his close friend Dylan Thomas

    The poem cannot live until it has been willing to die, Vernon Watkins declared in The Second Pressure on Poetry (Unicorn, X, Spring 1963, reproduced in The Prose of Vernon Watkins). In this weeks poem, Three Harps, he expresses the related idea that the poet, too, must go through death-like mourning to find his muse, his own harp of bone.

    Three Harps first appeared in Cypress and Acacia (1959), Watkinss fifth collection and the first he published after the death of his friend, Dylan Thomas, in 1953. The trees symbolise opposites: the cypress symbolises mourning and the acacia symbolises life. The poem mentions yew, besides cypress, as tutelary, and alludes to the amber tears shed by the Heliades, Phaethons sisters who mourned their boy-racer brother so steadfastly they were turned into amber-weeping poplars. Three Harps is ultimately an elegy on the death of a brother-poet. In the centenary year of Thomass birth, there could not be a finer tribute.

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    An enigmatic list of 12 Browning poems scrawled by the Welsh poet on the back of an unsent envelope addressed to Osbert Sitwell has been discovered by a rare book dealers

    Its the back-of-an-envelope jotting of a mighty literary mind: a mysterious envelope on which Dylan Thomas has scrawled a list of poems by Robert Browning has come to light at a rare book dealers.

    Dated to after 1943, the envelope has been addressed by Thomas to Osbert Sitwell writer and brother of Edith but is unstamped, and was never sent. Instead, on the back, Thomas has written an enigmatic list of 12 Browning poems, and then set it aside. Today, it is scuffed, dirty, and has even been trodden on, said Adam Blakeney at Peter Harrington book dealers, who stumbled upon it in an auction.

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    The path to happiness is long and winding, says our former poet laureate, and it takes you through some very dark places

    In my sixth form at school we had weekly discussions about topics that were meant to sharpen our minds for life, and help to get us into a university: The bomb: a justifiable evil?; Explain RG Collingwoods philosophy of history (our teacher liked Collingwoods work); The pursuit of happiness. This last provoked the only conversation I can remember joining with any real confidence. My mother had recently suffered a serious accident and was dangerously ill in hospital; I had decided that life was an affair of random violence, and there wasnt much point in chasing happiness. Besides, Id started to write poems, and had already voted myself everlasting membership of what I later heard Hugo Williams call the sadness club. It seemed the only organisation in the world worth joining.

    Not that I was continuously miserable, but I was already convinced that happiness is much more likely to be something we find in the margins of whatever else we might be pursuing (love, adventure, money or reputation). It was it is an incidental thing, rather than a safe and secure destination.

    neither here nor there,

    A hurry through which known and strange things pass

    Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

    Ay, in the very temple of Delight

    Veild Melancholy has her sovran shrine,

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  • 11/06/14--05:08: Birds in literature quiz
  • In the week Helen Macdonald won the Samuel Johnson prize with her memoir, H is for Hawk, we take to the air with this quiz about our feathered friends in literature. But can you tell a hawk from a handsaw? Find out whether you're a turkey or a soaring success Continue reading...

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    The story of how the poet was lured to the States and set off down the road to ruin fails to engage

    This odd, undeveloped movie is about the minor American critic and poet John Malcolm Brinnin, who in the 1950s had the distinction of first bringing Dylan Thomas to the US for a campus reading tour, and so possibly setting the great poet on the road to a booze-soaked catastrophe. Thomas is the hard-drinking bohemian (no-one said alcoholic) and Brinnin and his pursed-lipped academics are the uptight folks about to get shaken up. Co-writer Celyn Jones plays Thomas and Elijah Wood is Brinnin, forever doing that tragic stricken-deer expression, as he watches Thomas about to launch into another self-destructive spree. He says things such as: We only have three days until Yale! We need to make sure youre ready! Its a good-looking film, shot expressively in black-and-white, but in some ways its like a sketch for a stage play. Both Brinnin and Thomas are curiously unestablished characters: we dont get to know or care much about either of them. The drama implies that, in some sacrificial sense, the melancholy wildman Thomas finally releases something emotional in Brinnin but what? There is an interesting double cameo from Kevin Eldon and Shirley Henderson as two upstate neighbours who come for dinner.

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    In a week full of remembrance of the first world war centenary, nominate music all about what we hope comes after the fighting

    What is it about human nature that, just as in the physical life cycles of cells dividing through binary fission, mitosis and meiosis people too inevitably divide, and in doing so, compete, and head into conflict? And, conversely, with those all too brief utopian moments in society when the eon hand meets the minute hand when peace breaks out it seems far more surprising, somehow, than the inexorable escalation of war?

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    Is this the biography that the brilliant gardener, once-popular author and masterly self-inventor deserves?

    Vita Sackville-West, who wanted terribly to be remembered as a poet, but is better known for her experimental domestic arrangements and her garden at Sissinghurst, was the subject of one of the most stylish and experimental biographies in English. In 1927, Virginia Woolf asked permission to write about the woman who was no longer her lover: Suppose Orlando turns out to be Vita Shall you mind? Of course Vita didnt mind (this was better than sex, though she wanted more of that than Woolf was offering). In any case, it would have been hard to stop Woolf once the idea had sprung upon her that in writing a fantastical life of Sackville-West as the embodiment of all her ancestors across 400 years, she could revolutionise biography in a night.

    The example set by that first book must be daunting for anyone thinking they might follow Woolfs lead. Matthew Dennison ignores the challenge, which is one way of dealing with it. As an established biographer who specialises in grand women the Empress Livia, Queen Victorias daughter Beatrice, and (just last year) Queen Victoria herself it is strange that he does not show more interest in the history of his chosen genre. Not that theres any need to write lives backwards or condensed into five minutes or stretched across centuries, but is Dennison really content to say that winter gave way to spring and March faded into April when Woolfs game-changing skits prodded the conventions for conveying that time passes? Woolfs fun with clouds has not successfully curbed the number of looming shadows in this book (or unlooming shadows. Take this bizarre sentence: The war alone clouded the horizon).

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    A timely retrospective for a soaring talent of modern British verse

    How did it get so late? wonders Simon Armitage in Paper Aeroplane, his new selected poems. Its a fair question. The recent fanfare of the Next Generation Poets 2014, a promotion touting fresh voices set to dominate British verse, has coincided with Armitage, once poetrys poster boy for the original New Generation Poets 1994, releasing this hefty retrospective. Twenty-five years have passed since he stunned the poetry world with his debut Zoom! (1989), his voice distinctive, his energetic style fully formed. Since then there have been: 10 book-length collections, a host of novels, plays, translations and memoirs, not to mention a clutch of TV and radio programmes. What surprises is how urgent and contemporary those early poems still read.

    Heard the one about the guy from Heaton Mersey? hollers Snow Joke, the opener from Zoom!. From the outset, Armitages combination of coined phrases, cliche and zippy vernacular with a sharp adherence to meter, rhyme and form, worked to winsome effect, skimming across the living language with unmatched exuberance. Titles like It Aint What You Do Its What It Does to You fizz next to frank opening lines: Harold Garfinkel can go fuck himself is a gunslingers free assessment of one leading sociologist. Here is a young poet as capable of ventriloquising the confessions of drug dealers in The Stuff as of figuring poetry itself, in the much-imitated Zoom!, as a billiard ball weighing more than Saturn.

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