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- 10/04/12--02:21: _Win a copy of 101 P...
- 10/04/12--02:43: _Happy National Poet...
- 10/04/12--03:53: _Jo Bell makes a spl...
- 10/04/12--04:30: _Could you be the Co...
- 10/04/12--06:19: _Foyle Young Poets a...
- 10/04/12--06:19: _National Poetry Day...
- 10/04/12--09:36: _Artist of the week ...
- 10/05/12--05:51: _Poster Poems: October
- 10/05/12--08:14: _Guardian Books podc...
- 10/05/12--14:55: _Water Sessions by J...
- 10/08/12--03:58: _Poem of the week: T...
- 10/09/12--02:41: _Rift deepens betwee...
- 10/09/12--08:49: _'New' JRR Tolkien e...
- 10/10/12--06:15: _Nobel prize for lit...
- 10/10/12--23:30: _From the archive, 1...
- 10/12/12--14:35: _Teazles
- 10/12/12--14:55: _Collected Poems 193...
- 10/13/12--16:05: _Ted and I: A Brothe...
- 10/15/12--03:02: _Poem of the week: P...
- 10/15/12--13:30: _Shakespeare, a poet...
- 10/04/12--02:43: Happy National Poetry Day!
- 10/04/12--06:19: Foyle Young Poets award: read the winning poems
- 10/04/12--06:19: National Poetry Day: Foyle Young Poets and Betjeman prize announced
- 10/04/12--09:36: Artist of the week 210: Anna Barham
- 10/05/12--05:51: Poster Poems: October
- 10/05/12--08:14: Guardian Books podcast: Pete Townshend, Neil Young and poetry books
- 10/05/12--14:55: Water Sessions by James Lasdun – review
- 10/08/12--03:58: Poem of the week: The Bridal Morn
- 10/09/12--08:49: 'New' JRR Tolkien epic due out next year
- 10/10/12--06:15: Nobel prize for literature: quiz
- 10/12/12--14:35: Teazles
- 10/12/12--14:55: Collected Poems 1935-92 by FT Prince - review
- 10/13/12--16:05: Ted and I: A Brother's Memoir by Gerald Hughes – review
- 10/15/12--13:30: Shakespeare, a poet who is still making our history | Neil MacGregor
In celebration of National Poetry Day we've got 10 copies of a new collection of poetry for children, selected by the poet laureate, to give away
"Poems, in so few words, create whole worlds, imaginary or real, and each poem seems to offer a different place from which to stand and look and listen," says Carol Ann Duffy, the poet laureate.
She has chosen her favourite classic and modern verse for younger readers in her new collection, 101 Poems for Children, and her choices are beautifully illustrated by award-winning artist Emily Gravett.
In celebration of National Poetry Day, we've got 10 copies of 101 Poems for Children to give away.
How to enter
Email email@example.com with "Carol Ann Duffy comp" in the subject line.
The email must also contain your name, age, address and contact telephone number and the name, contact telephone number and email address of your parent or guardian. The competition is open to children aged 4-18 - if you are under 12 years of age you must ask your parent or guardian to enter the competition on your behalf.
The deadline for entries is midday on Thursday 18 October 2012.
Terms and conditions
By participating in the "Carol Ann Duffy" promotion (the "Competition"), you fully agree and accept the "Carol Ann Duffy" promotion Terms and Conditions (the "Terms and Conditions") set out below (as amended from time to time). These Terms and Conditions should be read in conjunction with information appearing in the online and print newspaper editions relating to the Competition. To the extent there is any inconsistency, these Terms and Conditions shall prevail.
1. The Competition is open to UK-based children between 4 and 18 years of age, excluding children of employees or agents of Guardian News & Media Limited ("GNM"), or Macmillan Books, or their group companies or their family members, of anyone else connected with the Competition. We reserve the right to ask for proof of age of entrants to the Competition.
2. To enter the Competition you must ask your parent or guardian to enter the Competition on your behalf. Your parent or guardian must submit your entry via email to firstname.lastname@example.org which must consist of, or include, i) "Carole Ann Duffy comp" in the subject line, ii) your contact details including your physical address.
3. Please check that your parent or guardian agrees that you may enter the Competition based on these Terms and Conditions.
4. No purchase is necessary in order to enter the Competition.
5. To enter the Competition, entrants must have access to a computer and access to the internet.
6. If you have any questions about how to enter the Competition, please email us at email@example.com with "Carol Ann Duffy question" in the subject line.
7. Submitting an entry to the Competition is confirmation of acceptance of these terms and conditions.
8. Only one entry is permitted per person. Entries on behalf of another person (except as made by a parent or guardian in accordance with clause 2 above) will not be accepted and joint entries are not allowed.
9. Entry to the Competition opens at 09:00 on 4 October 2012.
10. The closing date and time of the Competition is midday on 18 October 2012. Entries received after the closing date and time will not be included in the prize draw.
11. There will be 10 prizes of one copy each of 101 Poems for Children by Carol Ann Duffy.
12. 10 winners will be selected from all entries received at random.
13. The winner will be notified by email within one week of the closing date. If the winner and his or her parent or carer cannot be reached or fail to acknowledge such notification immediately, and the prize is therefore unclaimed, GNM will select a new winner of the prize on the same criteria and basis as in clause 12 (and the same acceptance period will apply). If a winner rejects his or her prize, then the winner's prize will be forfeited and GNM shall be entitled to select another winner.
14. The details of the winner may be published on www.guardian.co.uk/childrensbooks.
15. GNM requires the consent in writing (which may include email) of the parent or guardian of the winner in order to publish the winner's name, age and town or city of residence on guardian.co.uk, and to participation of the entrant in promotional activity including the use of his or her photograph in connection with publicity about the prize. If GNM does not receive such written consent from the parent or guardian of the winner then it may award the prize to another entry.
16. The prize is non-exchangeable, non-transferable, and is not redeemable for cash or other prizes.
17. GNM reserves the right to change the prize at its discretion to an alternative of similar or higher value.
18. Entries must be the entrant's own original work and must not infringe any third party's intellectual property, moral or other rights. Entrant's must not have not entered into any agreements with third parties that effect GNM's rights to conduct the competition and publish the entry.
19. By participating in this Competition and submitting an entry, the entrant hereby warrants that he/she owns all rights in such material. You also grant GNM a royalty-free, perpetual, exclusive licence to use and reproduce each entered story without restriction in any and all media, including for the purposes of the Competition, for commercial use, for publication on any websites and Facebook pages of GNM and its related companies, and for use in the promotional and advertising materials of GNM and its related companies. GNM will not be required to pay any additional consideration or seek your permission in connection with any use or exploitation of the story and shall be entitled to sublicence the use of the story. By entering this Competition you also, where possible under law, waive any and all moral rights that you may enjoy in connection with the story. The entrant agrees to take all necessary action and sign all necessary documentation to give effect to this section.
20. GNM take no responsibility for entries that are lost, delayed, misdirected or incomplete or cannot be delivered or entered for any technical or other reason. Proof of delivery of entry is not proof of receipt.
21. Nothing in these terms and conditions shall exclude liability for death, personal injury or fraud, as a result of negligence.
22. By entering the Competition entrants agree that their personal data submitted as part of the Competition entry process will be stored and processed on behalf of the GNM as data controller in accordance with applicable data protection laws. Entrants agree that such data may be used to contact the winners of the promotion and for publicity purposes as stated above and to provide winners' names to third parties on requests, and in accordance with any other consents given in connection with the Competition. A request to access, update or correct any information should be directed to the GNM at the address set out below.
23. GNM reserves the right at any time and from time to time to modify or discontinue, temporarily or permanently, this Competition with or without prior notice due to reasons outside its control (including, without limitation, in the case of anticipated, suspected or actual fraud). The decision of GNM in all matters under its control is final and binding including any matters not covered above and no correspondence will be entered into.
24. GNM may, in its reasonable discretion, disqualify any entrant whose conduct is contrary to the spirit or word of these Terms and Conditions.
25. GNM shall not be liable for any failure to comply with its obligations where the failure is caused by something outside its reasonable control. Such circumstances shall include, but not be limited to, weather conditions, fire, flood, hurricane, strike, industrial dispute, war, hostilities, political unrest, riots, civil commotion, accidents, supervening legislation or any other circumstances amounting to force majeure.
26. Details of the winners can be obtained by sending a stamped addressed envelope to the following address: The Horrid Henry Competition, Children's book site, Guardian News & Media Limited, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU.
27. The promoter of the Competition is GNM whose address is Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU.
28. The Competition and these Terms and Conditions will be governed by and interpreted according to English law and the English courts shall have exclusive jurisdiction to deal with any disputes arising in connection with it.
Today is National Poetry Day, the theme is stars and we've got a whole galaxy of versey goodness on the site in celebration, from a competition to win the poet laureate's new collection for kids, to audio of Michael Rosen reading his rhymes, top tips for writing poetry, AA Milnes's poems put to music and your lists of favourite poetry books...
Win a copy of 101 Poems for Children by Carol Ann Duffy
Learn how to write poetry with Rachel Rooney's top poetry writing tips
Listen to Michael Rosen read four of his favourite poems from his collection Big Book of Bad Things
Find out what John Agard has picked as his top 10 poetry books for children
Discover site member Valentine's top five poetry books...
...And d'Artagnan's top five poetry books too
Did you know that Winnie the Pooh author wrote poems? Singer-songwriter Chris T-T has put some of them to music. Listen to him sing Waiting at the Window, and Market Square, recorded at the Edinburgh festival
Listen to Jennifer Burville-Riley, 11, reads the poem that has won her the 2011 John Betjeman poetry competition
Listen to performance poet Dean Atta read Shadowboxer
Where My Wellies Take Me is a collection of favourite poetry chosen by former children's laureate Michael Morpurgo and his wife Clare. Woven around the poetry selection is the story of Pippa, who loves to stay with her Aunty Peggy in the Devon countryside. Take a look at some of the pages
The watery verse of a poet who lives on a narrowboat is to be inscribed on new lock gates in the hope it will inspire people to explore their local waterways
A floating poet, Jo Bell – who is a boat dweller, archaeologist and author – has today been announced as the first ever canal laureate, on National Poetry Day, the annual event which she has been managing.
The Canal & River Trust worked with The Poetry Society to find the ideal candidate to write watery verse and organise rippling events – and Bell quickly emerged as the frontrunner. She has lived on Tinker, a 67-foot narrowboat, for the last decade – the experience inspired her first collection, Navigation – and this summer left her usual base on the canals of the Midlands and the north-west for an epic 249-mile, 29-day journey to Wiltshire.
Lines from one of her poems are being inscribed on new lock gates, along with those of Yorkshire poet Ian McMillan and Roy Fisher.
She describes the canals as "England's truest way to travel; long green lines where people go to think, to walk, to fish and to gongoozle – that's boat-watching."
Tony Hales, chair of the Canal & River Trust, said he hoped Bell's work would inspire people to explore their local waterways, and maybe write their own poems. "Many poets have been inspired by the magnificent canals and rivers that form the green veins of Britain's landscape," he said. "They are firmly part of the national creative consciousness."
Among scores of events organised across the country to celebrate National Poetry Day, a highlight will be a marathon free poetry reading at the South Bank, by poets including Roger McGough, Dannie Abse, Christopher Reid and Helen Mort.
A canalside poem by Jo Bell, the newly appointed canal laureate:
Springtime at the Boatyard
You can keep your cuckoos.
We hear Spring's first song
in the sound of angle-grinders,
brazen as a mating call across the yard:
the saw blades and the welders
working between weathers
like a nesting bird; and swarf
as bright as daffodils on workshop floors.
You can keep your catkins;
we have rust like pollen on our skins.
We walk between steel shells
and smell the fresh blue boiler suits
of all the coming days,
when warmth will stretch our hulls
and make of summer afternoons a shed
for building this year's stories.
To celebrate National Poetry Day, we are holding our very own competition – please, woo us with your powerful poetry
Everyone is celebrating National Poetry Day: the illuminated advertising boards at Piccadilly Circus in London will display the words of the late Cornish writer Charles Causley, while the Canal and River Trust has elected its first "boating poet". Here at Comment is free we have decided opportunistically to get in on the act and hold a competition to crown our very own Comment is free poet laureate for the day.
The poems should be comment pieces in poetic form, which is to say they should be broadly political in nature. As you know, we may have to delete comments with too many expletives, so don't waste your precious creative energy on rhyming couplets about the new health secretary. Fire away!
On National Poetry Day, the 15 winners of this year's Foyle Young Poets award, open to 11-17-year-olds from around the world, were announced. Chosen from a record 7,351 entries to the competition, these are the winning poems
Baking by Phoebe Boswall
Smells of baking remind me of you.
Your red apron, my small striped one with the torn pocket.
Your soft stretched skin, fingers kneading dough
into a ball. My fat floury hands
grasped for your amber necklace,
Quick, Phoebe, the oven!
You played with flavours,
made little blobs of buttery dough on the tray
Your warm kitchen, my safe haven.
You taught me your language:
bicarbonate of soda, self-raising flour, vanilla extract,
millilitres of milk, grams of sugar:
caster, muscovado, granulated.
Now your apron hangs empty on the peg.
I wear it from time to time; mine with the torn pocket
doesn't fit anymore.
Minutiae by Emily Burns
The National Geographic
cover of the woman with green
eyes, or the storybook
wallpaper in the first floor bathroom,
the waxy crayons in the boiler room
and the rusted key collection
on the green-matted desk,
the telephone which still had
a twirling, winding cord
latched solidly into the wall,
and you, sitting in your chair,
cradling your Lapsang,
bones quiet as dust, you
who were once announced by fireworks
on the day of your birth.
The Apple Tree by David Carey
You told me once that growing
up was like walking up a downwards
escalator. I think I was too young
to understand back then: I thought of time
as a steadily growing tree
that I hadn't yet started climbing.
I remember playing hide-and-seek; climbing
up thin branches, or crouching in the undergrowth.
Once, you saw my head peeking out from the apple tree.
You said that soon, I'd always be looking down
at you like that; that time
passed too quickly. I think I grew younger
as you spoke, worried that my youth
might fall from me as I climbed
back down to you; or that time
would wrest it from my shoulders as I grew.
You took a long time to convince me to come down:
I wanted to live there in the tree
forever. I've never stopped climbing trees.
I know now that youth
doesn't leave: you told me that we grow down
while we grow up, always climbing
that little bit further from ourselves; you said growth
isn't as linear as it looks. And nor is time.
I remember a time,
much later on, when we were at home, the trees
exchanging pleasantries in the wind, the air growing
steadily colder. The night was young,
and so we continued to climb
through conversations. We were standing down
by the pond, and the world was upside down
when we looked at it in there. It was some time
before we went inside: we talked of how I would climb
up the trunk of the apple tree
when I was young;
it was as though you thought I was now fully grown.
You were quiet down there, for a time,
While I told you that I was still young; that however much I grew
I'd always come back and climb the apple tree.
The Everyday Hymn by Clare Carlile
Like opening a can, putting pressure down
And pulling back the rounded metal tag,
Forefinger slipped under, braced against the hiss
Of hydrogen, the give of metal against the thumb
And the kick as the seal passes out.
Even like the low crunch as the speckled,
Porcelain egg shell collides with the thick rimmed
Bakers bowl and splits, just round the side,
Into one thousand geometric shapes.
Or, smaller still, the just audible shake
In a person's voice when a laugh
Is yearning to escape.
Five things about the lake by Flora de Falbe
1. The lake is no slave to fashion, but she is proud of her frothy skirt of trees. Her dark, svelte figure.
2. She doesn't want to talk. The air rushes over her, whistling how have you been? – and she responds with a glassy stare.
3. The lake raises an eyebrow when she is speckled with rain. She doesn't do anything else but the rain takes the hint.
4. When the lake picks out her foliage she does so with impeccable taste. Even the fallen leaves have agreed on a colour scheme.
5. The lake enjoys being looked at (though she wouldn't admit it). She likes that I'm writing this.
Brighton by Sarah Fletcher
You forget you have a cold
for five minutes and
your long earrings seem to
spin in orbits around you.
The only magazine headline you can read
says the "hot mess" look is in again,
so you feel accomplished
because your hair is unwashed,
black heels dangling over your shoulder,
red blisters hitting the sidewalk.
You breathe heavily, in and out,
from night exhaustion and vodka zing.
You don't stumble. You don't dare. You fly:
dancing into the obscurity of swaying street lamps.
Because for once the mirror, the ever-present eye,
is a friend that you hug too hard,
leaving bruise marks you find both
hilarious and mystifying the morning after.
The Wilderness by Naomi Hamilton
On the verge of the lake, he stands alone
without speaking or moving,
his emaciated frame lost amid gorse bushes,
their needles tipped with yellow buds,
spines hooking onto his baggy brown coat.
The landscape recedes, each mountain
like the stony back of a sea monster
in hibernation. Ashen clouds slide over
the weakening sun, their shadows
dancing across the rock face.
A Westerly wind sweeps the skin of water
and licks his ruddy face, forcing him to shut both eyes.
As sudden raindrops ping off his coat
he slowly backtracks home, following dirt tracks
flanked with overgrown heather
to the cabin, log fire, beer, bong, banjo,
faded olive couch with deer hide blankets,
and a loaded shotgun propped up beside the door.
The Accident by Talullah Hutson
I remember sitting on my father's shoulders
watching the millennium fireworks
from one unknown bridge or another.
I remember being wrapped up in a pram
with my brother, a plastic cover
keeping away the rain
and the deep rumbles of summer fireworks
as they unleashed their burning colours
and showered down their embers on those below.
I remember the three of us, like musketeers,
crawling inside a duvet cover
and playing ant colonies.
I remember climbing across
the banisters when there was a knock
at the door, so the unsuspecting
guest would think I was an acrobat.
I remember when the knock
at the door was a policeman, bearing
I don't remember what happened next.
I remember staring at a ceiling
that wasn't my own.
I remember playing with the hand sanitizers,
I remember the picnics in Queen Square
and running along the little flower bed walls.
I remember creeping up the stairs to smell your
dressing gown, the smell of you.
I remember Aileen, who cut me an apron
of my own and took me on her ward rounds.
I remember that you can't light seven
candles in a hospital room.
Brighton by Jessica Kelham-Hohler
The wheels got caught on the broken slabs of the drive, as they always did.
And the shed we told you to pull down still remained, broken and proud.
A dark place of mystery where, as toddlers, we often hid.
And you, with stamping feet and a gentle chuckle, would call for us aloud.
That green chair, torn and frayed, which belonged in the tip,
But which you insisted was the perfect one for your lazy days,
Never did leave that spot, next to the brandy for the occasional sip
And the chess board for our monthly plays.
The crossword lay unfinished with no answer for five down,
And you, frustrated at those ignorant writers, would stand,
Gazing at your garden over the sink, as you watched the man drown
Your favourite petunias, head in hand.
We found a plastic bag filled with pictures, curled and jaggedly cut,
Tossed by the rubbish, and when Mum protested you said,
'No use for them now,' as if the need equalled the desire, but
They were saved, and though you claimed to know them in your head
You looked at them often, and smiled at the times when
There were fields and sheep behind the house, and folk
Would gossip over fences, and like a 'clucking hen'
Mrs Herbert would tell you of her new plumbing bloke.
And when the sun hit that point where you could rest
On the greying plastic seat and think on those times
When you were marching through Burma, at your best,
You were content. Pleased to be out of the mines
And outside, with family. With time to spare,
With the odd pint, with the sense that times were good,
And that there remained that old, green, fading chair
To keep you happy, as it should.
Birthday Present by Dillon Leet
It was a gift for an international girl;
a book of hard-hitting photographs
on glossy paper. Something to leave about
to complement her framed intellect.
She presses pansies between the pages,
for the thank-you card.
One night she examines it by phone-light,
nestled under the duvet her grandmother made
when she was ten. A distraction
from the rainstorm
that howls behind the curtains,
rattling her Victorian window panes.
She traces the face of a Ukrainian man,
pressed up against floral wallpaper
by masked boys in khaki.
Dim light dissolves pages' edges
until eyes drip onto cotton sheets,
splattering shadows across her fingers.
Red veins scar streets
by mud-brick sick houses
cracked glass reflecting
in high definition magazines
She turns the page.
The book hides under her jewellery box
as she wraps herself in blankets,
an international girl hyperextended.
She chooses another book; a well-worn
fairytale, and dreams herself to sleep.
Outside, the rain falls.
Hemingway's Thirst by Conor McKee
The black of its coat was oozing now like pitch
and spilling along the hoof racked rills of sand.
The writer sat, doped by the bloody ditch,
enjoying the raw art so "very fine, yet very sad".
He knew from the moment it started
this was tragedy more profound than the stage.
Blood, another drink that numbed, as ribs parted
for a drinking horn that removes life and age.
He watched the beast strike,
the man crumpling in a tragic arc
till he and his spear stopped alike:
a typewriter bar hitting its dock.
Thirty years later it was
he who would feel the buck of the bull,
as the shot rampaged forth
to that last flash of the matador's cloak.
The Frame by Sonja Moore
A photograph, still upon a white window
Gathers the curls and the smile of a girl,
Strong and awakening in a plated frame.
She watches, at dawn, the shining east
And the sleeping form of her sister;
In summer, in winter, she stays all the same.
Through the starlit glass, I hear her laugh,
Gentle and calm, like mine;
She rides on the wind, calling my name.
I keep this shrine, still on a white window,
Still with a timeless expression,
With her back to the west, a dying flame.
Fire Knows by Jesse Rodrigues
Fire knows the wood's secrets
as they hold their heated deliberations
Fire knows how to warm
chilled hands, chilled feet, chilled faces
Fire knows how to dance and sway
to the sounds of the night
Fire knows how to belch and cackle
exactly when you don't want it to
Last, but not least, fire knows how to die with a flourish
A flame, a spark, a winking coal
then cold, hard, black, silence
Reduced by Abigail Setchfield
In remembrance of all those who lived, died, and worked in Auschwitz and Birkenau
They come off the train as humans.
Bloodied, muddied, sweat and tear-caked humans.
I look at them, and think -
I have to kill them.
Animals, we're taught, they're just animals! Disgusting, stealing animals,
But they stink of pure humanity.
Hope, love, but most clearly fear.
Perhaps if we break them down we'll find the animal we can kill.
Perhaps if we take their suitcases.
If we leave them without a possession in the world,
Without the objects that hold the memories that make them who they are.
The children cry as I prise their toys from them, add them to the pile.
Perhaps if we take their shoes.
Brogues and boots and slippers, feet left to blister,
Each of them left to walk barefoot like beasts.
A mother picks up her daughter, cradles her, so her feet don't touch the mud.
Perhaps if we take their clothes.
Strip them, leave them bare, open to the world, our roaming eyes, our mockery,
Replace the uniqueness of clothing with the rags of prisoners that mark them as the same.
Some of them cry, some stare with fury and determination, a gaze we cannot hold.
Perhaps if we shave their hair.
Unsex them, leave them bald, unsightly,
Cold and so uniform that from a distance each head is one and the same.
A woman presses her lips to an exposed head, whispering words of beauty into the weeping girl's ear.
Perhaps if we take their names.
Make it so they have no identity, no self,
Leave them as nothing but digits on a clerk's sheet.
The numbers, branded onto their skin, become a symbol of their resilience, their strength.
Perhaps if we take their food.
Force them to scrabble, scavenge, dig through rot and mud,
Eat mould and worms for fear of fading to nothing more than bone.
An older man takes his share, and gives it to the young, choosing their life over his own.
Perhaps if we turn them to ash.
Reach/Throw/Wade/Row by Phoebe Stuckes
She is the class of crazy that inspires adoration.
She stacks vices like bracelets, works herself into hysterics,
Don't give her matches she will pinch them till her fingers scorch.
I know she is gorgeous like a thunderstorm, but stop trying to hold her hand.
Her heart is too heavy for you to lift.
Her pain is impossible, you can keep wrapping your arms around her but she'll never stay upright.
Her stares are hospital corridors, passageways hiding chaos and anguish.
'No, you can't have a cigarette.'
She lost the ring that I gave her; on ardent impulse I wanted to throw her a lifebelt.
A reminder that she and I are washed up on the same shore.
Being with her is like seeing Alice drink the vial, watching herself become vast and destructive.
I cannot keep her safe; I cannot bear to watch her fold.
In a National Poetry Day double whammy, Foyle young poets of the year are celebrated at the Royal Festival Hall, while the winner of the John Betjeman poetry competition for young people is announced by the poet's statue in St Pancras
Read the Foyle winners' poems
The winners of one of the most prestigious competitions for young poets have been announced today, on National Poetry Day.
The Foyle Young Poets of the Year award, which has launched the poetry careers of many former winners, including Caroline Bird, Sarah Howe and Caleb Klaces, is open to 11-17-year-olds from around the world.
The top 15, who were chosen from a record 7,351 entries to the competition, attended a prize ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall in London along with 85 commended young poets.
Their poems, many of which take on mature and intimate narratives of bereavement and loss, beauty and destruction will be published in March next year in an anthology which goes out to more than 20,000 people worldwide.
This year's prize-winners are Naomi Hamilton, 16, from Northern Ireland, Conor Mckee, 17, from Kent, Clare Carlile, 17, from Sheffield, Abigail Setchfield, 18, from Bedford, Emily Burns, 17, from Pittsford New York, Phoebe Stuckes, 16, from West Somerset, Sonja Moore, 16, from San Diego USA, Jesse Rodrigues, 13, from Maine USA, Phoebe Boswall, 17, from Kent and (all from London), Flora de Falbe, 16, Dillon Leet, 16, Sarah Fletcher, 17, Tallulah Hutson, 16, Jessica Kelham-Hohler, 17 and David Carey, 17.
Poet and judge Helen Mort, who herself won the award at the age of 13, said: "Many of this year's entries were eye-catching, but the winning poems were so vivid they played tricks with the light. Some of them cast strange shadows. Some of them switched on lamps… they all left the room altered, somehow."
The youngest winner, 13-year-old Jesse Rodrigues, for example, examines the notion of the void in "Fire Knows":
"Last, but not least, fire knows how to die with a flourish/ A flame, a spark, a winking coal/ Then cold, hard, black, silence."
Award-winning poet and judge Christopher Reid said: "It is a joy to see young minds and spirits using poetry as a means of revelation, for their own benefit and for ours – addressing the world as their elders are no longer equipped to do –which gives so much hope for the future."
The winning 14-17-year-olds will attend a week-long residential course run by the famous Arvon centre, where they will be tutored by judges Helen and Christopher, while those younger than 14 will have a poet visit their school. All the top 100, who come from as far afield as the USA, New Zealand, Nigeria and Thailand, will also receive book prizes and become Youth Members of the Poetry Society.
Also announced today, as part of National Poetry Day celebrations, is the winner of the John Betjeman poetry competition for young people. First established in 2006 by the family of the former poet laureate, the competition aims to encourage children to read, write and be inspired by poetry.
The winner will be awarded their prize of £1000 and Eurostar tickets by the actor Richard E Grant next to a statue of John Betjeman in St Pancras station, where the winner and shortlisted finalists will read their poems.
Full list of Foyle Young Poet winners
Naomi Hamilton, 16, Northern Ireland, "The Wilderness"
Conor Mckee, 17, Kent, "Hemingway's Thirst"
Clare Carlile, 17, Sheffield, "The Everyday Hymn"
Tallulah Hutson, 16, London, "The Accident"
Abigail Setchfield, 18, Bedford, "Reduced"
Emily Burns, 17, Pittsford New York, "Minutiae"
Sarah Fletcher, 17, London, "Brighton"
Jessica Kelham-Hohler, 17,London, "Jim"
Phoebe Stuckes, 16, West Somerset, "Reach/Throw/Wade/Row"
Sonja Moore, 16, San Diego USA, "The Frame"
Jesse Rodrigues, 13, Maine USA, "Fire Knows"
Flora de Falbe, 16, London, "Five things about the Lake"
Dillon Leet, 16, London, "Birthday Present"
Phoebe Boswall, 17, Kent, "Baking"
David Carey, 17, London, "The Apple Tree"
Words take on a new life in the surreal animation of this London-based artist, returning time and again to the ancient Roman city of Leptis Magna where the modern alphabet began
Words fall like raindrops in Anna Barham's animation Proteus. True to the work's title, they are shape-shifters, morphing from one phrase to the next: "strange outline"; "up rears tail"; "el transmutation". Barham's poetry is one made entirely of anagrams. It's always surreal, packed with nonsensical asides as well as lines that are unexpected delights. "Tasting lemon rapture; purring at lemon taste" is one of the gems from her artist's book, Return to Leptis Magna.
These four words (and the ancient Roman city they refer to) are at the heart of the young London-based artist's work. She's revisited them over and over in her videos, drawings and performances, where they have yielded a staggering number of anagrams. For Barham, Leptis Magna is very much a city of the imagination.
The "real" site on the Libyan coast is now a ruin. She has never been there: her only physical encounter with it was in Windsor, where a number of its stones were transplanted from their arid home during the 19th century and resurrected as a folly in the lush surrounds of Virginia Water. Leptis Magna is also the place where the modern alphabet originated. For Barham, who studied sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art, letters become the building blocks for refashioning those ruins into something new.
Slick Flection, currently included in the delectably titled Eye Music for Dancing (a show that celebrates concrete poet Bob Cobbing), pushes the rhythms that govern language into the realm of dance. This new sound piece pushes language out of the realm of text into the physical world, with a tap dancer improvising to the beat of Barham's voice reciting. Meanwhile, her older video Iris abandons language altogether, as images of everything from flowers to eyes flit by to the thrum of fingers typing.
Like Leptis Magna's stones, words lose their original intention in her work and take on a strange new life.
Why we like her: For White City, her current Art on the Underground commission. It's art that travels: a series of posters bearing Quick Response codes (like barcodes for smartphones) provide the gateway to videos that can be accessed on your mobile, including roundel poetry by Charles Swinburne and an animation of the many depictions of Tyche, the Greek goddess of chance who rules over the project.
Upping your game: Barham has a heavyweight interest in games and rules. It all stems from the theories of language and metaphysics she got into as a maths and philosophy student at Cambridge, before she turned to art.
Where can I see her? Eye Music for Dancing, Flat Time House, London, until 28 October; White City underground station, London; Revolver, Matt's Gallery, London, until 21 Oct; Arcade Gallery, Frieze Frame, London, 11 to 14 Oct.
This month has long provided a source of literary inspiration, from shorter days and fallen leaves, to thoughts of liberty during times of war. Tell us what impressions it makes on you
And so we come to the 10th month, October, whose name means "eighth", of course; those Romans were out to confuse us all. In the northern hemisphere, the month of October is high autumn, which means that in the southern hemisphere it's high spring. Confused yet? I am.
In The Shepheardes Calender: October, Spenser, through the character of the pastoral piper Cuddie, sings a theme that may be near to many of our hearts, the neglect of poetry and the poverty of poets, who "little good hath got, and much lesse gayne" on account of their art. Piers, his audience of one, tries to console him with the thoughts of the praise he will receive for his singing, but Cuddie points out that you can't eat praise. In the coda, the poet is promised a gift of a kid from one of Piers's goats, which is, I suppose, a happy ending.
One poet who did manage to make a living of sorts from his pen and who certainly found recognition, and even a degree of fame, was Dylan Thomas. His 30th birthday, on 27 October 1944, was the occasion of his very fine Poem in October. It's perhaps the best of all poems celebrating this month, full of the changing weather, fruitful bounty and general sense of plenty of autumn in full flow.
Something of the same richness can be found in Lyn Hejinian's Come October, it's the lake not the border, an extract from the long poem The Fatalist. Hejinian's autumn is less lyrical, more American, perhaps, than Thomas's version, but underneath the surface many of the concerns being voiced are remarkably similar.
Ted Kooser's A Letter in October depicts another American autumn, this time a distinctly New England one. Kooser marks one of the defining characteristics of the month for those of us who live at more northerly latitudes, the sudden onset of very short days and increasingly late sunrises. As this is the norm for us, we shouldn't be taken by surprise, and yet I, for one, am every year. Kooser manages to capture this sense of slow, predictable suddenness extremely neatly.
If the sunrise grows later in October, the sunset grows correspondingly earlier, and it was in an early Galway October twilight that WB Yeats experienced a different kind of sudden shock when "nine-and-fifty swans" took flight from the lake at Coole Park in the poet's memory and settled in an enduring corner of the history of Irish literature, in the shade of the golden autumn leaves.
Although all the poems so far this month have had rural settings, October has been known to visit the city on occasions. In Anne Stevenson's To My Daughter in a Red Coat it arrives in a public park, and although the poem doesn't actually mention it, you can almost hear the satisfying dry crunch of leaves underfoot as the child runs and skips through them, snug in her warm red cocoon.
Perhaps the best urban October poem of all is TS Eliot's The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, with its dark evening, yellow fog and overall air of the fall of the year and of man in equal measure. Eliot only mentions the month once, but that one naming is enough to place the poem irrevocably in the time of the year most suited to its tone of disjointed unbelonging. Prufrock is, perhaps, the October poem par excellence.
Of course, October isn't all short days, yellow trees and fog; important events can occur then, too. In October 1803, Britain and France were newly at war, and William Wordsworth, erstwhile admirer of the French Revolution, was moved to write a number of sonnets dedicated to the subject of British liberty that had that month and year in their titles. In a sense these poems mark the transition from the young radical poet of the Lyrical Ballads to the more conservative establishment figure that he was to become.
And so this month I invite you all to post your poems of October. You might sit in the window and watch the evenings drawing in. Or maybe you'd prefer to wrap up, go out, crunch some fallen leaves and breathe in the fog. Wherever you draw your inspiration from, just be sure to come back and share the results here.
In the week that National Poetry Day adopted stars as its motif, we look at the stars of the poetry and music worlds.
The week began with Jorie Graham becoming the first American woman to win the prestigious Forward prize for the year's best collection. Nicholas Wroe talks to her about her winning collection, PLACE, and investigates the claim that the Pulitzer prize-winner is the finest female poet the US has produced in the post-war years.
Then we turn our attention to poetry for young people. As a top-selling app is republished as a hardback book we discuss with its two creators, Allie Esiri and Rachel Kelly, how the anthology iF came into being on their kitchen tables, and how they lured top actors to read for it. We're also treated to two of them, Helena Bonham Carter and Tom Hiddleston, reading work by Emily Dickinson, Edward Lear and Andrew Marvell.
Plus the Guardian's music editor, Caspar Llewellyn Smith, joins us to cast an eye over a Super Thursday bonanza stuffed full with memoirs of old rockers, including Neil Young and former Faber editor Pete Townshend.
Adam Newey welcomes James Lasdun's return to poetry after a decade
The final poem in James Lasdun's last collection, Landscape with Chainsaw, had the speaker giving up poetry for the homesteader's life – "goats, organic lettuce, / that's the project" – like some back-to-front Robert Frost, opting for "the crack and grain / of real things" over their representation in words. "Now you can / just be their names again: / bluestone, shiplap, whatever. / And if I write, it'll be with a seed-drill; / a quatrain of greens per bed, no sweat." Reviewing the book, I wrote that I hoped Lasdun was having us on about laying down his pen. That was 11 years ago. What happened is that he gave up the poems for prose, and has published two novels (The Horned Man and the Booker-longlisted Seven Lies), three collections of short stories, assorted reviews and essays and a film script. A memoir is due out early next year.
As a prose writer, then, Lasdun has had a productive decade (though one can't help wondering how those goats and lettuces have fared). But it's a great pleasure to have some poetry again – Water Sessions is a collection of fine psychological acuity and astringent beauty. He acknowledges the hiatus here, in "The Ruined House", where a visit to a crumbling Italian village, its farmhouses deserted by the former peasants who lived and toiled there under feudal bonds, prompts a reflection on how "I had given up / a servitude of my own / to a no less exacting padrone; / Oh, I had broken / strong indentures, forsaken / the path of glory, / the discipline of the line, / for these paths of least resistance; / the sentence for the sentiero …"
That shift from outer landscape to inner is a familiar Lasdun manoeuvre, and the physical landscapes here – mostly New England, where he's lived for 25 years – are as sharply observed as ever. Observation, it seems, leads inevitably to introspection. In "Bittersweet", the use of literal roots to suggest metaphorical ones is not exactly surprising, but it's effective because it's grounded in clear and precise description. The roots of the all-but-unkillable weed the speaker is trying to eradicate from his garden – "blood-bright, trailing their corpse-hair capillaries" – stand also for a series of inheritances (genetic, psychological, cultural) that aren't chosen and are impossible to renounce:
I yank them out
only to find they've coiled right
down through the shale
into solid bedrock,
leaving a lizard tail in each crack
potent enough to grow the
whole lizard back
just in case there remained any
doubt, any question
as to the error, the sheer utter
folly of planting
a garden of one's own
where bittersweet has grown.
The book centres on questions of identity – many of the poems constitute a reckoning with the speaker's place in the world, as a middle-aged man, as an immigrant to the US, as a parent learning to live with the death of his own father (the architect Denys Lasdun, to whom the volume is dedicated). Where Landscape with Chainsaw had a fine sense of the absurd in its poems of self-doubt, the overall tone here is less jocular, with sharper accents of guilt and shame. When the speaker's young son, in "The Question", asks him "Dad, / Is America good or bad?", his first impulse is to indulge in the standard parental equivocation when faced with the shaming innocence of one's own children: "That depends / on what you mean by 'good' or 'bad' / or for that matter 'America'." In the end, though, the inner monologue can find no outer manifestation and he is unable to answer: "something stalls me … as if after all I'd pledged silence / or struck some nocturnal pact / over whatever act, / doubtful or downright wrong, / secures our presence here, / and I can't seem to say a damn thing".
There's no such reticence in the three-part title poem that forms the book's core. It wittily dramatises an analysis session between a garrulous client – who seems to glean no end of insights into his neuroses through myth, literature and history – and a shrink who struggles to follow him, always trying to bring him back to the prosaic present. If the poem's organising metaphor – the flow of water as a symbol of passing time, of what comes down to us from the past, as well as an elemental life-force – perhaps feels a little forced, it doesn't detract from the self-mocking humour that animates it.
That humour, one senses, is a necessary defence against the awareness that, "whether looked at from this or the far side of fences, / the grass is basically ashes, / and that half-full or -empty, the best-laid glass / invariably smashes". In this poem ("To a Pessimist"), the gloom is also counterbalanced by a rare through-burst of something like gratitude for the world: "To be born, to have hollowed / this singular passage, the exact / outline of yourself, through the rock of ages, / argues, does it not, that one might be allowed / if not to aspire / to outright happiness, then at least to resist / abject despair?" It is, admittedly, a grudging comfort, a pessimist's optimism that's available only to a retrospective view, but it's the best we're going to get in the face of mortality.
Something similar is going on in the finest poem here, "Blueberries", which collapses time by having the speaker, planting fruit bushes in his garden, address himself 20 years on, warning himself not to "go soft" and put any faith in the hereafter: "since the only certain / eternity's the one that stretches backward, / look for it here inside this garden / … / This was your labour, these are the fruits thereof. / Fill up your bowl old man and bring them in."
This anonymous lyric combines its mysteries with a very concrete set of images and a beguiling music
"The Bridal Morn" is an anonymous lyric dating from the 15th-16th century, and, if that isn't vague enough, there are several variant printings in existence. The one I've chosen comes from Helen Gardner's New Oxford Book of English Verse (1972), the text originally from the British Museum MS Harley 7578. It's tempting to imagine that the song, in which the poem's origins surely lie, would have been for a solo voice, the bride's, perhaps, with a chorus of maiden helpers singing the refrain. The language seems to draw on the playful allusiveness and secret-signing of young girls' chatter and in-talk.
Usually, "The Bridal Morn" is arranged in short stanzas, but I like the solidity of the non-stanzaic arrangement in Gardner's anthology, and feel it connects the images and rhythms into a more intriguingly complex whole. The tune of the refrain is strong enough to emerge without the isolation of its own stanza.
This refrain dominates the poem, recurring three times in a work of only 13 lines altogether. It's a strange, haunting couplet, with its own liquescent verbal music: "The bailey beareth the bell away; /The lily, the rose, the rose I lay."
In another version, however, "bell" becomes "lull" in the second and third repetitions. Is this a mis-spelling of "bell" – with hasty copying to blame? "The bailey beareth the lull away" is not so odd as to be impossible. It might signify that a period of peace and quiet (the lull) is coming to an end. "Lull" certainly contrasts nicely with the "bell" of the first refrain, if we think of a bell not only as a "prize", perhaps with connotations of beauty (the French feminine, belle), but as a source of sound. The bailey might have destroyed the maiden's peace – and she might have every intention of destroying his! However, "bell" is rather more likely, I think.
I'm assuming that "bailey" is synonymous with "bailiff". He was not, of course, the contemporary kind of bailiff who breaks down your door and carries off your TV set, but he would have been a high official, perhaps with judicial powers. The designation could be ironical girl-talk, a reference to the medieval husband's somewhat custodial relationship with his wife, whatever his profession. "Bailey" also denotes the outer wall of a castle. The word in its architectural sense would harden the metaphor of an imprisoned, misappropriated bell. Both "bailey" and "bell" can be read as objects as well as people. In this reading, the bridal morn would become heavily overcast. The scenario is lighter, I think. The sun is shining (l.10), despite some shadows. Wealth, at least, is prefigured in the fact that the window is glass and there are robes lying snugly "in fold".
There's a swift pace in the poem's rhythm, capturing all the comings and goings: the maids arriving and the bailey and his bride setting forth. It evokes a transition which is also transformation. The changes for the speaker are profound.
Her last refrain-line, "The lily, the rose, the rose I lay", seems to be saying "I lay down as a lily (a maiden) and sex turned me into a rose". The rose suggests the blood of de-flowering, and also a flowering of passion. Its repetition seems a glad affirmation, as is the identification of the rose with gold, the most precious metal ("The silver is white, red is the gold"). The bride may also, of course, be eyeing her dowry and its happy marriage to the bailiff's wealth.
You could simultaneously interpret the line quite literally. The bridesmaids are scattering flowers as they sing, or the bride is weaving them into a wedding-bouquet, the pattern (one lily to two roses) symbolic of her forthcoming status.
I love the poem's rich colour-contrasts and its concrete but potent images: mother's bower, bell, robes, window, lily, rose. They have so much physical presence, and so much metaphorical implication. The shape of the bell, for example, suggests pregnancy. We don't need to pin the poem down to a birth-announcement. It's enough to imagine the shape and all its ripening promise.
This is one of the most alluring things about the poem, at least for us as we read it across the centuries: that the images have room, like well-placed bells, to mingle their separate sounds, sometimes in harmony and sometimes in dissonance. Despite its tripping iambic step, evoking a country-dance in 3-4 time, the poem is unsettled. Janus-like, it can face two ways. The "bailey" could be tenderly lifting his bride over the threshold, but he could be coercive. The girl could be delighted with herself and him and the ceremony ("I had all that I would") or incredulous and fearful. Double-meanings and puns abound. "Lay," for example, is the most slippery of verbs – and it's a noun, too, of course, meaning a ballad or song.
"How should I love, and I so young?" is a resonant question, and the one seemingly personal outburst in the poem. It could be translated as "I don't and can't love him. Help!" It might, more probably, express a mixed thrill of anxiety and delight. It might be a cry that conceals pure triumph, uttered to make those other maids jealous, and really meaning "This is wonderful, and aren't I lucky?" It could even be an ironical catch-phrase, guaranteed to set all the maidens giggling.
Interpretation is fun, but, without evidence, that's all it can be. We could dig deeper, and speculate that the poem isn't secular at all, but a coded report from the religious battle-front. Even such a weighty allegorical subtext wouldn't take a drop of colour from the rose, or spoil the swing of the rhythm, and the sense of new times inexorably unfolding. I like the idea of the poem's still secluding itself in its bower or bridal veil, shining mistily over the centuries, keeping some of its secrets from our prying, logical eyes. "The Bridal Morn" is poetry wedded to music. It may mean more than we think. It may mean less – and still not disappoint.
The Bridal Morn
The maidens came
When I was in my mother's bower;
I had all that I would.
The bailey beareth the bell away;
The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.
The silver is white, red is the gold:
The robes they lay in fold.
The bailey beareth the bell away;
The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.
And through the glass window shines the sun.
How should I love, and I so young?
The bailey beareth the bell away;
The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.
A hundred names from the Scottish arts establishment – including Ian Rankin, Douglas Gordon and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies – have expressed their dismay at Creative Scotland's policies with a heartfelt open letter
Over 100 Scottish artists, including three Turner-prize winners, a Booker winner and a winner of the Costa award have written an open letter protesting at the "deepening malaise" at Creative Scotland. It is the latest iteration of what now looks like an unbreachable rift between the Scottish arts community and their national funding body.
Signatories amount to the bulk of the Scottish arts establishment. As well as the artist Douglas Gordon, and novelists James Kelman and AL Kennedy, they include the Scots national poet Liz Lochhead, master of the Queen's music Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and writer Alasdair Gray.
The artists write of Creative Scotland's "ill-conceived decision-making; unclear language [and] lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture". They accuse it of a "confused and intrusive management style married to a corporate ethos that seems designed to set artist against artist and company against company".
Playwrights David Harrower, Zinnie Harris and David Greig are signatories, as is poet Don Paterson. Prominent artists include Richard Wright, Martin Boyce, David Shrigley, Karla Black and Nathan Coley. Writers Ian Rankin and Andrew O'Hagan have also signed.
(Scroll down for the letter in full.)
Trust between artists and the body, which handles an £83m budget, is "low and receding daily", they say. Concerns raised publicly and privately "have gone unanswered or been met with defensiveness, outright denial, or been ascribed to problems with 'communication'."
The crisis began in the summer, when artists expressed dismay that 49 arts organisations had been taken off regular funding and placed on one-year, project-based grants, denying them, argued the organisations, the necessary stability to flourish.
But the problems went much deeper, as fears began to grow about Creative Scotland's perceived lack of transparency; a reliance on the language of business and the commercial sector; and a focus on "strategic commissioning", which, it was argued, gave too much power to Creative Scotland and removed agency from artists. Privately, some expressed fears that they would be "punished" for speaking out against the body. A host of blogs and open letters began to be addressed to Creative Scotland's chief executive Andrew Dixon and its chairman, Sir Sandy Crombie. Culture minister Fiona Hyslop also expressed concerns to the funding body.
It had been hoped that pressure exerted on Creative Scotland by members of its board over the summer would lessen the crisis, but frustration has only increased. The open letter does not call on Dixon or his most senior colleague, creative director Venu Dhupa, to step down, but the crisis is now so deep that resignations seem increasingly likely.
The artists call for a "fresh start" with a seven-point list of demands, including the end of "business-speak and obfuscating jargon in official communication" and a revisiting of Creative Scotland's priorities with an eye to "social and cultural as well as commercial values".
A spokesperson at Creative Scotland said: "We are totally committed to working collaboratively with the arts and culture sector, we are listening very closely to what that sector is telling us and we are taking positive action as a result across a number of operational and strategic areas."
The letter in full:
Dear Sir Sandy
We write to express our dismay at the ongoing crisis in Creative Scotland. A series of high-profile stories in various media are only one sign of a deepening malaise within the organisation, the fall-out from which confronts those of us who work in the arts in Scotland every day.
Routinely, we see ill-conceived decision-making; unclear language, lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture. We observe an organisation with a confused and intrusive management style married to a corporate ethos that seems designed to set artist against artist and company against company in the search for resources.
This letter is not about money. This letter is about management. The arts are one of Scotland's proudest assets and most successful exports. We believe existing resources are best managed in an atmosphere of trust between those who make art and those who fund it. At present, this trust is low and receding daily.
In his address to Holyrood, Mr Dixon asked why more artists do not address their concerns to him directly: the answer is straightforward; they have. Letters of concern have been sent by representative groups from theatre, dance, the games industry, visual arts and literature. Individual voices have also been raised from many quarters both privately and in public. These concerns have gone unanswered or been met with defensiveness, outright denial, or been ascribed to problems with "communication".
It is time for a fresh start. We ask that the board of Creative Scotland considers the following requests with the utmost urgency. We ask that you:
1. genuinely acknowledge the scale of the problem;
2. affirm the value of stable two to three year funding for small arts organisations;
3. end the use of business-speak and obfuscating jargon in official communication;
4. revisit CS policies with an eye to social and cultural as well as commercial values;
5. collaborate with artists to re-design over-complicated funding forms and processes;
6. ensure that funding decisions are taken by people with artform expertise;
7. establish an effective system of dealing with complaints as swiftly as possible.
We do not sign this letter lightly but we feel we are in an unprecedented situation. We call on you to act swiftly to make what changes are necessary to the organisation to repair trust and restore communication before any further damage is done to Scotland's cultural landscape and international reputation.
Sam Ainsley, Davey Anderson, Peter Arnott, Clare Barclay, Anne Bevan, Karla Black, Martin Boyce, Katrina Brown (Dr), Tam Dean Burn, Roddy Buchanan, John Byrne, Lorne Campbell, Richard Campbell, Jo Clifford, Nathan Coley, Deborah Crewe, Jeannie Davies, Peter Maxwell Davies (Sir), Chloe Dear, Finn den Hertog, Ella Hickson, Roanne Dods, Jude Doherty, Jaqueline Donachie, Joe Douglas, Rob Drummond, Oliver Emmanuel, Catrin Evans, Rob Evans, Graham Fagen, Andy Field, Pat Fisher, Luke Fowler, Fiona Fraser, Vivian French, Janice Galloway, Andrea Gibb, Suzy Glass, Douglas Gordon (Prof), Mickey Graham, Alasdair Gray, Stephen Greenhorn, David Greig, Kris Haddow, David Harding OBE, John Harris, Zinnie Harris, Ben Harrison, David Harrower, Lewis Hetherington, Corrina Hewat, Mark Hope, Philip Howard, Kieran Hurley, Chris Hunn, Callum Innes, Kathleen Jamie, David Paul Jones, James Kelman, AL Kennedy, Laura Cameron Lewis, Liz Lochhead, Ali Maclaurin, Linda Maclean, James Macmillan, Caoihin MacNeill, Aonghas MacNicol, Willy Maley (Prof), Andy Manley, Michael John McCarthy, Nicola McCartney, Francis McKee, Bernard McLaverty, Alan McKendrick, Linda Mclaughlin, Becky Minto, Alexander Moffat OBE, Gerry Mulgrew, Rona Munro, Andrew O'Hagan, Janice Parker, Don Paterson, Toby Paterson, Mary Paulson Ellis, Aonghas Phadraig Caimpbeul, Philip Pinsky, Karine Polwart, Lynda Radley, Ian Rankin, Robin Robertson, Fiona Robson, Muriel Romanes, Lesley Anne Rose, Lisa Sangster, David Shrigley, Ross Sinclair, Gerda Stevenson, Pete Stollery (Prof), Richard Wright
Lord of the Rings author's previously unseen 200-page poem of Arthurian legend draws on tales of ancient Britain rather than Middle-earth
It's the story of a dark world, of knights and princesses, swords and sorcery, quests and betrayals, and it's from the pen of JRR Tolkien. But this is not Middle-earth, it's ancient Britain, and this previously unpublished work from the Lord of the Rings author stars not Aragorn, Gandalf and Frodo, but King Arthur.
HarperCollins has announced the acquisition of Tolkien's never-before-published poem The Fall of Arthur, which will be released for the first time next May. Running to more than 200 pages, Tolkien's story was inspired by Geoffrey of Monmouth and Thomas Malory's tales of King Arthur, and is told in narrative verse. Set in the last days of Arthur's reign, the poem sees Tolkien tackling the old king's battle to save his country from Mordred the usurper, opening as Arthur and Gawain go to war.
"It is well known that a prominent strain in my father's poetry was his abiding love for the old 'Northern' alliterative verse," said Tolkien's son, Christopher Tolkien, who has edited the book and provided commentary. "In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight he displayed his skill in his rendering of the alliterative verse of the 14th century into the same metre in modern English. To these is now added his unfinished and unpublished poem The Fall of Arthur."
Tolkien began writing The Fall of Arthur a few years before he wrote The Hobbit. Its publication is the latest in a series of "new" releases from the author, including The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún in 2009 and the unfinished Middle-Earth story The Children of Húrin in 2007.
For the book's editor at HarperCollins, Chris Smith, the news that Tolkien had finished work on The Fall of Arthur was an unexpected surprise. "Though its title had been known from Humphrey Carpenter's Biography and JRR Tolkien's own letters, we never supposed that it would see the light of day," he said.
He described the previously unpublished work as "extraordinary", saying that it "breathes new life into one of our greatest heroes, liberating him from the clutches of Malory's romantic treatment, and revealing Arthur as a complex, all-too human individual who must rise above the greatest of betrayals to liberate his beloved kingdom".
He added that, "though Tolkien's use of alliterative verse will mean the poem is of more specialised interest than his other work, we would like to think that the subject of King Arthur is one that will resonate with readers of his more celebrated works."
"In The Fall of Arthur we find themes of lost identity, betrayal, and sacrifice for greater glory, which have their echoes in other works, such as The Lord of the Rings, but anyone looking for closer connections will find no wizards or magic swords. In this respect The Fall of Arthur is closer to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún."
These are the "new" poem's opening lines:
"Arthur eastward in arms purposed
his war to wage on the wild marches,
over seas sailing to Saxon lands,
from the Roman realm ruin defending.
Thus the tides of time to turn backward
and the heathen to humble, his hope urged him,
that with harrying ships they should hunt no more
on the shining shores and shallow waters
of South Britain, booty seeking."
John Garth, author of Tolkien and the Great War, said that from the fragments he had seen, the omens looked good. "In The Fall of Arthur, Tolkien depicts Arthur going off to fight the Saxons in Mirkwood – not the Mirkwood of Middle-earth, but the great German forests. Whether it's as good as the best by Tolkien will have to wait on the full publication, but snippets published so far are encouraging, showing him in darkly evocative mode writing about one of the great English villains, Mordred: 'His bed was barren; there black phantoms/ of desire unsated and savage fury/ in his brain brooded till bleak morning.'
"Any addition to the Arthurian tradition by a major author is welcome; this one is also exciting because of what it adds to our picture of a great modern imagination."
With the winner of the world's most illustrious books prize announced tomorrow, find out here if you're a laureate or a loser
Following his appointment, Sir John claims his dislike of tower blocks and of developers will still come out in his work
Sir John Betjeman, officially appointed Poet Laureate yesterday, will write only when moved, and otherwise "remain a silent thrush."
He asked yesterday, on holiday at a cottage in North Cornwall: "Isn't that a beautiful remark? I just made it up. Poetry is poetry, whether you are Poet Laureate or not. It has to be felt. I don't think I shall write about public occasions unless I can feel them, it is better not to write than to write badly."
Sir John, aged 66, succeeds the late Cecil Day-Lewis, whose strenuous efforts on most public occasions earned him the traditional £70 a year plus £27 in lieu of a butt of sack, plus cheques from national newspapers.
Sir John, who had "intimations" that he might be Poet Laureate but put them out of his mind because he might be thought "too much of a flibbertigibbet" heard the good news yesterday from his secretary, who had been telephoned by "the Prime Minister's office, I think it was."
His first thought was that he would write better if he wrote about what really interested him. "I would not, for instance, be at all interested in writing a poem about the entry of Britain into the economic market, or whatever it is. Not my kind of subject. I will write poems about the country, the countryside, English buildings and towns and villages, and people in relation to them."
The well-known dislike of tower blocks and of developers will come out in his poems as Poet Laureate as heretofore. "I don't think it will change one much. I can't write other than how I feel."
Sir John thought he might well have been moved to write by such public events as the arrival of the body of the Duke of Windsor back on his native soil. The engagement of Prince Charles, say? "He is a very nice fellow. I don't know - and I don't know whether he would like it. I would have to ask him first. I'd have to send it to him."
Does the thought of what the laureateship has done to others - a sort of Alfred-Austining process - inhibit Sir John, whose previous poetry has tickled the public fancy enough to put it in the bestseller class?
"Well, Tennyson was alright, wasn't he? Tennyson's best poem, or at least one of his best, 'Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington' couldn't have been achieved if the effect was as bad as that. He was obviously terrifically moved. That is why I say you should not write unless you are moved."
The suggestion, by supporters of some of his rivals for the Poet Laureateship, that he was a "flibbertigibbet" and "too popular" did not rob him of his habitual gentleness of manner.
"What is popular is always mistrusted. I like the popular. I like the popular press. I was rather pleased that the Daily Express – you couldn't possibly mention that in the pages of the Manchester Guardian – published a poem I wrote about executives because I thought it would get a wide circulation."
Journalism, according to the new Poet Laureate, is a very good training for the sort of poetry he likes. "I think poetry should scan and rhyme when possible, and be short and memorable. Journalism and something extra? I don't know what the something extra is. Marvellous moments put down in short words. You must excuse me now, because the television people have arrived."
By Jamie McKendrick
Out in the vacant lot to gather weeds
I found these teazles – their ovoid heads
delicately armoured with crowns of thorns.
Arthur, from whom I haven't heard a word
in thirty years, who must be ninety if
he's a day, told me they were used to raise
the nap on the green felt of billiards tables
and, since Roman times, for combing woollen stuff.
He also said their seeds were caviar
to the goldfinch. And then I lost the knife
he'd lent me to cut some – the loss of which
was the cause of grief. In honour of gruff Arthur
I shake the seeds out in our small green patch
and stick the spiky seed heads in a jar.
• From Out There by Jamie McKendrick (Faber, £9.99). To order a copy for £7.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop
Paul Batchelor finds much to admire in a collection by a long-neglected 20th-century poet
FT Prince's Collected Poems opens with a long, enthralling poem, "Epistle to a Patron", in which a sculptor attempts to ingratiate himself:
My lord, hearing lately of your
opulence in promises and
Busy with parasites, of your hands
full of favours, your statutes
Admirable as music, and no fear of
your arms not prospering,
Considered how to serve you and
breed from my talents
These few secrets which I shall
To your intelligent glory.
The reader is drawn in at once. "Your opulence in promises" is risky, and "your house / Busy with parasites" would be a fatal misstep for one hoping to win favour. And what of his too-obvious obsequiousness, and his boasts that he can "breed" secrets from his talents? He is wise enough to see that the prospective patron is a tyrant, but not wise enough to resist saying so: "your miserly freaks, / Your envies, racks and poisons ... ". Elaborate syntax and witty enjambment ensure that a dramatic tension between the speaker's ambition and his reason is maintained. As the sculptor's requests grow increasingly paradoxical ("I wish for liberty, let me then be tied"), we realise that the poem is, amongst other things, an expression of Prince's wish for the liberating constraint of poetic form – and the tyrant he is importuning may well be the reader.
Frank Templeton Prince is a superb poet who has been too long neglected. He was born in 1912 in Kimberley, South Africa, when it was a British Dominion, and attended the University of the Witwatersrand, and later Balliol College, Oxford. After graduating, he travelled in Europe, and in the second world war served in the Army Intelligence Corps, stationed in the Middle East. After the war, he seemed to settle, becoming professor of English at Southampton University; but upon retiring he resumed travelling, taking visiting professorships in Jamaica, the United States and Yemen. Prince's life of travel, and his war-time experiences, bring to mind Basil Bunting; and while the two poets do not stylistically resemble one another, both have a formidable and highly individual understanding of British history, and both have learned much from Ezra Pound.
Honouring the variety of his imaginative roots and legacies, Prince drew inspiration from Greek myth, Hasidic Judaism, African folklore, British history, Rennaissance art and the 8th-century Chinese poet Po Chü-i. His gallery of historical personae includes Michelangelo, Laurence Sterne, Edmund Burke and Rupert Brooke. The most impressive of these poems concerns Thomas Wentworth, First Earl of Strafford, an adviser to Charles I and a notoriously brutal Lord Deputy of Ireland in the years leading up to the English Civil War. "Strafford" guides the reader gracefully through its historical moment, and the complexities of an individual who is "impatient of himself, his greatness / Rooted in limitation". Pride and stubbornness are his downfall. King Charles, the unworthy recipient of Strafford's loyalty, is brilliantly sketched: "Sullenly delicate, that wan mean dignity!". The poem exemplifies Prince's ability to transform his research into art: the poem has not dated, while its source material has.
Prince's most famous poem is unusual in that it appears to be more straightforwardly autobiographical. "Soldiers Bathing" is a meditation on the body and the soul, on love and war, on life and art. Such themes would have tempted a lesser poet into indulgent, ponderous writing, but "Soldiers Bathing" moves lightly on sinuous lines, its rhyming couplets kept supple by the varying line length and the ingenious syntax. The poem begins with a depiction of soldiers bathing at evening. The poet observes but does not join in (he was an officer after all):
All's pathos now. The body that
Rank, ravenous, disgusting in the
act or in repose,
All fever, filth and sweat, its bestial
And bestial decay, by pain and
labour grows at length
Fragile and luminous.
The poem then considers similar scenes depicted by Michelangelo and Pollaiuolo, and the Christian iconography behind those works of art, before addressing the spiritual dimension of the war itself:
But night begins,
Night of the mind: who nowadays
is conscious of our sins?
Though every human deed
concerns our blood,
And even we must know, what
nobody has understood,
That some great love is over all
And that is what has driven us to
this fury …
"Soldiers Bathing" stands comparison with the best of Keith Douglas's poems. Prince's vision may be more hopeful and generous, but the poem's insights and associative leaps feel similarly guaranteed by experience. The phrasing is so clear-eyed as to be breathtaking: "Because to love is frightening we prefer / The freedom of our crimes".
In later work such as "Memoirs in Oxford", Prince seems to speak to us even more directly; but he always wears the mask of poetic form. He is adept at metrical, syllabic and free verse, and borrows unusual stanzaic forms from Wyatt, Shelley and Robert Bridges, among others. The mastery Prince achieved and the thrilling variety of his modes and voices means that, with the exception of the self-consciously minor late work (Prince labelled it "Senilia"), this volume reads like the highlights of a more copious body of work. Collected Poems will introduce readers to a poet of supreme skill and great intellectual curiosity.
• Paul Batchelor's The Sinking Road is published by Bloodaxe.
Ted Hughes's brother Gerald offers a moving evocation of their early life
Gerald Hughes's memoir of his little brother, Ted, has a muted, soul-swelling intensity, and the kind of holiness that requires no mention of God. Hughes's purpose is not priestly, though, or psychoanalytic, but botanical – to sift through old childhood soil which was fertile enough to grow a poet.
In 12 concise chapters Hughes describes the years from childhood in Yorkshire to Ted's death in 1998. Brotherly love suffuses each memory, and Hughes's earth-scented descriptions of Yorkshire show a love of nature reminiscent of Ted's, as similar to it perhaps as their ears or hands to each other's. It was an inheritance received in different ways: Ted became a great nature-poet and Gerald a farmer in Australia.
Gerald was 10 years older than Ted – a gap large enough to accommodate Ted's hero worship for which Gerald waited ready-made, with his rat-shooting skills, his knowledge of trout and the weather and of how to tie knots. Gerald's account of their early relationship is moving both as a portrait of sibling love and as one of a rural innocence that no longer exists. They didn't have Facebook, but "a message tree" on which they pinned notes to friends.
Life in Hebden Bridge blooms from the page – a sepia-tinted world of tram rides, box Brownies, Royd's ices, and Sunday hats. "Whip and top were the rage", "Granny" owned a sweet shop, "Mam" was "selfless". The description is strewn with parenthetical wonders: "(Farmers always spoke loudly – from working in wide fields in windy weather)". Recollections are tiny blueprints for an emerging design: aged four, after burning himself, Ted exclaimed: "Fires can jump up and bite you." At six, he sighed: "What a dull old world it would be without wildlife."
Gerald's tutelage of Ted "in natural country life" supplies the greatest pleasures of the memoir, its tone recaptured by Gerald's enduring fondness for its details. On one occasion the future poet laureate tore a page from his notebook and, under Gerald's supervision, practised shooting at it, his bullets landing, as his words would, in perfect formation on the page.
During the second world war, Gerald was stationed in North Africa with the RAF, so Ted "came under the influence" of his elder sister, Olwyn, an "academic star". As Ted later remembered in a letter, his teacher pointed at a line in his notebook – it described "the frost-chilled snap" of a wildfowler's gun – and said, "That's poetry." Ted thought, "Well, if that's poetry that's the way I think so I can give you no end of it."
When Ted went to Cambridge, Gerald emigrated to Australia. Whether Ted experienced this as a betrayal goes unexamined, but his immediate idea was to join Gerald after university. This "well-formulated" plan was abandoned when Ted met Sylvia Plath.
Even though they never met, Gerald felt "close" to Sylvia, receiving many letters from her and Ted. One of Sylvia's begins in a characteristic tone, both accusatory and self-belittling: "Ted had already sealed up your letter in his secretive way, but I made him open it up again to let me gossip for a bit." Ted was, Gerald remembers, "overwhelmed by his American family", their "opulence" and "social rounds". Estrangement was apparent on both sides: photographs showing Sylvia's first visit to her parents-in-law are full of smiles (Sylvia's face is the "tight ball of joy" Ted describes in Birthday Letters) but there is no doubt which of the group was not born in Yorkshire.
A letter from their mother to Gerald a few years later contains a speaking non sequitur: "Sylvia is strong-willed, but I think left alone they are very happy together." "Strong-willed" was a euphemism designed to contain whatever behaviour led Mrs Hughes to believe Sylvia "resented" Ted's closeness to Olwyn.
That Sylvia's anxieties and depression were exacerbated by a cocktail of ineffective medication and an "awareness that Ted had become infatuated by another woman" – Assia Wevill – was inevitable. Gerald sidesteps the question of his brother's culpability by depicting him as a bystander: "Sylvia talked of divorce, but Ted balked at this, believing they could get back together." But Ted continued to love Assia, whom he later described in "Dreamers" wearing "Soot wet mascara, in flame-orange silks, in gold bracelets,/ Slightly filthy with erotic mystery."
On the subject of Ted's love life, Gerald's humility, so vital to his portrait of boyhood, leaves the reader wishing he would risk more insight. Perhaps his evasions signal, like the doze of a benevolent grandparent, that certain complexities are beyond his understanding. Assia's suicide is merely reported by him as an uninterpretable fact. Ted's final marriage to Carol Hughes – a farmer's daughter – represented for Ted, and perhaps also for Gerald, a return to intelligibility. Ted felt "as if my real life had been suspended since the age of 16". A predestined muddle, perhaps, for a poet who looked like a film star.
Ted and I supplies ample explanation for Ted's belief that "Poetry is a way of contacting your family when they are gone". Ted's lifelong yearning for Gerald is heartbreakingly particular, and universal: who has not felt the need of a wise older brother? Ted was lucky enough to have one, and unlucky enough to be separated from him by half the Earth. Until death, Ted felt that if only Gerald lived nearby, "My life would not be half as crazy."
This playful tribute to the imaginative power of poetry is also a dizzying demonstration of it
This week's poem is by Oli Hazzard, whose first collection, Between the Windows has recently been published by Carcanet Press.
Hazzard's work is intriguing – playful and formally ingenious while engaged with serious philosophical questions. I've chosen "Pantoum in Which Wallace Stevens Gives Me Vertigo" for these qualities, and because it expresses without piety the delight of making meanings and experiences out of language. Its arc takes us from humorous exaggeration and implied argument with Stevens to homage. There's no doubt that Hazzard is able to write poetry which makes something happen in language, and in the reader's mind.
The source of the speaker's disorientation, as we're told immediately, is Wallace Stevens's "The Public Square." It's a brilliant small poem which packs immensities into its terse quatrains. Regrettably, it's still in copyright but you can read it here.
Hazzard borrows the following lines – "A languid janitor bears/ His lantern through colonnades/ And the architecture swoons" – making one-and-a-half lines of Stevens's three: "a languid janitor bears his lantern through colonnades/ and the architecture swoons… ". The verb "swoons", suggesting both faintness and ecstasy, leads to a new thought, and a less pleasant sensation: "I cannot read this poem/ without being struck down with vertigo."
The form Hazzard has chosen, the pantoum is strangely apt for a conversation with Stevens's poem. The latter is not, of course, a pantoum, but it employs some potent repetition, and has a dominant imagery of falling buildings. Hazzard's poem centres on the fear of falling down and uses a structure that would seem to guard against collapse.
The pantoum is an ultimately circular form, but, more importantly, its entire structure suggests a hesitant sort of progress. The repetition, in each stanza, of the previous stanza's second and fourth lines as first and third, gives the effect of retracing steps in an uncertain, slightly staggering gait – the way you might walk if you were feeling dizzy, or if you were navigating between obstacles.
"I can remind myself that it's only a poem, I'm not going to fall over/ whilst strapped into my chair" is reassurance for both readers and writers. Formal structures make us feel safe as writers: analytical tools, similarly, control and sometimes over-control the thrilling weightlessness of discovering a poem. Hazzard's literal scenario amusingly dramatises the risk. But the images associated with persons strapped into chairs are various, and some are distinctly disturbing.
The form is flexible enough to allow the repeated lines to change their syntactical position and punctuation. These shifts increase the effect of destabilisation. Many of the lines are enjambed rather than end-stopped, and embedded in a larger grammatical unit. But the syntax flows easily and cleanly. The idiom remains colloquial and the tone is gently, if knowingly, self-mocking.
The writer's agility produces some logical back-flips, and the substitution of one meaning with its opposite. So, at the end of stanza three, there's a qualification concerning "making it to the end" of the poem, when the speaker protests, "But this is not my ultimate goal". In the next stanza the assertion is adroitly denied: "'But this is not my ultimate goal,'/ I say – as if that were anything like the truth."
Other subtle variations are brought into play. "Fall over" slides deftly into "fall over/ myself". "Every day I celebrate// myself, because of one little achievement. (I don't really!)" loses the intensifier "just" which it first had (stanza 4, line 2) and, now in parenthesis, "I don't really!" become a comic aside. We probably shouln't believe it, though, because the form insists on a return to Stevens (stanza one, line three), "and the architecture swoons."
The last stanza assembles a larger focus, and a new ambiguity: "I cannot read this poem, / I say, as if it were anything like the truth." Is the speaker denying the truth of the statement that he cannot read this poem, or is he saying that the poem cannot be read "as if it were anything like the truth"? The latter seems likely, because of the change from "that" (stanza four, line four) to "it". Perhaps this raises the question as to whether any poem should be read "as if it were anything like the truth".
By claiming that the original poem caused the speaker such an extreme physical reaction that he needed to be strapped into a chair, Hazzard's speaker has had fun with the idea that a poem is the same kind of event as lived experience. Yet the exaggeration serves to remind us that "The Public Square" (and poems like it) may still act powerfully on a reader's perceptions. In the end, the teasing stops: the vertigo is banished, and with it, perhaps, a certain "anxiety of influence". The pantoum ends with a generous act of faith as it returns to its point of departure: a poem by Wallace Stevens. "Every day I celebrate/ Wallace Stevens' poem 'The Public Square'" seems less an exaggeration than a fact about living as a poet or reader of poetry, in that state of imaginative engagement.
Pantoum in Which Wallace Stevens Gives Me Vertigo
In Wallace Stevens' poem 'The Public Square',
a languid janitor bears his lantern through colonnades
and the architecture swoons. I cannot read this poem
without being struck down with vertigo. I can only read:
'A languid janitor bears his lantern through colonnades…'
before I start to feel sick, and suddenly aware of the earth's roundness.
Without being struck down with vertigo, I can only read
whilst strapped into my chair; I will read the poem, and
before I start to feel sick, and suddenly aware of the earth's roundness,
I can remind myself that it's only a poem, I'm not going to fall over
whilst strapped into my chair. I will read the poem, and
triumph by making it to the end. But this is not my ultimate goal.
I can remind myself that it's only a poem. I'm not going to fall over
myself just because of one little achievement. I don't really
triumph by making it to the end. 'But this is not my ultimate goal,'
I say – as if that were anything like the truth. Every day I celebrate
myself because of one little achievement (I don't really!)
and the architecture swoons. I cannot read this poem,
I say, as if it were anything like the truth. Every day I celebrate
Wallace Stevens' poem 'The Public Square.'
He forged a language that has shaped how the English – and British – see themselves, and set the terms for our imagination
Shelley's famous claim that poets are "the unacknowledged legislators of mankind" rings oddly in the case of Shakespeare. He has always been acclaimed, his words constantly appropriated by those seeking to change the world. The great writers and thinkers who re-imagined Germany at the end of the 18th century were profuse in their admiration for his work. And at the end of the British Museum's current exhibition Shakespeare: Staging the World sits the Robben Island Bible – the copy of Shakespeare's complete works disguised as a Hindu text and smuggled into the prison where anti-apartheid leaders were held captive. Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and others have each marked the passage of Shakespeare that inspired them in their struggle. All knew his work. All found nourishment in it. This is acknowledgement of a high order from people who went on to change their country and their continent.
But how far can we go with this? Did Shakespeare actually change the course of history? This would be a big claim for someone who didn't found an empire, reform a faith or directly challenge the structures of society. It is easy to say, at once: yes, he did; but harder to explain quite how.
In a very literal way, of course, Shakespeare did change the course of history: when it didn't fit the plot he had in mind, he simply rewrote it. His English histories play fast and loose with chronology and fact to achieve the desired dramatic effect, re-ordering history even as it was then understood. Cordelia ought to survive, and Lear should regain his throne; at the real battle of Shrewsbury Hotspur was 40 and Prince Hal 16, not the youthful oppositional contemporaries we all know from Henry IV Part 1. Shakespeare had to backtrack hastily over that play when the descendants of Sir John Oldcastle reacted badly to his version of their revered ancestor; and so Falstaff was born.
It is not at all clear what he himself believed, what his own views of politics, religion and society might have been. He has been seen as everything from the poet champion of accepted social hierarchy and the Elizabethan political settlement to a closet radical and secret Catholic. His caution and ambiguity in political matters and his range and empathy as a dramatic writer make it happily impossible to pin down his intentions. But we can be a bit bolder in considering his effect.
The British Museum's exhibition uses objects from his own time to examine how Shakespeare conjured up an entire world, past and present, before his original audience, the women and men who paid their silver pennies to see his plays at the Rose and the Curtain, the Swan and the Globe. Did Shakespeare and his contemporaries in the theatre change this audience's world and their attitudes to it? Unquestionably. The idea of a public, commercial theatre with an audience that included all social classes was new. For the first time, a whole city – a whole society – could see itself, laugh at itself, think about what it was and what it might become. An unceasing turnover of repertory provided a new arena for the expansion of knowledge, belief and debate, and the arena could be a national one, as the playing companies took this repertory around the country. Shakespeare was a star writer, his name a draw. He was acclaimed by his peers and honoured with a volume of collected works, reinforcing his status and spreading his reach from the theatre to the study.
He gave England new confidence in its own language and culture: at last there was a writer in English who was the equal of the greatest of the ancients, of "insolent Greece, or haughtie Rome", or indeed of any Italian, Spanish or French contemporary. As Ben Jonson wrote in the First Folio:
Triumph, my Britaine, thou hast one to showe,
To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time!
Cultural cringe was a thing of the past. And it wasn't just cultural: it was political as well, for Shakespeare forged a language that has certainly shaped how the English (and to some extent the British) see themselves even today in relation to the world. He set the terms in which we imagine our history.
His generation was the first for which England stopped at Dover. Mary Tudor's loss of Calais in 1558 meant that for the first time in 500 years England did not continue into France. This island had to be reimagined, treasured as the precious jewel set in the silver sea, and its people had to be recast, brought together in opposition to a hostile continent. The fantasy world of Henry V, of a nation united against the common foe, had little to do with Henry, much to do with the Armada, and even more to do with a rhetoric for concerted action against the "rebels" in Ireland.
This was poetry that has changed – and is still changing – the course of history, as it was repurposed by Churchill in 1940 and still shapes the language in which to craft a proper place for the UK in relation to the European Union.
The high poetic patriotism of the English history plays becomes subdued after the Stuart succession, the more measured Britishness of Lear and Cymbeline perhaps echoing the difficulty the English found in being merely part of the larger polity ruled by James VI and I.
Did Shakespeare ever manage a language of Britishness as powerful as the English celebrations of Richard II and Henry V? Not many would argue that he did. But then it is not clear that anybody has ever found the right rhetorical expression of the new reality. The flag designs with which James I sought to bring his two countries together show just how tough a challenge to the imagination that was and still is.
At the end of Cymbeline, Shakespeare conjures a confident, united Britain on happy terms with the continental superpower. We have still to find out how far his writing may shape the course of future events.
• A British Museum/Guardian panel discussion, 'The drama of nation building: did Shakespeare change the course of history?', will take place at the British Museum on 24 October