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

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    He may have died in 1953, but the BBC dramatisation of Under Milk Wood brought Thomas’s work afresh to a 21st-century audience

    Dylan Thomas’s 2014 centenary saw a predictable gush of adjective-drenched, misanthropic verse. Much did not go fast enough “into the dying of the light” for my taste. But one tribute stood out amid the gloom: BBC Wales’s dramatisation of Under Milk Wood, with a gathering up of 37 Welsh celebrities. The casting was absurdly glamorous: Tom Jones as Captain Cat and Katherine Jenkins as an implausibly floor-scrubbing Polly Garter. The vignettes were superb and brought each line of poetry to life. Bryn Terfel was an eloquent Reverend Eli Jenkins, Charlotte Church a stern Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard and Jonathan Pryce and Siân Phillips the murderous Mr and Mrs Pugh. Michael Sheen, Ioan Gruffudd, Griff Rhys Jones and Kimberley Nixon all put in appearances.

    The fact that most of the cast were beamed into Laugharne from wherever they were on duty – Cardiff, London, New York, Los Angeles, even Craig Roberts in a limousine – caricatured the production, but only as Thomas himself caricatured his home town. They lent the place a strange dignity. The power of the word elevated the petitbourgeois ambitions, lusts, jealousies and memories of Under Milk Wood, as Pip Broughton’s camera wrapped the roofs, streets and interiors in Thomas’s rich imagery. Never has the screen paid such a compliment to poetry, or poetry to the screen. For some reason the BBC broadcast this minor masterpiece just once and it is gone.

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    The Jamaican writer’s latest collection tackles race. She explains how she’s using poetry to make sense of one of the most fraught times in recent US history

    In August Claudia Rankine, the lyric poet and playwright, visited Ferguson, Missouri, only weeks after Michael Brown’s death.

    She had been invited to visit St Louis months before Michael Brown was killed to deliver a reading while she was finishing up her latest work, Citizen: An American Lyric, a book-length poem and her fifth collection. She spoke to people who lived in Brown’s neighborhood, just as she had with her black male friends whom she interviewed and asked about their experiences of racism in America for the collection.

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    Little Angel, London
    Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem makes perfect sense in Peter O’Rourke’s spellbinding puppet show

    It has been a season of strange theatrical beasts. None of them is more imaginative than Jabberwocky. Once again the Little Angel theatre makes the miniature spellbinding. Steve Tiplady’s production, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s poem, is a substantially revised version of the theatre’s 2004 production, with the set and puppets designed as before by Peter O’Rourke. The difference is that this time there is no script other than Carroll’s own words; lines of the verse are dropped in fragments throughout the action.

    The Little Angel recommends Jabberwocky for anyone aged six and upwards. I recommend it for everyone. It begins with a wooden mannequin, small enough to sit on a puppeteer’s finger, and with a low-voiced recitation of Carroll’s poem. It goes on to create the nonsense stanzas with geometric shapes, acidic colours and a pared-down musical accompaniment. The result is uncanny and enchanting. Oh, and comic too.

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    Unchanged redbrick house, where parents of famous first world war poet learned of his death in 1918, listed by English Heritage

    An Edwardian redbrick semi-detached house on the outskirts of Shrewsbury is being honoured on Monday with a Grade II listing, not for its modest architectural qualities but for the man who spent his last two days of leave there in 1918, before returning to France and death in the trenches.

    Wilfred Owen, one of the most famous of the first world war poets, was killed in action on 4 November, just days before the Armistice. It was at the house, 69 Monkmoor Road, that his parents learned of his death as the bells of Shrewsbury cathedral were ringing to hail the end of the war.

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    A modern woman tries to semaphore her distress to a distant ‘Edwardian’ lover

    Lucy Tunstall, born in London in 1969, published her first collection, The Republic of the Husband a few months ago. She belongs, at least on the evidence of this collection, to a wittily anti-realist wave of younger women poets (Tara Bergin, Heather Philipson, and Jane Yeh are others) who channel a subversive inheritance from Jo Shapcott and Selima Hill (and, ultimately, Stevie Smith and Edith Sitwell) for a streetwise, theory-aware, postmodernist generation.

    Tunstall strikes a note that’s clearly her own. Alienation often seems less of a private affliction than a shared family trait , and characters who might have fired a comic novel find alternative lyrical shapes for their stylish volatility in her work. This week’s poem, Signal Flags (Without You It’s Chaos) centres on the comedy of failed sexual communications, while disturbing several genres: the photograph/home movie poem, the love poem, the period piece. It may start with a quaintly realistic portrayal, but it’s not in the business of realistic portraiture. As an unrequited love poem, it makes fun of the genre, yet it’s no parody. The possibility of a fierce, painful sincerity is always left open.

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    Poets’ weekly gatherings suffer slump in fortunes as budgets tighten after the withdrawal of western troops

    Every Thursday, down a quiet residential street, hundreds of men gather inside a red tent. Here, they turn off their mobile phones and settle down for an afternoon of poetry reading.

    In Afghanistan, which has a literacy rate of 28%, poetry and the oral tradition of it has long been part of the culture. Even an illiterate farmer will have a few lines of Rumi, the nation’s preferred scribe, committed to memory. The medium has served as a glue that binds together the ethnicities that make up the modern state of Afghanistan.

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    Continent’s ancient oral tradition gets new hearing on pioneering mobile site Badilisha Poetry X-Change

    “These days, the language of death
    is a dialect of betrayals; the bodies
    broken, placid as saints, hobble
    along the tiled corridors, from room
    to room. Below the dormitories
    is a white squat bungalow, a chapel
    from which the handclaps and choruses
    rise and reach us like the scent
    of a more innocent time.”

    These are the opening lines of Hope’s Hospice, written by Ghanaian-born Jamaican poet Kwame Dawes. He is among nearly 400 African poets from 24 countries in 14 languages who can now be heard reading their work via mobile phones – a first for Africa and the world.

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    On New Year’s Eve, a Guardian poet predicts problems in Ulster, lengthening dole queues and BBC flops for 1981

    Looking forward, looking back,
    Off the rails or on the track?
    What immortal hand or eye
    Can tame thy fearful punditry?

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    by Dennis O’Driscoll

    By landslide vote
    we drive the old year out,
    unanimously pass
    motions of no confidence.

    It had been granted an entire year
    to fulfil its promise, only to renege
    on its mandate, plague the world
    sadistically with tribulation.

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    As the current laureate is made a Dame, Kate Wilkinson pays tribute to work that has fearlessly engaged with the great questions of our age

    Dorothy Wordswoth’s Christmas Birthday by Carol Ann Duffy
    Twelve Days of Christmas by Carol Ann Duffy
    Snow by Carol Ann Duffy

    Of all the honours in this week’s New Year list, the Damehood bestowed on Carol Ann Duffy seems most timely. Not just because of her indefatigable record in responding to public events over the five years of her tenure as poet laureate, but because the Christmas holiday period has been so particularly productive for her.

    Every year since 2008 she has published a Christmas poem and each one differs. In Mrs Scrooge (2008) and Wenceslas (2012), both published in the Guardian, she explores a time of material indulgence. The ascetic Mrs Scrooge and the Falstaffian King Wenceslas could not be more different in their celebrations of Christmas.

    “Within the Goose,
    perfumed with Fruits, was a Duck,
    and jammed in the Duck, a
    Pheasant,
    embalmed in Honey”

    “On the first day of Christmas, a buzzard on a branch.
    In Afghanistan, no partridge,
    pear tree; but my true love sent to me a card from home.”

    “Then all the dead opened their cold palms
    and released the snow; slow, slant, silent,
    a huge unsaying, it fell, torn language”

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    A feverish collection of ecstatic visions, biblical symbols and everywhere a lick of flame

    “Dreamwork delivers jump-cuts”, David Harsent writes towards the end of Fire Songs, and it’s a phrase that could be taken as a statement of his poetic modus operandi through much of his 11th collection. It delivers a stream of feverish, oneiric visions, of apocalypse brought about through war or environmental catastrophe or the boundless human capacity for self‑deception and bedevilment; and everywhere there’s the lick of flame – “it will be fire” is a recurring line.

    The collection makes rich use of symbol, especially biblical symbol, and reads somewhat like a modern-day Book of Revelation – there’s definitely something of the entranced, ecstatic visionary in some of the bravura pieces here. And it resounds with judgment, both historical and yet to come. Thematically, it’s organised around four “Fire” pieces, kicking off with the burning, in 1546, of Anne Askew, the Protestant martyr and poet whose chief offence against the church was her effrontery, first, in reading the Bible in English and, second, in seeking divorce from a man her father had decided she would marry in place of her elder sister who had died – in which, of course, she was following the lead of her king, who she appears to have thought would support her case.

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    Spirals are everywhere in the stories and poem that make up this intriguing book, now on the Costa shortlist. But what does it all mean?

    Pick up Marcus Sedgwick’s new book, shortlisted for the Costa children’s award, and you’ll immediately be impressed – this hefty volume is beautifully and expensively produced, adorned with spirals inside and out. Inside, an introductory note advises you that the four parts of the book, the “four quarters to this story” – three stories and a poem, each about 100 pages long – can be read in any order “and the story will work”.

    The first quarter, the poem, written in blunt free verse, describes a girl living with her tribe in a forest beside a great lake. Some hunt; others are chosen to paint magical motifs inside nearby caves, bringing good luck. When they are attacked, the girl, unable to warn her tribe, intuits the possibility of writing: “If there was a way, / she thinks. / To make a mark in the sand. / And that mark to be known by all. / And that mark to have a meaning. / A meaning known to all. / There could be different marks / for different meanings. / Then there could be a mark to mean go / and one to mean follow.”

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    Newsflash: Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy leads a team of judges for the Keats-Shelley essay prize 2015 (open to 16-18 year-olds for the first time!) AND their new Young Romantics creative writing prize. Find out more about how to submit your poems, short stories and essays here

    “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”. Think you could live up to that? Well here’s your chance. Since 1998 the Keats-Shelley Prize has encouraged poets and critics of all ages from around the world to write their own essays and poems on Romantic themes. Now there’s a brand new competition for young writers too!

    Young Romantics is a competition which asks writers aged between 16 and 18 to enter their poems (max. 20 lines) and short stories (max. 1,000 words) – the only condition is that your work must take their inspiration from the work, lives and ideas of the Romantic poets, and they must refer to the theme of the competition, which this year is Lost Angels.

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    Carol Rumens reconnoitres a work that refracts modern psychological warfare through ancient folk traditions

    Ballad

    Once the social structure has thoroughly been mapped out,
    staff should identify and analyze the culture …
    COUNTERINSURGENCY (December2006),
    Headquarters, Department of the Army

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    This illustrated edition of Walt Whitman’s epic poem from Leaves of Grass is a heartfelt, sexy tribute to the Good Gray Poet

    At the end of Song of Myself, the epic poem at the heart of Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman invites us, his readers, to look for him beneath the soles of our boots. In turn, Allen Crawford, the American artist who has taken it upon himself to illustrate Whitman’s 60-page poem, protracting it along the way into 234 elaborately designed pages, hopes that we will find a little of the poet “under his pen”. He knows that it’s pretty “presumptuous” of him to have to attached his own name to Whitman’s, but he hopes to have atoned for this with his labour. And what labour it was! In a brief foreword, Crawford describes the process involved in his book’s creation. Each two-page spread took him between eight and 10 hours to complete; the whole thing consumed 2,560 hours of his life. During the winter, he slaved away in his Pennsylvania basement encased in several dressing gowns, boots and a Russian fur hat. His hands became so sore, he would go to bed with them slathered in cream and covered with a sock “like an ageing baseball player”.

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    Two poems from the ‘joyous, brilliant and moving’ collection that has taken this year’s award and is now in contention for the overall prize

    Evel Knievel Jumps Over my Family


    A floodlit Wembley. Lisa, the producer,
    swears into her walkie-talkie. We Edwardses,
    four generations, stand in line,
    between ramps: Smile for the cameras.

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    One of the 20th century's most influential poets, Eliot died 50 years ago this month. He often wrote of the fragility of memory, but much do you recall about his work? Continue reading...

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    Down the centuries, they have supplied many poets with symbols, subjects and inspiration. Your tall order this time is to follow their ascents

    Fifty years ago this October three American poets, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen, met at the bottom of Mount Tamalpais, a small mountain at the northwest end of San Francisco bay, to perform a ritual of their own devising. Following the example of Tibetan Buddhist monks, they walked clockwise around the mountain, imitating the path of the sun as a kind of meditation. Nowadays, the 15-mile circumambulation of Tamalpais is celebrated four times a year, but minus the poets.

    This may seem like a typical bit of Californian hippie-dippy nonsense, but the association of poetry and mountains dates back at least as far as the classical myth of the Muses and their link with Mount Olympus. The Beat poets’ interest in mountains was not purely spiritual, either. Many of them spent their summers working as fire lookouts in the western ranges, a handy way to earn a bit of money and make time for thinking and writing. Both Whalen and Snyder wrote poems about their experiences on Sourdough Mountain, one of the most gruelling climbs in Washington State.

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    This week, I share two books with you; a readable collection of essays written by the foremost authorities in neuroscience about the future of the brain, and a lovely book of poetry and art that captures the spirit of an urban natural area.

    .

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    TS Eliot, once a subversive outsider, became the most celebrated poet of the 20th century – a world poet, who changed the way we think. Yet, fifty years after his death, we are still making new discoveries about him

    It’s 2015, the year of the Bullshit Centenary. One hundred years ago a young immigrant poet submitted his poem “The Triumph of Bullshit” for publication in a London avant‑garde magazine. The editor’s letter explaining his rejection of the work makes clear he decided to “stick to my naif determination to have no ‘Words ending in -Uck, -Unt and –Ugger’.” Probably the word “bullshit” was imported from the poet’s native US; but so far no one has found “bullshit” in print as a single word before 1915.

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