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

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    Ever dreamed of packing it all in and becoming an artist? Meet four people who prove it’s never too late to follow your heart – from the sociologist bagging poetry prizes in her 60s, to the surgeon wowing audiences at the National

    A few years ago, Prasanna Puwanarajah was about to step out on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company when a member of the audience fainted. Puwanarajah, who trained as a surgeon before embarking on a second career as an actor, director and playwright, was called out from backstage to help. “I was playing the priest in Twelfth Night,” he says. “I was in full Greek Orthodox costume. I came out into the foyer, and the lady who had fainted took one look at me and said, ‘It’s a very good service here, isn’t it?’”

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    Some think of Stein’s poetry as a literary version of cubism, but her embrace of ordinary objects here seems more radical – and more mysterious, writes Carol Rumens

    Colored Hats
    Colored hats are necessary to show that curls are worn by an addition of blank spaces, this makes the difference between single lines and broad stomachs, the least thing is lightening, the least thing means a little flower and a big delay a big delay that makes more nurses than little women really little women. So clean is a light that nearly all of it shows pearls and little ways. A large hat is tall and me and all custard whole.

                  *

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    Creative writing professor takes home £20,000 prize for his 11th collection of work after four previous appearances on shortlist

    After four previous appearances on the shortlist for the TS Eliot prize for poetry, David Harsent has finally taken the honour for his 11th collection of poems, Fire Songs. He was described by the chair of the judging panel, the poet and novelist Helen Dunmore, as “a poet for dark and dangerous days”.

    She added: “Fire Songs plumbs language and emotion with technical brilliance and prophetic power.”

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    In his celebration of the young TS Eliot (Review, 10 January), Robert Crawford writes at length about the modernity and the notable achievement of The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, but mentions only casually Eliot’s making friends with Ezra Pound. Perhaps he is not aware that Pound was the first to recognise the modernity and the achievement of Prufrock, and that he did this on first meeting Eliot in September 1914; that he overcame the resistance of the editor to get that poem published in Poetry (Chicago) in June 1915; that he printed all the poems Eliot had ready for publication in his Catholic Anthology in November 1915, for “the satisfaction of getting Eliot’s poems into print between covers”; and that he subsidised the publication of Eliot’s first slim volume, Prufrock and Other Observations, in 1917, then generously reviewed it. Later, of course, he edited Eliot’s drafts into the acclaimed The Waste Land. Altogether, young Eliot’s debt to young Ezra Pound seems worthy of note.
    A David Moody
    Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire

    • Robert Crawford describes the first publication of Prufrock in 1915 as being “tucked away towards the back of a small magazine, probably because the editor did not greatly care for it”. Poetry magazine was indeed small (it had been founded, on a shoestring, only three years earlier). It’s also true that its founder and editor, Harriet Monroe, was befuddled by Prufrock and had to be pushed by Ezra Pound (a world-class nagger) into publishing it. But Poetry quickly became, and remained for decades, the major outlet for modern poetry in English, giving early exposure not just to Pound and Eliot but to Robert Frost, Edna St Vincent Millay, HD, Marianne Moore, Langston Hughes and many others. And now, of course, thanks to a $200m bequest from Ruth Lilly (who had submitted several poems to the magazine and apparently greatly appreciated the then editor’s courtesy in handwriting the rejection letters himself), the shoestring has become a cornucopia. I think the article should at least have given the magazine its name. Although, perhaps, I am biased; Harriet Monroe was my great-aunt.
    Ann Monroe
    Totnes, Devon

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    A fortunate journalist recalls a guided tour given to him by the Dorset town’s renowned author

    A correspondent writes:- “I was once lucky enough to be taken round Dorchester with two friends by Thomas Hardy. He led us down the old High Street and into the warehouse at the back of one of the shops where he believed he had discovered an Elizabethan theatre, and after that to the tiny thatched cottage on the river bank, once the hangman’s house, where, he told us, he used to go after dark with the other boys of the town in order to climb on the window-sill and peep through the blind - not out of idle curiosity, he explained, but because they all felt less terrified of the hangman as a bogy if they saw him going to bed like any other ordinary mortal.

    “Mr. Hardy also pointed out the spot, I think outside the Black Bear Hotel, where he remembered the public hangings taking place. He had never forgotten that the hour for the executions was fixed at ten minutes past twelve, in case the midday coach should bring a reprieve. To hear him speak of these early reminiscences was to gain some insight into the sensitive spirit that suffered so acutely all through life at any manifestation of human suffering or human cruelty.

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  • 01/14/15--04:18: Harry Haines obituary
  • My friend Harry Haines, who has died aged 95, was a coalface worker, social worker and writer who was happy to be labelled the Miner Poet.

    Born in Portsmouth, Harry was an aircraft engineer in the RAF during the second world war, serving in the Middle East and Italy. After the war he spent 20 years in the Leicestershire coalfield, working at Donisthorpe colliery and living in the pit village.

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    The family farm, endives and cherries that speak of both joy and deprivation

    For six years Thomas Lux’s poem “Refrigerator, 1957” has been squatting my computer desktop. I was writing a fridge poem of my own when I unearthed it from the internet and fell hard for the jar of cherries on “the middle door shelf”:

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    Duffy’s 1999 collection The World’s Wife gives the women behind the scenes – from Mrs Midas to Queen Kong – a glorious and powerful voice. She is a poet of vast imagination

    Poetry is pleasure.

    Sometimes people say to me, “why should I read a poem?” There are plenty of answers, from the profound – a poem is such an ancient means of communication that it feels like an evolutionary necessity – to the practical; a poem is like a shot of espresso – the fastest way to get a hit of mental and spiritual energy.

    I was wind, I was gas

    I was all hot air, trailed

    I flew in my chains over the wood where

    we’d buried

    But behind each player stood a line of

    ghosts

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    by David Harsent

    Now footsteps on shingle. Make of it what you will. Sea-birds roost
    on the breakwaters, accustomed, of course, to twilight.
    The spirit-lamp in that house on the headland could easily fall
    and spill
    and the fire burn all night. Some time later, a subtle ghost,
    yourself in memory perhaps, might well set foot
    up there amid clinker and smoke, the whole place silent and still
    except you bring in the tic of cooling timbers, and then the birds
    in flight.

    *

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    The recently announced winner of the TS Eliot prize on dreams, his awful education and his years as a writer of detective fiction

    Professor of creative writing at the University of Roehampton, David Harsent (born 1942) deserves that Shakespearean phrase from Measure for Measure, “the duke of dark corners”, as a poet because in his work – including nocturnes, unquiet dreams, hauntings – it seems that he has always been able to see in the dark.

    His outstanding 11th collection, Fire Songs (Faber, £12.99), which has just won the TS Eliot prize, has its darkness shot through with fire (with a riveting and terrifying poem about a witch being burnt at the stake) and ice – a particularly dazzling poem about an ice field was inspired by a picture taken by his acclaimed photographer son, Simon.

    Related: David Harsent: A life in writing

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    An awkward outing with a separated father is recalled – and lived again – in this delicate sonnet, finds Carol Rumens

    Your afternoon pint; my Britvic pineapple juice;
    a bag of prawn cocktail gaping in the middle.
    The lounge at the Wig & Mitre was Daddy’s choice.
    And then, at six, my taxi home; a cuddle
    before I left you waving at the corner,
    bound for my mother, our monthly weekend over.
    And she would always seem a little warmer
    Than when I’d left, and I’d be slightly colder.

    How could I know what an alcoholic was?
    The Wig & Mitre’s now Widow Cullen’s Well.
    The snugs have been pulled out, the walls made bare;
    but the place still has the same sweet, musty smell,
    And I’m going in for a drink again because
    I know I’ll find a part of us in there.

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    Welcome to the jazz venue that, rich in community spirit, is perfect for the purist but also gracious to the merely curious

    Capacity: 100.

    Who plays there: The Vortex offers perhaps the most diverse lineup of any London jazz club, ranging from traditional, contemporary and commercial jazz acts to rock crossovers and the outer reaches of the avant-garde. There are also evenings of poetry and spoken word, as well as the occasional folk act. Notable names to have played include Kenny Wheeler, Keith Tippett, Stan Tracey, Norma Winstone, Paloma Faith, Jah Wobble, Martin Carthy, Portico Quartet and Polar Bear. Evan Parker has a monthly residency and Penny Rimbaud runs a quarterly night of music and poetry.

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    Submit a previously unpublished translation of a poem from any language, ancient or modern, no later than 22 May

    Poetry translation requires an unusual degree of judgment and balance: while slavish fidelity rarely works, there is a thin line between inventiveness and travesty. Those who successfully negotiate the high wire, bringing poems from other languages to a new readership, deserve the rewards bestowed by the Stephen Spender prize for poetry in translation, in partnership with the Guardian.

    Entrants are asked to submit a previously unpublished translation of a poem from any language, ancient or modern, no later than 22 May. Judged by Josephine Balmer, Katie Gramich, WN Herbert and Stephen Romer, the prize has three categories – Open, 18-and-under and 14-and-under; UK and Irish nationals and residents can enter.

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  • 01/24/15--02:00: Who was Chaucer?
  • From the foul-mouthed Miller to the prim Prioress, only Chaucer could have dreamed up a group as diverse as the Canterbury pilgrims. But how much do we know about the founding father of English letters?

    In 1386 Geoffrey Chaucer endured the worst year of his life, but he also made his best decision, or at least the decision for which we’re most grateful today. This was when, after experiencing every kind of worldly and professional reversal, he set out to write his Canterbury Tales.

    Whether thou be read, or else sung,
    That thou be understood, God I beseech!

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    by Jonathan Edwards

    Now here she comes, rattling over cobbles,
    powered by her sandals, the gentle downhill
    and the grace of God. Now here she comes, her habit

    what it was always waiting to become:
    a slipstream. Past stop signs, the pedestrian
    traffic at rush hour, the humdrum mopeds,

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    The first official biography of TS Eliot, covering his life up to The Waste Land, is both compelling and revelatory

    Young Eliot marks both a milestone and a turning point. First, it coincides with the 50th anniversary of his death. Old Possum still dominates Parnassus as the greatest English or American poet of the last century, an achievement that adds to the impossible grandeur of Eliot’s artistic posterity. The maintenance of this reputation has been the self-motivated duty of the poet’s estate, represented by his second wife, Valerie, a heady cocktail of Ophelia and Mistress Quickly with a splash of White Witch, the archetype of the literary widow.

    Which brings us to the turning point. Since Valerie Eliot’s death in November 2012, there has been a great thaw in Narnia. Once upon a time, there could never be an authorised life, not even by the late Richard Ellmann. Now the estate has bestowed its blessing on his protege, Robert Crawford, a seasoned Eliot scholar.

    Related: TS Eliot: the poet who conquered the world, 50 years on

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    While he misses the black humour, Owen Lowery sees lifetimes in the magically mystifying moments captured by Paula Rego’s art

    So many of Paula Rego’s paintings are of people caught in the act – but the acts are often ambiguous and the stories that surround them enigmatic. Do we want these incomparable paintings demystified and extended as narratives? The danger is that a poem will be attached to a painting like an artificial limb that readers will immediately want to reject.

    Owen Lowery is the author of a praised debut, Otherwise Unchanged, that reflects on a life that did change when his career as a British judo champion ended after a severe spinal injury. He is a respectful, questing, mannerly writer, aware of the possible liberty of writing about Rego’s paintings and the complication that many are inspired by existing narratives (Jane Eyre, Snow White, the Bible), by paintings (Hogarth’s sequence Marriage à-la-mode) and a poem (Moth by Blake Morrison).

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    Carol Rumens looks at a vivid portrait of the distances between cultures, languages and lovers – and the romantic wish to overcome them

    Where the Script Ends

    His shirt is tangerine,
    the sky Delft,
    the sunshine daffodils.

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    Poet and teacher Jonathan Edwards, up against Ali Smith for the top Costa prize, has no intention of leaving school. It’s where he gets his inspiration, he says

    When Jonathan Edwards was a schoolboy in south Wales, his primary teacher dressed the class in rags, smeared dirt on their faces, and took them on a re-enactment of the Chartist march of 1839. The Newport Rising began at the Welsh Oak pub in Pontymister and ended when 22 protesters, marching for the right to vote, were shot.

    “Looking back, I think that was a really important day,” says Edwards, 35 and a teacher himself. He included a poem about Newport’s Chartist mural in his first book. The mural was controversially demolished in 2013 but the book won this month’s Costa poetry award. On 27 January Edwards will learn whether he has beaten the favourite, novelist Ali Smith, to the overall prize for book of the year.

    Working-class dissent was a big thing for me when I was growing up. In the valleys you’re steeped in it

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    How to Be Both’s daring combination of contemporary and Renaissance stories leads betting for the prestigious awards’ overall winner

    Read extracts from all the category winners
    Vote for your favourite in the poll below

    Ali Smith’s dazzling literary novel How to Be Both is frontrunner to win the Costa book of the year awardon Tuesday evening – but Emma Healey’s debut Elizabeth is Missing looks set to be the readers’ choice for the prize.

    Smith’s novel, which brings together the stories of a modern teenager and a Renaissance artist, was the odds-on favourite at 5/4 on Monday to win the £30,000 award by bookmakers William Hill. Helen Macdonald’s memoir of bereavement and hawk-training, H is for Hawk, came in second place for the bookie, at 11/4, with Healey’s tale of an old woman, Maud, who is losing her memory but convinced that her friend Elizabeth has gone missing, at 5/1.

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