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

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    Paintings, posters and ephemera from Liverpool at the time of the Beatles show the city’s 60s scene rivalled New York for creativity

    In 1965, Liverpool was “the centre of human consciousness in the world”, according to Beat visionary Allen Ginsberg. A small exhibition at the ICA offers a nostalgic taste of that moment when Beatlemania ruled pop and the Mersey Beat poets were at the forefront of the British avant garde.

    It is a display of paintings, collages, film clips and cases of posters, books and ephemera remembering artist and poet Adrian Henri, who died 15 years ago. Henri, it turns out, pioneered happenings and performance art in Britain.

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    Stroll through the countryside that inspired former poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson

    Difficulty: Moderate
    Distance: 6.3 miles
    Typical duration: 3 hours
    Start and finish: St Mary’s Church, Tetford
    Map: OS Landranger 122
    Step-by-step details and mapsramblers.org.uk/tetford

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    One of the best-selling poets in history, the prolific force in popular culture captivated those who did not ordinarily like poetry

    Rod McKuen, the husky-voiced “King of Kitsch” whose music, verse and spoken-word recordings in the 1960s and 1970s won him an Oscar nomination and made him one of the best-selling poets in history, has died. He was 81.

    McKuen died on Thursday morning at a rehabilitation center in Beverly Hills, California, where he had been treated for pneumonia and had been ill for several weeks. He had been unable to digest food, said his half brother, Edward McKuen Habib.

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    Writers from Crabbe to Sebald have been drawn to the fragile beauty of the east coast of Britain – and have immortalised it in words

    • Hear Blake Morrison read his poem Covehithe

    Sixty-two years ago today, the combination of a severe storm and high spring tide brought catastrophe to the east coast of England, as the water rose to six metres above sea level and overwhelmed the land. The Dutch had it even worse, with the loss of 1,800 lives – they called it the Watersnoodramp, the “flood disaster”. But Suffolk and Essex suffered badly, too, with 307 deaths in all, including 38 at Felixstowe, 37 in Jaywick, and 58 on Canvey Island.

    A couple of documentaries appeared around the time of the 60th anniversary of the flood but compared with the commemoration of the 2004 Asian tsunami the coverage was modest. There wasn’t the footage; the only survivors with memories of the event were past pension age, and the loss of life was on a smaller scale. But perhaps another factor explains the neglect: resignation to the idea that the North Sea is destined to wreak havoc periodically and that nothing can be done to prevent it.

    Oh Dunwich is beautiful. I am on a heaving moor of heather and close gorse up and down and ending in a sandy cliff about 80 feet perpendicular and the black, peat-strewn fine sand below. On the edge of this 1½ miles away is the ruined church that has half fallen over already. Four arches and a broken tower, pale and airy.

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  • 01/31/15--00:30: The Saturday poem: Covehithe
  • by Blake Morrison

    • Hear Blake Morrison read Covehithe

    The tides go in and out
    But the cliffs are stuck in reverse:
    Back across the fields they creep,
    to the graves of Covehithe church.

    From church to beach
    Was once a hike.
    Today it’s just a stroll.
    Soon it’ll be a stone’s throw.

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    New evidence points to identity of enigmatic ‘Mr WH’ to whom the poems are dedicated

    Some of the finest, most quoted verses in the English language were dedicated to him, and for centuries literary scholars have tried to establish his identity.

    Now fresh research suggests that the mysterious Mr WH, to whom Shakespeare’s sonnets were dedicated, was not, as had been thought, a contemporary English nobleman, but a recently deceased associate of the Sonnets’ publisher, Thomas Thorpe, which would explain the dedication’s strangely funereal form.

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    The biography of the dancing, smiling, velocipede-riding future poet is condensed to a more rhythmic 700 words

    TS Eliot was never young. That, at least, is the impression many readers get both from his work and from the biographies written about him. Yet, while though this appearance of early senescence may be quite understandable, it is not true. Thanks to the meticulous librarianship of his wife, Valerie, almost every letter and fragment of writing that portrayed Eliot in the best possible light has been preserved and I am very grateful to have been granted permission to read them.

    Though my admiration for Eliot as a poet borders on devotion, I have been careful not to let that colour my assessment of him as a person. Thus, I do not propose to shy away from the difficult areas. Some have accused him of anti-semitism and I regret to say that I do find isolated instances of anti-semitism in his early work. And yet it is an anti-semitism very much of its day and as Eliot went on to make friends with a lot of Jews, I do not think we need to dwell too long on it.

    TS could become really quite wild when he heard the cha-cha

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  • 02/01/15--09:52: Rod McKuen obituary
  • Singer, songwriter and poet whose work was covered by Frank Sinatra, Madonna and Johnny Cash

    Rod McKuen, who has died aged 81, was, at his peak, a cultural phenomenon whose massive success as a songwriter and singer saw him become America’s most popular poet, dubbed The King of Kitsch by Newsweek magazine.

    His books of poetry were found both on middle American coffee tables and in the bedrooms of adolescents, reflecting their combination of dreamy romantic loneliness and uplifting platitudes. It was no coincidence that one of McKuen’s biggest hits was the title song for the animated Peanuts film A Boy Named Charlie Brown, for which he was nominated for an Oscar. A shrewd judge of passing styles and a hardworking promoter of his own work, McKuen produced 30 collections of poems and around 200 recordings of easy-listening music that sold in the millions. But it was his songwriting, covered by artists as varied as Frank Sinatra and Madonna, Dolly Parton and Chet Baker, Johnny Cash and Barbra Streisand, that made his fortune.

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    William Morris’s collection of miniature verses relating to paintings or tapestries is a great introduction to the English designer’s verse

    Winter
    I am Winter that do keep
    Longing safe amidst of sleep:
    Who shall say if I were dead
    What should be remembered?

    The Woodpecker
    I once a King and chief
    Now am the tree-bark’s thief,
    Ever ’twixt trunk and leaf
    Chasing the prey.

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  • 02/02/15--06:56: Dinesh Allirajah obituary
  • My good friend and colleague Dinesh Allirajah, who has died aged 47 following complications from surgery, was a believer in the liberating and educative power of the arts. He was chair of the National Association for Literature Development (1995-97) and Catalyst Dance and Drama (1999-2001); a founding board member in 2005 of Literature Northwest; chair of the trustees of the National Black Arts Alliance from 2002; and director of Comma Press publishers from 2012.

    During the 1990s, he worked as a literacy and creative writing teacher, running workshops in community centres, schools and prisons, and latterly lecturing and tutoring at Liverpool John Moores University and the universities of Central Lancashire and Edge Hill, Liverpool. He was also a writer in residence at Liverpool Hope University.

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    A selection of children’s poems has gone gone viral on Twitter after they were published in The Los Angeles Times. Is your child the next Sylvia Plath - or more of a McGonnagall? Share their poems with us in the comments, or on Twitter @GuardianBooks

    Goodbye to innocence? Comedian Shelby Fero, known for her quick and brilliant wit on Twitter, shared the following pieces of children’s poetry published in the section Creativity Corner of the Los Angeles Times this weekend. The poems read:

    Seashells are shining. Seashells are like ocean waves. Seashells beam at night” —Christopher, aged 9

    Parakeets are loud. On Friday, I take them out. They are so pretty.” — Skylar, aged 8

    The fire is red as blood. I watch the flames go up in the air as I taste the sadness of the people whose houses have burnt to the ground. I turn back, but all I hear is the bursting and explosion of flames.” — Gabi, aged 9

    @shelbyfero@todd_colemanpic.twitter.com/IxWKqsoSPv

    @shelbyfero@alexgriendling This is my 8 year old daughter's. Romans in school, WW1 war poets at home. The darkness. pic.twitter.com/wh12fDauZc

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    President Joko Widodo, clemency is a gift of the spirit. To kill the Bali Nine members shows only that death dictates life

    Dear President Joko Widodo,

    I am the Australian poet, writer and academic, John Kinsella. I spent a couple of months travelling through Indonesia when I was young, my mother speaks Indonesian, and I have long been interested in Indonesian poetry, theatre, music and fiction. I write this letter out of respect for the cultures of Indonesia, and for your role as president of the Indonesian people.

    for those killed by “firing squad” in the name of justice in Indonesia and a plea for clemency for those awaiting this fate


    Heavy weather over the rainforest
    heavy weather over plantations and prisons;
    when I think of Nusakambangan
    I think of the black egret and mouse deer.

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  • 02/06/15--05:49: Poster poems: darkness
  • For some poets it has meant solace, for others it is something fearful, or a kind of memento mori – but now it’s your turn to leap into the shadows. Post your poems about the dark

    Even now, with the days growing slowly longer, darkness dominates these winter months, especially for those of us who live in relatively rural areas. But for many urban dwellers, true darkness is an almost forgotten condition, usually only experienced as a consequence of war, power failures or the deliberate seeking out of lightless indoor spaces. Our fear of the dark has led us to try and banish it, with the consequence that we have also managed to drive out the beauty of a starlit night from many people’s experience.

    It is easy to forget how recent a phenomenon this technological elimination of the dark is. In Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, when the weary ploughman left the world to darkness and to the poet, it was a darkness the depth and quality of which most of us now can barely imagine. And in the dark, the poet’s mind was free to meditate on fame and mortality undistracted, and enter into a sympathetic understanding of the perpetual darkness that was the lot of his fellow denizens of the graveyard.

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    As Andrew O’Hagan prepares to complete a journey around the British Isles begun with Seamus Heaney, he reflects on his lifelong immersion in poetry, and celebrates poets as risk-takers and miracle-workers

    The bus down from Glasgow was a thing of legend. The city dissolved in a haze of orange lamps and the person beside you would toast the new life with a can of Carlsberg. It was a long night’s journey into day, and London’s King’s Cross, the place of arrival, was a different world then, with cobbled streets below and Victorian gasometers above, in the days before Eurostar and the revived St Pancras Hotel and the walkways and the Guardian. I remember a little cafe that was housed beneath the arches, a place with 1950s wallpaper, dirty windows and a matriarch in a plaid tabard who offered mugs of tea from a gushing samovar. “New, are you?” she asked. And over hard English rolls and bacon – I’d never known hard rolls before – she said the thing to do if you wanted to explore was to check your bag in at the cloakroom of the British Museum. I said that was nice of her and she gave me another tea and drew me a map of Bloomsbury.

    A poet is a writer with a scrupulous spirit, that’s what books had taught me, so I came to London with a volume of Scottish verse and an essay I’d written about Wallace Stevens. In the museum I found a room filled with glass cabinets; they contained manuscript pages by well-known writers, and I couldn’t get over them, those wonderboxes, one of them showing Keats’s Lamia and another the inkings of Philip Larkin. I’ll only speak about dead poets here, and not because death becomes a poet, but because the greatness of newer poets is a magical course to me, and I won’t throw out the bairns with the memorial bathwater. I am in love with poetry and nothing is better than a fresh volume by a poet you admire. Ian Hamilton, that ace writer and recidivist encourager and denouncer of poets, could talk about Matthew Arnold as if the saint of high culture was about to walk through the doors of the Gay Hussar. He was present to him. And that is how I’ve always felt about Burns, or Yeats, or Tennyson, or Frank O’Hara. If great poetry helps you to live your life, then what is it exactly that a person can gain from the memorable speech of ghosts?

    Self under self, a pile of selves I stand
    Threaded on time, and with metaphysic hand
    Lift the farm like a lid and see
    Farm within farm, and in the centre, me.

    Lives of football men remind us,
    We can dive and kick and slug,
    And departing leave behind us,
    Hoof prints on another’s mug.

    Yet they were of a different kind
    The names that stilled your childish play
    They have gone about the world like wind
    But little time had they to pray,
    For whom the hangman’s rope was spun,
    And what, God help us, could they save:
    Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
    It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

    On the grass when I arrive,
    Filling the stillness with life,
    But ready to scare off
    At the very first wrong move.
    In the ivy when I leave.

    It’s you, blackbird, I love.

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    Poems that are the textual equivalent of a high-wire act, with juggling. No one does it better

    I’m at once full of dread / and in complete denial,” writes Muldoon in the opening poem to this, his 12th collection. “I cannot thole the thought of Seamus Heaney dead.” The lines are dropped like a stone into the 27-stanza “Cuthbert and the Otters” a poem commissioned for the Durham book festival in 2013, and read there only a matter of weeks after Heaney’s funeral, where Muldoon was both eulogist and pall-bearer. “Thole”: to bear, to suffer. It’s a dialect word familiar from both poets’ childhoods, and the word (tholian) which gives Heaney “a little passport”, as he termed it, from Co Derry to the Anglo-Saxon world of Beowulf. “Cuthbert and the Otters” weaves together multiple histories: Vikings and Celts jostle for space with “the 82nd Airborne” and “Montgomery of Alamein”; the “coalfields of South Shields” with south Derry. The story of “Cuthbert of Lindisfarne / whose body will be carried aloft by monks fleeing those same Danes” finds its parallel with the cortege winding its way from Dublin to Bellaghy. The north-east of England is saturated with the language of Heaney’s north of Ireland soul-landscape: blackberries, cattle, the “peat stain”, the Viking traces. Muldoon closes with “Refulgent all. From fulgere, ‘to flash’” – evocative of Heaney’s own sensuous language, and the “lightning” strike of inspiration affirmed in the elder poet’s early essay “Feeling into Words”.

    No one can do this kind of involved poetic narrative better than Muldoon. The connections made are apparently serendipitous, and all the more compelling for that. His technical and linguistic brilliance is probably second to none; the poems are the textual equivalent of a high-wire act, with juggling. So expected now, indeed, may be his virtuoso handling of the unexpected, that the moments which genuinely shock can be those slightly jarring lines where the poet chooses to expose himself at ground level, without the tricks of the trade. If arcane language puts some barriers between the self and a truth he doesn’t want to face, at other times the straight-talking, tonally less familiar Muldoon also intrudes – almost involuntarily it seems – on his own complex poetic structures: “We come together again in the hope of staving off // our pangs of grief”; “As for actually learning to grieve / it seems to be a nonstarter”.

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    Pulitzer prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon on the ways in which modern life is intruding on to poetry, plus Nicholas Carr on the perils of automation Continue reading...

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    Virgil is a hero for our times because he thought deeply about nation, community and identity – issues that puzzle us today

    TS Eliot called Virgil’s Aeneid the classic of all Europe, and maybe that accolade is now off-putting, as if the poem were a very large white monument blocking the view, like the Victor Emmanuel excrescence in Rome. But I love Virgil for his doubleness, for being paradoxical. Ingres’s painting shows him reading a passage to the emperor Augustus and his sister Octavia. The emperor wants to hear a panegyric of Rome and himself, but Octavia is breaking down as Virgil ends his parade of Roman heroes with a poignant coda about her young son Marcellus, dead before his time.

    There’s the paradox: yes, Virgil endorses Rome’s imperial mission and has a whiggish hope for progress in history, but his poem is also suffused with the world’s sorrows. He is often seen as a “civilised”, literary, self-conscious author, but he is also intuitive and instinctive; he finds wonderful and mysterious places and penetrates the dark mysteries of the human spirit. His work wears that classic authority that Eliot admired, and yet no epic poem seems so personal. It conveys both a sense of struggle and a sense of sovereign mastery.

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    The artist on Egon Schiele, the magic of New York, the poetry of Emily Dickinson and the brilliance of Lena Dunham’s Girls

    Born in 1969 in St Albans, Vermont, Chantal Joffe moved to the UK at the age of 13 with her mother and brother, both also artists. She studied at Camberwell College of Arts and Glasgow School of Art, before graduating with an MA in painting from the Royal College of Art in London. In 2006 she received the prestigious Charles Wollaston award from the Royal Academy of Arts. Joffe’s towering paintings, mostly portraits of women or children, have been exhibited in London, New York, Bologna and Venice, and a number are held by the Saatchi Gallery. Her exhibition Beside the Seaside is currently at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings.

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    In this witty 18th-century ‘newsprint poem’, the queen of pseudonyms Mary Robinson gently satirises female conventions and conventional females

    Modern Female Fashions

    A FORM, as any taper, fine;
    A head like half-pint bason;
    Where golden cords, and bands entwine,
    As rich as fleece of JASON.

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    A strait-laced upbringing and a disastrous marriage taught the young TS Eliot to camouflage his emotions

    When TS Eliot died, 50 years ago last month, the New York Times called him that “quiet, gray figure who gave new meaning to English-language poetry”. This June marks the centenary of the publication of “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”, which, along with a few other early works including “Gerontion”, “Portrait of a Lady” and “Sweeney Among the Nightingales”, helped Eliot crack open modern poetry. Between 1915 and 1920, while rationing out a handful of radically innovative poems, Eliot published heaps of magisterially conservative literary criticism. Even before The Waste Land, he was famous enough to be parodied by Louis Untermeyer, who imagined “Einstein Among the Coffee Cups” in high Prufrockian style: “The night contracts. A warp in space / Has rumors of Correggio.” In late 1922 Eliot released The Waste Land into a world that seemed to be waiting, if not ready, for it. Joyce had published Ulysses that February; a few months later, Proust was finally translated into English, “so that even the French might read him”, quipped one American critic. “Modernism,” complained another, “they say, is in the air. So is the flu.” The Waste Land was heralded even before its publication as the poem that would epitomise this literary movement, the artistic source from which modernism could endlessly renew itself. Robert Crawford’s new biography, Young Eliot, takes its subject only as far as this momentous publication, ending with some sketchy gestures toward its initial reception.

    Eliot has been the subject of comparatively few biographies: his will prohibited the use of quotation, forcing his first biographers to resort to paraphrase. This has helped entomb him culturally as the man in “a four-piece suit”, in Virginia Woolf’s phrase, with “his brow so grim / and his mouth so prim”, as he himself once joked. Crawford wants to rescue “the bankerly poet” from his sepulchre of priggishness, and inject some colour into the quiet grey figure. Trying to loosen Eliot up, Crawford familiarly calls him Tom, tells us (too) many times that he was mischievous and emphasises the bawdy verse he wrote as an undergraduate. He focuses primarily on the twin influences that Eliot’s upbringing as a shy (another constant word) child in a strict family, and his education, had on his imagination. Although Eliot knew that “literature is not primarily a matter of nationality, but of language”, he also understood the importance of place, insisting after 30 years as a British citizen that his poetry, “in its sources, in its emotional springs, it comes from America”. Seeking those sources, Crawford’s masterfully researched chronicle enriches the familiar story of Eliot’s early years in St Louis, education at Harvard and Oxford, travels on the continent and ultimate residence in London. The first biography permitted to quote extensively from Eliot’s language, Young Eliot finally brings the poet’s life-defining gift into the story.

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