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

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    Andrew Motion and Alice Oswald among contributors to new version of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s pioneering collection

    The poems are full of waterfalls, frosty moors, sunlit summer days, crumbling cottages – and a focus on the real lives of “ordinary” people.

    Two centuries after William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge pioneered the Romantic poetry movement, 23 of their best-known modern successors, including the former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, have contributed freshly minted pieces for a new version of the pair’s landmark collection, Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems.

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    The American poet was once a messenger for a Manhattan shipping company, delivering mail to offices in the newly erected twin towers. The 9/11 attacks brought memories coursing to the surface

    World Trade Center/ Mail Runner/ ’73

    There was no languor, no drowsy trade winds,
    or stoned-out stupor of lapping waves,

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    I had no contacts or money but IdeasTap helped launch my career as a writer. Other young people who wouldn’t normally stand a chance should be able to benefit too

    When I first came across the boldly branded IdeasTap online I had two high-pressure jobs, in the wildly divergent fields of Mayfair nightclubs and the civil service, in order to pay my way through a part-time MA in international politics (hence the nightclubs) and to start a sensible, safe career trajectory (hence the civil service).

    I had always wanted to pursue the arts, specifically poetry and playwriting, but it had never seemed like anything that could become a reality. I was the first person in my immediate family to go to university and I had no friends or acquaintances who were professional artists. So I thought writing would remain what it always had been for me: a much-loved pastime.

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    The historian, presenter and author picks his favourite medieval adventurers

    Whether it be a gallant, armour-clad noble racing to the rescue of an imperilled damsel, or a blood-soaked warrior engaged in a savage massacre, the image of the knight in action is inimitably linked to our popular conception of the medieval world. Knights stood at the forefront of European history for centuries, serving as conquerors and keepers of the peace in a barbarous era fraught with conflict and immortalised as heroes in epic myths and romanticised tales.

    Revered as the greatest knight of his generation, William Marshal, the subject of my latest book, personified both the chivalrous qualities and grasping ambition of this warrior class. Born the landless younger son of a minor English nobleman, Marshal served no fewer than five kings of England and was on intimate terms with the likes of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard the Lionheart. Having helped to negotiate Magna Carta and stem the tide of French invasion in the early 13th century, Marshal ended his days as one of the richest and most powerful barons in England.

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    The BBC Culture website has chosen 1925 as “the greatest year for books ever”. Hemingway’s debut, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and The Great Gatsby certainly made for a glorious twelve months. But do you agree? And what other literary years could give 1925 a run for its money?

    It was a very good year. Ernest Hemingway took his first literary steps with the collection of short stories In Our Time; Virginia Woolf published Mrs Dalloway; and F Scott Fitzgerald brought out The Great Gatsby. All that happened in 1925, as did the publication of Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans, John Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer, Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith.

    BBC Culture, the BBC’s international arts website, has designated 1925 as the “greatest year” in the history of literature, in a piece by author and journalist Jane Ciabattari. But how to determine something like this? This was how she did it:

    First, by searching for a cluster of landmark books: debut books or major masterpieces published that year. Next, by evaluating their lasting impact: do these books continue to enthral readers and explore our human dilemmas and joys in memorable ways? And then by asking: did the books published in this year alter the course of literature? Did they influence literary form or content, or introduce key stylistic innovations?

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    Citizen: An American lyric takes the poetry prize while comic book Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? wins the autobiography award

    The first book to be nominated in two categories at the National Book Critics Circle awards, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, took home the poetry honor on Thursday.

    The book was honored with five others in a ceremony in Tishman Auditorium at the New School in New York City.

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    For my subjects a new poem as I accede to the throne, horses to hand and hosepipe at the ready for reasons of health and safety

    Related: John Hegley - King for a Day – audio

    Once I’ve put my royal seal
    On a deal guaranteeing
    The seeing of all public libraries
    Maintained in perpetuity
    I’ll have the horses of my cavalry
    Create a bit of revelry
    Today, the beasts, we’ll ask them to trot
    Into some of the school playgrounds
    Where there are certain of the children
    Unsure whether horses have teeth
    Or not

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  • 03/14/15--04:00: The Saturday poem: The Swap
  • by Maurice Riordan

    for Hugo

    Someone snuck over the back fence
    last night and pinched my ladder.
    Then I found a bronze BMX
    leaning outside the front door.

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    The ex-Dr Feelgood guitarist and songwriter on medieval architecture, the poetry of William Blake, Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the power of the blues

    Wilko Johnson was born John Peter Wilkinson on Canvey Island, Essex. After studying English literature at Newcastle University and travelling to India, he co-founded pub-rock band Dr Feelgood. Johnson played guitar on the band’s first four albums, including the live LP Stupidity, which went to No 1 in the UK, but left the group in 1977. In addition to his solo career, he has since played with Solid Senders and Ian Dury’s band the Blockheads, and last year released Going Back Home with Roger Daltrey. In January 2013 Johnson was diagnosed with terminal cancer, but in October 2014 was given the all clear. Wilko Johnson is touring nationwide until 30 July.

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    Two years after reports suggesting his imminent death, Clive James still has plenty of life left in him. Ahead of a new collection of poetry next month, the polymath and former Observer TV critic discusses the poems written to his wife, his place in history and ‘dying by inches’

    When Clive James, who is 75 and in poor health, says “the end is nigh, but not that nigh”, he’s defying gravity, as usual. It’s something he’s got rather good at lately.

    About two years ago, prematurely, the world’s media gave James the last rites: with valedictory interviews, hushed bulletins, sombre satellite appearances, and Australian TV anchors flying to his doorstep. “My obituaries were so fabulous,” he twinkles in an opening gambit, “I felt more or less obliged to walk the plank.” In a spooky echo of his own last chatshow, it seemed as if he had become “the late Clive James”.

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    Exclusively for the Observer, Clive James reads a poem from his new collection, Sentenced to Life

    Robert McCrum talks to Clive James at homeContinue reading...

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    A nostalgic homage to the glory of libraries and librarians harnesses Larkin and Keats to point up our lost visions of social betterment

    The beautiful librarians are dead,
    The fairly recent graduates who sat
    Like Françoise Hardy’s shampooed sisters
    With cardigans across their shoulders
    On quiet evenings at the issue desk,
    Stamping books and never looking up
    At where I stood in adoration.

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    Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them

    Welcome to this week’s blog. Here’s a roundup of your comments and photos from last week.

    It’s never too late to discover a great book. This week, electricgrapefruit read Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee for the first time:

    It has gone right in near the top of my top ten. How have I got to 65 without reading this gem? It may be a writing style that has gone out of fashion but present day writers could learn a lot about capturing atmosphere in words from Laurie Lee.

    It presents a very good overview over the historical development and current state of evolutionary psychology. [...] Wright’s book offers insights into human nature, and is fun to read (as far as anything concerning human nature can ever be fun). One of the delicacies of the book is that he illustrates principles of evolutionary psychology by using Darwin’s biography. That way we look at Darwin’s behaviour, marriage and family from the point of view of a Darwin-inspired psychology, which is quite amusing.

    I am not sure what to think of this tale set in an extermination camp during the holocaust. Is it an entertainment or a serious attempt to reveal the banality of evil? Amis has been down this way before. Time’s Arrow was, to my mind at least, a better book which succeeded on many levels including the shock of the author’s idea.

    The Zone of Interest tries too hard and in so doing manages to make me think that yet another cruelty or nastiness is about to be revealed, or even another banality. I don’t dislike the book but it slips and slides between ideas and narrators and Amis in the end fails to convince me. I am not at all sure that he truly understands the camp commander Doll, the man who is in love with his wife Thomsen and the Sonderkommando Szmul whose task it is to exhume and burn the bodies putrefying in their mass grave and fouling the local water with their “plopping, splatting and hissing.” [...]

    Amis explains so much of what I read in the papers these days. When morality and humanity fail we should beware of what the outcome might be.

    It was a horrible experience to read it. I cried a lot. I learned that Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyons” who sent over 14,000 to death in the Hotel Terminus in Lyons, used new techniques of torture including sexually abusing prisoners with dogs. His defence, conducted by Jacques Verges, said that what Klaus did was no different than what the French did during the Vichy regime and the colonial government in Algeria.

    As you read the book one cannot help but realise how devious, how disgusting the politicians were and that they have not changed: be it French, British, German or US [...] It is an interesting read and an eye opener.

    “My own theory is that everyone wants to write novels, but those who discover they don’t have the requisite imagination find suitable subjects and become writers of non-fiction and those who discover they can’t do that either become journalists. Expecting no plaudits, only brickbats here, I believe people do, not what they would like to do, but what they can do and still remain part of a career to which they once aspired.” —conedison

    “I would, partly, disagree with you full-stop. Glancing over my shoulder and running my eye along the shelf I can see: Nicolas Bouvier, Bruce Chatwin, Kathleen Jamie, and Patrick Leigh Fermor, to name but a few. Not one of them could be described as purveying prosaic prose. All of them are serious stylists whose prose outpaces that of any number of moderately well-regarded novelists. All of them are decidedly “literary” in tone and in intent. All of them are writers of nonfiction.” —TimHannigan

    She took her cheque demurely and made a brief speech, in which she spoke for all those readers who never travel without a novel on bus, tube or train, picking up each morning where they left off the night before and showing no relief at the end of a book, only anxiety to get lost in yet another novel.

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    From ‘marble men and maidens’ to ‘Burberry clad louts’ … a new Forward prize collection that will be studied by A-level students includes Tim Turnbull’s Ode on a Grayson Perry Urn and work by other contemporary poets

    Schoolchildren of the past pored over Keats’s elegant reflection on time and art, Ode to a Grecian Urn. From September, A-level students will be analysing Tim Turnbull’s poem Ode on a Grayson Perry Urn, which replaces Keats’s “marble men and maidens” who are “for ever piping songs for ever new” with “Burberry clad louts” playing “crude games of chlamydia roulette”.

    The poem is part of Poems of the Decade, an anthology of submissions for the Forward prizes during the past 10 years. The anthology will be a set text for the students taking A- or AS-level English Literature with Edexcel from September. It will be taught in 400 schools, and is packed with poems on everything from Vicki Feaver’s take on blood sports and how “a gun brings a house alive” to Turnbull’s Keats-inspired look at Perry’s “kitschy vase … delineating tales of kids in cars / on crap estates”.

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    A thoughtful study of a pastoral landscape where enclosure is everywhere apparent

    Ask readers of poetry to name two major living practitioners associated with the Midlands and they would probably mention the markedly contrasting figures of Roy Fisher and Geoffrey Hill. Fisher grew up in Birmingham and Hill (like Housman) in Bromsgrove. In both poets’ work can be traced the interpenetration of urban and rural environments and habits of thought that characterises places haphazardly industrialised in the 19th century. Fisher has given a brilliantly condensed account of this experience in his memoir “Antebiography” in his indispensable prose selection An Easily Bewildered Child (Shearsman, 2014). Tony Williams, in whom the influence of both poets can be traced (Fisher’s the more strongly), is an inheritor of this complex history. Like Fisher he sees a highly specified provincial context through a Modernist lens; like Hill he also moves among older elements of poetic tradition, with Wordsworth and Marvell particularly important to him.

    Williams is from Derbyshire, and his Midlands is really the region’s northern borderlands – the Peak District and Sheffield. Just as it is said that no two residents could agree where the Black Country begins and ends, so Williams’s place wavers and shifts. It is also a terrain of the imagination: somehow it draws strength from the very uncertainty of its existence. The region fades off into the east across the line of the “half-arsed A1” near Newark. The traveller pauses at the aptly named “OK Diner”, where the waitress’s difficulty in pronouncing “guacamole” is both comic and shaming to the narrator. Class, innocence and a remote ordinariness provide a raw example of what Jo Shapcott called “the complicated shame of Englishness”. We are, Williams suggests, “unable to curb / the sarcasm that lames our dreams”. He is also drawn irresistibly to the glum half-life of “Half-Day Closing” in one of those arrested settlements where half of us grew up and it remains implacably 1957.

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    This pithy guide for the nonacademic reader expertly illuminates the Italian poet’s work

    Regular readers of this column may recall that I get pretty excited about Dante. This usually involves recommending a new translation rather than critical work on the 14th-century poet; you’re not, I presume, going to be taking an exam on him. But he is such a complex poet – the number of people who have devoted a lifetime to the study of him is extraordinary – that even the casual reader could do with a guide; rather as Dante himself had guides to the afterlife.

    And here is just the thing for the nonacademic Dante reader: a short, pithy guide by academics who know what they’re talking about and which opens up and refreshes the work as well as our reactions to it.

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    Conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith’s attempt to reframe the report as poetry has caused an outcry on social media

    The American poet Kenneth Goldsmith has defended himself in the wake of heavy criticism following his reading of Michael Brown’s autopsy report in the form of a poem on 13 March.

    Goldsmith, an admired writer who has published 10 books of poetry and teaches writing at the University of Pennsylvania, performed “The Body of Michael Brown” at Interrupt 3, a weekend-long arts event at Brown University. Brown was the unarmed black 18-year-old fatally shot last summer in Ferguson, Missouri, by a white police officer.

    Kenneth Goldsmith has reached new racist lows yet elite institutions continue to pay him guest speaker fees.

    To be clear, Michael Brown's autopsy report was powerful--visceral, upsetting but dissolving into data once the describing interior of body

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    Sentenced to Life, James’s new collection of poems, is a vindication of his greatness as a writer and has cemented his reputation as a ‘late developer’

    Clive James has ready for publication a new collection of poems, called Sentenced to Life. These contain some of those personal reflections on mortality for which he has been celebrated – a new vindication of his greatness as a writer and public figure who surpasses the silliness of being a “national treasure”. In interviews, he has wryly commented on the fact that he is still here; that he has become the living “late Clive James”, and that he has now cemented his reputation as a “late developer”. What he has, in fact, achieved is rare: like his namesake Henry, he has a late style. His poems about death have the accessibility, simplicity and impact of his light verse. I am one of those people who loves talking and writing about Clive James. I have never met him, though once as a student I asked for his autograph in the Lion Yard shopping arcade in Cambridge (my toes curl at that memory), and he once wrote me a letter of encouragement in the 1990s, when I was being sued by a Conservative politician. Any new publication from James is something to celebrate, but what I’d most like to see is his first volume of autobiography, Unreliable Memoirs, put on the GCSE list as a set text. It is his prose masterpiece, and an example of English comic writing that should be taught to schoolchildren alongside the works of Evelyn Waugh and PG Wodehouse.

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    Caribbean to Coney Island, Crusoe to Craggy, tropical to topical, name your best isle-related songs that offer an escape to fantasy or a prism of reality

    “Faith is an island in the setting sun,/ but proof is the bottom line for everyone,” wrote a certain songwriter who could well be among a wealth of treasures spilled onto the shores of this week’s nominations. But is an island a place to escape reality, or face it? An adventure where dreams come true, like that of 1970s series Fantasy Island featuring the smooth-talking Ricardo Montalbán and his squeaky sidekick, Tattoo, played by Hervé Villechaize? Or a place where hopes are dashed on the rocks of isolated despair, as in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, before the protagonist eventually finds inner strength and friendship in Friday? The answer must surely include both – song takes us to a new place, but also seeks a new perspective from it. Islands are a place to provide that relief.

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    To mark World Poetry Day, more than a thousand coffee establishments around the world will use poetry as their currency this Saturday

    What is a poem worth? As authors around the world despair of making a living, a company based in Vienna has finally come up with a definitive answer: one cup of coffee.

    Julius Meinl, a coffee-roasting company founded in 1862, is marking Unesco’s World Poetry Day with a promotion in 1,100 cafes, bars and restaurants across 23 countries mostly in continental Europe but including the UK, the US and Australia, offering a dose of caffeine to any customer who hands over one of their own poems.

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