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

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    Looking back with a bittersweet melancholy? Suggest songs that hark back to the past using the five senses, musical echoes or any other trigger tricks of memory

    “I don’t like nostalgia, unless it’s mine,” said Lou Reed, with a bad-tempered smirk. “It isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice. There are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia,” added Frank Zappa, with a humorous frown. But what is nostalgia, and is it good or bad? Well, of course, it’s a bittersweet both. And arguably grains of it run through all music where we cannot but hear inescapable echoes of the past. In fact it is all around us in every aspect of culture and surroundings, from photography to furniture, sounds to styles, food to cars, retro in retail, all in a constant recycling of roots and influences and recapturing of eras, but how does it work in song?

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    UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy curates a series of 20 original poems by various authors on the theme of climate change

    Wind-wounded, lopsided now
    Our mighty beech has lost an arm.
    Sammy the demolition man
    (Who flattened the poet’s house
    In Ashley Avenue, its roof
    Crashing into that homestead,
    Then all the floors, poetry
    And conversation collapsing)
    Slices the sawdusty tons,
    Wooden manhole-covers,
    An imagined underground.
    Beneath a leafy canopy
    The poet, on my seventieth,
    Gazed up through cathedral
    Branches at constellations.
    Where is he now? Together
    We are counting tree-rings.

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    By

    Just to amuse themselves, deckhands will often take
    A great sea-bird, an albatross –
    One of those that plane above the ship’s white wake
    As it pitches over briny chasms, shipwrecks, dross.

    No sooner have they plonked it on the deck, those boors
    Than the lord of deep blue air, as if shamed,
    Lets its huge wings droop like oars
    To trail beside it, self-conscious, maimed.

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    UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy curates a series of 20 original poems by various authors on the theme of climate change

    Hand shaking on the stop-cock, she looks
    at the X, the warning cross,

    the water-tap unlocked, its padlock cracked.
    Breath hacks in the throat, Check your back.

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    The American poet displays uncharacteristic romantic and metaphysical tendencies, while pondering a golden field of wheat and the passing of time


    Where long the shadows of the wind had rolled,
    Green wheat was yielding to the change assigned;
    And as by some vast magic undivined
    The world was turning slowly into gold.
    Like nothing that was ever bought or sold
    It waited there, the body and the mind;
    And with a mighty meaning of a kind
    That tells the more the more it is not told.

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    In a culture that has consigned poetry to the margins, Armitage has become something very rare: a genuinely popular British poet. Aida Edemariam hits the road with the busiest man in verse

    One Indian summer evening last September, off a busy slip road not far from the Tower of London, Simon Armitage took to the stage of the world’s oldest surviving music hall and, after a short introduction from the broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, started to read. “It begins with a house, an end terrace / in this case …” The hall was full, generous with silence and later with laughter: young couples in careful retro outfits, men in suits dropping by after work, students, and older women; audience and performers held beneath a glowing tent of wobbly fairy lights that rose from the balconies to a bright apex in the roof. “But it will not stop there. Soon it is / an avenue / which cambers arrogantly past the Mechanics’ Institute …” Armitage’s reading voice is light; not exactly monotonal, but strung on a more delicate, questioning skein than his conversational voice. The poem, Zoom!, the title piece in his very first collection, in 1989, turns left at the main road, leads to a town, “city, nation, hemisphere, universe, … [is] bulleted into a neighbouring galaxy”, before finally coming to rest in the checkout queue at the local supermarket.

    How did the poem come about, Bragg asked. Daydreaming, answered Armitage: “I’d been bunking off school – which was a bit of a worthless pastime in those days because it was before daytime TV.” The audience laughed. He spoke of the challenge, these days, of building thinking time into a day. “‘What have you been doing?’ ‘Thinking’” – another murmur of laughter – “It sounds like an excuse, but actually, it’s vital.” It was a deft, confident performance, an unstrained mixture of taking himself and his work seriously while making sure to puncture anything that might come across as pretension; playing with anti-intellectualism while depending on the fact that no one would be here if they were not intellectually engaged. Did he plan his poems? “I know other poets who work on poems as exploration, but I’ve usually got a destination in mind. I knew in that poem I wanted to end up in Sainsbury’s supermarket” – a slight pause, as the audience guffawed – “it was just a question of getting back from the outer periphery of the universe.”

    Poetry has taken Armitage to the Amazon and Iceland, to the US and New Zealand, to prisons and to Eton

    I have got to a point in my life career where I’ve stopped having to feel apologetic about what I do and why I do it

    Armitage’s father is 'a born exaggerator', a barbershop singer and amateur actor

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    UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy curates a series of 20 original poems by various authors on the theme of climate change

    He drifted south
       down an Arctic seaway
          on a plinth of ice, jelly tots

    weeping lime green tears
       around both eyes,
          a carrot for a nose

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    Nobel laureate hits back at criticisms from former supporter Melvyn Bragg, who has now switched allegiance to his rival, Simon Armitage

    Candidates for one of the most prestigious posts in poetry are embroiled in a war of words as Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka hit back at claims by broadcaster Melvyn Bragg that he was too old and “grand” for the role at Oxford University.

    Bragg, who had previously backed the Nigerian poet to be the next Oxford chair of poetry, told the Sunday Times he was switching his allegiance to Simon Armitage, saying he was concerned 80-year-old Soyinka would not “bother to come to Oxford” were he appointed. “Soyinka is a grand man … I also query his age,” Bragg said.

    Wole Soyinka is a poet and activist of world standing who has faced persecution and suffering with surpassing dignity

    Related: Simon Armitage: making poetry pay | Aida Edemariam

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    Piece heralded by Times Literary Supplement as unpublished Larkin work is most likely by Hull poet Frank Redpath

    The Times Literary Supplement has removed from its website a poem that it claimed was an unpublished piece by Philip Larkin, after it emerged that it is most likely the work of a lesser-known Hull poet, Frank Redpath.

    The TLS has also taken down an accompanying 1,600-word essay on what it portrayed as an exciting new discovery from one of Britain’s most revered 20th-century poets.

    ‘In and Out’: An unpublished poem by Philip Larkin http://t.co/YIZZLdu5Ovpic.twitter.com/4HErHPoJDd

    This unpublished Larkin poem is, I must say, quite magnificent: pic.twitter.com/WaWWWADFwH

    This undated lost Larkin poem shows him in a more pastoral mood: pic.twitter.com/07UMPrU1Fe

    What I admire most is the way Larkin bravely repeats the opening two lines, to bring thematic conclusion to it. Magic pic.twitter.com/gXWzEiJNXD

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    UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy curates a series of 20 original poems by various authors on the theme of climate change

    A thousand synonyms for wind
    make up your song.
    Those busy arms

    may juggle any number of rumours
    going around:
    your Swish, for one—

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    UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy curates a series of 20 original poems by various authors on the theme of climate change



    On the Steel Beach

    1.

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    Early version of Sylvia Plath novel, attributed to pseudonym Victoria Lucas, reveals last-minute changes to text

    In a literary version of Cash in the Attic, a rare proof edition of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar which has sat on a spare room bookshelf for the last quarter of a century, is due to be auctioned in London next month.

    The uncorrected proof copy of Plath’s only novel, a semi-autobiographical account of a young woman’s spiral into depression in New York, states that it is “not for sale”. The 1962 proof is attributed to “Victoria Lucas”, the pseudonym under which The Bell Jar was published in 1963, shortly before Plath’s suicide aged 30. It would not appear under Plath’s own name until 1966.

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    ‘I’ve always been inspired by Keats because of his connection with Rome’, says Italian celebrity at reopening of London museum

    Taking her inspiration from John Keats, who wrote to Fanny Brawne that her lips were “the dearest pleasures in the universe”, Nancy Dell’Olio has said that students should be taught how to write “proper love letters” at school.

    The Italian former lawyer was guest celebrity at the opening of this year’s Keats festival, which also marks the reopening of the Keats House museum in Hampstead, where the poet lived from 1818 to 1820. “Keats is one of the most romantic poets of the 19th century,” said Dell’Olio, who is better known in the UK media for having dated England football manager Sven-Göran Eriksson, presenting Footballers’ Cribs on MTV and competing on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. “I’ve always been inspired by Keats because of his connection with Rome. In Rome he spent the Indian Summer there, knowing he was going to die.”

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    Your report on the Oxford professorship of poetry (27 May) claims that I said that Wole Soyinka’s age was a cause for concern. This is not so. Geoffrey Hill (also over 80) was a fine choice. I have had the greatest admiration for Soyinka’s remarkable work and his political courage for many years. I was delighted when he won the Nobel prize. But when I learned that Simon Armitage had applied for the Oxford post, I thought that he would be a better choice for what I think is required. He is a fine poet, ready to give ample time to the post and capable of enthusing a new generation in his lectures as he already has done in his poetry and outstanding translations. And if it is true (as I think it is), as Jessica Elgot reports, that “Soyinka’s backers have been keen to stress that they consider the post more an honour to be bestowed than a job to be applied for”, I think it rather strengthens my case. Wole Soyinka is worth the highest honours Oxford could bestow on him. But I think Simon Armitage would be a better choice for this job.
    Melvyn Bragg
    London

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    UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy curates a series of 20 original poems by various authors on the theme of climate change

    We were the first that ever burst
    Into that silent sea
    - ST Coleridge

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    A murmur of nuns, dens, ruins … Ireland’s secret histories and the pain of the past echo through this powerful collection

    The late Peter Porter had a peculiar blind spot where modern Irish poetry was concerned. Irish poets, he suggested in 1992, write as though “marooned outside time”, “playing up to some committee preparing a Pantheon” rather than deigning to enter the 20th-century. On a casual reading, there is little in the work of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin that might have shaken Porter out of his prejudice. Where are the poems about austerity Ireland, its failed banks and ghost estates? The speaker of “Somewhere Called Goose Bay” appears too preoccupied with the past to address these concerns, “since to my own mind / I appear to have been born in 1870 / and schooled in 1689”. Other poems explore nuns’ veils, the “card-playing codes” of a long-ago prisoner in an internment camp, and the mythical Queen Méabh surveying the plains of Louth. The opening words of “Witness” are “Why doesn’t she speak when they ask her / what has happened?” Why doesn’t Ní Chuilleanáin speak more directly about contemporary Ireland?

    The short answer is that these poems’ rootings around in the past do not come at the expense of an engagement with the modern world. On the contrary, they are exercises in historical memory, providing invaluable points of entry into the larger forces that shape our lives today. The opening poem of The Boys of Bluehill, “An Information”, recalls MacNeice’s “Soap Suds”, experiencing the return of the past as an immediate physical sensation. The past is a lost object, dropped from a child’s hand, but Ní Chuilleanáin counsels a relaxed attitude towards its recovery: “do not look back to see whose hand / finds it, or where it is hidden again when found.”

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    ‘Poetry is more entertaining than anything Simon Cowell ever produced, and far more vicious’

    So Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel laureate, might get the job of professor of poetry at Oxford University– except that he’s 80, might not visit Oxford much, and his backers are starting to publicly shift their allegiances, to Simon Armitage or one of the other candidates. The whole thing has been described as “a hornet’s nest of intrigue and back-biting”. Just as it was six years ago, when Ruth Padel had to withdraw from the job mere days after being given it, after another controversy involving fellow candidate Derek Walcott. In the end, it went to Geoffrey Hill, who then used his position to compare our nation’s first female poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, to Mills & Boon. Poetry: it’s more entertaining than anything Simon Cowell ever produced, and far more vicious.

    I spent a year working in the poetry industry, if you can call it that, as an office assistant, and I promise you that advertising, the music industry and journalism have all turned out to be quite compassionate places to work in comparison. I have sat on tour buses with bands deciding whether they should flog their own VIP festival tickets for drug money, and the vibe has felt eminently reasonable compared to that of three poets and their factions competing for a prize and a publishing deal.

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    by Matthew Siegel

    the forms are long ropes for climbing
    into the heaven of good health.

    They are held together with a clip,
    a little mouth clamped down.

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    Jean Moorcroft Wilson’s biography of the first world war poet claims to uncover the trials and torments that made him ‘the father’ of modern British poetry

    In this full-scale biography of the Great War poet Edward Thomas, the first for a generation, Jean Moorcroft Wilson claims to “give the actual, very different, facts [of his life] for the first time”. Thomas scholars will be grateful for her research; they may judge her determination to correct previous biographical “distortions” less kindly. It is always the biographer’s fantasy to have forged, in the crucible of life-writing, the only true likeness.

    Still, her book is timely. Since Nick Dear’s 2012 play about Thomas, The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, and Matthew Hollis’s study of Robert Frost’s relationship with Thomas, Now All Roads Lead to France, there has been a steady revival of interest in the poet now seen as a key link between Hardy and Hughes, who described him as “the father of us all”.

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    UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy curates a series of 20 original poems by various authors on the theme of climate change

    When the great ships come back,
    and come they will,
    when they stand in the sky
    all over the world,
    candescent suns by day,
    radiant cathedrals in the night,
    how shall we answer the question:

    What have you done
    with what was given you,
    what have you done with
    the blue, beautiful world?

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