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

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    by Caitríona O’Reilly

    Freedom is a prison for the representative savant
    addled on bath-tub gin and with retinas inflamed
    from too long staring into the Arizona sun
    or into red dirt which acknowledges no master
    but the attrition of desert winds and melt-water.
    Is that why you cast such desperate lariats
    across space, repeatedly anticipating the fall
    into disillusion, the sine wave skewered
    by the oscilloscope, the mirror’s hairline fracture?
    The West was won and there was nowhere left to go
    so you vanished into a dream of perpetual motion
    knowing that once to touch the surface
    was to break the spell, but that while the colours hung
    on the air an instant, there was no such thing
    as the pushy midwife, the veiled mother in the photograph,
    the rich woman’s bleated blandishments.
    Tracing the drunken white line at midnight on the highway,
    you were too far gone to contemplate return,
    like Crowhurst aboard the Electron; not meaning
    to go to sea, but drawing about you
    such a field of force that there was nothing left to do
    but plant blue poles among the spindrift and iron filings
    and step, clutching your brass chronometer,
    clean off the deck and into the sky
    where a lens rose to meet you like a terrifying eye.

    • From Geis by Caitríona O’Reilly (Bloodaxe, £9.95). To order a copy for £7.96 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846.

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  • 07/12/15--00:00: Best holiday reads 2015
  • From a portrait of modern-day Britain at work to New York in the 1940s, taking in the secret world of Fifa and tales of female friendships, authors, critics and other bookworms tell us which books they will be reading on the beach

    Novelist

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    An unsettling monologue addressed to a child first arouses our suspicions, then invites us to have faith

    Psalm

    You ok, sweetheart? What’s this, what’s this?
    You lost someone, sweetheart? Your mum?
    Where’s your mum, darling? You don’t think she’ll miss

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    The publisher Blackwell’s was once home to authors including JRR Tolkien, Dorothy L Sayers and Vera Brittain. It also published many lesser-known radical writers and illustrators. Here is a selection of the fascinating titles revealed in a new history

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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, and apologies for the delay. Here’s a roundup of your comments and photos from last week, including a memoir that approaches alcoholism in a surprisingly fresh way, a great current Chilean writer and a mounting pile of summer reading choices.

    fingerlakeswanderer recommended Sarah Hepola’s Blackout:

    I teach creative nonfiction, and reading memoirs is part of my class preparation as I teach new books each semester so that my students stay current in what is out there. I didn’t expect to like Blackout. It’s a memoir of getting sober, and I have read a number of memoirs about alcoholism in the past. But I was surprised by just how good this book was.

    [...] What sets this apart is Hepola’s facility with words. I have banned my students from writing about their drinking exploits because they’re just so damn boring, but I never felt that with Hepola because the prose surprised me. Her use of metaphor, her use of imagery, her ability to describe emotions, all pulled me in and allowed me to feel tenderness toward her, instead of the usual impatience one feels when listening to a drunk once again make excuses. I liked this book so much that I will most likely teach it next semester.

    This short, taut novel excavates the ghosts of Chile’s military past - the disappearances, the repression and the paranoia – to examine how the power and deceptions of memory shape our understanding of the past. Revered writers and critics, such as James Wood and Junot Díaz, have been heaping praise on Zambra with good reason. I will be certainly be tracking down more of his work.

    First, the original by Jane Austen which was a razor-witted, delectably-written delight. Secondly, the 2014 version produced by Val McDermid under some sort of scheme called The Austen Project whereby contemporary authors reimagine the original novels. I’m a third of the way through McDermid’s attempt and it’s not bad as such; I’d describe it as serviceable. Which in this particular context, of course, means it’s rubbish. Unutterable hubris on the part of these modern authors, I would say. They deserve to look as shoddy as they inevitably will do. (This is wild speculation and prejudice on my part. I have no intention of reading the rest.)

    I found Douglas, the narrator, very endearing in the first half but really disliked him in the second half. His memories of his emotionally abusive relationship with his young son were very disturbing. I thought Nicholls had deliberately set the book up in two halves to manipulate the reader – making us believe Douglas was a sweet guy, then showing him to be something quite different but there’s no real judgement of his behaviour. I think we’re still expected to like him and feel sorry for him at the end of the book. A very weak second half.

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    The performance poet and winner of this year’s CLPE children’s poetry award picks the poetry collections that every child should grow up with

    Here are my top 10 new poetry books that every child must read. These are books that will both delight and challenge the very young child and the older (cooler) kid. I’ve split the list into two sets of five. The first five are poetry books suitable for the very young. These are books to be pored over at bedtime, read and re-read, or indeed performed and performed again.

    The second group of five are contemporary poetry books for older children - books that get children thinking, questioning, laughing and speaking poems out loud. These are the books I wish were around when I was young, these are books every child should grow up with.

    Related: Sample delights from the CLPE poetry award 2015 shortlist

    Related: Top poetry writing tips: Rachel Rooney

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    The literature of Atlanta reflects a history steeped in violence and racial tension. From Gone with the Wind to The Walking Dead, Anna Schachner explores the essential literary companions for the Georgian capital

    • Which are your favourite Atlanta books? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll feature a selection in an upcoming readers’ list

    Atlanta, famous for the busiest airport in the world, the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr, Dirty South hip-hop culture, a burgeoning film industry, and 71 streets with “Peachtree” in their names, is also a literary hub. It is bolstered by the largest independent book festival in the US, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Decatur Book Festival, and the Georgia Center for the Book, not to mention the century-old Atlanta Writers Club. Such community, however, underscores a motif running through much literature set in or written about the city – that divisive ol’ challenge of how to turn change into progress.

    Like all Southern cities, Atlanta’s history is steeped in racial tensions and politics. Booker T Washington’s famous Atlanta Compromise Speech at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition argued, “In all things that are purely social we can be separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress”, the “we” being post-Civil War blacks and whites. WEB Dubois, who taught at Atlanta University, disagreed with Washington’s “accommodationist strategy”, later writing the poem A Litany of Atlanta in response to the city’s 1906 race riots. Many factors led up to these riots, not the least of which were increased rights for blacks and a booming growth in the city that created competition between the races for jobs and services. But local newspaper reporting of alleged assaults of black men on white women, The Atlanta Georgian and The Atlanta News (both now defunct), in particular, helped incite the white-against-black mob violence. Rebecca Burns’s Rage in the Gate City dutifully chronicles these riots.

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    With nearly one million Britons in the grip of dementia, it’s hardly surprising that writers and artists should increasingly tackle the subject. But can the arts ever illuminate a condition that by its very nature resists all understanding?

    I am not myself. What is it to be “oneself?” What is this self, this “me”? What do we mean when we say “I”? When we lose our mind, where is it to be found? When we go out of our mind, where do we go?

    Day after day, I would see him: an old man in shabby clothes who used to stand at a busy junction near our house in north London. He held in his hand a piece of cutlery (usually a fork, I think), which he waved high in the air as the cars and buses roared by, sometimes with enormous energy and sometimes quite calmly.

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    An exploration of the intense connection between mother and child, lost in the rhythmical somnolence of routine, cleverly avoids cliche

    When Six O’Clock Comes and Another Day Has Passed

    the baby who can not speak, speaks to me.
    When the sun has risen and set over the same dishes
    and the predicted weather is white cloud,
    the baby steadies her head which is the head of a drunk’s
    and holds me with her blue eyes,
    eyes which have so recently surfed through womb swell,
    and all at once we stop half-heartedly row, rowing
    our boat and see each other clear
    in the television’s orange glow. She regards me,
    the baby who does not know a television from a table lamp,
    the baby who is so heavy with other people’s hopes
    she has no body to call her own,
    the baby who is forever being shifted, rearranged,
    whose hands must be unfurled, and wiped with cotton wool,
    whose scalp must be combed of cradle cap,
    the baby who has exactly no memories
    softens her face in the early evening light and says I understand.

    Related: Poem: The Woman who Worries Herself to Death by Kathryn Simmonds

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  • 07/20/15--10:08: James Tate obituary
  • Iconoclastic and original American poet who won the Pulitzer prize

    James Tate, who has died aged 71, was one of the most original and inventive American poets of his era, whose sense of humour and love of the tall story calls to mind an earlier Missouri-born master of the fable, Mark Twain.

    The title poem of Tate’s first collection, The Lost Pilot, which won the Yale Younger Poets prize of 1967, is a haunting elegy for the father he never met. Vincent Appleby was shot down in his B-17 bomber over Germany in 1944, when his son was only four months old. The poet imagines his father as “a tiny, African god” endlessly orbiting the earth, while the son stares into the skies. It ends ambivalently with a recognition that he can neither communicate with the lost pilot, nor forget him:

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  • 07/21/15--10:26: Chenjerai Hove obituary
  • Leading Zimbabwean novelist and poet who left his native country to live in exile in the west in 2001

    Chenjerai Hove, who has died aged 59 of liver failure, was a leading Zimbabwean novelist and poet, and a beacon of integrity and dissidence. He had lived in exile in the west since 2001, and along with Dambudzo Marechera, Yvonne Vera and Charles Mungoshi, was one of the founding figures of modern Zimbabwean literature – a group of writers whose work dealt with the societies of both pre- and post-independence. Of these, only Mungoshi now survives.

    It is a feature of Zimbabwean literature that many of its writers have achieved international acclaim. Indeed, the story of Zimbabwe – a country with a deep history and a legacy of stone cities, of white colonialism followed by white rebellion against the crown, of heroic liberation struggle followed by reconciliation and, lately, by racial division and economic meltdown – has made it an obvious place for literature of an intense order.

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    A new study has looked at the vocabulary used in bestselling artists’ work, and it has found that Eminem uses 4,000 more words than Dylan

    He may be the most revered wordsmith in the classic rock pantheon, but Bob Dylan doesn’t have the widest vocabulary in pop. Far from it, in fact. A study by musixmatch has looked at the numbers of words used in song by 93 of the best-selling artists of all time, as listed by Wikipedia, and discovered that Dylan comes only fifth.

    The study looked at the 100 densest songs – by total number of words – in each of the artists’ catalogues, and discovered that the artist with the greatest vocabulary is Eminem, with a vocabulary size of 8,818 words. On average, he uses a word he has never previously used every 11 words. He’s followed by Jay Z (6,899), Tupac Shakur (6,569) and Kanye West (5,069). Dylan lags behind in fifth (4,883).

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    The National Trust has commissioned the poet to write verse in praise of the coastline he has circumnavigated ‘thousands of times’ and where he first experienced the wonder of rock’n’roll

    Most of us harbour a desire to shoot off to the seaside when things get hot and crowded in the city. You head to the coast, where there’s a bit of a breeze. My poem describes the seaside as “a world away from the working week”. Unless you’re a fisherman, in which case that doesn’t apply.

    I can’t remember having a bad time at the seaside. Maybe I’ve been lucky. Although I do remember a lot of punch-ups ... rite of passage that.

    Related: Patrick Barkham's favourite National Trust sites on the UK coast

    I can’t remember having a bad time at the seaside. Although I do remember a lot of punch-ups

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    Don’t tarry at the water’s edge – take the plunge with some of the beach’s hottest starring roles in culture

    Yo La Tengo, 2003

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    Recent revelations that WB Yeats’s remains still reside on the French Riviera where he was first buried, and not in County Sligo, continue a tradition of tussles over the ownership of writers’ relics

    “Who rests under Ben Bulben?” asked the Irish Times’s front page last weekend, referencing WB Yeats’s poem eerily looking forward to his grave in a churchyard beneath a crag in Co Sligo. “Not Yeats,” was the paper’s blunt answer. “Papers confirm bones sent by French were not poet’s.” Yeats died in Roquebrune on the French Riviera in 1939, which prevented the return of his remains to Ireland and his widow until after the war. The letters recently unearthed confirm speculation that his bones were inexplicably disinterred and mixed up with others in 1946; the skeleton sent back for reburial in Sligo two years later, with the “tacit acceptance” of the Yeats family and the Irish foreign minister (who happened to be Maud Gonne’s son), was probably assembled from “the remains of several people” in the Roquebrune church’s ossuary. What this illustrates is that great poets’ remains can be objects of reverence to the same degree as those of saints, charismatic political leaders or rock stars, but this very preciousness entails a recurring grisly comedy of graves being dug up, coffins opened, relics purloined and tussles over ownership.

    The latter have a long history, starting with Dante’s burial in Ravenna in 1321. Florence made repeated attempts to reclaim the Florentine poet, notably in a mission with papal backing and the promise of a tomb built by Michelangelo in 1519, but whenever it did so the Basilica of San Francesco’s monks removed and hid the bard’s bones so there was nothing to repatriate. Westminster Abbey was more successful in 1892 when it won the remains of Tennyson, the poet laureate, at the expense of his Lincolnshire family, but a similar bid to rob Wessex of Hardy in 1928 (backed by the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin) resulted in a peculiar compromise: his heart cut out and buried in Dorset, the rest joining Tennyson in Poets’ Corner.

    Related: The stuff of creation – books podcast

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  • 07/25/15--03:00: The Saturday poem: Finally
  • by Andrew McMillan

    a day will come when
    woken by the xylophone
    of sunthroughblinds
    you’ll realise

    that the beach was not the place
    where horses tore the sand
    to ribbon

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    The mumblecore star on Colm Tóibín’s writing about poetry, the surprising allure of Peaky Blinders and the restoration of Satyajit Ray’s cinema classics

    Greta Gerwig, 31, was born in California. After graduating from Barnard College, plans to become a playwright were derailed by involvement in the mumblecore scene. The awkward and naturalistic film genre saw her collaborate with director Joe Swanberg on films such as 2007’s Hannah Takes the Stairs. Her role in Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg (2010) earned her an Independent Spirit nomination for best female lead. She co-scripted 2013’sFrances Ha with her by now partner Baumbach, her part in which saw her nominated for a Golden Globe and a London Film Critics’ Circle award. Her new film Eden, directed by Mia Hansen-Løve, is out now.

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    Generous and inspiring, the prolific Zimbabwean writer and activist, who has died in exile in Norway, should be hailed as a national treasure

    He promised his mother he would not die in foreign lands. Yet he slipped from our grasp, so far away.

    Storyteller, novelist, poet, playwright, human rights and cultural activist, and highly respected political and social commentator, Chenjerai Hove’s figure looms large in Zimbabwe’s literary pantheon. News of his death in Stavanger, Norway, has sent shock waves through Zimbabwe’s literary establishment.

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    This best known and most enthralling of Whitman’s poems is a praise-song to physicality that raises questions about the soul

    O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you,
    I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the soul, (and that they are the soul,)
    I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems, and that they are poems,
    Man’s, woman’s, child’s, youth’s, wife’s, husband’s, mother’s, father’s, young man’s, young woman’s poems;,
    Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears,
    Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eye-brows, and the waking or sleeping of the lids,
    Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw-hinges,
    Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition,
    Cheeks, temples, forehead, chin, throat, back of the neck, neck-slue,
    Strong shoulders, manly beard, scapula, hind-shoulders, and the ample side-round of the chest,
    Upper-arm, arm-pit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm-sinews, arm-bones,
    Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles, thumb, fore-finger, finger-balls, finger-joints, finger-nails,
    Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-side,
    Ribs, belly, back-bone, joints of the back-bone,
    Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and outward round, man-balls, man-root,
    Strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk above,
    Leg-fibres, knee, knee-pan, upper-leg, under leg,
    Ankles, instep, foot-ball, toes, toe-joints, the heel;
    All attitudes, all the shapeliness, all the belongings of my or your body, or of any one’s body, male or female,
    The lung-sponges, the stomach-sac, the bowels sweet and clean,
    The brain in its folds inside the skull-frame,
    Sympathies, heart-valves, palate-valves, sexuality, maternity,
    Womanhood, and all that is a woman, and the man that comes from woman,
    The womb, the teats, nipples, breast-milk, tears, laughter, weeping, love-looks, love-perturbations and risings,
    The voice, articulation, language, whispering, shouting aloud,
    Food, drink, pulse, digestion, sweat, sleep, walking, swimming,
    Poise on the hips, leaping, reclining, embracing, arm-curving and tightening,
    The continual changes of the flex of the mouth, and around the eyes,
    The skin, the sun-burnt shade, freckles, hair,
    The curious sympathy one feels, when feeling with the hand the naked meat of the body,
    The circling rivers, the breath, and breathing it in and out,
    The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward toward the knees,
    The thin red jellies within you, or within me, the bones, and the marrow in the bones,
    The exquisite realization of health;
    O I say these are not the parts and poems of the Body only, but of the soul,
    O I say now these are the soul!

    “I Sing the Body Electric,” Walt Whitman begins, in Part 1 of his best known and most enthralling early poems: “The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,/ They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them, /And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.” It was one of 12 poems Whitman printed and published himself as Leaves of Grass (1855), the first collection of a writer who, in his mid-30s, had suddenly found his unique form and themes.

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    Your front-page article on the range of language used by various songwriters was interesting but showed little understanding of Bob Dylan’s greatness as a lyricist (Report, 24 July). One of Dylan’s major accomplishments is being able to pare down language to a minimum while at the same time achieving a richness of meaning comparable to that achieved by the metaphysical poets. The beauty of songs such as the superficially simple If Dogs Run Free in part derives from the contrast between an immense thematic complexity and the unencumbered precision of the language used to present it. It’s not always the breadth of the words that matters, but what’s done with them.
    David Weir
    Stroud, Gloucestershire

    • It’s one thing to compare the lyrical vocabularies of artists who, like Bob Dylan and Kanye West, write most or all of their own output. It makes less sense to include artists who write very little of their own material: for instance, the vast majority of Celine Dion’s songs – whether in French or English – have been provided by other writers.

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