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

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    Tim Key was a standup going nowhere fast until one day he took out a notepad and poetry spilled out of him. Now he’s one of the hottest comics around. As his show Work in Slutgress hits Edinburgh, he talks about fooling Footlights, dying on stage – and the power of late-night fishcakes.

    • Plus, below, four new Tim Key poems and a footnote

    No sooner have I arrived at Tim Key’s house than he’s gone. The actor, comedian and poet has to pop out to get milk and Jaffa Cakes, leaving me alone amid all his clutter. There’s a backscratcher on his kitchen counter, tangled up with headphones; a discarded script, partially burnt, on a windowsill; and a gym hula-hoop hanging in his office, among Post-its scrawled with words like “fusspot”, “barbara” and “35 friends babysitting”. Then there’s the Athena Tennis Girl poster in his living room, and the reindeer rug splayed across his bedroom floor. Most evocative, however, is the bathtub full of untouched water. The sign of a busy man. Or one who needs a wash.

    Ten minutes later, he returns, and we sit on the balcony of his north London home, where he lives alone. Key explains that he was up till 3am, after previewing the show – Work in Slutgress – he is taking to Edinburgh. He spent the early hours eating fishcakes and watching Taskmaster, the new panel show on Dave in which Key, Frank Skinner, Roisin Conaty, Romesh Ranganathan and Josh Widdicombe perform such tasks as drawing a horse while riding one. “It was a lot of fun,” he says.

    Related: Tim Key’s Late Night Poetry Programme review: ‘The atmosphere he creates is spellbinding’

    Sitting there with the actual Alan Partridge – I don’t think it will ever stop being weird

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  • 08/13/15--10:34: Martin West obituary
  • Scholar of ancient Greek poetry

    The pre-eminent scholar of ancient Greek poetry Martin West, who has died aged 77, compared his work to a climbing-frame – something three-dimensional to move about in, and to be indefinitely extended with all the parts interconnecting. In this he differed from his hero, the great German scholar Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff. Where Wilamowitz embodied the ideal of an all-encompassing science of antiquity, Martin’s work was a series of brilliantly creative but logical expansions around an original core.

    That core was Hesiod’s Theogony, an archaic Greek poem on the origins of the gods. It took Martin, when a young editor and commentator, still in his mid-20s, on a quest for comparative material in the non-Greek cultures of the ancient Mediterranean. At the time, in the 1960s, they were still largely unfamiliar terrain for most classicists, but Martin’s work made it impossible to overlook their significance for Greece.

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    From an eccentric debut novel to a searing portrait of Putin’s Russia, the contenders for this year’s award show the strength and daring of the ‘indies’

    From a portrait of a marriage first spotted by Jonathan Franzen to a chilling account of Putin’s Russia, the longlist for the 2015 Guardian first book award is powered by the creativity and verve of independent publishers.

    Six out of the 10 books selected for the £10,000 prize, awarded to the year’s best debut in any genre, are published by independent presses, with a further two titles published by major houses in the UK after smaller imprints first picked them up elsewhere.

    Related: Guardian first book award 2015 longlist – in pictures

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    From a journey along the river of life to the imagined biography of an awkward terrier, and from a portrait of modern Russia to a collection of poetry hymning the male body, the longlist for the Guardian first book award 2015 spans the world. Take a look at our guide to this year’s most exciting debuts

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  • 08/14/15--09:58: Brian Nisbet obituary
  • My friend Brian Nisbet, who has died aged 56 of the neurological disorder multiple system atrophy (MSA), was a careers adviser and a published poet.

    He was born in Haddington, East Lothian, to Joseph, a minister of religion, and his wife, Beryl, but brought up in Belfast, with his brothers Stuart and Kenneth (his twin); one legacy of the move was his remarkable hybrid accent. His degree in Semitic languages from Queen’s University Belfast was followed by postgraduate studies in divinity at Trinity College, Dublin, and he might have become a theologian or minister himself, but seeing Samuel Beckett’s Endgame radically changed his outlook. He became a committed careers adviser, ultimately at the University of Sussex, and later worked voluntarily with young people with special needs.

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    Writers wax poetic at the Tuesday night Word for Word poetry series, bringing some wordplay into the lives of harried commuters and summertime loungers

    If you haven’t heard of the now-extinct platypus frog, Jenny Johnson is prepared explain why she had to put it in a poem. “The female had the ability to transform her stomach into a womb. Then she would swallow her own eggs and after several weeks, birth fully formed froglets out of her mouth. It’s amazing!”

    Dressed in a short-sleeved green shirt and tie, Johnson was one of four readers at Bryant Park’s Tuesday night Word for Word poetry series. She was joined by Anthony Carelli, Aracelis Girmay and Roger Reeves, her fellow recipients of this year’s Whiting Foundation awards, which gives a valuable $50,000 prize to 10 early-career writers of poetry, fiction and nonfiction.

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  • 08/15/15--03:00: The Saturday poem: Vertigo
  • by Les Murray

    Last time I fell in a shower-room
    I bled like a tumbril dandy
    and the hotel longed to be rid of me.
    Taken to the town clinic, I
    described how I tripped on a steel
    rim and found my head in a wardrobe.
    Scalp-sewn and knotted and flagged
    I thanked the Frau Doktor and fled,
    wishing the grab-bar of age might
    be bolted to all civilisation
    and thinking of Rome’s eighth hill
    heaped up out of broken amphorae.

    When, any time after sixty,
    or any time before, you stumble
    over two stairs and club your forehead
    among rake or hoe, brick or fuel-tin,
    that’s time to call the purveyor
    of steel pipe and indoor railings
    and soon you’ll be gasping up landings
    having left your balance in the car
    from which please God you’ll never see
    the launchway of tyres off a brink.
    Later comes the sunny day when
    street detail gets whitened to mauve

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    A laconic address both to what was then a totalitarian state, and to the perennial ‘stupid’ violence of humanity, this is as trenchant as ever

    Casualty

    They bring us crushed fingers,
    mend it, doctor.
    They bring burnt-out eyes,
    hounded owls of hearts,
    they bring a hundred white bodies,
    a hundred red bodies,
    a hundred black bodies,
    mend it, doctor,
    on the dishes of ambulances they bring
    the madness of blood,
    the scream of flesh,
    the silence of charring,
    mend it, doctor.

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    It seems fair enough that some licence is granted when rendering poems in a different language, but dropping entire cantos is surely taking things too far

    Perhaps it’s down to his wonderfully refreshing manifesto for “an impure poetry” or maybe (whisper it not) it’s due to the seduction of David Soul, whose one-man show featured gloriously on the books podcast, but I’ve become more than usually obsessed with Chile’s Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda. What’s not to love about a poet who wrote odes to artichokes and laundry and argued for “a poetry impure as the clothing we wear, or our bodies, soup-stained, soiled with our shameful behaviour, our wrinkles and vigils and dreams, observations and prophecies, declarations of loathing and love, idylls and beasts, the shocks of encounter, political loyalties, denials and doubts, affirmations and taxes.”

    So it was great to learn that a tiny US press is to publish an English translation of 20 lost poems that were discovered last year. Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda will be out from Copper Canyon Press in April 2016 in a translation by Forrest Gander.

    Related: David Soul performs Pablo Neruda – books podcast

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    Arguing against intellectual snobbery, star author says performance returns the artform to ancient days when ‘it was about how well you could communicate’

    Kate Tempest has hit out at “intellectual snobbery” among poets, saying she is fed up with conflict between performance and written poetry.

    Speaking at the Edinburgh international books festival on Tuesday, the The Mercury prize-nominated poet-performer also hinted that she was keen to collaborate with Björk. Asked if there were any artists she’d like to work with, she prefaced her answer: “Yes, but when I get asked that question, I think about the work artists make, how they’re so amazing and I love what they do, and that’s enough. I don’t necessarily think I need to go an get involved in what they do. I saw Björk recently when I was in New York and I was absolutely profoundly moved by what she does. But yeah, there’s lots of people I like.”

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    Usually I’m glad if Shakespeare is hot news. But the mania over the shifting of the ‘To be or not to be’ speech is just depressing

    Cumberfever has reached critical levels, as previews for that production of Hamlet at the Barbican continue. The Times ran a front-page story this week on the astounding news that the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy has been moved from the beginning of the production, where Benedict Cumberbatch had delivered it in early previews, to act three.

    Related: Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet: media accused of contempt and hysteria

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    A thundering account of the poets tempest-tossed exile, this fascinating journey may not have actually taken place

    What with his elegies on sex scenes and gallivanting gods, Ovid was nothing if not a provocateur on Rome’s first-century BC literary circuit. The double whammy of these risque writings and an unknown misdemeanour eventually proved too much for the emperor, Augustus, whose pious PR agenda clashed with Ovid’s leanings towards the erotic. So, the poet claimed, he was packed off on a stormy voyage to waste away on the bleak Black Sea coast – the backdrop for his most provocative poetry of all: the Tristia (“Sorrows”).

    Gone is the raunchy scandal of his earlier work, for Ovid’s number-one goal in these elegiac letters is a return ticket to Rome. Often here it is not content but style that offends. Ovid apologised for this shoddy, monotonous output, saying it was composed “not by inspiration, not by art [but] by its own evils”. By and large, his apology has been accepted, though increasingly the question has been asked: was this journey actually just a barefaced hoax? Did he in fact compose his “exilic” work in the sanctuary of his Italian villa?

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    James dedicates his ‘little book’ of essays to hospital staff while describing his health as like waiting for a delayed flight

    Related: Latest Readings by Clive James review – a life in books

    Australian poet, cultural critic and novelist Clive James, who in 2010 announced he had been diagnosed with leukaemia and was “on limited time”, said a new drug has helped to keep his cancer at bay and allowed him to continue to read and write.

    People keep telling me that with an undercurrent of suspicion, as if I’ve been faking the whole thing, and I suppose they’ve got a point.

    Related: Sentenced to Life review – Clive James’s spark is not extinguished

    Related: Clive James: ‘I’ve got a lot done since my death’

    You see things much more clearly and you see the past more clearly

    Related: Why Clive James’s Japanese Maple is so much more than a poem | George Szirtes

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    Through a child’s bright, clear impressions, Mackay Brown dramatises a lively young mind, and the education system set on deadening it

    The Horse Fair

    Miss Instone said, ‘Children, you were all at the Fair yesterday, I’m sure. Out slates! Out slate pencils! Write a composition on the following – My Day at the Fair…’

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    by Julia Darling

    We’ve made an art of it.
    Our skin waits like a drum,
    hands folded, unopened.
    Eyes are low watt light bulbs

    in unused rooms.
    Our shoulders cook slowly,
    in dusky rays of light.
    This morning we polished

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    An enthusiastic but judicious corrective to previous biographies of the ‘Hermit of Hull’

    This is now the third biography of Larkin. So far, they seem to be coming out at the same rate as his volumes of poetry did: that is, about once a decade. For a man whose life was quiet even by the standards English writers are said to set, this is quite something. The lesson here is that even a dull life will fascinate if the work is interesting or good enough, or if there is a question of adjustments to be made to the reputation.

    When his letters and the first biography, by Andrew Motion, were published, more than 20 years ago, Larkin was revealed as someone given to poisonous racist utterance in private, and as a collector of pornography. The image of the gloomy ‘Hermit of Hull’ became tarnished; at the time it seemed irreparably so. But there were still the poems, and for all that academics such as Lisa Jardine said, in effect, that they weren’t that good anyway, a lot of people felt otherwise, with good reason, and the dust has settled.

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  • 08/27/15--08:38: Charles Tomlinson obituary
  • Poet and translator who bridged the cultural gap between old and new worlds

    The poet Charles Tomlinson has died aged 88, at the Gloucestershire cottage where he had lived since 1958. It is significant that this major English modernist and internationalist should have rooted himself for half a century in a quintessentially rural corner of England. He advocated the poetry of Edward Thomas, Isaac Rosenberg, Ivor Gurney and Keith Douglas before it was fashionable to do so. DH Lawrence was his witness that “all creative art must rise out of a specific soil and flicker with the spirit of place”, to which Tomlinson added: “Since we live in a time when place is threatened by the violence of change, the thought of a specific soil carries tragic implications.”

    John Betjeman said: “I hold Charles Tomlinson’s poetry in high regard. His is closely wrought work, not a word wasted … ” For the American objectivist poet George Oppen, “it is [Tomlinson] and Basil Bunting who have spoken most vividly to American poets”. Tomlinson bridged the vast gulf between old and new world poetry, and was an heir equally of Dryden and Williams, Coleridge and Pound. His 16 collections of poetry, books of essays, translations and anthologies are a core resource for English writers and readers of the last half-century, yet he has been more honoured abroad than at home.

    The chances of rhyme are like the chances of meeting –
    In the finding fortuitous, but once found, binding …
    (The Chances of Rhyme, 1969)

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    Bittersweet, articulate, beautiful or bold? Suggest selections for a special form of sadness in songs for this week’s sorrowful but strangely uplifting topic

    “Misery is the river of the world,” grunts out an energetically downbeat Tom Waits. “Melancholy is sadness that has taken on lightness,” replies the eccentric, upbeat author Italo Calvino. And, now also entering the Readers Recommend bar (you never know who might turn up), here’s Rob Spragg, aka Larry Love, from Alabama 3. He decides to do a spontaneous gig, as I’ve seen him do a couple of times, and, no matter how what the subject matter or how upbeat the style, he dryly remarks, with a twinkle in the eye, and that gravelly voice - ‘Here’s another sad song for ya!”

    For what is melancholy? It is more than sadness. It is a nuanced mix of emotions that seems steeped in articulacy. It implies there’s something to say about a state of mind and the state of the world. Arguably melancholy is as much a driving force to songwriting as any idea or emotion. Is it a functional form of depression? Perhaps. If so, it certainly served to be so for the likes of Nick Drake, or Joni Mitchell, who later admitted to suffering from such a state throughout the writing of several of her most acclaimed albums.

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    Michael Rosen, Pascale Petit, Nicholas Murray and Ian Pindar are showing their support for the Labour leadership candidate in verse, with a free ebook in support of his campaign

    Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “The Masque of Anarchy” (“Ye are many – they are few!”), written in reaction to the Peterloo massacre of 1819, is arguably the greatest political poem of all time. However, it was not published until 13 years after Peterloo and its most striking impact came almost a century later, in the New York protest marches led by Pauline Newman. The timeline for Labour’s current leadership election is rather tighter in comparison.

    Publishing Poets for Corbyn was never intended as hagiography in rhyme, but rather as a collection of poems celebrating and supporting our chance to reaffirm Labour’s historical values. On Corbyn’s nomination, I invited some of my favourite left-leaning poets to contribute. A few of the more hard-line turned down the offer, seeing little hope in parliamentary democracy. But Michael Schmidt, general editor of PN Review and one of the contributors, put me in touch with a number of enthusiastic Corbynites. WN Herbert and Andy Jackson’s New Boots and Pantisocracies was an invaluable source, alongside Jody Porter’s Well Versed series in the Morning Star.

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    A fearless confrontation of casual racism challenges the reader to question their own assumptions

    Claudia Rankine’s book may or may not be poetry – the question becomes insignificant as one reads on. Her achievement is to have created a bold work that occupies its own space powerfully, an unsettled hybrid – her writing on the hard shoulder of prose. She eavesdrops on America and a racism that has never gone away. Citizen won the National Book Critics Circle poetry award in the US in recognition, partly, of the shocking truth it tells. Through brief encounters and troubling retellings of recent news, Rankine puts one, as a white reader, on constant alert for any unconscious racism in oneself.

    Even the way the book has been published is bracingly correct. Rankine’s Jamaican origins are withheld – no mention of her roots on the cover. Similarly, when she describes meeting a novelist in London, she does not reveal his provenance. She sees to it we take ourselves to task: why should we want to know? Is it invariably a reflex likely to lead to hasty stereotyping? I always want to know where a person comes from – a journalist’s weakness. But Rankine reminds us there is nothing black and white about black and white.

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