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

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    To his undergraduate students at Bristol in the 1960s, Charles Tomlinson was that rare thing, an acute literary critic who was also a working poet and a consummate practitioner of his art.

    In a School of English where doctrinaire, Leavisite attitudes still led to battles over critical orthodoxy, Tomlinson’s lectures on 20th-century poetry simply illuminated his subject. The revolution brought to English verse by – as he put it – “two Americans and an Irishman”, with Eliot, Pound and Yeats in mind, came alive through his readings and commentary, and he epitomised for many of us the clarity, intellectual sharpness and telling humour of the best kind of university teacher.

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    With invigorating pace and rhythm, British history is presented as a vivid mix of tragedy and triumph

    II.1 (Strophe)

    Weave the warp, and weave the woof,
    The winding-sheet of Edward’s race.
    Give ample room, and verge enough
    The characters of hell to trace.
    Mark the year, and mark the night,
    When Severn shall re-eccho with affright
    The shrieks of death, thro’ Berkley’s roofs that ring,
    Shrieks of an agonizing King!
    She-Wolf of France, with unrelenting fangs,
    That tear’st the bowels of thy mangled Mate,
    From thee be born, who o’er thy country hangs
    The scourge of Heav’n. What Terrors round him wait!
    Amazement in his van, with Flight combined,
    And Sorrow’s faded form, and Solitude behind.

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    Wenlock Edge, Shropshire The thrush’s gaze was defiant, proud – but I wondered if I read into it what I wanted to see

    The thrush held its prize in its beak, a worm plucked from the hedge, like a dog with a stick in its mouth. To me its gaze was defiant, ferocious and proud, but then I wondered if I was just reading into it what I wanted to see.

    I had spent the day talking to writers wandering in Rectory Wood, in Church Stretton. The wood contains remnants of plantings influenced by Capability Brown, and relics of grottos and vistas of the Picturesque garden movement.

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    The young poet has become unwittingly involved in a social media stir about Lily Allen’s marriage. What’s all the fuss about?

    It was the Instagram image that launched a thousand rumours. Three weeks ago, Lily Allen posted a picture of her hand hovering over a poetry collection called i will never be beautiful enough to make us beautiful together, by the American poet Mira Gonzalez. If Allen was simply hoping to alert her followers to a recent book discovery, it was a misfire. The tabloid press jumped on the gesture, reading it as the next in a carefully constructed series of clues that they believe Allen is using to hint at trouble in her marriage. A week later, the front cover of Grazia read “Lily’s Break-Up Message to Husband”, while the Daily Mail Online wrote of “alarm bells” over Allen’s photograph.

    Her voice is both punk and disinterested, both promiscuous and not particularly sexual

    Related: Sign up to our Bookmarks email

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    An unpublished pastiche sonnet written to friend Isabel Codrington, extolling her ‘rare worth’, fetches £7,500

    An unpublished poem by Ezra Pound, in which the American poet extols in an Elizabethan sonnet the “pools” that are the “dearest eyes” of his friend, the British painter Isabel Codrington, has been sold at auction for £7,500.

    Pound wrote to Codrington, who was then Isabel Konody, married to the art critic Paul George Konody, in April 1909, telling her: “I can’t find an old poem fit to gratify your modest ambition so I have made a new one which I hope you will grace with acceptance.” The author of modernist classic The Cantos added that “I have made it an Elizabethan sonnet because in that form alone is the thought governed with sufficient elegance of confection to be in fitting harmony with Mrs Konody, whose abject slave I subscribe my self herewith”.

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  • 09/03/15--09:36: PJ Kavanagh obituary
  • Poet, actor, broadcaster and author of the memoir The Perfect Stranger

    On St George’s Day 1951, the second day of the battle of the Imjin river, Second Lieutenant Patrick Kavanagh of the Royal Ulster Rifles was shot. While comrades in the Gloucestershire Regiment made a defiant stand against the Chinese army, and many of Kavanagh’s friends were killed or captured, he was taken to hospital with what turned out be merely a flesh wound. A doctor called it a million-to-one shot, without which the Korean war could have denied Kavanagh, who has died aged 84, his future life of broadcasting, acting, writing poetry – and writing much else besides, including a remarkable memoir, The Perfect Stranger.

    Even before national service loomed into view, Kavanagh’s life had been eventful. He was born in Worthing, Sussex, son of Agnes (nee O’Keefe) and Ted. His father was the prolific creator of It’s That Man Again, the hugely popular radio comedy starring Tommy Handley. During the second world war, the family was “bombed from flat to flat”, as Kavanagh later recalled in verse; life was “a show on the road, a series of one-night stands”, his father’s world “a vast / Gillray cartoon (only kinder)”. It was a peripatetic and somewhat ragged upbringing, including a period when Kavanagh attended a convent school in Barnes, west London. He had a holiday job as a redcoat at Butlins, took acting classes, and met the jazz musician Charlie Parker in Paris while working there as a newsreader.

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    Wild wolves to whippets, fleet foxes to patient pointers, fluffy, ferocious or faithful, give your canon of canine songs a walk - it’s time they had their day

    Woof! Their eyes roll, they wag and wriggle, they have expressive eyebrows and massive mouths. They run, jump, lie down, roll and sniff everything in sight. Their primary aim is to make us feel wanted and good about ourselves. What’s not to like? Well, they can be, messy, dribbly, a bit barking and smell like an old rug when wet. But that’s enough about the owners …
    I love dogs. But while the politics of the pack – whether in wolves or wild dogs – is at the beating heart of their ancient psychology, history has made an inextricable link between dogs and human companions. Is there something deep within our genetic history to attach us to the canine species? What is it about the dog that endlessly fascinates us? Perhaps most of all it is the sheer range of emotions they seem able to express – whether that be running, jumping joyful affection, undying bravery and loyalty, or hungry, sad-eyed sorrow. It is to such feelings that humans can project or identify as an expression of themselves. Perhaps then that is why dogs can be such a rich subject then for song.

    Welcome then to this special musical edition of best in show, with an opportunity to throw out then fetch and retrieve some particularly tasty musical snacks. Read on, but beware, as Groucho Marx put it: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” Those dogs are always hungry. Dogs are not humans, let us emphasise, and they inhabit an olfactory world hard for us to imagine. But first, to reveal the parallels and comparisons and differences between dog and owner, let’s dip into a sample of the film Best in Show (2000), starring in superb ensemble pack, including director Christopher Guest, of This is Spinal Tap fame. You can’t get much better than that.

    “You ain’t nothing but a hedgehog, foraging all the time. you ain’t nothing but a hedgehog foraging all the time, you never pricked a predator you ain’t no porcupine.”

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  • 09/04/15--04:30: Poster poems: the alphabet
  • These most fundamental components of all writing have long fascinated poets, and spell out your challenge for September

    If William Carlos Williams’s “a poem is a small (or large) machine made out of words” is right, and I see no reason to demur, then written poems are built on a foundation of the alphabet, the visual units from which words are made. Sometimes, poets have been so intrigued by the alphabet that they have made it the foreground of their poems, rather than leaving the letters hidden in plain sight. There’s even a poetic form, the abecedarian, that is based on alphabetical order and dates back to Biblical times. In these poems, the first stanza begins with the first letter of the alphabet and each succeeding stanza begins with the next letter until the full set is completed.

    Edward Lear used the abecedarian form on numerous occasion. He employed it to characteristic effect in his wonderfully wry A Nonsense Alphabet. Lear’s range of references for the letters runs from the predictable (B for book), to the odd (U for urn) to the downright zany (S for sugar tongs). There’s also a reminder of a lost world of erudition in his choice of the Persian king Xerxes for the letter X, on the assumption that his readers would not find it out of place among the other 25 more everyday nouns in his set.

    E stands for egg.

    MORAL:
    The Moral of this verse
    Is applicable to the Young. Be terse.

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    Monica Ali, William Boyd and Marina Lewycka among the authors recruited with aim of shifting public perspectives

    Major authors including Monica Ali, William Boyd and Marina Lewycka are lining up to contribute writing to a new crowdfunded anthology which aims to counter the anti-refugee rhetoric in the media.

    A Country of Refuge will collect fiction, poetry and memoir from bestselling names also including Sebastian Barry, Ruth Padel, Hanif Kureishi, Amanda Craig and Elaine Feinstein. Editor Lucy Popescu, an author and former director of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, is expecting the eventual list of contributors to number at least 25.

    Related: Patrick Ness leads fundraising drive to aid refugees

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    This collection boldly assesses the state of modern masculinity

    What is masculinity if not taking the weight / of a boy and straining it from oneself?” In “Strongman”, Andrew McMillan takes his young nephew’s playful request to “benchpress him” like “his mother’s new lover can” as an imaginative springboard to some urgent personal and social concerns. It is typical of the poems in Physical, which has been longlisted for the Guardian first book award and shortlisted for the Forward prize best debut collection. Adept at finding the surreal in the everyday, turning an ear to the lilt of conversation alongside serious (but rarely solipsistic) reflection, McMillan’s verse worries away at what it is to be human, to feel through both the flesh and our emotions, to lose and to love, but most of all, what it means to be a man. In his delicate, frank and piercing interrogations of maleness, this is a poet who looks to assess the state of modern masculinity. He does so in ways that few others currently writing are either willing or able to.

    “The men are weeping in the gym / using the hand dryer to cover their sobs”, begins one grimly comic dissection of male anger and anxiety: “swearing that they feel / nothing when the muscle tears itself / from itself”. Sorry scenes of guys bulking themselves up with bicep curls and protein shakes, “swearing” under their breath, are related with an insider’s perspective; the poem manages to steer clear of sanctimony even as it gently mocks, speculating at the compensatory nature of such actions. Similarly, the frustrated imagination of an unhappily married man is powerfully envisaged in “Things Men Take”, though here the tone comes closer to judgment as it seeks to expose and provoke, wondering at “the man who takes the image / of the blond haired girl in the lowcut top”. The effect is immersive, and the poem makes for uncomfortable reading.

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  • 09/05/15--02:59: The Saturday poem: Mercies
  • by Don Paterson

    She might have had months left of her dog-years,
    but to be who? She’d grown light as a nest
    and spent the whole day under her long ears
    listening to the bad radio in her breast.
    On the steel bench, knowing what was taking shape
    she tried and tried to stand, as if to sign
    that she was still of use, and should escape
    our selection. So I turned her face to mine,
    and seeing only love there – which, for all
    the wolf in her, she knew as well as we did –
    she lay back down and let the needle enter.
    And love was surely what her eyes conceded
    as her stare grew hard, and one bright aerial
    quit making its report back to the centre.

    • From40 Sonnetsby Don Paterson (Faber, £14.99). To order a copy for £11.99 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846.

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    Exile brings severance, but it can also bring confidence: moving from Singapore to New York enabled Koh to find himself as a gay man and a poet

    In His Other House

    In this house there is no need to wait for the verdict of history
    And each page lies open to the version of every other.
    – Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, In Her Other House

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    Panels on publishing affirmed literature’s value, while new poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera reveals his first project, La Casa de Colores, a collaborative poem

    The theme of this year’s National Book Festival, which took place on Saturday at the sprawling Walter E Washington Convention Center in downtown Washington DC, was: “I cannot live without books.” That’s a quotation by Thomas Jefferson; the festival was also celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Library of Congress’s acquisition of his private library. Thousands turned out to testify to the truth of Jefferson’s phrase.

    Panels such as Why Literature Matters and the YA-focused Letters About Literature/A Book That Shaped Me quickly filled to capacity. And the significance of indigenous voices was given time in the spotlight, along with a five-panel series on war literature and writings on the future of Earth.

    Related: Louise Erdrich on her fiction: 'I'm writing out of the mixture of cultures'

    Related: Sign up to our Bookmarks email

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    Editors kept Yi-Fen Chou’s poem in the 2015 anthology, published today, even after the author revealed his real identity to be Michael Derrick Hudson

    Controversy has enveloped the prestigious Best American Poetry anthology after it emerged that a white poet had been included in the selection after adopting a Chinese pen name – and that Yi-Fen Chou’s poem was kept in the much sought-after lineup even after the author told editors his real identity was Michael Derrick Hudson.

    At the back of the 2015 edition of The Best American Poetry, which is published today, Yi-Fen Chou is revealed as the pen name of Michael Derrick Hudson, from Indiana. Hudson writes that his poem chosen for the anthology, The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve, was rejected under his real name 40 times before he sent it out as Yi-Fen Chou, when it was rejected nine times before getting accepted. “If indeed this is one of the best American poems of 2015, it took quite a bit of effort to get it into print, but I’m nothing if not persistent,” writes Hudson.

    I would have committed a larger injustice by dumping the poem

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    A recent spat involving the Best American Poets 2015 anthology reveals the extent of problems around diversity and cultural appropriation in literature

    In America, the work of writers of color is severely under-represented in the literary world. It is therefore ridiculous to argue that an editor looking to publish underrepresented writers is engaged in “racial nepotism”. But that is precisely what Sherman Alexie, guest editor of the Best American Poets 2015 edition, argues he is guilty of in a recent poetry spat about diversity and cultural appropriation.

    Alexie included Michael Derrick Hudson’s poem The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve in the recent poetry anthology. Hudson wrote the poem under the Chinese pseudonym Yi-Fen Chou, a fact which only came to Alexie’s attention after he selected it to be included. However, the editor decided not to exclude it, or publish it on the condition that it appears under Hudson’s name. He argued that it would have been “dishonest” to do so after learning of his true, non-Asian identity.

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    I worked very closely with Lee Harwood when he and I were elected chair and treasurer of the Poetry Society in 1976-77, a time of great upheaval and bitter disputes. We were each active in the Labour party and so had some political experience.

    Quiet, thoughtful and modest, Lee had considered the issues being discussed before speaking. This could not be said of a group of “radicals” given to shouting abuse at or about Arts Council representatives. Finding us not radical enough, they resigned en masse.

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    Nobel laureate began work on a version of the Aeneid’s Book VI, which describes the hero’s journey to the underworld, after the death of his own father in 1986

    Seamus Heaney’s translation of the Aeneid’s Book VI – a version of Aeneas’s journey to the underworld which the Nobel laureate began after the death of his own father in 1986 – is due to be published next year, according to the poet’s family.

    Heaney died in August 2013, aged 74, leaving behind him acclaimed poetry collections from District and Circle to Human Chain, and translations of works including Beowulf and The Testament of Cresseid. His family and his UK publisher Faber & Faber revealed this morning that the surprise new work will surface in March 2016.

    But whatever disasters befall, do not flinch.
    Go all the bolder to face them, follow your fate
    To the limit ...

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    PJ Kavanagh once considered becoming a monk but decided he liked girls too much. As a schoolboy he prayed to St Jude that he might be tall and attractive to women. The patron saint of hopeless causes did not disappoint him.

    Very much a nature poet, he revealed something of his unorthodox Catholicism in Beyond Decoration (1979):

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    Poet of Muskogee Creek heritage wins Wallace Stevens award from the Academy of American Poets for ‘proven mastery’

    Poet Joy Harjo, known for wedding social consciousness to her Muskogee Creek heritage and the south-west American landscape, has won a $100,000 prize for lifetime achievement.

    Harjo, 64, received the Wallace Stevens award for “proven mastery”, the Academy of American Poets announced on Thursday. The academy praised Harjo for her “visionary justice-seeking art” and for transforming “bitterness to beauty” and “trauma to healing”.

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    Rankine, who has influenced Black Lives Matter, talked with artist Carrie Mae Weems about race, bodies and how surviving cancer inspired her latest work

    On the courts of the US Open in Queens on Tuesday, crowds were riveted as Serena Williams played (and won) against her sister Venus. The following night in Midtown Manhattan saw another, quieter example of “black excellence”: a conversation between Carrie Mae Weems, a 2013 MacArthur fellowship recipient, and the poet Claudia Rankine, author of this year’s much-cited book Citizen: An American Lyric, on race, bodies, art and poetry.

    The two were introduced by Princeton professor and poet Elizabeth Alexander, who called Weems and Rankine “our chroniclers”. The description is apt. Since it was published last fall, Citizen has become an oft-cited moral authority in the Black Lives Matter movement. Weems deftly chronicled the lives of black women in her artwork such as her photography series Kitchen Table.

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