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

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    Family of Chou angered that poet Michael Derrick Hudson, who attended the same high school in Fort Wayne, Indiana, used the name as a pseudonym

    A controversy continued to boil in the poetry community this week over the revelation that one of the poets included in this year’s Best American Poetry anthology was a using a Chinese pseudonym– even though he is a white man named Michael Derrick Hudson.

    Now, the New York Times reports that the pseudonym in question – Yi-Fen Chou – is the name of one of Hudson’s former high school classmates from Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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    The White Review, BOMB and Guernica are just some of the magazines turning to the wisdom of the crowd to publish quality literature

    Fancy a 90-minute walk around London with Will Self, “writer and psychogeographer”, or dinner with the Booker-longlisted writer Ned Beauman in London’s “best Indian restaurant”? Either would set you back £500, but would also support the quarterly arts journal The White Review, the latest in a line of high-end literary endeavours which are going direct to their readers for funding, rather than struggling for space in a crowded market.

    And readers are lining up to support them. “My own hunch is that people are sick of passively consuming – that they don’t want to be told what to buy,” says Dan Kieran, chief executive of crowdfunding publisher Unbound, which is preparing to release its 50th title, a memoir from Rose Bretécher called Pure. “Sites like Kickstarter and Unbound are not about saying here is this thing someone has selected for you to buy, but rather, if you want in, you need to step forward and say so, contribute money, tell your network about it. And it becomes a movement. That’s how this community feels.”

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    Inspired by Ted Hughes’s Crow, this remarkable debut is a slippery, beguiling thing, recently longlisted for the Guardian first book award

    Bookended by death – that of Sylvia Plath in 1963, then Assia Wevill and her daughter Shura in 1969 – Ted Hughes’s Crow, composed during the latter half of the 60s, is a collection marked by stylistic experiment and steeped in grief. Max Porter ingeniously plays with these elements in his remarkable debut, the story of a father (a Hughes scholar) and his two small boys mourning the death of their wife and mother. Into their darkened lives comes Crow, threatening to stay until he’s no longer needed by the family.

    Something between novella and prose poem, the book is as slippery and shape-shifting as Crow himself, familiar from Hughes’s incarnation as antagonist and trickster, and rendered here by Porter as healer and babysitter too. The end result is a beguiling literary hybrid, highly deserving of its Guardian first book award longlisting.

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    The poet Lee Harwood had a telling sense of humour. We once shared lively gig in a Guildford theatre with our mutual, and often thunderingly verbose, friend Jeff Nuttall, who took a post-reading questioner aback with an extraordinarily extended excoriation of the literary establishment. A long silence suffused the gob-smacked bourgeois auditorium, eventually to be broken by a stage whisper from Lee: “Said Piglet.”

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    Love is a fickle fashionista in a poem which was praised by Christina Rossetti for its ‘cool, bitter sarcasm’, but it is not without tenderness and hope

    Oh never weep for love that’s dead
    Since love is seldom true
    But changes his fashion from blue to red,
    From brightest red to blue,
    And love was born to an early death
    And is so seldom true.

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    A science fiction detective story in iambic pentameter transports the reader to an analogue world plunged into darkness – but more illumination is needed

    Dark Star is an SF epic poem heavily influenced by noir detective stories, written in four-line-long stanzas of iambic pentameter, and set on a world called Vox whose sun doesn’t give out light.

    Let’s have that again.

    Time to waste, so I escape the city
    At one of those seedy establishments
    They call ‘Glow Shows’ because they fill the girls
    So full of Pro’ it nearly burns their veins.

    Dante checks the address, puts his hat on.
    We step out and eye up what we can see.

    I’m following up on a buried case
    With zero backup, barely any leads
    And a whole different major case to solve
    And for the life of me I don’t know why.

    Well I’ll be damned. Maybe I should have known
    The two cases were linked.

    A dark took up residence in my head:
    Some unmovable piece of nothingness.

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    The Asian American Writers’ Workshop has been tweeting the names and work of actual Asian poets after white writer Michael Derrick Hudson used a Chinese pseudonym to make it into the Best American Poetry anthology

    Readers are being urged to seek out the work of “actual Asian poets” in the wake of the revelation that white writer Michael Derrick Hudson assumed a Chinese pseudonym to make it into the Best American Poetry anthology.

    The hashtag #ActualAsianPoets has swept Twitter after publication of the anthology last week, in which Hudson, a white American from Indiana, admits in his biographical notes that his poem The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve was turned down 40 times when he submitted it under his own name, but when he submitted it as Yi-Fen Chou, he received just nine rejections before being accepted.

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    The Russian poet has been releasing his work free of ownership since 2004, insisting that publishers can only make editions without contracts and without his consent. He explains how opening his poems up to piracy is both a political protest and a liberating step towards intellectual sovereignty

    I gave up copyright in my own work in 2004. I had become increasingly disgusted by the situation in my country. But my interpretation of the problem ran counter to the anti-Soviet, dissident one favoured by most of the Russian intelligentsia. I believed that the problem we were facing wasn’t a return to the Soviet Union, but rather the fact that Russia was once again finding its place in the capitalist world system, adapting, in its semi-peripheral way, the main tendencies of that system. Without reflecting on and criticising these tendencies, it seemed impossible to have a genuine position on Putin’s Russia; it seemed impossible to be a political or civic artist.

    The international movements that interested me at that time, with which I felt solidarity – the alterna-globalisation movement and the movement against the invasion of Iraq – were simply nonsense to the liberal intellectual circles to which I belonged. I saw in this our extreme provincialism, one that I wanted to break out of even as I maintained my ties to the Russian revolutionary-democratic and Soviet underground traditions which I felt were my inheritance. Osip Mandelstam once defined acmeism, the poetic movement to which he belonged, as a “yearning for world culture”. I think my rejection of copyright at that moment, my decision to release my work on to the internet without any claim of ownership, was a similar gesture of yearning for the international progressive intellectual, artistic and political movement that seeks a way out of neoliberal capitalism.

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    Longlisted for the Guardian first book award, this moving story of a widower and his young sons becomes a profound meditation on love, loss and Ted Hughes

    Oh, the look of a book! Whether a novel’s weight and the appearance of its typeface indicate the heft of traditional narrative ambition or a lighter, more poetic hesitancy and compression; whether we see block text and the roll call of chapters marching down a table of contents or lots of white space and a glancing, ragged-looking assemblage of pages: the feel and appearance of the story we hold in our hands has a huge influence on our reading expectations.

    Not every writer is interested in these kinds of distinctions, of course, but Max Porter certainly is. His Grief Is the Thing With Feathers is the most exquisite little flight of a story captured between hardback covers, and its appearance has been crafted to show us that we are in for something unusual. This deeply moving book about death and its grief-stricken consolations – love and art – appears to be no more than a scattering of text, dialogue and poetry that lifts and settles on the page, the frailest sort of thing. Yet as we read on, we become aware that the way it has been put together is robust indeed.

    Today I got back to work.

    I managed half an hour and then

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    Stevie Smith always wanted her drawings to accompany her poetry, yet most were omitted from posthumous editions. As a new collection brings them together, we present four previously unpublished poems alongside her illustrations

    Who or what is Stevie Smith, Ogden Nash once pondered. The poet and novelist who slinked the suburbs of north London has often proved a riddle. Her most famous poem, “Not Waving but Drowning”, turns on a fatal misunderstanding, but she is good at pulling the wool over our eyes. She once characterised writers as shrewd, and the apparently careless lollop of her lines belies an astute technician.

    A constant in Smith’s career was her determination to include drawings alongside her poems, yet most were omitted from posthumous editions. When I was approached by Faber to edit a new Collected, it seemed a chance to put this right. Smith’s poetry specialises in uncanny objects – plaster busts of dead mothers sitting on pianos, hats of surreal proportions, gas fires worthy of friendship, and toxic mushrooms. Her drawings are similarly disorientating. Sketches of enigmatic women look out from the page, like readers who have got there first but are unwilling to give up their secrets to us. Like her poetry, her drawings have eclectic starting points. Some are inspired by the epigrammatic underlines of Goya or the sketches of Georg Grosz, while others skirt closer to Edward Lear. While a few appear to be illustrations to the poems they accompany, many were added to her poems at proof stage or substituted for an apparently unrelated doodle, deliberately unsettling how we might understand a poem’s speaker, tone or addressee. They are as likely to put us on our guard as provide relief.

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    by UA Fanthorpe

    Old Scallywag scapegoat has skedaddled,
    Retired at last to bridge and both kinds of bird-watching,
    No more suspect phone calls from shady acquaintances,
    Anonymous ladies and flush-faced Rotarians.

    He could always be blamed when case-notes strayed.
    (His MG boot? His mistress’s bed? We enjoyed guessing.)
    How we shall miss his reliable shiftiness,
    Wow and flutter on tape, Wimbledon-fortnight illness,

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    Michael Derrick Hudson use of a Chinese name when writing was racist and latest case of ‘yellowface’ in literature, but the word has a complex backstory

    My father immigrated to Montreal from China 24 years ago. At five, a first generation immigrant newly arrived in British Columbia, I was promptly placed in an ESL class when I began kindergarten because I didn’t speak any English. More than 20 years later, I’m an English PhD candidate at University College Berkeley. In my life I alternate between my English name, Jane, and my legal Chinese one, Shan-Jie.

    I list these biographical details first for two reasons: one, because I believe in the truth of the cliché that we rarely match, in person, what we look like on paper. Two, because biographical facts, and their relationship to art and ideas, were at stake in last week’s controversy over the Best American Poetry 2015 anthology. And I found myself slightly confused as to howoften people resorted to the term “yellowface” to describe what happened.

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    Awash with syntactical and structural fluctuations that embody its central theme, Longfellow’s restless Petrarchan sonnet ranges far beyond technical virtuosity

    The Tides

    I saw the long line of the vacant shore,
    The sea-weed and the shells upon the sand,
    And the brown rocks left bare on every hand,
    As if the ebbing tide would flow no more.
    Then heard I, more distinctly than before,
    The ocean breathe and its great breast expand,
    And hurrying came on the defenceless land
    The insurgent waters with tumultuous roar.
    All thought and feeling and desire, I said,
    Love, laughter, and the exultant joy of song
    Have ebbed from me forever! Suddenly o’er me
    They swept again from their deep ocean bed,
    And in a tumult of delight, and strong
    As youth, and beautiful as youth, upbore me.

    Related: Poem of the week: From Longfellow's translation of the Divine Comedy

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  • 09/21/15--06:07: Pigs in literature – quiz
  • As pigs hit the political headlines, we follow them through centuries of literature, from Heracles’ hoggish handful to George Orwell’s porcine politburo. Take our swinish quiz to find out if you can truffle the fact from the fiction

    After the pigs have taken control In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the Seven Commandments on the wall of the big barn are replaced with only one. But what is it?

    ALL FOR ONE AND ONE FOR ALL

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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, in which we’ve seen quite a lot of September reading blues – but don’t despair: you still recommended excellent reads.

    SharonE6 has been “getting a bit demoralised with my reading this year as nothing has been really grabbing me”. However:

    I’ve just read We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (recommended by my son) and loved it. It’s a dystopian novel completed in 1921. George Orwell was heavily influenced by it when he wrote 1984. People have numbers, not names and live in glass buildings. Almost every minute of their day has set actions/tasks. It’s pretty chilling, particularly the ending, and it seems odd never to have heard of it until now.

    I have a huge pile of books from carboots ready to take to my nana (she can’t get out to the library as has stopped driving. i often send her stuff from Amazon too). Anyway on this pile was a book that caught my attention – Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. The Japanese/American relationships caught my attention and I thought I would give it a go before I see my nana this weekend. Well, I am 100 pages in and enjoying it so far. A fisherman is found dead at the start and the rest of the story takes place in a courtroom, flashing to and from events in the past.

    I read Snow Falling on Cedars at Christmas last year, and thought it was wonderful – a novel that on the one hand, despite being fiction, felt like a piece of classic American long-form narrative journalism – a careful reconstruction of a crime and its investigation, and on the other was an intimate portrait of longing. I’d never even heard of the author before being given the book, and haven’t read anything else by him since.

    It’s a truly strange novel; odd, and magical, and really funny, too. Its protagonist is ninety-two-year-old Marian Leatherby, whose delightfully imperturbable nature makes up much of the humour. At the beginning of the novel a neighbourhood friend gifts Marian a beautiful baroque hearing trumpet, through which the first thing she overhears is her son and daughter-in-law conspiring to put her away in an old people’s home; soon enough she finds herself in this “Institution” and from there the novel manages to get even more bizarre — which is a very good thing.

    Related: Sign up to our Bookmarks email

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    House in Felpham, Sussex, where poet wrote words that became hymn Jerusalem, purchased for £520,000 for public use by the Blake Society

    The humble thatched cottage in Sussex where William Blake pondered England’s dark satanic mills has been saved for the nation after a lengthy campaign.

    Blake’s house in Felpham, where he lived between 1800 and 1803 and penned the words to the hymn Jerusalem, has been bought for public use by the Blake Society. The acquisition followed a two-year campaign, backed by comedians Russell Brand and Stephen Fry and writers Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, who is a patron of the society.It raised the £520,000 to buy the cottage from its current owner, 90-year-old Heather Howell.

    Related: Philip Pullman: William Blake and me

    Related: The 10 best works by William Blake

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    (Marvels of the Universe)

    Two years on from a remarkable collaboration between Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and African kora exponent Seckou Keita, here is a new fusion project from Wales. This time it’s an experimental vocal collaboration, in which singer Gwyneth Glyn matches settings for Hen Benillion (old anonymous Welsh poems, some dating back to medieval times) against even older ghazal songs from Indian singer Tauseef Akhtar. Ghazals are ancient poems of love and longing that spread from Arabia to India, where they have remained popular thanks to singers such as the gloriously laid-back Akhtar. Here the two singers swap easygoing vocals, backed by a band that includes Indian violin, tabla and guitar, and some fine harp work from Ruth Williams. There are times when this pleasantly accessible fusion is so relaxed that it could be used as background music, but I suspect it could become an unexpected commercial success. 

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    The poet tugs and stretches a demanding form to its limit in work of vividness and potency

    Don Paterson has a thing for sonnets. Back in 1999 he brought out an anthology of 101 of his favourites, and in 2012 he delved deeper into their history with Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets, a passionate, personal response to the great man’s form-defining sequence. Nor has he confined himself to curation and criticism: in 2006, he produced a warm, responsive reworking of Rilke’s 55-sonnet cycle, Orpheus, while his original collections are punctuated by his own efforts, some of which (such as Landing Light’s superlative “Waking with Russell”) count among his finest poems. “The square of the sonnet exists for reasons which are almost all direct consequences of natural law … and the grain and structure of the language itself,” he said, attempting to explain the form’s abiding appeal – and his own fascination with it – in an article in this newspaper. “Or to put it another way: if human poetic speech is breath and language is soapy water, sonnets are just the bubbles you get.”

    It’s not true, of course. While sonnets don’t demand the degree of crow-barring required to force words into, say, a sestina or a villanelle, it takes skill to write them, and considerably greater skill to write them well; to work within their strict metrical limits while at the same time, through the heft of your words, to say something that transcends them. The history of poetry is littered with the corpses of bad sonnets, something a connoisseur such as Paterson knows better than most. The stakes must have been high for him when he decided to tackle the form head-on in his latest collection.

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    In this extract from punk poet Patti Smith’s memoir M Train, a letter arrives leading to a bizarre speaking engagement in Berlin – and a night binge-watching Inspector Morse in a Covent Garden hotel…

    Snow. Just enough snow to scrape off my boots. Donning my black coat and watch cap, I trudge across Sixth Avenue like a faithful postman, delivering myself daily before the orange awning of Cafe ’Ino. As I labour yet again on variations of the poem I’m writing in memory of Roberto Bolaño, my morning sojourn lengthens well into the afternoon. I order Tuscan bean soup, brown bread with olive oil, and more black coffee. I count the lines of the envisioned 100-line poem, Hecatomb, now three lines shy. Ninety-seven clues but nothing solved, another cold-case poem.

    I should get out of here, I am thinking, out of the city. But where would I go that I would not drag my seemingly incurable lethargy along with me, like the worn canvas sack of an angst-driven teenage hockey player? And what would become of my mornings in my little corner and my late nights scanning the TV channels, watching my crime shows, not a trifling thing? Yesterday’s poets are today’s detectives. They spend a life sniffing out the hundredth line, wrapping up a case, and limping exhausted into the sunset. They entertain and sustain me. Linden and Holder in The Killing. Law & Order’s Goren and Eames. CSI’s Horatio Caine. I walk with them, adopt their ways, suffer their failures, and consider their movements long after an episode ends, whether in real time or rerun.

    Related: Just Kids by Patti Smith | Book review

    Related: Patti Smith at Glastonbury 2015 review – feeling her rage

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    The Irish poet’s new collection includes the personal – and ultimately political – story of an ‘unletter’d woman’ of some other time dictating a lovely, mysterious and almost unguardedly sexual letter

    The scribe objects. You can’t put it like that,
    I can’t write that. But the client
    is a tough small woman forty years old.
    She insists. She needs her letter
    to open out full of pleated revolving silk
    and the soft lobes of her ears
    where she flaunts those thin silver wires.

    Related: The Boys of Bluehill by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin review – distinctive and rewarding

    Related: Poem of the week: In His Other House by Jee Leong Koh

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