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

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    Claudia Rankine joins past prize winners and debut authors on a shortlist that encompasses questions of racial identity, depression, love affairs and librarians

    A week after Marlon James became the first Jamaican to win the Booker, the Jamaican-born poet Claudia Rankine has been shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize for poetry.

    Related: Poet Claudia Rankine: ‘The invisibility of black women is astounding’

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    Amid furore over account of poet’s funeral, Jonathan Bate’s decision to explicitly reference Sylvia Plath’s alleged encounter with poet Al Alvarez seems unresearched and inexplicable

    Jonathan Bate’s biography of Ted Hughes has sparked an escalating war of words, with the Hughes estate and his own publisher firing at each other over the accuracy of his account of the poet’s funeral arrangements.

    In the furore, a more significant suggestion appears to have escaped notice. Speculating on a final lover of Sylvia Plath in a Guardianarticle on 1 October, Bate writes: “It is not in my biography because it is based on hearsay and a lost document: biographers should only fix in print those things that they have fully corroborated”.

    Related: Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life review – a man smouldering with life

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    Made up of prose, photographs and an essay on Serena Williams, this award-winning collection isn’t easy to categorise – but it’s as much a poem as The Waste Land

    At a recent reception following a poetry reading by elder, experimental poets, an academic critic – of decidedly avant-garde tastes – overheard that I had been teaching Claudia Rankine’s Citizen for the last four semesters. I knew, in fact, that this scholar’s life’s work centered around championing unsung postwar US poets such as Clark Coolidge and Susan Howe, who were difficult, acquired tastes (that I shared). Howe, for example, is known to publish textual sculptures often quite literally illegible. Who better, I thought, to appreciate my teaching of a complex poem like Citizen than this brainy, patient scholar. Yet quickly he fired off: “That’s not poetry; it’s sociology!” My spirits sank.

    Related: Poet Claudia Rankine: ‘The invisibility of black women is astounding’

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    A standout collection of self-conscious, critical and unrelenting voices that excavate the past

    In his poem, “September 1, 1939”, WH Auden presented what he saw as his only power in time of war: “All I have is a voice / To undo the folded lie.” Auden challenges history and politics with his single voice. Despite his more famous and misunderstood “poetry makes nothing happen”, this is poetry’s way of making something happen. Even if no one’s listening – or is able to hear over the bickering and bombs. Many poets have followed his example since: the “I” as “an affirming flame” at the centre of a horrific occasion.

    Due North, Peter Riley’s most recent collection, a finalist for this year’s Forward prize, offers an alternative example. This expansive work is a poem in 12 very different chapters. In it, Riley suggests that there are other powers, ones not often used to their full potential on these shores. Here, “I” is “We” and the congregation sings a chorale: “the song that / knows the entire wound, and the price of the state”. The book might best be read as a sort of northern Song of Ourselves (and sure enough, “Song of Myself” is name-checked), not one voice speaking, but many voices in unison, harmony and song:

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    The disintegration of Berkyn Manor in Berkshire, where the poet lived in his mid-to late 20s, has caused an internet outcry - but there is another home to remember him by

    A set of pictures has been all over the internet in the past 24 hours – they are of Berkyn Manor, a dilapidated old house in Horton near Slough, Berkshire, which has been abandoned since the death of its owner in 1987. They’re haunting, fascinating glimpses into a life, and into a collapsing building that was formerly a home, and are given added piquancy by the fact that no lesser a literary figure than John Milton once lived there, between 1636, or a little earlier, and 1638, a detail lending itself to many excellent Paradise Lost headlines.

    Milton would have been in his mid-to late 20s while living in Berkyn Manor, which his family had rented. He’d left Cambridge, where he’d been recognised“as a nascent poet (he had published verses in both Latin and English) and a polemical and incendiary rhetorician”, and “returned to his parents’ house to pursue further private study”. In 1637, he would write Lycidas, after a friend of his drowned: “He must not flote upon his watry bear / Unwept, and welter to the parching wind, / Without the meed of som melodious tear.”

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    by George Orwell
    (published in the Adelphi Magazine, May 1933)

    Summer-like for an instant the autumn sun bursts out,
    And the light through the turning elms is green and clear;
    It slants down the path and the ragged marigolds glow
    Fiery again, last flames of the dying year.

    A blue-tit darts with a flash of wings, to feed
    Where the coconut hangs on the pear tree over the wall;
    He digs at the meat like a tiny pickaxe tapping
    With his needle-sharp beak as he clings to the swinging shell.

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    by George Orwell (published in the Adelphi Magazine, May 1933)

    Summer-like for an instant the autumn sun bursts out,
    And the light through the turning elms is green and clear,
    It slants down the path and the ragged marigolds glow
    Fiery again, last flames of the dying year.

    A blue-tit darts with a flash of wings, to feed
    Where the coconut hangs on the pear tree over the wall;
    He digs at the meat like a tiny pickaxe tapping
    With his needle-sharp beak as he clings to the swinging ball.

    Continue reading...

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    The songwriter’s poetry is a reminder that experiencing the profound is not the same as being able to communicate it

    This book is as handsomely produced as its subjects are in dire straits. For those who associate poetry with slim volumes, think again: this is the size of a smallish coffee table, and many of its tremendous photographs are presented over double-page spreads. PJ Harvey, recently awarded an MBE for her contribution to music, makes her debut as a poet in collaboration with photographer and film-maker Seamus Murphy, who created a dozen short films for her album Let England Shake. An enigmatic artist, Harvey now seeks to penetrate the mystery of others with Murphy’s help. Together they have travelled to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington DC. There is no explanation given as to why this trio of places was chosen, beyond a quote in the accompanying publicity: “I wanted to smell the air, feel the soil and meet the people of the countries I was fascinated by.”

    Related: On the road with PJ Harvey – in pictures

    Related: PJ Harvey: 'I feel things deeply. I get angry'

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    Nothing escapes the poet’s scrutiny in his first collection since the award-winning Rain

    Reading a collection, poems sometimes seem to signal to one another. In Don Paterson’s 40 Sonnets, his first book since Rain, which won the 2009 Forward prize, there is a recurring sense of a shoreline. Wave makes this explicit and is a perfect subject for a sonnet, the form a seawall. I love the unlaboured wit, gathering momentum, human appropriation of water, the moment of breaking as a “full confession” and the effortlessly achieved (although I bet it wasn’t): “I was nothing but a fold in her blue gown” – a beautiful line. And I love the acceleration at the end, the sense of completion, with the sea crashing into town like a joyrider.

    The opening sonnet, Here, is a conventional piece in heroic couplets, elegantly forming itself around an unconventional subject: a defective heart calling out to a first heart – a mother’s. Again, there is a sense of the littoral: “my dear sea up in arms at the wrong shore/ and her loud heart like a landlord at the door.” Nostalgia offers a further cresting of a wave: “I miss when I was the bloom on the sea.”

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    A Victorian satire on evolutionary theory cleverly subverts, through a covert feminist argument, Darwinist ideas about the subjugation of women

    A mountain’s giddy height I sought,
    Because I could not find
    Sufficient vague and mighty thought
    To fill my mighty mind;
    And as I wandered ill at ease,
    There chanced upon my sight
    A native of Silurian seas,
    An ancient Trilobite.

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    Pardlo, Saeed Jones, Cate Marvin and Willie Perdomo excoriated the publishing industry for its lack of writers not white and male at a Manhattan panel

    “One of the things I run into surprisingly often is people saying to me, ‘I’ve never heard of you before,’” says poet Gregory Pardlo. “Yet I’ve been publishing in ‘mainstream’ journals and my book won that prize, so what is it that is making me invisible? It’s not the work and it’s not the publishing credits.”

    “That prize” Pardlo references is the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, which he won for his book Digest. Pardlo, a doctoral candidate at the City University of New York, was honored Monday night at a “diversity in publishing” panel jointly sponsored by Cuny and Pen American. He was joined by fellow poets Saeed Jones, Cate Marvin, and Willie Perdomo for the event, which came on the heels of a report claiming that the publishing industry is 89% white– hence the suggestion that the mysterious thing keeping these writers invisible is the fact that none are white men.

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    The Harry Potter author quoted Mahmoud Darwish as she explained her opposition to a cultural boycott. But does his life and work fit with her message?

    JK Rowling has long possessed the mythical philosopher’s knack of turning every stone she touches to gold, so when she cited the work of a Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish as a political inspiration, you know he’s a made man.

    Except that, in the Arab world, Darwish, who died at the age of 67 in 2008, needs no magic boost: long regarded as Palestine’s national poet, he has given voice to suffering with poems such as Identity Card (Write down! / I am an Arab / And my identity card number is fifty thousand / I have eight children / And the ninth will come after a summer / Will you be angry?) and Under Seige (Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time / Close to the gardens of broken shadows, / We do what prisoners do, / And what the jobless do: / We cultivate hope).

    Related: JK Rowling explains refusal to join cultural boycott of Israel

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    Without a unifying idea, or any considered appreciation of the text, this adaptation assumes the air of a strained community theatre project

    Is it significant that, in Dylan Thomas’s centenary year, more effort has been made to dramatise the life – A Poet in New York on TV, Set Fire to the Stars in cinemas – rather than the work?

    On the plus side, Kevin Allen’s new take on Thomas’s great radio fantasia of 1954 – available in simultaneously shot English- and Welsh-language versions, with Charlotte Church singing torch songs as Llareggub’s town sweetheart Polly Garter – proves more rooted in place and less literal-minded than its 1972 Burton-Taylor predecessor, which was a project born of a vanity denied the begrimed, dishevelled character actors gathered here.

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    Carter’s early verse contains, as if in bud, the extravagant and sinister blossoms of her later work. As a new collection of her poems is published, Rosemary Hill uncovers some forgotten treasures

    Angela Carter’s reputation has had a switchback ride. She went, as she put it, from being “a very promising young writer” in the 60s to being “completely ignored in two novels”. Her critical status revived in the 80s with the reimagined fairy stories of The Bloody Chamber and the films The Magic Toyshop and The Company of Wolves, but she never enjoyed what she called “the pleasantest but most evanescent kind of fame, which is that during your own lifetime”. Since her death in 1992 her stock has risen. She has been called one of the 20th century’s best writers and Lambeth council has named a street in Brixton after her.

    In 2012, when the London Review of Books asked me to write a piece on Carter’s work, I had mixed feelings. I was of the 80s generation that did not so much read as inhale her in my 20s, and what impresses you at that age doesn’t always bear revisiting. She did. I found her improved by time, having outgrown the categories – magic realist, feminist, gothic – into which she had been awkwardly crammed. I realised too that she was funnier than my earnest younger self had noticed, so I reread all of the work I could find. But I found no poetry.

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    Cumberleylaude, a ‘gourmet cat’ the author invented after a dinner party with a young friend, is belatedly added to Old Possum’s famous menagerie

    In Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, TS Eliot gave us a Mystery Cat, in Macavity, an Original Conjuring Cat, in Mr Mistoffelees, and a Curious Cat, in the Rum Tum Tugger. Now it turns out that he also dreamed up a Gourmet Cat, in Cumberleylaude, the feline star of a previously unpublished cat poem who has a taste for “salmon, duck, or expensive French wines”.

    The poem, which appeared for the first time in this week’s Sunday Times and which will also be part of a new edition of the author’s writings out later this week from Faber & Faber, was included in a thank-you letter from Eliot to Anthony Laude, a 20-year-old who lived in Cambridge. Laude had invited the poet to dinner after they got into correspondence, and Eliot replied thanking him, as well as singing the praises of “Cumberley, a particularly fastidious eater without a doubt, but dignified and beautiful cat” whose “character struck me so forcefully that I felt I had to write a few words in honour of him”.

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    The 50th anniversary of Indonesia’s 1965 anti-communist purges which killed 500,000 gets public airing despite authorities’ moves to enforce silence

    If the Indonesian authorities hoped to silence conversation about the 50th anniversary of the country’s anti-communist purges that killed an estimated 500,000 people in 1965, their 11th-hour curbs on the Ubud writers’ and readers’ festival failed spectacularly.

    Amid the bright floral garlands, free yoga sessions and Bintang beer bottles that dotted 38 venues across Bali’s self-styled “cultural capital”, politics hung heavy in the humid air. The year of 1965 wasn’t so much the elephant in the room as the monkey, popping up wherever it could to add punch and bite to the debate.

    By banning @ubudwritersfest sessions on 1965, authorities have ensured that 1965 is by far the most discussed topic at #uwrf15.

    Related: Indonesia's 1965 genocide: writers rebel as authorities cancel festival events

    Refusing to be censored at #uwrf15@andreasharsonopic.twitter.com/L271mMIJ9L

    Related: Indonesia is burning. So why is the world looking away? | George Monbiot

    Related: It is 50 years since the Indonesian massacre of 1965 but we cannot look away | Laksmi Pamuntjak

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    Abraham Nouk came to Australia as a Sudanese refugee. He was unable to read, write or speak English. Now he is an award-winning spoken-word artist and poet.

    This short documentary was shot during the 2013 Australian Poetry Slam at the State Library of Victoria, where Nouk was a finalist. It has since been featured in festivals around the world, won the best short film award at the 2014 Tasmanian BOFA film festival and is being released online.

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    From bedroom tussles to political struggles, Billy Bragg has chronicled our charged times. In this exclusive extract from his new book A Lover Sings, the singer reveals how he cracked songwriting – and why Rod Stewart was his salvation

    I learned to play guitar when I was 16, but I’d been stringing words together since I was 12. A poem I wrote for homework caught the eye of my English teacher, and when I was chosen to read it out on local radio, I got this crazy idea that I was a poet. Soon I was thinking up tunes to go with my words, although the fact that I couldn’t play an instrument meant that I had to keep the melodies in my head.

    Over the summer of 1974, my schooldays kind of petered out. Not expecting much joy from my exam results and unenthused about looking for a job, I was hoping something else might come along. Through the wall of our back room, I heard the kid next door playing his electric guitar. It was the sound of salvation. Wiggy was two years younger than me and obsessed with the Faces. Soon he was teaching me how to play my way through the Rod Stewart songbook he’d bought on mail order.

    While I've never shied away from the label protest singer, I think my personal songs are as powerful as my polemics

    Singing songs won't change the world … The people with the ability to bring about real change are in the audience

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    More than 100 international poets say Mehdi Mousavi and Fatemeh Ekhtesari face inhumane punishment for ‘the simple act of expressing themselves by creating art’

    Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been urged to pardon two poets who have been sentenced to 99 lashes each and a total of 20 years in jai for supposedly insulting religion.

    More than 100 poets, including Robert Pinsky, Claudia Rankine, Billy Collins, John Ashbery, and Tracy K Smith, have signed a letter urging Khamenei to annul sentences given to Mehdi Mousavi and Fatemeh Ekhtesari.

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    Emtithal Mahmoud, whose family were driven from Sudan by war when she was a child, wins performance poetry title for pieces drawing on a traumatic history

    “When I was 7, she cradled bullets in the billows of her robes,” writes Emtithal Mahmoud in the poem Mama, with which she won the Individual World Poetry Slam Championship in Washington DC. “That same night, she taught me how to get gunpowder out of cotton with a bar of soap.”

    But Mahmoud, who comes from Darfur and is currently a senior at Yale University studying anthropology and molecular biology, says her mother has yet to hear the poem she inspired; she left for Sudan on the first day of the poetry competition, which was also the day of Mahmoud’s grandmother’s death.

    Let me tell you something about my mama
    She can reduce a man to tattered flesh without so much as blinking
    Her words fester beneath your skin and the whole time,
    You won’t be able to stop cradling her eyes.
    My mama is a woman, flawless and formidable in the same step.
    Woman walks into a warzone and has warriors cowering at her feet.

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