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

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    Maguire is our finest gardener-poet and this latest volume is a rich bouquet that exists on the edge of elegy

    Sarah Maguire’s Almost the Equinox is a bouquet gathered over time. These beautiful poems belong together – in a way that is rarely the case with selected poems. She is our finest gardener-poet, her botanical knowledge evident but unostentatious in her poems about flowers. You see her recalcitrant gardenia as if it were in front of you: “One lopsided, scorched-brown bloom…” Her secretive African violet is vividly present, too: “Hirsute secret hoods/ ease back/ the gauzy, veiled flesh/ to a star of opening mauve,/ pierced at the heart / with sheer gold…” And oranges, souvenirs of Taliouine, are described with tart truthfulness: “Oh, they were sharp! like hybrid grapefruit…”

    With Maguire, blossoms are unpredictable. And ripeness is not all. The Florist’s at Midnight – a wonderful poem – acknowledges the violence of uprooting flowers, “cargoed across continents/ to fade far from home”. At night, in the shop, the flowers are not required to put on a show. She finds apt, unfanciful adjectives for the lily – “solitary, alert”. And there is a dazzling instability about the last line: “the streetlights/ in pieces/ on the floor”. She is a poet who summons mysterious atmospheres precisely.

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    Mobbed at signings, followed by millions and topping the bestseller lists: Instapoets such as Lang Leav, Rupi Kaur and Tyler Knott Gregson are poetry’s new superstars, publishing their love poems and haiku on social media. But are they any good?

    In 2013, Lang Leav self-published a small debut poetry collection, Love & Misadventure, online. Two years later, she was meeting her fans on a book tour in the Philippines. “It was insane,” she says. “The organisers had to limit each signing to 500 people per session … and I was being escorted by armed guards.” Many queued for hours, some camping out overnight for a chance to meet her.

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    A poem about the most beautiful city in the world, and an example of the precise demands of translation

    The Admiralty

    In the Northern capital, dusty populus,
    Sighing, mantles the time’s transparency,
    And, through green dark, a frigate or an acropolis,
    Brother to water and sky, glows distantly.

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    Best known as a poet and librarian, Larkin was also a dedicated photographer, whose pictures kept a deadpan, erotic and mischievous record of his life. A new book gives the inside story

    • Sean O’Hagan reviews The Importance of Elsewhere

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    The fourth in a series on translated work features a poetic investigation of the relationship between two sisters who share the same mother and yet are divided – by their different fathers, their skin colour, and the Atlantic Ocean. Translated from Danish by Martin Aitken

    By Julie Sten-Knudsen and Martin Aitken for Translation Tuesdays by Asymptote, part of the Guardian Books Network

    In the light of the desk lamp

    that is yellower than the daylight

    'It never ceases to amaze me that they should need to say mulatto before sister'

    'Two moths have gone into the trap, their bodies are stuck to the paper, their wings are still flapping.'

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    A community of writers are expressing themselves for one another – and the medium they’re using is poetry, in which it’s ‘easier to say things that haven’t been put into words before’

    For a long time, trans writing meant memoir. From Christine Jorgensen to Janet Mock, the most celebrated trans writers (or more to the point, the only ones who could get published) were those prepared to tell the story of their “transformations” in apparently truthful ways for consumption by a largely cisgender audience.

    Big and even medium-sized publishers are still most comfortable putting their money behind true-life stories about “sex change”. But if you dig a little bit deeper, a revolution is happening. It began, perhaps, with the anthologies The Collection: Short Fiction from the Trangender Vanguard and Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics in 2012 and 2013, and has been gathering pace since.

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    There once was a short comic verse whose style was witty and terse. A new book came out, its sales were a rout – our unquenchable limerick thirst!

    News that a new book of limericks by the playwright Ranjit Bolt has been a roaring success should come as no surprise. If you sit down to write a limerick, you find yourself straddling two histories: the history of the limerick form itself, which stretches back to at least the 11th century, and your personal history of knowing limericks or poems similar to limericks. Perhaps this second history is more important than the first when it comes to figuring out why you might want to write one, and why people are interested to hear or read it.

    The limerick-like poems we’re likely to hear are amongst the classic nursery rhyme collections: Little Miss Muffet, Little Jack Horner and Humpty Dumpty are all what we might call “imperfect” limericks. They have enough of the characteristics though, to set up in our minds the shape and subject matter of the classic limerick: two long lines, two shorter lines and a return to the longer line; a strange or odd character who encounters a mishap; and a neat conclusion which often suggests a continuation of the mishap into dissolution or destruction rather than the classic resolution of children’s literature, the actual or metaphorical homecoming.

    Related: The photography of Philip Larkin - in pictures

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    Fifteen-strong roster called ‘a sadly wasted opportunity to be truly diverse’ as space is found for Carol Ann Duffy and Matt Haig but not a single BAME author

    Carol Ann Duffy, Jonathan Coe and Matt Haig are some of the major authors whose books are due to be handed out for free on World Book Night next year in a quest to create a “reading nation” – but a selection of titles hailed as “diverse” by organisers has come under fire for failing to include a single writer of colour.

    The sixth edition of World Book Night on 23 April 2016 will see thousands of volunteers across the UK and Ireland giving away around 200,000 copies of 15 books, chosen by a panel of experts and described by organisers as “a sensational and diverse lineup of crime, poetry, non-fiction, quick reads, YA, historical fiction and fiction in translation”.

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    McMillan becomes the first poet to win the £10,000 prize with Physical, a ‘breathtaking’ collection that explores modern male anxiety in settings from the gym to northern industrial towns

    The poet Andrew McMillan has won the 2015 Guardian first book award with his elegantly poised and intimate collection of poems, Physical.

    McMillan is the first poet to win the £10,000 prize since it began in 1999, replacing the Guardian fiction prize with an award open to debuts of any genre.

    Related: Physical by Andrew McMillan review – hymns to intimacy

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    Carol Ann Duffy, Paul Muldoon and Adonis among writers signing PEN letter calling on Saudi courts to free Palestinian poet convicted of apostasy, and to allow freedom of expression

    Poets from around the world are lining up in solidarity with the Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, with the Syrian poet Adonis, Ireland’s Paul Muldoon and Britain’s poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy among the signatories to a letter laying out how “appalled” they are at the death sentence he has been handed by Saudi Arabian authorities.

    Fayadh was sentenced to death last week for renouncing Islam, a charge which he denies. Evidence used against him included poems from his collection Instructions Within, which is banned in Saudi Arabia, as well as his posts on Twitter, and a conversation he had in a coffee shop in Abha which was said to be blasphemous. He was given 30 days to appeal the sentence.

    Related: Cultural figures and rights groups call for release of poet facing execution

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    The previously unpublished pages of Pound’s great poem highlight its visionary grandeur

    Ezra Pound’s life is worth several fictions, but one unlikely novel he turns up in is Elmore Leonard’s Pronto, where a Miami Beach bookie, Harry Arno, uses the money he has skimmed from his bosses to retire to the Italian town of Rapallo. Rapallo has obvious attractions for a small-time fraudster on the run – the food, the climate, the girls – but the real draw, we discover, is Pound. Arno was a US soldier in Pisa in 1945, where the poet, imprisoned for treason, was in an outdoor steel cage writing what would become the Pisan Cantos. They spoke, and Pound read Arno a couple of lines: “The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world. Pull down thy vanity …” Two decades later, Arno returns to Rapallo, and sees Pound, in his 80s and accompanied by his mistress of 50 years, Olga Rudge, in a restaurant. Arno speaks the lines back to him but Ezra “walk[s] right past to the can, doesn’t say a word”. This is 1967: it’s late Pound, the last Pound, the mythical, Lear-like old man, who wrote, in “Canto 116”, “my errors and wrecks lie about me”, and who, after a performance of Endgame, told Beckett: “C’est moi dans la poubelle” – that’s me in the dustbin.

    Arno’s fascination with Pound’s poetry will resonate with readers of The Cantos: we recognise their vastness of conception, we may admire the grandeur and the hubris of a poem that sought, as Pound put it, to “include history”, that tried to describe the interconnectedness of things, to “make it cohere”. But what we are drawn to first is the fragmentary, the broken, the lyrical; the contemplative, almost-whisper of a voice that floats free of the rambling, shouty, megaphone epic that TheCantos became. As Joyce, Arno’s girlfriend, puts it: “He spent 40 years writing a poem that hardly anyone in the world can understand.”

    The gondolas dying in

    their sewers

    & she, Olga, with serene

    courage

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    We join judges, readers, the editor Robin Robertson and the winner of the 2015 Guardian first book award, Andrew McMillan Continue reading...

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    The writer reflects on his time in the French capital

    Thinking about the events in Paris, I remember that a modern French philosopher said, “We need time to find the words for our bewilderment.” Unfortunately I can’t remember which philosopher it was. My memory, once quite good, is playing tricks. This morning I couldn’t even be certain that it was Marlowe who wrote the play The Massacre At Paris. I looked it up, and was pleased to see that I had been right. It was a typical old man’s pleasure. A wardrobe falls on his head, and he congratulates himself for remembering the word “wardrobe”.

    You know that terror is getting its way when you find yourself in a discussion with your daughter about whether your granddaughter should be discouraged from sitting in a Left Bank cafe on her first visit to Paris about seven years from now. At the moment, two of my writer friends are visiting Paris and I have just written to both saying how much I would like to join them and sit in a cafe while we talked, read and wrote: the things we do best. But I can afford that brave thought because I won’t be going there.

    Related: Clive James: ‘Glimpses are all you ever get. There is so little time’

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    Authors’ votes are in ... Now it’s your chance to nominate the book you enjoyed the most this year

    The time for lists has arrived, and after immersing ourselves in authors’ favourite books of 2015 – the Guardian Review and the Observer versions – we are passing the baton to you. All genres are welcome, and we will accept books that have been published in the US or Australia and not yet in the UK, or vice versa. So, get voting! We will be publishing a readers’ list on the Guardian site before the end of the year.

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    Compelling fiction, a game-changing biography, and a 900-page whopper for food nerds – writers reveal which of the past year’s books they have most enjoyed

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    From Marlon James and Derek Walcott to CLR James, the enviably sunny islands have plenty to offer book fans in colder climes – but what should the Reading group grab as we hit that imaginary beach?

    In the UK, the winter solstice approaches. We’re about to enter the darkest month, the weather’s getting colder and everyone’s already started putting out their Christmas lights, even though it’s far too early. And yes, there are nauseatingly sentimental adverts on the TV, we’ve all heard that Slade song far too often already and … Damn it! Let’s just get away from it all, shall we?

    Let’s do what many lucky travellers do at this time of year and head for the Caribbean – not least because there’s been a popular request to look at books from the islands here on the Reading group. It also seems appropriate after Marlon James’s recent success in the Booker prize. Indeed, A Brief History of Seven Killings might be a fine place to start, although there’s no need to limit ourselves to the Booker. There are also Nobel laureates Derek Walcott and VS Naipaul to consider.

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    From provocative novels, giants real and imagined, and new novels from past masters … authors and critics select their favourite reads of 2015

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    A playful and euphemistic poem about masculinity and the festering, phallic fear of sexual inadequacy

    Straight Up

    When she grasped what I considered big,
    stuttered Is that it?
    I fumbled with the zip.

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    We should indeed “be shocked into action by the fact that wealth, class and geography still dictate life expectancy” (Paul Mason, G2, 1 December). Healthy life expectancy, as he reports, is 16 years less in Blackpool than it is a three-hour drive away in Wokingham. It’s a 12-minute drive from where I live in Newcastle to the council ward I represent, where life expectancy is 12 years less and which is served by the largest food bank in the country.
    Jeremy Beecham
    Labour, House of Lords

    • Peter Clement (Letters, 27 November), has missed Robert Frost’s irony – Mending Wall satirises the neighbour’s “Good fences make good neighbours” refrain. The narrator speaks against unthinking isolationism: “Why do they make good neighbours? ... Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out”. Born in San Francisco to a Scottish immigrant mother, Frost was himself a migrant to the UK in 1912-15 before returning to the US.
    Dr Huw Davies
    Swansea

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    Four of the UK’s leading spoken word artists perform extracts from new work reflecting on immigration today.
    Hollie McNish - ‘Apple Orchards and Building Sites’
    Inja - ‘iRant, Trains and Veg’
    Vanessa Kisuule - ‘High Afternoon Tea with Katie Hopkins’
    Anthony Anaxagorou - ‘The Journey Back Home

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