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

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    Luke Wright delivers acclaimed piece What I Learned From Johnny Bevan … to an audience of only two MPs

    In the depths of the Palace of Westminster, beneath chandeliers and in front of an imposing portrait of the Duke of Wellington, Luke Wright stepped in front of a committee table. But unlike the stream of policy meetings and party posturing usually heard in Committee Room 8, Wright was here not for politics, but poetry.

    On Wednesday night, the performance poet was invited by Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South, to perform his acclaimed work What I Learned From Johnny Bevan, in the presence of any MP who was willing to turn up. In the end, only one did.

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    Inspired by Homer’s Iliad, this unfinished epic is explicitly contemporary, yet revels in its ancient roots

    Christopher Logue began writing his version of the Iliad in 1959, after a BBC producer commissioned him to translate a section of it for radio. Logue demurred initially on the very reasonable grounds that he didn’t know a word of Greek, but the producer – Donald Carne-Ross – wasn’t having any of it. He advised Logue instead to go away and “read translations by those who did. Follow the story.” Logue gave it a go, and the result – a bright and bold rendering of Achilles’ fight with the river Scamander – sowed the seed of what was to blossom over the decades into the centrepiece of Logue’s working life; his ultimate creative endeavour. He continued to follow the story, on and off, for the next 40-odd years, bringing out sections of the poem at semi-regular intervals - the last of which, Cold Calls, bagged him the Whitbread in 2005. At that point, sadly, illness overtook him. He died in 2011 at the age of 85, leaving his project incomplete.

    Part of the fascination, however, of reading Faber’s 341-page edition of War Music (the first time all the constituent parts have appeared in a single volume) is working out what, in this context, the word “incomplete” really means. It’s true that Logue’s output fell short of his intentions: back in 2003 he wrote to his editor outlining what there was still to do (“rather a lot”), and he left behind copious notes and drafts-in-progress on the parts of the Iliad that he had yet to tackle (since sifted and sorted by his friend and fellow poet Christopher Reid to create the appendix with which this edition concludes). Taken altogether, though, this brilliant, vaulting, ragged volume reminded me of nothing so much as an archaeological site – something like the ruins of Troy itself. Parts of the work are fair and fully formed, standing proud of the page. Others are potsherds, vital and vivid but fragmentary; carefully disinterred and placed into their most likely seeming settings but still disconnected from the whole. You couldn’t rightly call the work complete, therefore – but as with archaeology, the idea of completion feels reductive here: not unachieved so much as fundamentally unachievable. In the first place, the interconnectedness of Homer’s poem and Logue’s remodelling is such that you can’t fully pick them apart; Homer’s words run beneath Logue’s like bedrock under soil, and where there are gaps in Logue’s version, Homer’s swells up to carry us over them. Secondly, and just as significantly, Logue’s retelling of the Iliad plays with the idea that, when it comes to war, any sort of ending is an illusion. His decision to illustrate Homer’s story of brave men and bickering gods with flagrantly anachronistic combat imagery (“whumping” helicopters; Uzis “shuddering warm against your hip”) makes the point that, when it comes to war, the best humanity has ever managed is the odd break between battles. War Music is incomplete because the war isn’t over.

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    Thirteen-part series unearthed from the New York Atlas, which lays out plan to ‘give America a far nobler physique’

    A long-lost book-length guide to “manly health” by Walt Whitman, in which the great American poet tackles everything from virility to “care of the feet” and the attainment of a “nobler physique”, has been rediscovered by a scholar, more than 150 years after it was first published under a pen-name.

    Written under the pseudonym Mose Velsor, a known pen-name for Whitman, the 13-part Manly Health and Training series was published in the New York Atlas in 1858 and runs to nearly 50,000 words. Zachary Turpin from the University of Houston stumbled across it when searching digital archives for Whitman’s pseudonyms, and finding a single hit for “Mose Velsor” in the NY Tribune, advertising the fact that his “original articles on manly training” were shortly to appear in the New York Atlas. He sent away for the Atlas microfilm, and was astonished to discover the 13-instalment series.

    To you, clerk, literary man, sedentary person, man of fortune, idler, the same advice. Up! … Out in the morning!

    Related: Sign up to our Bookmarks newsletter

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    ‘Redford got so bored by his own beauty that he would go off and direct something. Affleck probably has the same motivation, but he has a lot more directorial flair’

    My copy of the 2012 Ben Affleck movie Argo lay around unwatched for a long time. A few nights ago, I fought my way in through the shrink-wrap and took a look. It revealed Affleck to be a terrific director as well as a fine actor.

    That latter quality was probably the reason I had left the shrink-wrap intact for so long. In Pearl Harbor, Affleck had overcome the handicap of his absurd good looks and done a creditable job of bringing to life his role as a brave young pilot, instead of doing what the script deserved and setting fire to it before placing himself under citizen’s arrest for having signed the contract in the first place.

    Related: Clive James: ‘A misprint in my new book made me feel I was contemplating the ruins of 60 years’ work’

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    by Beverley Bie Brahic

    Breathless ends with a betrayal, Belmondo
    sprinting from a cop
    as Seberg runs her thumb across her lower lip
    the way Belmondo used to.

    If the sky falls now, Chicken Little,
    it will fall on Saskatchewan.
    Miles below our jumbo’s porthole
    one ploughed road, straight as a line

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    Rediscovered newspaper columns by poet Walt Whitman despair of a lack of ‘manly virility’ and promote the development of a ‘noble physique’

    A simple meat diet, no sweets, fried food or even vegetables, a brisk leap out of bed in the mornings and not exhausting oneself “continually among women”. A 150-year-old self-help guide written by one of the United States’ most revered poets, Walt Whitman, has been rediscovered, offering some unique advice to 19th-century American man on how to obtain a more “noble physique” – and some of it wouldn’t seem so out of place today.

    Whitman’s “Manly Health and Training” is a 47,000-word treatise on how to be a real man, a work that had been long forgotten since it appeared in 13 weekly instalments in a long defunct New York newspaper over the autumn of 1858. In long and sometimes rambling prose, the poet extols the virtues of fresh air, of good footwear, of naked sunbathing and even of facial hair. A beard, said Whitman, is preferable in a man as “a great sanitary protection to the throat”. Too much “mere repetition” of sex, however, is to be avoided as that will produce only sickly, weedy children.

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    The seasoned craft and musicality of Alison Brackenbury’s poetry shine through in this humble, haunting and humorous collection

    Alison Brackenbury’s poetry is hospitable: open to all. She was born in 1953, the daughter of a Lincolnshire farmer. This is her ninth collection and could not have been written by a novice poet. It is modest, robust, humorous – often touching – and filled with accumulated wisdom. She is an unfashionable rhymer and it is a particular treat to encounter the musicality and seasoned craft in the best of her rhymes. Half-Fledged begins with a description of clumsily trying to embroider “half a daisy” before giving up and, in the second stanza, sighting a baby greenfinch in the lane outside: “For half a mile, it bobs below the showers, / flits to a tree; embroiders elderflowers.” What is pleasing is the stitching together of the first and second verses with the verb “embroiders”. “Elderflowers” then strikes a unifying chord.

    In her moving poem January 7th, she writes about receiving a letter from a former lover, after 30 years of silence. It is one of several poems about returning and at the same time being unable to return. It has an unfussy feel and is told with everyday composure. Here the rhymes are simple – more invisible mending than flamboyant stitching. Every detail has been strictly considered, including the decisive punctuation: “although I cannot see you / and will not again.” The full stop comes earlier than expected – a full stop that, movingly, means just that.

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    Poems matched with images offering ‘unfamiliar visual perspective’ of battle to form part of Norfolk and Norwich festival

    Century-old images of a landscape already layered with millennia of history, which that became the setting for the slaughter of more than 20,000 men in one day, have captured the imagination of the poet Simon Armitage.

    His new poems, matched with images from the battle of the Somme printed from the fragile glass negatives now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, will be exhibited for the first time as part of the Norfolk and Norwich festival in May.

    A time will certainly come in these rich vales

    When a ploughman slicing open the soil

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    An elliptical account of a journey down the Chinese river subtly registers the impact of massive environmental damage

    Yangtze

    The moon glimmers
    in the brown channel.
    Strands of mist
    wrap the mountainsides
    crowded with firs.

    Related: Poetry, music and identity with Sarah Howe, Emmy the Great and Solomon OB – books podcast

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    Radical Catholic priest and writer who led protests against the Vietnam war

    The American Jesuit priest Father Daniel Berrigan, who has died aged 94, formed a radical partnership with his younger brother, Philip, that energised the movement against the Vietnam war in the 1960s and created a tradition of pacifist activism that lasted a generation. Unlike Philip, a former Josephite who gave up the priesthood and married an ex-nun, Daniel remained in holy orders as a Jesuit thinker, writer and teacher, and a well-regarded poet. If Philip was the heart of the anti-war movement, Daniel’s intellectual and theological contributions made him the brains.

    He made consistent denunciations of the “war-making sins” of the state, while a strong strain of philosophical anarchism caused him to rage against what he called “American military imperialism”. His detractors, many from within the Catholic church’s liberal wing, maintained that his teachings alienated as many as they recruited. Berrigan, in one of several well-known aphorisms, retorted that “a good peace movement starts out small and gets smaller”.

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    This rapid-fire Swedish poetry, inspired by Malevich’s black squares, was the poetry winner Asymptote’s translation contest – read an extract

    By Marie Silkeberg and Kelsi Vanada for Translation Tuesdaysby Asymptote, part of the Guardian Books Network

    For the last two weeks, we presented the nonfiction and fiction winners of our annual Close Approximations translation contest, picked by Margaret Jull Costa and Ottilie Mulzet respectively. This week, we present the poetry winners: Swedish poet Marie Silkeberg and her co-translator Kelsi Vanada for their rendition of Silkeberg’s rapid-fire prose poetry, presented in squares, after the black squares of Malevich. Judge Michael Hofmann, one of the six most esteemed literary translators working today according to The Wall Street Journal, whittled his selection down to five entries. “Thereafter, things might have gone differently, all my choices were so incomparably dissimilar. In the end, I asked myself what poems would I most like to see published, to read a book of, to live with and deepen my understanding of, and that gave me my winner.”

    – The editors at Asymptote

    a test of the heart. the membranes. could come in the morning. sleep. a measure of freedom.

    Related: Sign up to our Bookmarks newsletter

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    Both times I’ve met my hero I’ve been reduced to a shivering wreck, unable to take a good photo or make sensible conversation

    The Queen is used to all the people she meets looking slightly stunned, and the same must go for David Attenborough, who this Sunday reaches his 90th birthday. There is no shame in being starstruck in this great man’s presence, and on the two occasions I have met him I have been reduced to a gibbering jelly.

    The second was after he presented an excellent film on wildlife in the South Atlantic at London’s Science Museum, and he very charmingly agreed to be photographed with my 10-year-old son – with me taking it on my phone. I was wobbling and quivering so much the picture came out blurry, and my son has never quite forgiven me.

    Related: Pass the sickbag, please – everybody’s playing seat politics on the plane | Emma Brockes

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  • 05/06/16--01:00: Poster poems: politics
  • As bruising electoral battles rage on around us, it’s a good time to remember that poets can raise their voices for public causes, too. Please add your voice below

    In the US, the electorate braces itself for what may be the nastiest and most bizarre presidential election in living memory. The Brexit referendum in the UK has taken on the characteristics of high (or low) farce. Meanwhile, here in Ireland, a centrist party that won less than a third of the total seats in the March general election is trying to cobble together some kind of minority government with the tacit support of another centrist party that refuses to enter coalition as junior partners. If there was ever a time for a politics-themed Poster poems, this is it.

    Matters political of one sort or another have exercised the minds of poets in various ways down the ages. At times, the poems they produced have been pithy and epigrammatic, like EE Cummings’s A Politician– possibly the most succinct political put-down in the history of the art – or Langston Hughes’s prophecy of change in Black Workers.

    Related: What's poetry's role in protest politics?

    Related: Political poetry with Luke Wright and Hollie McNish – books podcast

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    A hymn to an 18th-century Yorkshire civil engineer, and to the ‘Ashtrayland’ version of modern England

    As a dictionary plunderer who knows a lot about a lot of things, Ian Duhig’s eclectic enthusiasms and often laugh-out-loud wit make him poetry’s answer to Stephen Fry. Popular but complex, comic yet serious, no one could accuse his verse of being dull or predictable. “My experience of poetic ideas is that they don’t stand there waiting calmly until you’re ready to receive them,” Duhig once said, “you have to rush out and welcome them immediately.”

    The presiding spirit of The Blind Road-Maker, his seventh book of poems, arrives in “The Ballad of Blind Jack Metcalf”, a hymn to the 18th-century Yorkshire civil engineer, blind from childhood, who learned to read by “feeling headstone faces”. Metcalf ends up figuring as a kind of alternative self to Duhig, having built the Leeds road on which the poet now lives. He is a man born in darkness who operates with remarkable determination and conviction, while the poet, in Duhig’s own words, “stumbles about in the light”, trying to make sense of an often chaotic world in apparently plain sight. Stood, as one poem has it, “In His Shadow”, Duhig demonstrates a refreshing and self-effacing respect for this almost folkloric figure: “Testing stones to bed his roads’ black tongues, / I heard how Jack rolled them around his mouth / ‘like new words’. But I wouldn’t know about that.”

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  • 05/07/16--00:00: Hunts in literature – quiz
  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt author Michael Rosen turns 70 on Saturday. To mark the occasion, we’re in hot pursuit of answers. Can you run them to ground?

    1What is the name of the pirate who buries the treasure Jim Hawkins searches for in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island?Captain BluebeardCaptain FlintCaptain HookCaptain Long John Silver2What is the colour of Wally’s trousers in Where’s Wally?RedWhiteBlueBlack3During the treasure hunt in Gone Girl, Amy directs Nick to the hometown of which famous author?Robert Louis StevensonErnest HemingwayMark TwainHarper Lee4During the witch-hunts in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, which of the 10 Commandments does John Proctor forget when questioned?Thou shalt not bear false witnessThou shalt not stealThou shalt not commit adulteryThou shalt not covet5In Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, where is Tess cornered by police after going on the run?StonehengeBig BenHadrian’s WallArthur’s Seat6In the first Lord of the Rings book, The Fellowship of the Ring, how does Elrond stop the Nazgûl pursuing Frodo?He frightens them with a stern lookHe uses magic to banish them far awayHe sets them on fireHe washes them all away with a giant wave7In Tom Clancy’s novel The Hunt for Red October, what is Red October?A foreign spyA shipA submarineA nuclear weapon8In No Country for Old Men, Anton Chigurh is hired to kill Llewelyn Moss and recover the money he stole. How much money was it?$2.4 million$3 million$5.6 million$10 million9What object does Ralph try to take back from the other boys before they start hunting him in The Lord of the Flies?His shoesHis trousersHis conch shellHis glasses10Finally, we’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. I’m not ______?HungryA bearPro-huntingScared

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    Happy 70th birthday to poetry and prose pro Michael Rosen – here are some of our favourite quotes to celebrate the big day

    Got a burning questions for the author of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt? You can ask on Twitter #KidsAskMichaelRosen or email kidsaskmichaelrosen@bloomsbury.com and Michael will answer his favourites

    Writing can be a bit like unfolding something, like a game of pass-the-parcel. – Fantastic Mr Dahl

    Sometimes sad is very big. It’s everywhere. All over me. Then I look like this. And there’s nothing I can do about it. – Sad Book

    Related: Michael Rosen's Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake and Bad Things - in pictures

    I mucked about with his hair. His shoes were where he left them. His shoes are where he left them.Carrying the Elephant

    Watching Shakespeare’s plays is like being invited into a house full of amazing rooms. Go through a door at the top of the house and you will meet a ghost walking the battlements of a castle at nightWhat’s So Special About Shakespeare?

    People often do that. They look in the mirror and talk to themselves. They say things like, ‘Hiya, handsome, you’re looking good today.’ Or, ‘What’s cooking?’ Or, ‘I’ve got a little green bit on my chin … I wonder if I’m going mouldy…’ – Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed

    We’re going on a bear hunt: We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared. – We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

    Related: Wanted: books to help my children remember they love reading!

    Wipe that face off your smile
    Don’t eat with your mouthful
    When you cough, put your ear over your mouth
    Don’t bite your nose
    Don’t talk while I’m interrupting
    How many tunes do I have to tell you? – You Wait Till I’m Older Than You!

    In the beginning was the word
    and the word is ours:
    the names of places,
    the names of flowers,
    the names of names. – Words Are Ours

    Little Rabbit Foo Foo I don’t like your attitude, scooping up the field mice and bopping them on the head – Little Rabbit Foo Foo

    You tell me a joke; I tell you what happened.
    You catch on; I catch your cold.
    You tell me a secret; I give you a headache. – Stories and Illnesses, Michael Rosen’s Big Book of Bad Things

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  • 05/07/16--03:00: The Saturday poem: Tomatoes
  • by Selima Hill

    I’ve noticed other people like tomatoes;
    I myself prefer simple facts –

    the fact of my existence, for example;
    quadruples; facts about euphoria –

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    One monk’s foibles are another’s motivation for murder in this growling outburst of a poem, told with a rhythm that punches like a fist

    Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister

    I

    Related: Robert Browning's new poem - review: from the archive, 14 May 1873

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    Finalists for prize honouring books that conjure ‘the spirit of a place’ include poems about rural Ireland and a history of the Sri Lankan civil war

    From a poetry collection about rural Ireland to a tour of modern Russia dubbed an “anti-travelogue”, six books have been shortlisted for one of the UK’s more unusual literary prizes: the RSL Ondaatje award, which goes to the book which best evokes “the spirit of a place”.

    Worth £10,000, the Ondaatje can be won by fiction, nonfiction or poetry, with judges Kate Adie, Moniza Alvi and Mark Lawson this year selecting one poetry title for their shortlist, Jane Clarke’s The River. Alvi praised Clarke’s “quiet, lucid, subtle poems”, which she said were “nevertheless urgent in their presentation of a farming background in rural Ireland, and the poet’s enduring attachment to it”.

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    A new group of poets is changing the arts landscape in Greece. Fearless, global and with an artistic fervour unseen since the dictatorship, they tell us their hopes, the culture that excites them – and the Greek myths they’d like to debunk

    A new kind of poetry is flourishing in Greece’s streets, bars and cafes. It is popping up not just on magazines, small presses and websites, but on graffiti walls, and in music, film, and art. Not since the dictatorship that shook the country in the 1970s has there been such an abundance being written. A new anthology in English translation,Austerity Measures, compiles some of the most revolutionary.

    Former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis is a fan, calling it a “silver lining”, the one good upshot from austerity policies that have shattered the country. “Along with the mass unemployment and the rise of neo-Nazism that it engendered, austerity also occasioned a cultural renaissance,” he writes. “This volume is ... living proof that the Greek crisis is of global significance.”

    I woke at sunrise to change
    the window, warped from looking
    across, slicing my view.
    I open the shutters, wild
    from the wind and misfortune.

    Related: The new Greek poetry

    Boiling water, always boiling water
    Learning that what is scarce is what takes charge
    Learning how Π and T lose their flat roofs
    How ζ and ξ dry up at the roots
    How vowels get murdered
    How language bubbles up

    An offering of the silent
    For those who grew silent

    Related: 'Everyone’s outraged': angry Greeks foresee Grexit and drachma's revival

    imprisoned in a filthy cage
    a ceiling without sunrise
    little beetles on the floor
    in the sink a dark lake

    Related: Greek arts festival in turmoil as artists rebel over curator's 'Belgian' vision

    My words are homeless
    They sleep on the benches of Klafthmonos Square
    covered in IKEA cartons
    My words do not speak on the news
    They’re out hustling every night
    My words are proletarian, slaves like me
    They work in sweatshops night and day

    Related: Refugee crisis: how Greeks opened their hearts to strangers

    I open the balcony doors.
    You’re singing.
    But the rain is louder.
    It comes into the house.
    Hits the lampshades.
    Knocks over the lights.
    Collides with reality.

    Related: Classics for the people – why we should all learn from the ancient Greeks

    The Danny F bound for Syria
    Like an arc; for slaughterhouses
    But it flounders with the waves
    Of the sea that does not wash out

    What gives me hope? The turning wheel of history: things are due to eventually get better

    Related: And Greece created Europe: the cultural legacy of a nation in crisis

    Oh, yeah – Mama’s
    an important poet

    all day she cooks up commas
    sweeps tenses under the rug

    Related: Sign up to our Bookmarks newsletter

    Because
    as much as I smoked
    I never found my inner thread
    so many loves
    so many breathlessness

    and the Minotaur,
    my God, what a fiddler

    It is very encouraging to see young people reading poetry, something which I regard as a political act

    all of you think I was scared shitless that’s why I dove
    head first into the abyss
    god what idiots for once I took my life into my own hands
    and let myself
    drop provocative like in front of their eyes immense
    ghoulish I stick my tongue out
    then in that last moment I see a girl with a sad look in the
    midst of the crowd

    Related: Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry – review

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