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Latest news and features from theguardian.com, the world's leading liberal voice
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    Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica takes £10,000 prize for writing evoking the spirit of a place – here blending a hospital with the rainforest

    Pascale Petit’s poetry collection Mama Amazonica, which merges the Amazon rainforest with the psychiatric ward caring for her mentally ill mother, has won the RSL Ondaatje prize for books that best “evoke the spirit of a place”.

    Petit’s seventh collection tells the story of her mother, exploring the consequences of abuse as she transforms into a series of creatures – a hummingbird, a wolverine, a “jaguar girl”. Petit, who dedicated the book to her troubled parent, writes: “She’s a rainforest / in a straitjacket,” And: “My mother, trying to conceal / her lithium tremor // as she carries the Amazon / on her back, // her rosettes of rivers / and oxbow lakes, // her clouds of chattering caciques, / her flocks of archangels.”

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    Liu, who has never been charged with a crime, has been under house arrest in China since her late husband Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel peace prize in 2010

    Paul Auster, JM Coetzee, Alice Sebold and Khaled Hosseini are among dozens of major writers issuing an urgent call for the Chinese poet and artist Liu Xia to be freed after almost a decade under house arrest.

    Liu, 50, has been under house arrest in China since her late husband, the human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, was given the Nobel peace prize in 2010. Chinese authorities insist Liu “enjoys all freedoms in accordance with the law”, but supporters say her movements have been severely restricted and she lives under constant surveillance.

    Related: Chinese Nobel laureate's widow 'ready to die' in house arrest

    Today, writers and artists come together for one of their own. @khaledhosseini, @PGourevitch, Siri Hustvedt, and Rita Dove read Liu Xia’s poem "June 2, 1989." They—and we—won’t stop calling for her release until she is truly free. @amnesty#FreeLiuXiahttps://t.co/yqC5MIQGiNpic.twitter.com/gNMpnWvjZX

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    It is half a century since the Last Poets stood in Harlem, uttered their first words in public, and created the blueprint for hip-hop. At an intimate open house session, they explain why their revolutionary words are still needed

    You can trace the birth of hip-hop to the summer of 1973 when Kool Herc DJ’d the first extended breakbeat, much to the thrill of the dancers at a South Bronx block party. You can trace its conception, however, to five years earlier – 19 May 1968, 50 years ago this weekend – when the founding members of the Last Poets stood together in Mount Morris park – now Marcus Garvey park – in Harlem and uttered their first poems in public. They commemorated what would have been the 43rd birthday of Malcolm X, who had been slain three years earlier. Not two months had passed since the assassination of Martin Luther King. “Growing up, I was scheduled to be a nice little coloured guy. I was liked by everybody,” says the Last Poets’ Abiodun Oyewole. He was 18 and in college when he heard the news. “But when they killed Dr King, all bets were off.”

    That day led to the Last Poets’ revelatory, self-titled 1970 debut of vitriolic black power poems spoken over the beat of a congo drum. Half a century later, the slaughter continues daily, in the form of assaults, school shootings and excessive police force. “America is a terrorist, killing the natives of the land / America is a terrorist, with a slave system in place,” Oyewole declares on the Last Poets’ new album, Understanding What Black Is, in which he and Umar Bin Hassan trade poems over reggae orchestration, horns, drums and flute. It’s their first album in 20 years, reminding a new generation of hip-hop’s roots in protest poetry.

    Related: The Last Poets: Understand What Black Is review – hip-hop progenitors bounce back wiser

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    The former therapist and novelist on her ‘committed communist’ parents, seeing Paul Robeson sing and her abiding love for the Potteries

    I was born in Liverpool, my mother’s home town, which was bombed during the second world war. But my father was warden of Barlaston Hall near Stoke-on-Trent, a residential adult education college, founded by Josiah Wedgwood, and run jointly by the WEA (Workers’ Educational Association) and the TUC.

    Related: Lisa O'Kelly talks to therapist turned author Salley Vickers

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    A brilliantly energetic and inventive sonnet bounds into the mind of a not entirely domesticated pet dog

    petcitement incitement of a pet to excitement
    petcitement incitement into the excitement
    of being a pet petcitement incitement to be
    a pet a fed pet a fleece pet incitement to be
    a floorpet a fleapit a carpet a polkadot
    blanket pet blanket pet answer brass doorbell what name
    tin waterbowl what name thrilled vomitfall polkadot
    padded on patted on turded on welcome mat name
    turns to no-one’s reminder walks wilder walks further
    downriver from calling calling owner predator
    who that who tagalong meaner whose canines further
    from food fleece floor flea cloth car poll card dot blank bit door
    no no owner owns in nomine domini pet
    outruns petfetch petcome will wild default reset.

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    Study shows poets of colour are underrepresented in the UK, as Forward poetry prizes announce trailblazing shortlists

    The British poetry world is “failing to meet even the most basic measurements of inclusivity”, according to a new report which highlights the “systemic exclusion” of poets and critics of colour from UK and Irish poetry magazines.

    Collecting data from 29 magazines and websites including PN Review, Poetry Review, the Guardian and Oxford Poetry, the study found that between 2012 and 2018, 9% of almost 20,000 published poems were by poets of colour. Of the 1,819 poems, 502 were published in a single magazine, Modern Poetry in Translation; if this is taken out of the equation, only 7% of poems were by poets of colour. The studyPDF, conducted by poetry reviewer and blogger Dave Coates for Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics, points out that in contrast, at the 2011 census, 12.9% of the UK population identified as black and minority ethnic (BME).

    There has to be the right kind of critical attention – critics knowledgeable about race, culture, identity and belonging

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    The Swan Hotel, Hay-on-Wye
    Owen Sheers’ evocative one-hander paints a fascinating picture of Keith Douglas and places his breathtaking poetry centre-stage

    Since playing Wilfred Owen in a 20th-anniversary revival of the 1982 fringe hit Not About Heroes, Owen Sheers– the polymath author of this resonant one-hander – has become a bit of a warrior hero himself, his poetry, fiction and plays spanning from the Somme to the war in Afghanistan. He now turns his attention to Keith Douglas, one of the few poets to emerge from the second world war, who was blown to pieces at the age of 24 when he stumbled into a tripwire in France days after surviving the 1944 Normandy landings.

    Douglas’s first and only collection was published six years after his death, by which time nobody wanted war poetry. It took the championship of Ted Hughes to bring him back to life a decade later with a slim selection, followed in the late 1980s by the reissue of the Collected Works.

    Related: Owen Sheers: an interview with contemporary literature’s renaissance man

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    A school visit by a careers adviser is the occasion for an unexpected epiphany and some ‘West Yorkshire magic realism’

    The Straight and Narrow

    When the tall and bearded careers advisor
    set up his stall and his slide projector

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    The winner of the Dylan Thomas prize explains how his poems are infused with the rhythms and rhymes of garage, grime and hip-hop

    When Kayo Chingonyi was awarded the £30,000 Dylan Thomas prize for his debut poetry collection, Kumukanda, he used his acceptance speech to thank some of his former school teachers, including one who had given him a copy of Thomas’s play for voices Under Milk Wood. “I was very grateful for that, it led me to Thomas’s poetry,” Chingonyi says; he was delighted and surprised to have come out ahead of fellow shortlisted authors including Sally Rooney and Gwendoline Riley for the prize awarded to writers aged 39 or under, the age Thomas was when he died. “I was also grateful that these teachers shared their enthusiasms with me. A lot of what I write is embedded in my wanting to share enthusiasms.”

    Related: Kayo Chingonyi wins Dylan Thomas prize with poems of 'vexed celebration'

    As a kid I was never in trouble with the police, but certain interactions with them were fraught

    Related: Kumukanda by Kayo Chingonyi review – a striking initiation

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    In this special festival podcast, we take a tour of some of the events that have got people talking this week in Hay.

    We discover the novel that has knocked Midnight’s Children out of the running for the Golden Booker, which is marking 50 years of the UK’s top literary award. Rapper Akala explains why he has turned his attention to literature, with a new book about race and class. Poet Tishani Doshi gives an impassioned response to the problem of violence against women in India. Neurologist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore explains why we should take teenagers more seriously, and Francesca Simon and Kevin Crossley-Holland explore the treasure house of Norse myths.

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    The poet on growing up in Yorkshire and watching the world from his bedroom window

    I grew up in the West Yorkshire village of Marsden at the head of the Colne Valley, a close-knit community of about four thousand people high in the Pennines, last stop before Lancashire. It was an uninterrupted and in some ways uneventful childhood.

    As a consequence there was always a tendency to magnify the smaller details and on those rare occasions when something truly dramatic happened – a suspicious death, a sexual scandal, a mill burning down – those incidents became the stuff of fantasy and mythology. My first poems were about Marsden, and my latest collection contains pieces that reference the village, either directly or indirectly.

    Related: The Unaccompanied by Simon Armitage review – luminous and unsettling

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    A strikingly accomplished work from a 16-year-old poet reflects on the resonances of anorexia with religious fasting

    Husk

    How did we ever get here? I have been measuring
    my worth in etched wrists for so long I think my bones
    are made of aspartame. Or plum blossom. Can I
    gain solubility, dissolve? Can I become entirely blood?
    Viscera. Cold palms pressed against
    my back. Ribs. Ankles, spine. This resembles a checklist
    but is more truly a prayer. A prayer offered
    in the rain with a headache behind my eyes.
    A prayer offered propped against the car with trembling
    hands. Some Magnificat for vivisection. He hath filled
    the hungry with good things. Communion wine burns
    on an empty stomach. Lord, have I already martyred
    myself for skinny jeans? What if I wake up a husk,
    made clean and dry by sunlight? What if I wake up
    as sunlight itself, yellow and sharp and hard?

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    Labour leader says 102-year-old was a ‘wonderful poet and huge support’ to her husband

    Jeremy Corbyn and Gordon Brown have led tributes to Mary Wilson, a poet and wife of the former Labour prime minister Harold Wilson, who has died aged 102.

    Wilson published three volumes of verse and was once touted as a possible poet laureate. In a tweet Corbyn praised her poetry and support for Labour’s election victories in the 60s and 70s.

    In '97 I escorted Mary Wilson to open Merton @mencap_charity 1st dementia centre. She had cared for Harold for years & was a great fighter for carers everywhere. #RIPhttps://t.co/y9mbDUlCZU

    Related: Mary Wilson obituary

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  • 06/06/18--22:51: Mary Wilson obituary
  • An accomplished poet who brushed off the caricatures attracted by her life as the wife of prime minister Harold Wilson

    In the widely recorded history of Harold Wilson’s years in British politics, his wife, Mary, appears as a rather shadowy figure, a fleeting form in the background of the latest crisis at No 10, seemingly intent on hastening back to the domestic obscurity she craved and for which she was mercilessly mocked by the satirists of that era. The reality was quite otherwise. Mary Wilson, who has died aged 102, was indeed a profoundly private person, but she was an independent-minded woman with sufficient personal strength to withstand the cruelty of the caricatures to which she was subjected without ever bothering to correct the inaccuracy of her supposed public portrait.

    Her problem was that she married Harold, as she complained, “under false pretences”. She did not sign up to be the wife of an ambitious politician but, rather, the wife of the clever Oxford don she married, a choice that would have given her the quiet, cloistered academic life she sought for herself, as much as for her family. She regretted all her life that she had been unable to go to university because her family could not afford it, and as an aspirant poet she longed for a lifestyle that would allow her to develop her talent in an atmosphere, as she said, imbued with the presence of old buildings and young people. “Oxford was my idea of heaven,” she lamented.

    Related: Mary Wilson: Corbyn leads tributes after death of Harold Wilson's widow

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    Blending autobiography, literary criticism poetry and philosophy, Little Boy will be published in March 2019, the author’s centenary

    The 99-year-old poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, one of the last surviving members of the Beat generation, has sold an “experimental” new novel to a major American publisher, and it is due out in time for his 100th birthday.

    Ferlinghetti, one of the US’s best-loved poets and a veteran of the second world war, told the New York Times that the book, Little Boy, was “not a memoir, it’s an imaginary me”. He added: “It’s an experimental novel, let’s put it that way … It’s the kind of book that I’ve been writing all my life.”

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    The poet laureate on her deep shame at not having read Don Quixote and always laughing at Cold Comfort Farm

    The book I am currently reading
    The Poem: Lyric, Sign, Metre by Don Paterson. Reading it, your estimation of your own IQ incrementally diminishes. There are diagrams. Also Jay Bernard’s Ted Hughes award-winning collection Surge: Side A.

    The book that changed my life
    Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking– about 30 years ago. Hurrah!

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    In this story of a boy’s departure to boarding school, the author remembers leaving behind not only his family but a whole linguistic world

    Leaving home at 10

    It was an old Peugeot 403
    They don’t make them anymore

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    A pair of contrasting monologues set in 1920s Ireland are witty and humane to an outstanding degree

    Kitty Donovan, a dressmaker in the time of the Irish war of independence, arrives on the opening page of this book fully formed. It is 1919. She does not seem invented. You hear her voice in your head – insistent, opinionated, revved up – and long to hear her speak aloud for this poetic monologue is just begging to be performed. Martina Evans’s outstanding book needs to be taken on as a radio piece without delay – or, perhaps, put on stage. Its second half belongs to another Irish woman, Babe Cronin, who, like Kitty, vents about life, but times have now changed and it is 1924. Babe is a stenographer in London who has fallen in love with a young revolutionary and their monologues are intertwined because Eileen, the woman with whom Babe has fallen in love, once lived and sewed with Kitty, an orphaned apprentice.

    I loved everything about this book: its tragicomic shambles of an opening involves a husband lost and found (is he a vision, a side-effect of the laudanum to which Kitty is hooked?) alongside a mislaid hat. “After twelve years/Could he have clambered out the other/side of Sullivan’s Quay that night in Cork/ran away fast with his bowler under/his arm? We never found the hat although/Eileen Murphy and myself searched high/and low, tearing the damp walls, our hands/bright green from the moss.”

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    She lived a sensational life – but it was her assumption of her equality that made Maya Angelou radical, as I rediscovered when turning I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings into radio drama

    I’ve been adapting novels and plays for radio for well over a decade. And I’ve adapted wonderful work: Beloved, The Darker Face of the Earth, Small Island, The Color Purple. But adapting the work of Maya Angelou for BBC Radio 4 was the first time I dramatised a memoir. I am used to ferreting out the intentions of the writer between the lines of a play and among the events in a novel. With Maya Angelou’s memoirs, she was right there in front of me, looking me in the eye. It is a bold adapter who wouldn’t feel intimidated. It would also be a foolish one who didn’t grab the opportunity to bring her words to the ear.

    The intimacy of radio meant that having Maya’s words spoken by a narrated version of herself was a given. Without the distraction of visuals, life in the deep south during Jim Crow, the characters hustling on the streets of postwar San Francisco, a teenaged Maya driving over the Mexican border having never driven before, and her life as an expat in Ghana can all be imagined and savoured. But there were decisions to be made about which moments would take to being dramatised, which ones should be reported, and which should not be included in this adaptation. I can’t tell you how difficult it was to make these omissions.

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