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Articles on this Page
- 07/28/18--09:59: _Jericho Brown: ‘Poe...
- 07/30/18--03:35: _Poem of the week: H...
- 08/02/18--03:32: _Norah Lange: finall...
- 08/04/18--10:00: _Jason Reynolds: ‘Wh...
- 08/06/18--02:00: _Poem of the week: L...
- 08/07/18--04:41: _Jericho Brown on po...
- 08/07/18--00:00: _Feel Free by Nick L...
- 08/08/18--05:00: _The New Testament b...
- 08/08/18--08:32: _Backlash after the ...
- 08/08/18--22:00: _Mill workers’ poems...
- 08/09/18--09:20: _Influential women m...
- 08/09/18--09:54: _Matthew Sweeney obi...
- 08/10/18--05:41: _Langston Hughes 'bo...
- 08/11/18--09:13: _Socialist bookshop ...
- 08/11/18--13:00: _How amateur sleuths...
- 08/11/18--22:00: _Bells will ring out...
- 08/12/18--01:00: _Robert Graves: From...
- 08/13/18--00:00: _Poem of the week: R...
- 08/13/18--09:48: _Gardening with the ...
- 08/16/18--02:00: _National Portrait G...
- 07/30/18--03:35: Poem of the week: His Secret Daughter by SA Leavesley
- 08/02/18--03:32: Norah Lange: finally, 'Borges's muse' gets her time in the spotlight
- 08/06/18--02:00: Poem of the week: Lapstrake by Ross Cogan
- 08/07/18--04:41: Jericho Brown on poetry, religion and race in the US – books podcast
- 08/07/18--00:00: Feel Free by Nick Laird review – glimpses of elsewhere
- 08/08/18--22:00: Mill workers’ poems about 1860s cotton famine rediscovered
- 08/09/18--09:20: Influential women missing from the list | Brief letters
- 08/09/18--09:54: Matthew Sweeney obituary
- 08/10/18--05:41: Langston Hughes 'born a year before accepted date', researcher finds
- 08/11/18--22:00: Bells will ring out: world to mark end of First World War
- 08/12/18--01:00: Robert Graves: From Great War Poet to Good-bye to All That – review
- 08/13/18--00:00: Poem of the week: R Alcona to J Brenzaida by Emily Brontë
- 08/13/18--09:48: Gardening with the red trousers brigade | Brief letters
- 08/16/18--02:00: National Portrait Gallery buys painting of young Dylan Thomas
The US poet on tensions between religion, sexuality and race – and why writing has saved his life
Jericho Brown was born in Louisiana and teaches English and creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He has won several fellowships including, in 2016, the Guggenheim. In an early incarnation, he worked as a speechwriter for the mayor of New Orleans before gathering momentum as a poet. His first collection, Please, won the American book award. His second, The New Testament, written in a spirit of tense lamentation, urgently addresses what it is to be gay, black and living in the US today.
Why The New Testament? Does the Bible provide your poetry with a holy infrastructure?
I grew up in a religious family – it was a requirement that we knew the scriptures. In 2010, I became very ill with HIV. I had not, for a while, thought about the relationship I had with God. I had spent so much time, as a child, talking with God and felt he was speaking to me. When I got sick, I wondered what he would say about this devastating thing. I wondered if God could comfort me in the ways I had once been taught to comfort myself. The Bible became the mythology around which I could create: the sound of scriptures came through my ear and into the poetry.
An adult child reckons with the very ambiguous legacy of her father
His Secret Daughter
His mug handle is the first thing she brûlés.
The gold melts away like chocolate,
cools smoother than coins.
A groundbreaking poet and novelist, Lange has been reduced to a decorative footnote in male authors’ careers. Might the first English translation of her fiction change that?
Outside Greek mythology, muses are passive; artists are active. One inspires, the other creates. The two roles are not mutually exclusive, though it is rare to be remembered as both. Norah Lange was renowned for her beauty and flamboyance. A young Jorge Luis Borges, arguably Argentina’s most famous literary export, once gushed about “the double brilliance of [Lange’s] hair and her haughty youth”. These days, Lange is largely remembered as a muse for Borges and for the Martin Fierro group of writers and the Ultraist literary movement.
There’s just one problem with this narrative: Lange was an author herself. She wrote groundbreaking, avant-garde fiction that was well received during her lifetime.
She was valued by her peers – but that wasn’t enough for her work to transcend the dominant machismo of the periodContinue reading...
The American author on his gut response to a friend’s death, how to get young people reading, and the value of crochet
Jason Reynolds, a 34-year-old from Washington DC, didn’t grow up expecting to be a writer: indeed, he was 17 before he read a book from start to finish. But it might be his atypical background that allows him to connect so powerfully with teenage readers. He has published a dozen novels– mostly for young adults – in the US, has been a National Book award finalist and is a fixture on the New York Times bestseller list. He was also recently named on the Guardian’sFrederick Douglass 200 list, which honours the 200 living individuals who best embody the work and spirit of the American abolitionist and politician. Now one of Reynolds’s books, Long Way Down, is being released in the UK. Told in verse, it follows Will, a 15-year-old boy out for revenge after his older brother is shot dead.
The starting point for Long Way Down came from personal experience. What happened to you?
When I was 19, a friend of mine was murdered. That night my friends and I went to his mom’s house and we were all planning to figure out who did this to him so we could exact revenge. So we could murder the man who murdered our friend. And I just remember the pain – the pain of the lost friend but also the pain of meeting a part of myself that I didn’t know existed. A part of myself that could lose control to the point where I could commit a murder. That’s a very human thing. I think that most of us don’t ever meet that part of ourselves that exists within all of us. This rage that, when triggered, will cause you to do things that you don’t necessarily understand that you’re doing.
Tiger Woods starts playing golf and all of a sudden black kids all over the world are like: 'Yo!' This is how it worksContinue reading...
A hymn to the unassuming skill that brings humanity into graceful sync with nature may be a lesson learned too late
Here you can walk across mudstone and mud
flat, through sedge into a river grown
fat as now, forgetting the tithe of land
taxed from its banks, it ponders borders with
the fierce sea and braids itself to brown
dreadlocks of estuary. Shadowed beneath
On this week’s show, we sit down with the US poet Jericho Brown, whose second collection The New Testament has just come out in the UK. He talks to Sian about what prayer and poetry have in common, growing up gay in an evangelical household in the American south, and the benefits poetry can offer modern audiences.Continue reading...
Nick Laird’s acute eye and shades of meaning make these poems a gift to read
Feel Free is an ambiguous title. You could be taking an empty chair with Laird’s permission and helping yourself to his poems, or it might be an imperative on how to live your life. (The title proved so tempting that Zadie Smith, Laird’s wife, poached it for her recently published essay collection; they now find themselves in the engagingly absurd situation of having published two books under the same name, a form of literary marriage, you could say.)
Throughout this outstanding collection, there is the sense of an elsewhere, at once tantalisingly close and unreachable. The opening poem, Glitch, describes a fall and the unshakable sense that follows, “of being wanted somewhere else”. It recalls Emily Dickinson’s line: “Life is over there – Behind the shelf…” Yet Dickinson’s lonely oddity could not be more different from Laird’s family scene (described with subtle, self-disparaging wit in Fathers). In the title poem, he aspires to a “neutral buoyancy” and appreciates the “steady disruption” of a stream. But life does not do steady for long.Continue reading...
Steeped in the language of the Bible and addressing sexuality and violence, this is a striking and inspiring collection
As a former speechwriter for the mayor of New Orleans, Jericho Brown understands the importance of speaking directly and persuasively. His poetry has received critical acclaim in the US, with his haunting first collection Please winning the 2009 American Book Award. His second, The New Testament, daringly juxtaposes the sacred and the profane, and in doing so encourages us to reconsider those very terms. Expanding on the themes of his debut, it offers a dazzling array of lyrics on the inextricable relationship between masculinity, sexuality, desire, violence and race.
Unearthing the Bible’s violent moments, Brown powerfully subverts the meanings and implications of holy verse. In To Be Seen, a preacher appears in the guise of a doctor who “clings to the metaphor / Of war” as he holds the speaker’s life in his hands and “[says] through clenched teeth, / Look at me when I’m talking to you”. In Romans 12:1, Brown refashions the scriptural passage to reveal his experiences of living as a gay black man in the deeply religious and socially conservative southern states. In this specific Bible verse, believers are urged to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice … this is your true and proper worship”. Brown counters:Continue reading...
Anders Carlson-Wee’s How-To has been accused of racism and ableism, but some writers say the magazine should not be scared to offend
A fierce debate has broken out in US literary circles after the progressive magazine the Nation apologised for publishing a poem in which a white poet assumes a black vernacular.
The young American poet Anders Carlson-Wee’s poem How-To was published in the Nation in July. Assuming the voice of a homeless person, it opens: “If you got hiv, say aids. If you a girl, / say you’re pregnant – nobody gonna lower / themselves to listen for the kick. People / passing fast.”Continue reading...
Research has uncovered 300 works by writers in Lancashire struggling during the economic crisis caused by the US civil war
The forgotten voices of Lancashire’s poverty-stricken cotton workers during the US civil war have been heard for the first time in 150 years, after researchers at the University of Exeter unearthed a treasure trove of poetry.
Up to 400,000 of the county’s cotton workers were left unemployed when the war stopped cotton from reaching England’s north-west in the 1860s and the mills were closed. Without work, they struggled to put food on the table, and experts from the University of Exeter have discovered that many of them turned to poetry to describe the impact of the cotton famine.Continue reading...
What, no Sappho? | Poetry in newspapers | Rain risk for mobility scooters | The Healeys on holiday | Cheap beer in Yorkshire
Three-quarters of the 20 “most influential women in history” (Report, 9 August) are British; all but three lived post-1800; and all but three are (probably) “white”. So the 19th-century philanthrophist Angela Burdett-Coutts gets in, but Sappho, Cleopatra, Hildegard of Bingen, Joan of Arc, Catherine de Medici, Catherine the Great, the Dowager Empress Cixi, Rosa Luxemburg, Eva Perón and Indira Gandhi are left out. Maybe we shouldn’t take such lists too seriously.
Emeritus professor of history, Oxford University
• “Newspapers of the day would generally have a daily poetry column” (Mill workers’ poems about 1860s cotton famine rediscovered, 9 August). And you can barely review a single volume of poetry a month.
Fr Julian Dunn
Great Haseley, Oxfordshire
Prolific poet whose darkly humorous fables expressed the strangeness of the world with a sense of delight
Matthew Sweeney, who has died of motor neurone disease aged 65, was one of the most adventurous, life-enhancing and distinctive poets of his gifted generation. Early on, he developed an unusual poetic approach, less concerned with traditional form than poetic fable. His stories – “imagistic narratives” as he called them in an interview – unfold like miniature films, crammed with colloquialisms. Full of often self-fulfilling anxieties, they lure the reader in with a seeming naivety, only to spring sophisticated or heart-rending surprises.
This approach allowed Matthew to access the darker areas of his imagination and to express freely what he felt was the essential loneliness of the human condition. In Cacti, the title poem of his 1992 collection, the speaker, devastated by the loss of his wife, slowly turns his flat into a desert in which the last memento he has of her, a cactus bought in Marrakesh, can flourish. As the Michigan poet Thomas Lynch had it, writing about Matthew in his 1997 memoir The Undertaking: “Loss, he figured, stalked him with its scythe.”Continue reading...
Poet researching archives of local African American newspaper finds story reporting on ‘little Langston’ before his recorded birth date
A poet’s late-night internet search of local newspaper archives has revealed that one of the US’s greatest cultural icons, the African American poet Langston Hughes, was born a year earlier than his biographers have believed for decades.
Kansas poet Eric McHenry told the New York Times that he was trawling through digitised local newspaper archives when he spotted a note on the society page of the African American weekly newspaper, the Topeka Plaindealer from 20 December 1901, mentioning that “Little Langston Hughes has been quite ill for the past two weeks. He is improving.” The paper recorded the minutiae of daily life for locals, promising: “Do you want to know where your friends are, who they visit, what they are doing? What the race is doing in general? Read the Plaindealer.”Continue reading...
Crowds gather at Bookmarks in London’s Bloomsbury to hear writers and poets, including former children’s laureate Michael Rosen
A week after far-right protesters stormed Britain’s largest socialist bookshop and destroyed books and magazines, crowds gathered on Saturday outside its doors in a show of solidarity.
A series of leftwing writers and poets addressed the audience, many saying that the attack on Bookmarks in London’s Bloomsbury by 12 people, including Ukip supporters, demonstrated how invigorated elements of the far right had become.Continue reading...
On the 191st anniversary of his death, fans and artists will unveil new headstone and pay homage to poet’s work
When the stone marking William Blake’s grave is unveiled this afternoon, on the 191st anniversary of the poet and painter’s death, it will also mark the conclusion of 14 years of detective work and campaigning for two of his admirers.
Carol and Luis Garrido had always had a fascination for the man who wrote poems such as The Tyger and And did those feet in ancient time, better known as Jerusalem, England’s unofficial national anthem, as well as art and engravings that have inspired artistic movements.Continue reading...
From Flanders to villages across the UK and Germany, bells will toll on 11 November
Before dawn broke over northern France on 4 November 1918, a 25-year-old British officer, Lt Wilfred Owen of the Manchester Regiment, headed out from a house in which British troops had been holed up in woodland near the village of Ors.
The Hundred Days Offensive was nearing its conclusion and Allied victory was just a week away. Owen had written to his mother from what he called the “smoky cellar” of that house five days earlier to reassure her that he was in good spirits. He intimated that it would all be over soon.
Whether your family members or someone you know were in active service, or in some supporting role at home or abroad, we’d like to hear their stories, and will be featuring some of them as we approach the 100th anniversary of the end of the first world war.
Jean Moorcroft Wilson’s commanding new biography reveals the poet to be a slipperier character than we imagined
It landed “like a Zeppelin bomb”. Such was Siegfried Sassoon’s response to the appearance, in November 1929, of Robert Graves’s memoir of the first world war, Good-bye to All That. Sassoon did not intend the remark as a compliment. Reading Graves’s work had made him feel that his sometime friend had “rushed into the room and kicked [his] writing table over, thrown open all the windows” and “let in a big draught”. Sassoon’s friend and fellow poet Edmund Blunden concurred: Graves had gone about the business of recollecting his wartime experience with a bewildering disregard for accuracy and with all the delicacy of a “bull in a china shop”.
It is reasonably well known that Sassoon and Blunden responded to Graves’s assault by marking an edition of his book with a series of corrective annotations. What is less well known is that Sassoon kept a personal copy, which contained more vituperative asides: “rot”, “fiction”, faked”, “skite”.Continue reading...
Although set in the young author’s fantasy realm of Gondal, there is a maturity to the portrait of grief here that is a long way from juvenilia
R Alcona to J Brenzaida
Cold in the earth, and the deep snow piled above thee!
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my Only Love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time’s all-wearing wave?
Interest rates | Poetry in newspapers | Minister spotting | Cat names
Some 35 years ago I was a researcher at London Business School, sharing our sole computer with the renowned (or infamous) Economic Forecasting Unit, led by Terry, later Lord, Burns, before he was appropriated by Margaret Thatcher to advise the government. I well recall the announcement (though not the reason for it) by an EFU colleague: “We will never see single interest rates again.” If there is one observation I have made since, it is that all worldly things are subject to sudden, radical upheaval (Interest rate ‘will remain low for next 20 years’, 10 August).
• Absolutely agree with Fr Julian Dunn (Letters, 10 August). Please bring back the Saturday poems; and reviews and articles about poetry and poets. The poetic spirit of the old Saturday Review is sorely missed.
Cherubic painting by the Welsh poet’s friend Augustus John has been acquired for £214,750
A portrait of a young Dylan Thomas, with red curly locks and a fresh, butter-wouldn’t-melt expression, has been acquired for the National Portrait Gallery.
The cherubic painting, by Thomas’s friend Augustus John, has been on long-term loan and permanent display at the gallery for 20 years.Continue reading...