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Latest news and features from theguardian.com, the world's leading liberal voice
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    A compact glimpse of an exploited, despoiled world, this small work offers very large resonances

    Reformation

    All things
    polished

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    The Egg, Bath
    With two turntables, a street’s worth of houses and a German fairytale, performance poet Toby Thompson creates a beautiful show for over-sevens

    Children live in the moment but by around eight – my daughter Aggie’s age – their thoughts stretch beyond next Christmas, beyond when they grow up and further into a future that outlives them. It can be bewildering when they begin to ask questions you can’t answer. Aggie’s current favourite: “When will the world stop?”

    So it’s a joy to discover 24-year-old performance poet Toby Thompson’s beautiful first show for children (aged seven and up), directed by Lee Lyford. With wonder, wit and sophisticated storytelling, I Wish I Was a Mountain embraces big questions about time and contentment. This is a short but profound show, hatched by the Egg’s Incubator development programme, which reveals Thompson as a star in the making.

    At the Egg, Bath, until 30 September. Then touring.

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    Royal Court, London
    Debris Stevenson tells how grime became her salvation in a show that explores race, representation and authenticity

    In 2003, Dizzee Rascal won the Mercury prize for the seminal grime album Boy in Da Corner, which spoke of teenage life on a London housing estate riddled with “blanks, skanks and street robbery”. Debris Stevenson was 13 at the time and living in an east London estate herself.

    Now a grime poet and academic, Stevenson grew up in a white, working-class Mormon family and struggled with bullying at school, the tyranny of religion at home and coming out as pansexual to her mother. Grime became her salvation, she says, and this play is an ode to that art form, performed as a poetic monologue but also a kind of grime musical.

    At the Royal Court, London, until 6 October.

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    The Man Booker shortlisted writer on his love for Jane Bowles and biographies, and why he never gives books as presents

    The book I’m currently reading
    As always, I have submissions to read (I work in publishing). When I’m allowed to read for pleasure, it’s usually non-fiction – or something ancient and Greek.

    The book that changed my life
    I was brought up within earshot of north-east Scottish dialect, folklore and music, in what remained of a fishing community with its oral tradition, superstitions and legends. Tending to the solitary, I fell naturally towards books and read indiscriminately. The stories I remember were Scottish folk tales, the Greek myths (in some hopelessly expurgated edition, upgraded slowly through the years) and Grimm. As a teenager I found Mervyn Peake’s Titus books intoxicating, and those novels, probably, started my passion for fiction, while Yeats and Hughes and Heaney were making poetry crucial to me. I’m not sure a book has changed my life, but all great art jolts your perspective and enlarges your gaze.

    The world of poetry is small and currently polarised: it’s often either simplistic or incomprehensible

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    Almost two years after the musician and poet’s death, Adam Cohen explains how his father’s efforts to finish his last collection The Flame ‘bought him some time on Earth’

    • Exclusive: read three poems from The Flame below

    Was he, in the end, a musician or a poet? A grave philosopher or a grim sort of comedian? A cosmopolitan lady’s man or a profound, ascetic seeker? Jew or Buddhist? Hedonist or hermit? Across his 82 years, the Montreal-born Leonard Cohen was all of these things – and in his posthumous book of poetry, given the Lawrentian title The Flame by his son Adam, all sides of the man are present.

    Other than that, Adam Cohen won’t say much more. “This was all private,” he says, sitting in an office on Los Angeles’s Wilshire Boulevard, near the house where his dad passed away after a late-night fall almost two years ago. “My father was very interested in preserving the magic of his process. And moreover, not demystifying it. Speaking of any of this,” he says, his voice dropping to a whisper, “is a transgression.” But after a few more remarks – stressing that Cohen wrote entirely in solitude, that he would consider discussion of his work a dangerous sort of “vanity” – Adam describes his late father, his sense of himself, and the heart of his achievement reasonably well.

    He’d call himself slow. He’d write poems about how Leonard Cohen was a lazy bastard living in a suit

    Reading the notebooks is a bittersweet experience: here are the seeds of Cohen songs we never got to hear

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  • 09/28/18--08:24: John Cunliffe obituary
  • Creator of the Postman Pat stories, who depicted a community-spirited but disappearing world

    John Cunliffe, who has died aged 85, said he was inspired to create Postman Pat by his work for Wooler mobile library in Northumberland. “Like Pat, I travelled around a rural area and met a great many farmers and other rural dwellers who were kind and generous in the way that the people of Greendale are,” he recalled. “It was all there, in my memory.”

    Kindness and generosity, together with selflessness and community spirit, were virtues worth celebrating in the autumn of 1981 as the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, entered her second year in office. In the first episode, Postman Pat’s Finding Day, its hero was tasked with delivering birthday parcels to the twins Katie and Tom Pottage. So Pat set off in his red Royal Mail van (licence plate: PAT1) with his black and white cat, Jess, in the passenger seat. This was decades before the Royal Mail sell-off and long before British streets became clogged with rival FedEx, UPS and Amazon vans.

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    The poet and author on two inspiring English teachers and the arrival of a youth club that opened up his world

    When asked where I grew up, I say Skipton, as there’s a chance people will have heard of it, but really it was a village several miles away, Thornton-in-Craven, to which we moved when I was six, a village so small that the primary school had only 18 pupils. We lived at the top of the hill, in what had previously been a rectory. Out front, in the distance, lay purple moor; to the left a valley that led to Skipton, gateway to the Yorkshire Dales; to the right small industrial Lancashire towns – Earby, Colne, Nelson and Burnley (the last boasted a top-flight football team, as it does again today).

    The village wasn’t isolated – a road ran through it, one so busy that my parents banned me from having a bicycle – and in those days there was a shop. Once a year, when not rained off, there’d be a fete. But there wasn’t much happening for children, least of all on Sunday, which is why, at nine, I joined the village choir, as a way of seeing my mates at weekends. My atheist dad and lapsed-Catholic mum weren’t keen (I may have been the first child in Christendom to beg permission to go to church), though they did attend one carol service to hear me sing the opening verse of “Once in Royal David’s City”, a solo part I suspected I’d been given not because of my fine treble voice but because of my status as the son of GPs.

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    In this fast-moving technological world, lines of poetry can be food for the soul and help people with mental illness

    How can learning poetry by heart help us to be more grounded, happy, calm people? “Let me count the ways,” says Rachel Kelly, who has suffered from anxiety. Whenever she’s feeling wobbly, she finds reciting lines of poetry is grounding, validating and connects her to others who have felt as she is feeling in this moment. And it’s something we can all do: poetry we’ve learned to recite means we have another voice inside us that’s always there, a kind of on-board first responder in times of psychological need.

    There’s also a certainty and stability about being able to conjure those words: they’re a crutch, we can lean on them, they can even do the thinking for us. Kelly describes how two lines from Invictus by WE Henley can make all the difference to what happens to her next: “I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul.” When all she can hear in her head are negative voices, she can drown them out by repeating, over and over, positive lines from poetry: they’re substitutions, life-giving mantras rather than life-sapping ones.

    He held my hands across the century and said to me I’d be OK

    One of the most lasting cures has been here all along

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    This singular hybrid of photography and poetry captures 50s Harlem on the brink of change

    The story goes that Langston Hughes met Roy DeCarava by accident on a street corner in uptown Manhattan in 1954 and was so taken by his photographs of everyday life in Harlem that he took them straight to his publishers. Simon & Schuster agreed to go ahead only if Hughes, who by then had published several novels, plays and poems, provided an accompanying text. The result, which first appeared the following year, was a hybrid book that is now recognised as a pioneering exercise in merging image and text as well as a revealing glimpse into the everyday lives of Harlem’s black community.

    Now reissued by David Zwirner Books, which recently took creative charge of the DeCarava estate, The Sweet Flypaper of Lifecontinues to cast a singular spell. Revealingly, DeCarava saw himself not as a documentarian, but as a modernist who valued his quest for “creative expression” over any desire to make “a sociological statement”. His approach was quietly subversive in its upending of traditional – and usually reductive – portrayals of black Americans in the mainstream media, where, as he noted, they were often presented “either in a superficial or a caricatured way or as a problem”.

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    A Canadian poem that blends modernism with the pastoral reveals a natural calm at work in the city as well as the country

    The Quiet Snow

    The quiet snow
    Will splotch
    Each in the row of cedars
    With a fine
    And patient hand;
    Numb the harshness,
    Tangle of that swamp.
    It does not say, The sun
    Does these things another way.

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    Kate Tempest’s self-exposing collection of poems, ballads and lyrics pulse with recklessness and vulnerability

    This is the most personal collection Kate Tempest has ever written. It is her offstage, in-the-wings, behind-the-scenes book. Intimacy is its strength: the life could not be more private, the scrutiny of love, sex and sorrow will speak to anyone who has suffered a broken heart. Yet, at the same time, the overexposed quality of some of the poems is also its weakness. I sometimes felt voyeuristic as I read – as though witnessing more than I ought (while reminding myself that the decisions about what to include are Tempest’s own).

    I wondered about the recklessness of this writing – a recklessness that seems to have grown out of vulnerability. To what extent can pain compromise poetic judgment? And why does the transition from private to public feel so uncomfortable here? It is as if some of these poems needed to spend more time on their own – in a diary, perhaps. More than one, such as Aftershowparty, in its last line, gives up, with a slippage in tone that reads like an eff off to poetry, a descent into plain – pained – speech:

    Related: Kate Tempest: ‘I engage with all of myself, which is why it’s dangerous’

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    Got something to ask the original punk poet? Here’s your chance, ahead of the second leg of his UK tour

    Characterised by his rakish style and punk staccato rhythms, poet John Cooper Clarke rose to prominence in the 1970s, releasing half a dozen albums from 1978 to 1982 and touring the world. Laden with expletives and gags, his poems cover topics ranging from poverty to politics to package holidays. His poem Evidently Chickentown has featured on multiple soundtracks, including The Sopranos.

    An unlikely mainstream icon, the 69-year-old Salford poet was added to the national curriculum syllabus several years ago. He has also worked with the Arctic Monkeys, who put one of his poems to music.

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    Former poet laureate drew inspiration from personal inscriptions to write Armistice

    Some chose from the scriptures. Others, from literature and poetry. For families of the first world war’s fallen, finding the words for the inscriptions to adorn the headstones of their loved ones was the final tribute.

    As the guns fell silent on 11 November 1918, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) faced the global challenge of ensuring proper burial for 1 million Commonwealth men and women killed. Next-of-kin were invited to add a personal inscription, each limited to just 66 stone-engraved characters.

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    This National Poetry Day, whether you’re in need of some verse for a wedding or to mark a death at 104, Chris Riddell selects his favourite poems for key life moments

    The great power of poetry is its ability to distil thought, observation and emotion into a form that moves us profoundly. We turn to poetry to help us express our feelings at key stages of our lives – birth, marriage and death. But poetry has the ability to seep into other life experiences – falling in love, raising children and confronting our mortality in both peace time and war.

    “Love Letter” by Nick Cave is lyrical poetry about passion, remorse and hope that lives on the page just as powerfully as in song – “A handful of hopeful words, / I love her and I always will.”

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    Cache of more than 100 pieces, of which even his family was unaware, will be published next year as The Uncertain Land and Other Poems

    • Read two of the poems below

    After sitting in a desk drawer for almost 20 years, a large cache of poetry by the British author Patrick O’Brian has been discovered, with the majority unknown even to his own family.

    More than 100 poems, which will be collected and published as The Uncertain Land and Other Poems next March, were discovered this year when trustees for the O’Brian estate handed over a manila folder containing the poems. They had been written between the early 1940s to the late 1970s.

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    5 October 1973: The English-American poet is laid to rest in a small Austrian village

    Kirchstetten, October 4
    Wystan Hugh Auden was buried here today in the little Roman Catholic churchyard in the village of Kirchstetten, where he had spent the last 16 summers of his life.

    Once an enfant terrible of English letters, in the 1930s the committed anti-fascist voice of the Left, and two decades later Professor of Poetry at Oxford, he was laid to rest in a corner of Lower Austria where the Vienna Woods peter out into rolling fields and orchards.

    Related: Unseen WH Auden diary sheds light on famous poem and personal life

    Related: Mr Auden's anthology - review of Poets of the English Language:From the archive, 2 September 1952:

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    Using a range of inventive techniques, these poems pick apart damaging assumptions about female creativity

    The term “Mary Sue” was coined by author Paula Smith in 1973, to satirise the unrealistic female characters in Star Trek fanfiction. The label, for the implausibly perfect female archetypes that are thought to be thinly disguised versions of the fanfiction author’s idealised self, has acquired a pejorative significance over time. It is mostly associated with self-insertion and wish-fulfilment in a genre dominated by female writers, giving the term an undercurrent of misogyny.

    Sophie Collins’s debut poetry collection, Who Is Mary Sue?, inquisitively picks apart the assumption that women lack creative autonomy, and that female-authored literature only ever reflects on real, often domestic, experience. She exposes the murky politics behind readership and reception with rigorous investigation and clever, almost comical, allegory. In her poem Healers, a scaffold is imagined as a female and described as “fundamentally insecure”, found “slumped against the side of the church … Her safety mesh / was torn in places and sun-bleached all over / and threatened to dislodge”.

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    With precise local detail and metaphorical daring, the poet finds inspiration in his Highland surroundings

    A corner of the road, early morning by Norman MacCaig

    The thorny light
    Scratched out a lanky rose bush in the air.
    Goats had been at it, leaving five flowers there.

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    A new daily podcast is read by US poet laureate Tracy K Smith – but it’s just the tip of a social-media-driven resurgence in versifying

    Name: The Slowdown.

    Appearance: Every weekday, starting in late November.

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    Mary Borden’s passionate sonnet was addressed to a British soldier with whom she had an affair while running a field hospital at the battle of the Somme

    A love poem written from the frontline of the Somme by the “great forgotten voice of the first world war”, the American author, heiress, suffragette and nurse Mary Borden, will form the heart of an event at the Tower of London to mark the centenary of Armistice Day.

    Borden’s poem, the third in a sequence entitled Sonnets to a Soldier, was written for a young British officer with whom she had an affair while running a field hospital during the first world war. It will be the basis for a choral work by the artist and composer Mira Calix, accompanying a light show that will fill the Tower of London moat from 4-11 November with thousands of individual flames, in the build-up to the 100th anniversary of peace.

    Sonnet III, from Sonnets to a Soldier

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