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Latest news and features from theguardian.com, the world's leading liberal voice
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    In this elegiac poem, a ghostly goddess lingers in derelict factories, ‘a Midas inside-out’ who represents industrial decline and ruin

    Our Old Lady of the Rain by Jane Commane

    She was older, iron-tasting tang,
    the smell of damp girders about her.
    She’d had blueprints once, hundreds of them,
    kept in a plan chest, maplewood drawers
    as wide as a kitchen table, and as deep.

    As a child, I felt ghosts occupied certain buildings, the factories and warehouses in yet-to-be gentrified docklands

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    Hannah Sullivan’s debut collection of poems is intimate, experimental and rich in delicious description

    Hannah Sullivan is an ambidextrous writer. An associate professor of English at New College, Oxford, she recently published a book called The Work of Revision, in which she argued that the idea of revising as a necessary part of the creative process only began with early 20th-century modernism. Her alluring debut collection Three Poems (who knows how extensively reworked?) travels light, illuminated yet never shackled by scholarship, and investigates the way life does – and does not – revise itself. It is as though she were holding this Polish proverb up to the light: “Everything changes and nothing changes.” She writes freshly about everything, including sameness. She is a sensual conjurer of atmospheres – writing almost as a poet-restaurateur. On a single page: cloves, rainstorm, peanut oil, ozone, brandy, frost, freezing blood and peaches “sitting with their bruises” – each with its own tang. New York resembles a delicatessen – the food more precise than the people eating. Sullivan’s poems are as intense as Edward Hopper’s paintings (although more crowded).

    There is intimacy in this collection – sex, giving birth, death. Could one come any closer to a writer than through these subjects? Yet much remains mysterious. Again – as in a Hopper painting – the characters border on characterlessness. In You, Very Young in New York, is “you” a substitute for “I” – her younger self? Or is she addressing someone else? The poem is a workout for the reader. I could not help wondering: what is the backstory to the backstory? It reads as though it wants to become a novel or as though it once was one. And how about the woman with “one arm raised” in a New York street? Is she about to hail a cab or saluting her passing life?

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    Even Wordsworth and Napoleon couldn’t compete with Plathinalia going under the hammer this week – including clothes, a typewriter and her thesaurus

    Dickens, Scott, Swift, Wordsworth, Darwin, Adam Smith, even Napoleon; all were just warm-up acts for Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, at the top of the bill in a books and manuscripts auction held at Bonhams in London on Wednesday.

    While offerings from the 18th- and 19th-century titans did well to top £5,000 (all figures sans premium) - a feat achieved by a Wordsworth manuscript that went for £11,000, but £1,000 to £2,000 for literary letters, manuscripts and first editions were more typical - the star lots from Plath and Hughes’ estates, put on sale by the poets’ daughter Frieda Hughes, were expected to go for several times that.

    Related: Plath's letters probably won't harm Hughes's reputation | Rafia Zakaria

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    Modelled on Hollywood’s postwar glory years, this masterful epic follows a second world war veteran across the US, and shows Robertson at the peak of his powers

    In one of his more pontifical essays, TS Eliot declared that a poet could not be considered great unless he – he, necessarily – had produced an epic. The pronouncement takes for granted that there is general agreement on what constitutes an epic. But is there? Homer’s Iliad, Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, certainly; but what about, say, Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, Louis MacNeice’s Autumn Journal, Basil Bunting’s Briggflatts, or even Philip Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings? An epic does not have to be of epic proportions, nor does it need to take the lofty classical tone; it can be humble, like us, composed, as WH Auden has it, of Eros and of dust.

    In The Long Take, which has an epical feel, Robin Robertson, one of the finest lyric poets of our time, deploys his artistic reach in a fiction narrative of more than 200 pages, composed in a mixture of verse and prose. It is a beautiful, vigorous and achingly melancholy hymn to the common man that is as unexpected as it is daring. Here we have a poet at the peak of his symphonic powers taking a great risk, and succeeding gloriously.

    Related: Poem of the week: Finding the Keys by Robin Robertson

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    Aged 16, I wanted to scream in happiness that my poem had been chosen for an anthology. All I had to do was accept the terms and send £45 (plus £5 p&p)

    This is my origin story: when I was a teenager I wrote terrible poetry. Like really bad. Worse than yours, I bet. A lot of it about how every little thing reminds me that we’re all going to die one day. I wrote collections and collections of these poems, thinking one day I would have my moment. I named one collection, ironically, The Eternal Optimist.

    In 1996, I found an advert for the International Poetry Competition. I was 16 years old and ready for my poetry to be unleashed on the world. Not only was it a competition with a cash prize, but it was poetry, which I wrote, and international. This was my ticket to becoming world renowned. I submitted a poem called Trail of Thought. If you ever wrote bad poetry as a teenager, you’ll have written something like it. In the poem, I went for a walk and noticed small poignant things in nature, and each one reminded me that we were all going to die one day.

    The months waiting for the anthology were excruciating. I hit some sort of writer’s block

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  • 03/25/18--10:23: Joanna Skelt obituary
  • My friend Joanna Skelt, who has died of cancer aged 49, explored writing as an expression of conflict and identity. As Birmingham’s poet laureate in 2013-14, she found inspiration in the city’s diversity and restless energy.

    She brought the electric excitement of the Blackpool illuminations to a live-poetry Christmas lights switch-on in Stirchley, ran writing workshops that linked schools from Freetown, Sierra Leone, with the city, and worked with musicians from Symphony Hall. In Connected Journeys, the title poem of her 2014 collection, she wrote of Birmingham:

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    A chorus of birds takes on the leading role in a poem exploring creativity and freedom of expression

    The Opposite of Confidential

    Nobody questions the birds.
    Their trills are never subject to inspection or
    forced to satisfy requirements.

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    Surge: Side A, an intimate multimedia exploration of 1981 New Cross fire, wins £5,000 prize

    Jay Bernard has won the Ted Hughes award for new poetry with the performance Surge: Side A, a multimedia sequence which explores the 1981 New Cross fire.

    The £5,000 prize is given to the poet “who has made the most exciting contribution to poetry”, putting published collections alongside live performance, installations and radio pieces.

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    Which debut novel should you reach for this spring? Who can map our digital future? Here’s our guide to the most exciting voices in fiction, politics, SF, graphic novels and more

    Small presses are making a big noise at the moment because of books like ​Eley Williams’​ Attrib. and Other Stories

    Artist and writer James Bridle is increasingly talked-about. His ambitious debut book New Dark Age comes out in July

    Riad Sattouf spent a decade writing for Charlie Hebdo. His graphic novels mix darkness, dry humour and sharp observation

    Tomi Adeyemi's ​debut ​Children of Blood and Bone has generated considerable excitement, with film rights already sold

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    A return to black and white avoids the sepia of nostalgia, in this poem written to mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee

    Renfrew High School, 1956

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    When Bernard won the top poetry gong last week, it was a validation for performance poetry – and for the poet’s inquiry into the 1981 fire, told in a constantly evolving poem

    The awarding of this year’s Ted Hughes prize for new poetry to Jay Bernard could be seen as a step-change in the long running, and increasingly sour, debate over the relative value of poetry for page and stage.

    The 30-year-old Londoner, who uses the pronoun “they”, won the £5,000 prize with a moving and timely multimedia sequence exploring the unresolved issues arising from the New Cross “massacre” – a fire at a 16th birthday party in south London in 1981, which killed 13 young black people.

    We are facing an adjectival crisis, as much as anything else. How do we speak? And from what position?

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    Housman’s tiny yet perfect poem harmonises nature and feeling – all the while telling a stinging tale of seduction and betrayal

    The sloe was lost in flower,
    The April elm was dim;
    That was the lover’s hour,
    The hour for lies and him.

    If thorns are all the bower,
    If North winds freeze the fir,
    Why, ’tis another’s hour,
    The hour for truth and her.

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    Readers of Review miss the Guardian’s Saturday poem and information about the number of pages in each book reviewed

    The poem Do You Think We’ll Ever Get To See Earth, Sir?, by Sheenagh Pugh, appeared in the Guardian many years ago (The Saturday poem, 25 November 2000). It made such an impression that I cut it out and stuck it in my notebook, where I look at it from time to time, along with others. With the interest in poetry reviving, could you once again select and print a weekly poem for its apposite reflection on current happenings?
    Shirley Harrington
    Bury

    • Useful though it is to be informed in the book reviews that a memoir is a Memoir – or rather, a {Memoir} in curly brackets – it would be rather more useful if you could note the number of pages in each book, something that has been needlessly lost in your otherwise elegant redesign of the Review on Saturdays.
    Dr Richard Carter
    London

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    Polka, London
    Rosen’s epic is dished up for the stage in an adaptation that stirs in his poems about fried eggs and baked potatoes

    All kids loves cake but Wilfred, aged four, is mad for it. With a rather serious expression on his face, he tells me that cake is his friend. So he is the ideal person to take to this musical adaptation of Michael Rosen’s classic poem and some scenes in this production – basically, all the ones involving a huge gleaming cake – delight Wilfred. At one point he even drools. But this is a sweet treat and little more: glossy, tempting but ultimately pretty unsatisfying.

    Sometimes a purely silly piece of theatre can turn out to be really good fun, but it’s hard not to expect more from a show inspired by Rosen’s writing. Rosen shows children every shade of life – dark and gloomy or bright and dazzling. But this lighthearted and lightweight adaptation – co-created by experienced hands Peter Glanville and Barb Jungr– asks too little of its audience.

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  • 04/11/18--07:33: Peter Broome obituary
  • Peter Broome, who has died aged 81, was a gifted teacher, communicator and literary critic who specialised in modern French poetry, writing important books on Charles Baudelaire, Henri Michaux and other literary figures. He was also a poet and collaborated with a number of French contemporaries, translating the work of André Frénaud and Louise Herlin.

    Peter was born in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, to Walter Broome, a warehouseman, and his wife, Lily (nee Jepson). He attended the town’s King Edward VII grammar school and after a BA and a PhD in French at Nottingham University, in 1962 was appointed to a lectureship in French at Monash University in Australia.

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    Exact location of the poet’s coffin had been forgotten until recent excavation uncovered the vault

    It probably wouldn’t have surprised his long-suffering friends, but the remains of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge have been rediscovered in a wine cellar.

    Literary pilgrims have long paid their respects at the memorial plaques to Coleridge in the church above, unaware his lead coffin was lying behind a brick wall closing one end of the 17th-century cellar. The space was incorporated into the crypt of St Michael’s when the church was built in 1831 near the top of Highgate Hill in north London.

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    Play tells story of poet Mikhail Kuzmin who disappeared into official obscurity during Soviet era

    A play about a largely forgotten gay poet from early 1900s Russia has emerged as the dark horse in this year’s Golden Mask awards, the Oscars of the Russian theatre world.

    The Trout Breaks the Ice is based on the story of Mikhail Kuzmin, who disappeared into the official obscurity imposed by the Soviets on artists considered deviant or who were out of favour. The play’s success comes amid fears that the relative freedom enjoyed by Russian theatre is under threat.

    Related: Russian film stars offer support to director in fraud case

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    A shivering chorus line prepares behind the curtain in a London theatre in this poem by Symons, a symbolist poet and dance fan

    Behind the Scenes: Empire

    The little painted angels flit,
    See, down the narrow staircase, where
    The pink legs flicker over it!

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    The 24-year-old poet, with a background in biochemistry, wants young people in the capital ‘to see poetry as part of their every day’

    The 24-year-old Somali-British poet Momtaza Mehri, who has been chosen as the new young people’s laureate for London, is hoping to spend her year in the role convincing young people “to see poetry as part of their every day, rather than in some dusty tome, or academic niche interest”.

    Mehri, who has a background in biochemical science and wrote the poetry chapbook sugah. lump. prayer, has been shortlisted for this year’s Brunel African poetry prize and won last year’s Out-Spoken Page poetry prize. As laureate, Mehri hopes to encourage young people to voice their concerns and experiences through poetry.

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    A long overdue collection from US poet laureate Tracy K Smith weaves a spiritual hymn to the nation’s forgotten people

    Tracy K Smith is the poet laureate of the United States and a winner of the Pulitzer prize. Wade in the Water is, inexplicably, the first of her three collections to be published in the UK. The title is from a spiritual sung on the underground railroad that carried slaves to safety in the 19th century. Its centrepiece is a gathering of what are known as “erasure poems” – a strange term as what Smith is doing is the opposite of erasure. She is making visible the words of slaves and their owners, of African Americans enlisted in the civil war –these are found poems about people who were lost. Smith has pieced their correspondence together with the love of someone making a hand-stitched quilt.

    The letter from Nashville in 1865 (below) is typical: brittle, misspelt and piercingly sad. It is a poem of salvage where salvage is no longer practical. I found myself wondering whether these were poems at all – and whether it matters. Their power to move is obvious, the injustices suffered undiminished by time. Elsewhere, Smith writes about history’s tendency to flee: “History spits, Go, go go, lurching at the horizon” (New Road Station). She is determined to hold history back, yet the outrage these poems occasion is familiar. They border on uncontroversial: no one reading this poetry could fail to be on the poet’s side.

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