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Latest news and features from theguardian.com, the world's leading liberal voice
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    From a tiny copy of the Divine Comedy and a once-illegal birth control guide to a Bible the size of a stamp, these strange artefacts are masterpieces writ small

    It is known as the “fly’s eye Dante”: an 1878 edition of the Divine Comedy which is so small – just 11/4 by 13/4 inches – that it is said to have taken 11 years to print, and to have damaged the eyes of both its compositor and corrector. Bound in red leather embossed with gold, the world’s smallest edition of Dante’s classic poem, which was printed by the Salmin Brothers in Padua, is one of almost 50 officially designated miniature books housed in the London Library. Nomenclature is important here: according to the US-based Miniature Book Society, a miniature book “is no more than three inches in height, width, or thickness”, and while the London Library has some 350-odd “small” books, of less than five inches, it has only 47 true miniatures. The library decided they were being overshadowed by their larger cousins, so now they are gathered together in a glass-fronted cabinet.

    Related: Miniature milestone as Russian claims new record for world's tiniest book

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    Poems of violence and motherhood, told through a brutal and compelling evocation of Zeus

    Nothing in Fiona Benson’s fine 2014 debut collection Bright Travellers prepared us for this. After a premonitory poem about puberty (“Sex wasn’t here yet, but it was coming”), Vertigo & Ghost explodes into furious life with a series of poems and fragments about the Greek god Zeus and what some sources have referred to as his “erotic escapades”. No such weasel words for Benson, whose Zeus is a serial rapist, eating women like air, in jagged, staccato poems that shoot down the pages like lightning bolts. “Rape is rarely / what you think. / Sometimes you are / outside yourself / looking down / thinking slut / as you let him / do what he wants / on your own familiar sheets / to stop the yelling / and the backhand to the face / and the zeroing in / of the fist.”

    The poems record Zeus’s and other gods’ relations with mortals and nymphs, including those – Io, Cyane, Daphne – who undergo transformation in the Greek myths, though here the metamorphosis becomes an attempt to hide from their rapist or the post-traumatic change they suffer after him. Callisto “holds herself down, clamps her mouth, / piles on flesh like upholstery” while “Daphne is a hare / trying to leap free”. Other anonymous voices are heard too, reporting rape in relationships (“How light I was. / How doubtfully safe”) and we even get Zeus himself, who speaks in screaming italics with bitter comedy: “NO FUN / THIS ANKLEBAND / TAZERS ME / EVERY TIME / I BRUSH THE BOUNDS / AND YET IT IS / SHALL WE SAY / EROTIC?” As that poem makes clear, this is a timeless, universal Zeus, though it’s only when Benson makes specific contemporary references – to the sexual assult trial of Brock Turner or to Donald Trump (“I LOVE THIS PRESIDENT. / HIS SHINY GOLD TOWER”) – that she seems to strain for effect. But overall this extraordinary cacophony of voices (Ted Hughes’s Crow rewritten by Anne Carson) is an addictive, thrilling, sickening experience.

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    For Roddy Lumsden

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    The Goldfinch takes flight in cinemas, Robert Macfarlane goes underground and Margaret Atwood continues The Handmaid’s Tale … what to look forward to in the world of books

    1 Centenary of the birth of The Catcher in the Rye authorJD Salinger.
    7 Winners of Costa category awards announced.
    11 Release of the biopic Colette, starring Keira Knightley.
    12 50th anniversary of the publication of Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint.
    14 TS Eliot prize for poetry awarded.
    29 Costa prize-giving with book of the year revealed. Germaine Greer turns 80.

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    The inner life of Elizabeth Jennings remains frustratingly elusive in this first biography of the troubled English poet

    Elizabeth Jennings certainly has ballast in the ranks of 20th-century poets and maintains a strongish claim on our attention in the 21st. She first made her name as the only woman among the “movement” poets – Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, John Wain, Donald Davie. They were fashionable in the 1950s, reflecting the spirit of the times with their reverence for the real not the romantic, and their restrained, comprehensible language.

    Jennings would later insist that she was never part of their gang, and outlasted many of them as a poet in her own right, her collections appearing to acclaim, substantial sales and a procession of prizes right up until her death in 2001. She has left her mark on the canon, with a few enduringly popular, much anthologised works (some on the A-level syllabus) such as One Flesh, where a daughter looks at her elderly parents in their twin beds and wonders about the passion that once begat her.

    Do they know they’re old,
    These two who are my father and my mother
    Whose fire from which I came, has now grown cold?

    Jennings’s cradle Catholicism caused great damage to her emotional life, giving her a horror of sex

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    The muscular blank verse of this great classic reveals a visionary amalgam of the biblical and the classical

    From Paradise Lost, Book Two

    He ceased; and Satan stayed not to reply,
    But glad that now his sea should find a shore,
    With fresh alacrity and force renewed
    Springs upward like a pyramid of fire
    Into the wild expanse, and through the shock
    Of fighting elements, on all sides round
    Environed wins his way; harder beset
    And more endangered, than when Argo pass’d
    Through Bosporus, betwixt the jostling Rocks:
    Or when Ulysses on the larbord shunned
    Charybdis, and by the other whirlpool steered.
    So he with difficulty and labour hard
    Moved on, with difficulty and labour he;
    But he once past, soon after when man fell,
    Strange alteration! Sin and Death amain
    Following his track, such was the will of heaven,
    Paved after him a broad and beaten way
    Over the dark abyss, whose boiling gulf
    Tamely endured a bridge of wondrous length
    From Hell continued reaching the utmost orb
    Of this frail world; by which the spirits perverse
    With easy intercourse pass to and fro
    To tempt or punish mortals, except whom
    God and good angels guard by special grace.
    But now at last the sacred influence
    Of light appears, and from the walls of heaven
    Shoots far into the bosom of dim night
    A glimmering dawn; here nature first begins
    Her farthest verge, and Chaos to retire
    As from her outmost works a broken foe
    With tumult less and with less hostile din,
    That Satan with less toil, and now with ease
    Wafts on the calmer wave by dubious light
    And like a weather-beaten vessel holds
    Gladly the port, though shrouds and tackle torn;
    Or in the emptier waste, resembling air,
    Weighs his spread wings, at leisure to behold
    Far off the empyreal heaven, extended wide
    In circuit, undetermined square or round,
    With opal towers and battlements adorned
    Of living sapphire, once his native seat;
    And fast by hanging in a golden chain
    This pendent world, in bigness as a star
    Of smallest magnitude close by the moon.
    Thither full fraught with mischievous revenge,
    Accurst, and in a cursèd hour he hies.

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    Stuart Turton’s The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle wins £5,000 honour, alongside Sally Rooney who is the youngest author ever to win best novel

    His debut The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle might be being praised as an “ingenious, intriguing and highly original mindbender of a murder mystery” by judges after it landed the Costa first novel award, but author Stuart Turton says that the process of writing it was “just awful”.

    On Monday night, Turton was announced as the winner of the £5,000 award for his genre-bending debut, in which Evelyn is murdered hundreds of times at a party thrown by her parents. The only way to break the cycle is for Aidan – who wakes each morning, Groundhog Day-style, in the body of a different guest – to identify her killer.

    Related: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton review – Quantum Leap meets Agatha Christie

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    Buoyed by social media, Urdu poetry is enjoying new popularity in the face of divisive sectarian politics

    In a Delhi hockey stadium in December, about 100,000 people of various ages, genders, and classes flooded in for two days of poetry, debates, food and calligraphy sessions. It was Jashn-e-Rekhta, a three-day Urdu cultural festival, and its popularity reflects a wider appreciation for Urdu poetry. Shayari, historically associated with the politics of resistance, is experiencing a revival in the face of rising Hindu nationalism in Delhi.

    At the festival, as people take selfies in front of an “I love Urdu” cutout, Shweta, a 20-year-old college student, says she believes shayari poetry could unite people.

    If you are feeling oppressed by the government, you need a medium

    I literally love you all,every single of you who stood up against hate & bigotry. It was never my movement,I asked nobody to change name,Not one . But this is an befitting answer to hate. I want to apologise to all Muslims ,I am sorry we didn’t do better but we will #MyNameInUrdu

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    Musa’s one-man show, Since Ali Died, is a densely packed hour of theatre, hip-hop and spoken word

    Those who think Australia is a land of pretty beaches, long lazy Januarys and no culture wars should be marched tout suite to the Sydney festival, and made to watch Omar Musa’s one-man show, Since Ali Died. It’s all there, densely packed into an hour of theatre, hip-hop and spoken word.

    There’s Musa’s own story of how his life fell apart after the death of his hero, Muhammad Ali. There’s his best mate, out of Goulburn jail and riding a self-destructive streak. There’s the woman he fell in love with –inscrutable, captivatinghim as she halves MDMA caps, and breaking his heart when she starts calling him “champ”.

    I love the smell of Australia – fire and smoke and earth and salt, the height of summer. You’re on the edge of an adventure.

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    The trial shocked Sweden and meant there was no Nobel prize for literature in 2018. But long before Jean-Claude Arnault was jailed for rape, I met him

    I was in my early 20s. I thought of myself as a poet, well aware of the rule that you couldn’t call yourself one until you had had a book of poems published. In Stockholm, where I lived, a place called Forum had opened for people interested in poetry and art; it called itself a contemporary space for culture. In those days, the late 80s, it attracted a young, elitist crowd, where everyone shared a rather earnest desire for profound experiences. I didn’t feel threatened by any of it. My parents were both well-known writers; my father a literary critic, my mother a poet and translator.

    I had no writer friends of my own age. I had fallen into the gap between an adult world to which I did not yet belong, and a young person’s world that was mostly about sex and alcohol. I loved to dance. I loved going to nightclubs. The music, the anonymous backs at the bar, the dark corners. The smells of perfume, sweat, spilled drinks. The little details of men and women: a woman’s shirt, dazzling white; a thin gold chain in a cleavage. Sometimes there were men I liked, or desired. I made it a point of honour to salute them, make a small bow, and turn on my heel. Sometimes the farewell itself worked as a seduction technique.

    I don’t want to have sex with him. But I want us to have something adult, between equals. I take off my clothes

    My memory is a series of still lives, fixed in time. But my feelings about them change between sadness, anger, repulsion and embarrassment

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  • 01/13/19--09:12: Jay Ramsay obituary
  • Jay Ramsay, who has died of cancer aged 60, was a psychotherapist and poet. The author of nearly 40 books, including nonfiction on alchemy and relationship psychology, and translations of classics of eastern philosophy, he was an influential presence on the alternative poetry scene. With the rich timbre of his voice and his impassioned opinions he was also an ambassador for transformative spiritual, political and psychological awareness.

    His own poetry collections included Kingdom of the Edge (1980-98) and Out of Time (1998-2008). He also co-edited, with Sylvia Paskin and Jeremy Silver, Angels of Fire: An Anthology of Radical Poetry (1986) and was the editor of Soul of the Earth: The Awen Anthology of Eco-spiritual Poetry (2011), as well as editing and writing reviews for the mind/body/spirit journals Kindred Spirit (1997-2004) and Caduceus (2002 onwards).

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    The writer discovers in this familiar but enigmatic creature an elusive emblem

    Why the swan

    Because the swan floats
    up close.

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    Poet’s ‘absolutely exhilarating’ first collection Three Poems takes £25,000 prize

    Poet Hannah Sullivan has won the prestigious and lucrative TS Eliot prize for her first collection Three Poems – just the third debut to land the award in its 25-year history, and a sign that the poetry world is hunting for a new generation of voices.

    Sullivan, a 39-year-old Londoner who won the £25,000 prize on Monday night, is the third first time poet to take the prize, with all three winning in the last five years: Vietnamese-American Ocean Vuong in 2017 and Chinese-British Sarah Howe in 2015. Before then, the prize had tended to be awarded to more established poets a few collections into their careers, among them Derek Walcott, Carol Ann Duffy, Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney.

    Related: Three Poems by Hannah Sullivan – review

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  • 01/14/19--09:34: Marcus Cumberlege obituary
  • My lifelong friend Marcus Cumberlege, who has died aged 80, was a prolific poet. He lived in Bruges, Belgium, for 46 years. Earlier he had had several poetry collections published in the UK. Another 20 collections were to follow in Bruges by the time his Selected Poems (1963-2009) was launched at the city hall in 2010.

    Born in Antibes, France, Marcus was the son of Nancy (nee Wooley), a Canadian, and Mike Cumberlege, later a decorated Royal Navy officer who worked for Special Operations in the Aegean. Mike was captured and eventually shot by the SS in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Germany, two months short of the allied victory in Europe. Marcus, aged nine, collected his father’s medals from King George in 1947. Mike’s ghost was to remain with Marcus all his life.

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    It has comforted the downtrodden, inspired Britain’s schoolchildren and even been sprayed as graffiti. Now, the book has shifted shape again – into music

    It felt like the folk music equivalent of Avengers Assemble. Last September, I found myself sitting at a wooden dining table in the Lake District with multiple superheroes of British folk. Karine Polwart, Kris Drever, Julie Fowlis, Beth Porter, Rachel Newton, Kerry Andrew, Jim Molyneux– could they really all exist in the same room together? Or would their convergence in a confined space cause a small black hole to open somewhere near the Keswick Tesco?

    Karine, trying to find the beginnings of a shape for the performance we were planning, pulled out a notebook and asked people to say what they could play or do. Remarkable answers were modestly given; most people there had three instruments minimum, plus voice; all were also songwriters and composers. Rachel and Julie were bilingual in Gaelic and English; Karine and Kris sang in Scots. It came round to me. “Um … grade-one recorder? Backing kazoo? Also, I once sat on my brother’s oboe and broke it in half.”

    The response is about more than a book –it’s about what Michael McCarthy chillingly calls ‘the great thinning’

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    Taking in history, essays and poetry as well as fiction, novelist Claire Adam recommends favourite reading about her island nation

    I grew up in Trinidad and Tobago and left, aged 18, to study at Brown University in the US. “Trinidad and To-bah-go!” people said when they learned where I was from. (I promptly corrected them: To-bay-go.) They knew of the country, although sometimes not its location, and I explained that we were a twin-island nation in the Caribbean, seven miles off the coast of Venezuela.

    After graduating, when I went backpacking around Europe, I found that few people had heard of Trinidad at all: I took to pulling out a little fold-out map and pointing to the little dot by way of explanation. “The Caribbean!” people exclaimed. They knew about the beaches, the endless sunshine. But later their faces would cloud over – what on earth had possessed me to leave such a wonderful place?1 I did my best to explain, but I don’t think I succeeded. I’m not sure I even knew myself, back then, except that it had always been the goal. And it was that goal – to escape, to get somewhere better – that sparked the idea for my novel, Golden Child. During my five years of writing it, I was trying, among other things, to understand that relentless drive to get away from the country where I had grown up.

    Related: Golden Child by Claire Adam review – which son would you choose?

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    On this week’s show, Claire speaks to Hannah Sullivan, fresh from her win at the TS Eliot prize with Three Poems. Then Sian and Claire sit down to discuss why some books get a second life in paperback.

    Then Richard meets American soldier-turned-novelist Kevin Powers to discuss his second book, A Shout in the Ruins, which ties together two narratives: about a Virginian slave in the 1860s and a black nonagenarian travelling the segregated south in 1956.

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    The poet, known for her nature and wildlife-themed work, died at her home from lymphoma

    Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer prize-winning poet whose rapturous odes to nature and animal life brought her critical acclaim and popular affection, has died. She was 83. Bill Reichblum, Oliver’s literary executor, said she died on Thursday at her home in Hobe Sound, Florida. The cause of death was lymphoma.

    Author of more than 15 poetry and essay collections, Oliver wrote brief, direct pieces that sang of her worship of the outdoors and disdain for greed, despoilment and other human crimes. One of her favorite adjectives was “perfect”, and rarely did she apply it to people. Her muses were owls and butterflies, frogs and geese, the changes of the seasons, the sun and the stars.

    Related: In troubling times, it’s best to turn to your inner poet | Ruth Padel

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    With an adaptation of Noughts and Crosses set to tour the UK and her anthology of Muslim writing picked for Emma Watson’s book club, the prolific British writer is as busy as ever. Here she talks about race, class and motherhood

    Sabrina Mahfouz remembers the first time she felt “mixed race” in the eyes of the world. She was 14 and applying for Saturday jobs in London when an apparent problem with her identity was pointed out to her. Until then, she had felt happily British, and happily Egyptian, with Guyanese heritage thrown in.

    “People I went to see for jobs would show shock at the disparity between my face and the name on my CV. They’d say: “I expected you to be a lot more foreign.” It’s that moment, as a teenager, when you first realise the difference between all that you are and how the world sees you.”

    I wanted to be a spy – or anything else that was exciting and took me to different places

    I wanted to focus on these two characters and how oppressive systems can destroy and determine people's lives from a young age

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    The achievements of the winner of the gruelling Montane Spine Race are truly awe-inspiring

    Last week, Jasmin Paris won the Montane Spine Race, for which the word “gruelling” seems horribly inadequate. Like Diana Nyad swimming from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64 or Serena Williams winning her 23rd grand slam, there are some feats of human endurance that scramble the mind and running 268 miles along the Pennine Way is one of them.

    But these triumphs go beyond personal victories. They should lift our collective spirit, because sometimes people are incredible and how wonderful it is to be reminded of that.

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