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It Is Easy to Be Dead five-star review – requiem for a forgotten war poet


Finborough, London
Neil McPherson pays tribute to Charles Hamilton Sorley in a beautifully orchestrated production with songs by Schubert and George Butterworth

Robert Graves considered Charles Hamilton Sorley, along with Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg, “one of the three poets of importance killed during the first world war”. Neil McPherson has now taken this somewhat forgotten figure and, drawing on his life, letters and poetry, created a magnificent tribute to a fiery spirit extinguished in battle at the age of 20.

What emerges clearly is Sorley’s zest for life and independence of outlook. Educated at Marlborough, he questions the public-school ethos, dreams of devoting himself to social work and spends a formative year in Germany, where he falls in love with the country, its culture and the wife of one of his hosts. When war is declared, Sorley is torn between his moral duty and his belief that Germany is “the most enterprising nation in the world”.

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The brilliance of writing poetry on napkins


Brazilian poet Pedro Gabriel started writing poems on napkins when he ran out of paper - now, two books and millions of online followers later, his breathtaking designs are set for international recognition, writes children’s books site member Pedro

Brazilian poet Pedro Gabriel has always had his head in the clouds, simmering with ideas in a mix of words that, by a twist of fate, led him to stardom, as his books sold more than 200,000 copies. In a country where the habit of reading is not as strong and being published is something extremely difficult, this is praiseworthy.

“I never thought that it would become my source of income. Nowadays I can say that I live from my poetry and illustration, but three years ago that was unthinkable”, says the 32-year-old author.

The first napkin came to light one day when I was coming back from work and I had forgotten my notebook at home. You may be stuck in traffic, but your ideas are not, and I wanted to write so bad. When I got off the bus, I decided to go to Café Lamas, a traditional bar in Rio de Janeiro which I used to visit, and in that moment the only platform I had was the stack of napkins in front of me. So, very naturally, I started to draw and I was amazed, and then I began to enjoy expressing myself in those tiny and fragile pieces of paper.

I just recently realised the importance of that period I lived abroad, when I found the voice I wanted to communicate in through napkins. Despite the language itself, all the wealth amongst which I lived in these 12 years in Africa was crucial for me to draw my poetry; everything is a reflex of what I have lived in some moment of my life.

Related: Why I love poetry, despite my English classes

Related: Why is there so much poetry in YA/teen lit?

“The first book is all made of photographed napkins, and in that one it’s clear that Antônio is a bohemian; there’s bar language, some puns. The second already has some isolated and shy paragraphs plus some illustrations, as if Antônio had left the bars and entered the world of dreams. In the third, there will be a strong marriage between napkin and prose, with longer texts.

Antônio is a character of a novel that is being written and lived’. My idea is that these three books form a kind of pre-novel trilogy, keeping the visual side, of course, which is my brand. Maybe a mix of graphic novel with prose?”, continues the author.

Related: Top 10 poems about light

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Poets' tour hits Bath: strawberry moon in a honey-dipped city


The Shore to Shore diary makes a second stop, where we are treated to warm enthusiasm and opinionated bookselling – and find more reasons to write

Day two of the Shore to Shore tour: summer solstice, 17 hours of daylight and the promise of a strawberry moon if we are lucky. Poets and poetry, baggage, books, trumpet, garklein flute, horn and crumhorn are slotted into the minibus, and we launch ourselves into a dreich morning – “out of the swing of the sea” – on our way to Bath.

Related: Five poets go on tour: Carol Ann Duffy's travel diary begins

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Translation Tuesday: Next, a poem by Jing Xianghai


Still largely unknown to western readers, Jing Xianghai is the best-selling Taiwanese poet of his generation, combining comedy with heroic pathos

By Jing Xianghai and Lee Yew Leong for Translation Tuesdays by Asymptote, part of the Guardian Books Network

Jing Xianghai, a psychiatrist by day, is the best-selling Taiwanese poet of his generation. The following poem is taken from his collection Nobita (pronounced Da Xiong in Chinese).


Related: Translation Tuesday: The Cities, a poem by Marie Silkeberg

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Mike Hart obituary

Singer-songwriter who sang with the Roadrunners and was a member of the Liverpool Scene

The singer-songwriter Mike Hart, who has died aged 72, sang with the Liverpool band the Roadrunners, and was a member of the poetry and music collective Liverpool Scene, but he will be best remembered for his solo album Mike Hart Bleeds. Released by John Peel’s Dandelion label in 1969, it was an eccentric, defiant record by someone who was prepared to argue his corner. The song Aberfan berates celebrities for crying publicly at the tragedy in the Welsh mining village; Shelter Song criticises the church for not housing the homeless in its huge cathedrals; and Almost Liverpool 8 is a diatribe at the latest girl to leave in his extensive list of doomed relationships. Hart’s album was the antithesis of easy listening and his career was equally edgy: there can be few artists who have so consistently sabotaged their own success.

Hart was born in Bebington, on the Wirral, son of Colin Hart, who ran a sailmakers’ business, William Hart & Co, and his wife, Beryl, and educated at Birkenhead school. In 1962 he formed the Roadrunners, a rhythm and blues band, which had residencies in Liverpool at Hope Hall (now the Everyman theatre) and the Cavern. Roger McGough claimed the group could perform Twist and Shout and Money better than the Beatles, and remembered Hart – “Arty” – as “the wild man in front … [who] was very popular with the ladies. He was weird-looking but he was very charismatic, a Jaggeresque thing.” In 1963, George Harrison told some Liverpool musicians that he had seen the Rolling Stones “who are almost as good as the Roadrunners”. Their tour de force was Cry, Cry, Cry, which Hart would perform passionately, his eyes tight shut as if reliving some past ordeal.

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The world’s first door-to-door poet: 'I thought people would tell me to piss off'


At this year’s singularly muddy Glastonbury, Rowan McCabe explained why he was delivering bespoke poetry to bedraggled campers

On a damp Saturday afternoon in late June, a man wearing wellies and a blazer two sizes too big squelched around muddy fields in deepest Somerset, his pockets stuffed with business cards. He was carrying a yellow placard that said “Poems 4 U” and asking passersby at Glastonbury festival if they’d like to hear some verse. From his hands, strangers picked cards bearing words such as “curry” and “reggae” and “robots”. He then launched into a poem on the chosen topic. Meet Rowan McCabe, who pitches himself as “the world’s first door-to-door poet”.

McCabe is more usually found on the streets of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, writing bespoke verse for whoever happens to answer the buzzer when he calls. He’s penned poems about birds and love and parenting; one to remember a couple’s first date, another for someone’s dog. He composed the piece To Amy, Sitting Her Final Policing Exam for a future constable and Gospel for a woman he nicknamed Agnostic Ana.

Related: Instagram poets society: selfie age breeds life into verse and has a new following

I want to help raise a cool girl
A girl who’s allowed to be seen and heard
A girl who knows no colour or job is “not for her”
I want to help raise a cool girl

A girl who knows she could play football
Against the hardest boy in the class
And tackle him before he has the chance to pass

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Poets' tour: Je suis haggis, we're all Scottish now


As our Shore to Shore adventure reaches Scotland, the authors’ spirits rise

Monday 4 July, Jackie Kay: Boris Johnson has resigned and we are off to Scotland: things can surely only get better. The love of place names twinkles again. We pass a sign to Throckington, another called Four Laws. We drive through a beautiful tunnel of green trees and the wee black bus falls silent. It is like going up the nose of the Jolly Green Giant, Carol Ann Duffy says.

Related: Five poets go on tour: Carol Ann Duffy's travel diary begins

Related: Liz Lochhead: ‘You’re stuck writing something until you go, “To hell with it, I’ll tell the truth”’

Bringing a gun into the house
changes it …
… You trample
fur and feathers. There’s a spring
in your step; your eyes gleam
like when sex was fresh.
A gun brings a house alive.

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Poets' tour: reaching the 'unsure shore'


Our progress across Britain, watching unhappily as the country changed and sharing the consolations of poetry, has reached its final stop. Home will be different when we get there

An hour before we leave our hotel in Biggar to drive to St Andrews, I invite the others on the tour into my room to watch the live broadcast of the opening of the Scottish Parliament at which the new makar, Jackie Kay, is reading her specially commissioned poem, Threshold. It’s a movingly fitting penultimate moment to our strange journey.

Related: Carol Ann Duffy introduces poems for our love of bookshops

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Lord Evans of Temple Guiting obituary


Publisher who turned Faber & Faber into a champion of the best contemporary writing

Matthew Evans, who has died aged 74 from leukaemia, was a great publisher who also happened to play a decisive role in the making of the musical Cats. He transformed Faber & Faber from the Vatican of Anglo-American literature – an ageing, sober and conservative list – into a daring and high-spirited young company dedicated to the best of contemporary writing in a rare trifecta – poetry, plays and fiction – from across the English-speaking world.

Sometimes, to the Faber board, Matthew might have seemed like a boy racer taking the family Rolls for a spin on the circuit, but he was also a loyal chauffeur, dedicated to vintage motoring, with a deep reverence for the mysteries of literature. An eternally mischievous and provocative figure within the book trade, Matthew was part of a remarkable generation that included Deborah Rogers, Sonny Mehta, Ursula Owen, Tom Maschler, Liz Calder, Ed Victor, Michael Sissons and Carmen Callil.

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Michel Faber: 'I would have been a different writer without my wife'


Since his wife Eva died in 2014, Michel Faber has emerged a changed writer. The author of Under the Skin shares how he charted his grief through poetry and why he carries Eva’s shoes with him

At readings and book events, the Dutch-born author Michel Faber sometimes brings along a pair of red leather shoes, and places them in the front row. The shoes belonged to Eva Youren, his wife of 26 years, who died in the summer of 2014, having been diagnosed with incurable cancer of the bone marrow six years previously. He brought them to the London launch of his long-awaited novel The Book of Strange New Things, published just a few months after her death. The book, which he had been working on for a decade, and which Eva refused to let him set aside as the cancer took over their lives, is about a preacher who travels from a failing Earth to a newly discovered planet where the aliens are hungry for the word of God, and his attempts to bond with these strange new beings while maintaining his connection with the beloved wife he has left so many light years away. The shoes were an almost unbearable symbol of his recent loss: “I wanted them to embody her sprightliness and her vivaciousness, so I chose the last pair of shoes that she really loved, that she didn’t get to wear that much.”

Somehow the challenge of caring for her did something to my chemistry. I think it made new pathways form in the brain

Related: Review: The Courage Consort by Michel Faber

Related: Under the Skin: why did this chilling masterpiece take a decade?

Related: Flesh-creeping

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Letter: Sir Geoffrey Hill obituary


While I have always struggled to appreciate the poetry of Sir Geoffrey Hill, I remember him well as a lecturer at Leeds University. A reading of some of his poems to a smallish group of students one evening demonstrated a real presence and a fine speaking voice reminiscent of Richard Burton.

Beneath a curmudgeonly exterior there was an essential kindness. But students could provoke explosions from this demanding and formidably eloquent speaker. On one occasion, he lambasted his audience for dutifully writing down what he was saying about Shakespeare: “For God’s sake! Put your pens down! A lecture is to go away and meditate upon!”

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Edward Lear's Nonsense Songs and Stories - archive, 9 July 1888


9 July 1888: The gift of writing precious nonsense as that which came from the pen of the late Edward Lear is denied to most authors

Nonsense Songs and Stories. By EDWARD LEAR.
London and New York: Frederick Warne and Co.

Much nonsense is published from time to time, but the gift of writing such precious nonsense as that which came from the pen of the late Mr. Edward Lear is denied to most authors. It is one thing to write nonsense without meaning it, and quite another to write nonsense for nonsense sake. Nonsense which is also literature is not so common that one can afford to speak slightingly of its author.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat;
They took some honey and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O, lovely Pussy! O, Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

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Rowan Williams remembers Geoffrey Hill


At a time when the UK has experienced one of its most shameful periods of dishonest collusiveness, Hill’s loss should be felt all the more acutely

‘Nonsense verses set down versus conscience”: a line from one of Geoffrey Hill’s late writings, “Ludo”, this brings into focus quite a lot of what makes his poetry tantalising, sometimes infuriating, important, compelling. At the most obvious level, it illustrates something that characterises Hill’s poetry from first to last – a sheer fluency with sound that can appear in lyrical elegance, grinding puns, carefully calculated shifts of tone or register, multilingual play. He speaks from deep inside his language. The reader sees the ripple on the surface, puzzling, even apparently arbitrary; but not the fathoms-down movement on the seabed. To read with understanding, you have to join him down there, which is an arduous journey and often frustrating, but generates a sense of challenge and vital unsettlement.

Hill triumphantly embraced the accusation of “difficulty”. If difficulty is a problem, that suggests that the point of a poem is to be decoded. What if that isn’t the point? In that case, speech that resists being decoded is simply what you might expect from language under the pressure that produces poetry. Verse that promises rapid intelligibility is a refusal of pressure, which for Hill was a refusal of truthfulness. The polemical inventiveness of much of the late verse, savagely scarifying or dismantling its own performance as well as everyone else’s, reflects his massive and unconsoled anger about the terrible ease of language. “Art is impregnable in what it claims, / Consoles itself while children curl in flames. / I could not say what registers the shock,” he writes in another late poem.

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There is more to war poetry than mud, wire and slaughter


Poems about the first world war have defined the genre for decades. It is time to hear from new voices that reflect a wider view of conflicts

When we say “war poetry” today, the sort of writing that comes to mind is a conglomeration of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and the other great writers of the first world war. It means descriptions of mud, wire and slaughter on a horrific scale. It includes accusations that the top brass prolonged hostilities for no good reason and that people at home supported the cause in ignorance. It involves fierce protest as well as intense sympathy. It issues a warning.

Because poetry of this sort has been drip-fed into British schools for several generations (interestingly, the process did not start as soon as the war ended, but only began in earnest during the 1960s), it has settled in the public mind at an extraordinary depth. There are large benefits, of course. The best poetry of the first world war is exceptionally powerful – not just the lyrics of Owen and others, but the more complex and modernistic narrative of In Parenthesis by David Jones (which still has some claim to be considered a neglected masterpiece). Furthermore, by rubbing its readers’ noses in the brutal facts of conflict and suffering, it possibly creates a social value as well – by helping to educate people in the human cost of war, and in the process discouraging them from starting or supporting another one.

Related: In Parenthesis: in praise of the Somme's forgotten poet

Related: Top 10 war poems

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The Saturday poem: verses from Oraclau/Oracles by Geoffrey Hill


Remembering the poet, who died aged 84 last week

Whether to blaze out – trumpets to Eryri –
Or to go down with final rampage –
Why not (b)? This is the Ramp Age
Yet all too often damp-fiery.
Think, those entombing pits
Where, I suppose, the odd skeleton still squats,
Unreached these many thousand-and-one nights;
Fable or not it is unbearable.
Nye died of cancer, surprised-by, terrible.

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Best holiday reads 2016


From gripping fiction to history, brilliant poetry to biography, our guest contributors offer their recommendations for the beach and elsewhere

Novelist and screenwriter

Pack a collection of fairytales from the region you’re visiting. They remind us how similar we all are.

Joanna Walsh’s Grow a Pair: 9½ Fairytales About Sex is surreal, bawdy and inventive – wickedly so…

Anthony Mortimer’s translation of The Flowers of Evil is marvellous. Poetry is perfect for la plage.

Related: Summer reading with Mark Lawson and Lisa McInerney – books podcast

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Poem of the week: The Days That Forced Our Lives Apart by Jill Furse


Although very short, this is both a vivid account of wartime separation and the most perfect of love poems

The Days That Forced Our Lives Apart

The days that forced our lives apart
Are shut up like a fan.
We shall not even speak of them,
Because at last we can.

Bold rhythm accompanies an even bolder meaning: the lovers are stripped naked, unconcealed by glamorous nightwear

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Paco Peña review – music and dance blend poetically for Lorca


Sadler’s Wells, London
Patrias, the flamenco guitarist’s tribute to the Spanish writer, features superb dance solos but the multimedia projections intrude on the spectacle

Federico García Lorca is known as a poet and a playwright, but the art he first loved was music. Patrias, Paco Peña’s flamenco tribute to Lorca, also begins with music – a guitar solo of wandering harmonies, rasped chords and mournful melodies. Two dance solos then seem to emerge directly from Peña’s playing: first, the marvellously poised Ángel Muñoz takes the stage, his clean lines and exact placement pinned to the guitar’s changing rhythms; then the more lyrical Mayte Bajo, her turns and dips leaning into the musical phrasing.

The performers don’t act, but rather focus our attention on the subtleties of sound and the inflections of Fernando Romero’s choreography. Instead of projecting outwards, they pull us in. It’s utterly captivating.

Related: Federico García Lorca was killed on official orders, say 1960s police files

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Michael Rosen and Sarah Crossan share children's poetry prize


CLiPPA children’s poetry award for 2016 honours Rosen’s collection for youngsters, A Great Big Cuddle, and Crossan’s much-praised verse novel One

Michael Rosen and Sarah Crossan are the joint winners of the CLiPPA children’s poetry award for 2016 – the first time that two poets have been crowned together in the prize’s history.

Related: CLPE children's poetry award shortlist 2016 announced – in pictures

Related: Sarah Crossan: how writing about conjoined twins changed the way I wrote

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The Very Quiet Foreign Girls poetry group | Kate Clanchy


When Kate Clanchy began teaching the children of refugees, she sought out those silenced by trauma and loss. Their weekly sessions released a torrent of untold stories

It all came from Priya’s poem, and Priya’s poem came from – well, I had no idea. It was an unlikely thing to turn up in a pile of marking. Yet there it was, tucked between two ordinary effusions, typed in a silly, curly, childish font, a sonorous description, framed with exquisite irony, of everything she couldn’t remember about her “mother country”. This was the opening:

I don’t remember her
in the summer,
lagoon water sizzling,
the kingfisher leaping,
or even the sweet honey mangoes
they tell me I used to love.

There is that strange smell again, the tang of
the cars on the road screeching, not like
the laborious rickshaw in Bangladesh

Look ahead, jump, skip and hop. Hide the fact
you are alienated. Chew on the candy floss.
It melts in your mouth. Such foreign stuff!

Esther experiences education as Charlotte Brontë did, as the only possible means of self-expression

Border guards, social workers, housing officers all want refugees to tell their stories – but it has to be the right one

her comforting garment,
her saps of date trees,
providing the meagre earrings,
for those farmers
out there
in the gulf
under the calidity of the sun.

or the mosquitoes,
droning in the monsoon,
or the tipa tapa of the rain,
on the tin roofs,
dripping on the window,
I think.

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