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Rare JRR Tolkien poem The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun to be republished


Early version of Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings can be seen in this take on a medieval Breton ballad, out of print for 70 years

A poem “from the darker side of JRR Tolkien’s imagination”, which hints at an early version of the elf queen Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings, is due to be published for the first time in more than 70 years this November.

Tolkien’s The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, which was published in 1945 in literary journal The Welsh Review and has been out of print ever since, is a lengthy poem in the tradition of the medieval lay, inspired by the Celtic legends of Brittany. It tells of a couple who are desperate for a child. Aotrou visits a witch “who span dark spells with spider-craft, / and as she span she softly laughed”. She gives him a potion and his wife bears twins. But riding through the forest, he meets the witch again. Now transformed from a “crone” into a beautiful woman, the Corrigan – a generic Breton term for a person of fairy race – says he must marry her or die.

Related: JRR Tolkien's war experiences inspire novel by his grandson

Related: Tolkien annotated map of Middle-earth acquired by Bodleian library

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John Cooper Clarke: polymath, renaissance man and true enigma


As the punk-rock poet releases a single with Hugh Cornwell, Dave Simpson celebrates the Salford Sinatra and social commentator adored by Alex Turner

John Cooper Clarke is most often described as a “punk poet” or the “Bard of Salford”. Both descriptions suit him, but there’s so much more to the man who calls himself “Johnny Clarke, the voice behind the haircut”.

His look – bedraggled Dylan barnet, pipe-cleaner legs and ever-present black suit – has been the same for 40 years and made him as instantly identifiable as his voice, that inimitable Salford burr. Along the way, he’s been an actor, a standup comic, an ad voiceover man and an unlikely pop star – first making the Top 40 with 1979’s Gimmix, on, of all things, orange triangular-shaped vinyl.

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Housman Country: Into the Heart of England by Peter Parker review – the inverse of roast-beef heartiness


The poet AE Housman, author of ‘A Shropshire Lad’, is associated with a certain kind of English nostalgia, but the truth is more complicated, argues this fine and wide-ranging study

It’s easy to see why AE Housman might appeal to supporters of Brexit. With his deep attachment to England and its countryside, he evokes the same feelings the out lobby played on: pride, patriotism and nostalgia for the kind of unspoilt landscape – streams, farms, woods, spires, green pastures and windy wealds – that people think of as quintessentially English. Such sentiments, Peter Parker remarks in this excellent book, have become a “comfort blanket for adults in which they can wrap themselves against the chill winds of the present”. But as he points out, Housman’s poems, closely read, offer no such consolation. The “land of lost content” will never be regained; its “blue remembered hills” exist only in the memory; its “happy highways” are ones to which we “cannot come again”.

As Ted Hughes said, Housman’s poems “have entered the national consciousness”. But as a go-to poet for xenophobes, he can’t help but disappoint. His poems may be scattered with local place-names but his range is global and his tone the inverse of roast-beef heartiness. “The essential business of poetry,” he said, “is to harmonise the sadness of the universe.” Love is elusive; life is fleeting; God no longer exists – those are his recurrent themes. His attachment to the nation is less pervasive than his awareness of “the nation that is not”, AKA death, where “revenges are forgot / And the hater hates no more”.

As a go-to poet for xenophobes, he can’t help but disappoint

Related: Autobiography by Morrissey – review

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The Saturday Poem: The Penelopes


by Penelope Shuttle

I saw The Penelopes
painted and named
but not shamed
on a brick wall
along Calvert Street,
I guess,
unsigned urban art,
two young women
on horseback,
Though I had my camera
I didn’t take a photo,
cameras lie,
they blunt and flatten,
but I kept the white Penelopes
in my eye,
a few days later
it seems
in my mind’s eye
they rode on elephants
or camels or elands,
any creature but horses,
and I wonder if I go back
to Shoreditch
(but it won’t be tomorrow)
will the Penelopes still be there
drawn by an easy clever hand
low down on a wall
on Calvert Street?

• From Hwaet! 20 Years of Ledbury Poetry Festival, edited by Mark Fisher (Bloodaxe, £9.99). To order a copy for £8.19 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846.

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Kate Clanchy showed me that it’s still possible to be proud to be British | Letters


Among all the fevered speculation about Brexit and the ever-continuing media speculation, I picked up Kate Clanchy’s long read (The Very Quiet Foreign Girls poetry group, 14 July). I couldn’t put it down, and when I reached the end I felt a strange mixture of sadness and delight. While we obsess over the economy, Trident, PMs and the EU, there are girls like Priya and Shakila who shine like diamonds and show the bigots and the racists that otherness is not a bad thing and that we have as much to learn from immigrants and refugees as we have to offer them. Thank you, Kate Clanchy, for your piece and for your work as a teacher and poet, and for showing me that it is still possible to be proud to be British.
John Marzillier

• My grateful thanks to John Crace for his consistently witty and amusing political diary column. It has eased my soul in a somewhat traumatic time since the EU referendum, as the country I love seems to be sleepwalking into a nightmare. Mr Crace’s ability to amuse will hopefully help reduce my subsequent psychotherapy bills.
Dr Martin Treacy
Cardigan, Ceredigion

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Poem of the week: The Snake Goddess of Crete by Geraldine Monk


With churning rhythms, this poem alludes to geopolitical turmoil and speaks of longing for ‘kinder’ powers to rule our world

The Snake Goddess of Crete

I cannot grasp your high status apron
(your pretty little pinny) in my hands to
blow my nose and wipe my eyes as
of a child of yours and wash away this
here-now world and find a maybe
kinder variant. It’s like this you see —
I don’t much care for the 21st century.

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Robert Nye obituary

Author, poet and critic whose novel Falstaff won the Guardian fiction prize and the Hawthornden

Robert Nye’s novel Falstaff, purportedly the memoirs of Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff dictated in 1459 by Johanis Fastolfe, or Fallstiff, or Talstof (as his name was variously rendered) himself, won the 1976 Guardian fiction prize, followed by the Hawthornden. Anthony Burgess accounted it, in Ninety-Nine Novels (1984), one of the finest novels since 1939. “We shall not be able to meet the great original,” Burgess asserted, “without thinking of this other Fallestelf or Farstalff.” It combined salacity, wit and sheer Rabelaisian fun with brilliant scholarship from Nye, who has died aged 77, and some Falstaffian “whoppers”.

Shakespeare was an abiding theme in Nye’s work – three of his nine novels concern William Shakespeare and another Shakespeare contemporary, Walter Raleigh – and sexual history furnished another. The Memoirs of Lord Byron (1989) reconstructed the memoirs thought so scandalous by Byron’s publisher, Murray, that they were burned in 1824, through surviving letters and journals, as if dictated by Byron’s drunken spirit. The Life and Death of My Lord Gilles de Rais (1990) mined the depravity of the nobleman who fought alongside Joan of Arc, and who, accused of witchcraft, heresy, sodomy and child murder, was said to be a model for Bluebeard; it took Nye 60 days to write and marked the apotheosis of his 35-year obsession with Joan of Arc and her marshal of France.

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Andrea Leadsom winging it on the environment | Brief letters

Butterflies | AE Housman | Melania Trump | Beards | Wendy Sly

It looks like Andrea Leadsom is unconcerned that her children’s children may never see a butterfly unless they climb a mountain (Leadsom’s views make her surprise choice for new role, 15 July), which she sees as a sensible approach to environment planning. Could Patrick Barkham (Wet summer is last straw in disastrous year for butterflies, 15 July) perhaps persuade the family to take part in the big butterfly count?
Helen Esplin
Coleford, Gloucestershire

Perhaps I’m paranoiac, but I rather resented the implication that because I enjoy AE Housman, I must be a xenophobic Brexiteer (Housman Country: Into The Heart Of England by Peter Parker, reviewed by Blake Morrison, Review, 16 July). The bleakness below Housman’s sylvan surface has long been recognised and was concisely captured by Hugh Kingsmill’s parody of Housman’s verse which begins: “What still alive at twenty-two / A clean upstanding lad like you?”
David Edwards
St Helens, Merseyside

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Unpublished Charlotte Brontë writings return to Haworth in mother's book


Brontë Society secures treasured heirloom belonging to the sisters’ mother, with letters, poems and short stories by family members tucked inside

A book containing unpublished work by Charlotte Brontë – and one of the few surviving possessions of her mother after her property was lost in a shipwreck – has returned to the family’s home in Haworth, West Yorkshire.

Related: The secret history of Jane Eyre: Charlotte Brontë's private fantasy stories

Related: Charlotte Brontë: national treasure for 200 years

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A member's view: 'What would a poet be doing in a steel mill?'


Former photojournalist Ian Yeomans attended a Guardian talk in which poet Ian McMillan and photographer Ian Beesley discussed their lastest collaboration

I’m a new resident of Manchester and I am still finding my way around. I’ve been here two years, and moved to be close to my daughter. I didn’t even realise we had a People’s History Museum before this event, but it really is a fascinating space.

Ian Beesley and Ian McMillan produce chapbooks together. These are 16-page books made from one piece of paper. They create limited editions to pay for further work. There were so many mentioned. They produced a chapbook of damp, which might surprise you, but damp has a shape and can be beautiful.

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Centres of Cataclysm review – 50 years of Modern Poetry in Translation


Edited by Sasha Dugdale and David & Helen Constantine, this anthology illustrates that Ted Hughes’s magazine is still invaluable

Selected by distinguished previous and current editors, this ample anthology celebrates 50 years of the excellent Modern Poetry in Translation. The magazine was originally conceived by Ted Hughes and George Theiner as a “rough” broadsheet, but its “roughness” was finely designed, like a branch of the alternative publishing of the 1960s that also gave us important small presses and underground publications. The core of the magazine’s early interests lay in poetry written behind the iron curtain or under nazism, work that, it seemed to Hughes and others, possessed an urgency and universality missing from the west. Among those the magazine has brought to attention are Miroslav Holub, Vasko Popa, János Pilinszky, Paul Celan, Maria Tsvetaeva, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Tadeusz Różewicz and Zbigniew Herbert. That’s quite a roll call.

Hughes’s conviction is evident in various comments recorded here. It is also true that the work he encountered suited him, feeding the epic and mythological dimension of his own writing. A sense of drama, revelation and the exceptional was necessary for Hughes, whose default position became hyperbole. He liked to deal in absolutes. Introducing his Faber selection of Keith Douglas’s poems in 1964, he noted Douglas’s disinterest in “the fruity deciduous tree of life” and commended his close attention to the clarifying powers of probable violent death. Hughes clearly admired Douglas’s highly disciplined poetry, but was himself drawn to write loud, repetitive books such as Crow. This may be what happens when you are too easily drawn to emulate work produced under constraints that you yourself will not experience, displacing political and military facts with violent metaphysical fantasy.

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Catching the zeitgeist with Eileen Myles, Martin MacInnes and Idra Novey


Fragilities of language and identity feature in edgy new works from two debut novelists and ‘the rock star of modern poetry’

In this week’s podcast we trace the influence of the zeitgeist, as disappearance appears in two debut novels featuring characters who may or may not be found in South America. In Martin MacInnes’s Infinite Ground, a semi-retired police inspector is called in to investigate the mystery of a 29-year-old office worker who vanished without trace during a family meal at a local restaurant. In Novey’s Ways to Disappear a 60-year-old Brazilian novelist vanishes after climbing into an almond tree. They both come to the studio to discuss the spooky similarities between their novels. Then we meet up with poet Eileen Myles to hear about a 40-year career in which the “rock star of modern poetry” has dealt with everything from AIDS, gender inequality, bad sex and worse drugs.

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The Saturday Poem: On Standby


by Carol Rumens

Pass me that small pencil, sharpened nicely
At both ends, a pencil with two eyes,
And up for anything – a screed, a scribble.
The gold and navy stripes, still visible,
Might be school uniform – the low-slung tie
Of anti-fashion, mocking and awry.
The pupils do their time; some pencils sidle
Off desks and drop and vanish. But the word
Is out, this pencil says, when a bright-voiced
Young teacher names the mist in someone’s head.
And the kid stares, and sees the point at last.

A pencil starts from scratch, like anyone.
It knows hard graft, despair and knuckled tension,
A shadow flickering like a footballer’s –
Designed for transfer. It diminishes,
But leaves hard copy, proofed by crossings-out,
Forensics of the rubber, and the bruise
Of graphite on our fingers. If you’ve never
Nibbled at a pencil-top, you’ve never
Tasted words.

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On my radar: Ruby Tandoh’s cultural highlights


The cook and food writer on Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved, Greta Gerwig in Maggie’s Plan and Zoe Adjonyoh’s Ghanaian pop-up

Ruby Tandoh grew up in Southend, Essex, and at the age of 20, while studying philosophy and history of art at University College London, she took part in the 2013 Great British Bake Off. She was the runner-up in the competition, and after receiving internet abuse spoke openly about the “personal vitriol and misogyny” she had been subjected to. Since then she has written a food column for the Guardian and made documentaries about food for Radio 4. She also writes a column for Vice called Eating Dirty with Ruby Tandoh as a reaction to the modern trend for “clean eating”. Her first cookbook, Crumb, came out in 2014, and her new book, Flavour, published by Chatto & Windus, is out now.

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Falling Awake by Alice Oswald review – encounters with nature that defy language

The poet’s seventh collection is a revelation – everything is on her radar

Alice Oswald pulls off a feat in her seventh collection: she finds words for encounters with nature that ordinarily defy language. From a laurel tree in which she hides as a child to a morning’s weeding to hearing larks under a cold sun – “I notice the dark sediment of their singing/covers the moors like soot blown under a doorway” – she articulates what you might occasionally recognise but have never before seen described. It is an astonishing book of beauty, intensity and poise – a revelation. Some of the poems are inspired by mythology (as was her superb last collection Memorial), most are unmediated, autobiographical, witnessed.

Water is her element – her book-length poem Dart, about the Devon river, won the 2002 TS Eliot prize. Water flows through this collection too. The opening poem, A Short Story of Falling, has a Blakean simplicity and reach: a good poem about water should flow and this one does: a column of couplets unimpeded by punctuation (in common with all the writing here). Half way through the opening poem, she takes a risk, pours herself into the beautiful couplet: “if only I a passerby could pass as clear as water through a plume of glass”.

She includes aspects of nature that are not soliciting, that are almost asking not to be described

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Letter: Sir Geoffrey Hill obituary


The view thatGeoffrey Hill had from his childhood home in Worcestershire, west towards Wales, was almost exactly the prospect enjoyed by his fellow poet and son of Bromsgrove, AE Housman, when he was a boy 70 years earlier. That sight made a deep impression on both men. But while Housman’s poetic landscape was a distant and purely imagined Shropshire, Hill’s was rooted in the close texture and historical memory of his homeland, not only in Mercian Hymns, but in the precision and focus of collections such as the lyrical and tender Without Title and the Housman-like longing of sequences in his extensive poem The Orchards of Syon: “ …I / wish greatly to believe: that Bromsgrove was, and is, Goldengrove; that the Orchards / of Syon stand as I once glimpsed them”. Between teaching periods at Boston University, he returned to Worcestershire regularly when his wife, Alice Goodman, became a parish priest there.

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Leland Bardwell obituary

Irish poet and writer of the novels Girl on a Bicycle and The House, she lived a bohemian life in London and Dublin

The Irish poet and novelist Leland Bardwell, who has died aged 94, realised from childhood that a writing life was inevitable. In her memoirs she recorded: “Since the age of six writing had been not an ambition but a condition.”

However, there were years of editorial rejections before Bardwell blossomed into a writer of the poetry, short stories for radio, plays and autobiographical novels that flowed, due in part to the encouragement of the coterie assembled there, from her basement flat in Dublin. Utterly impervious to her near derelict surroundings, she entertained artists and writers, including Patrick Kavanagh, and the poets with whom in 1975 she founded the magazine Cyphers: Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Macdara Woods.

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Poem of the week: Neighbour by Iain Crichton Smith


Disdaining the artificial barriers between people, these verses celebrate the nature that ignores these lines, and the joys and sorrows that unite us


Build me a bridge over the stream
to my neighbour’s house
where he is standing in dungarees
in the fresh morning.

Related: Poem of the week: Tourists by Ruth Bidgood

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If I’m Scared We Can’t Win: Penguin Modern Poets One review – a welcome return

In Emily Berry, Anne Carson and Sophie Collins, Penguin has showcased three funny, playful and creative writers

Getting people to read good contemporary poetry is never easy, but in 1962 Penguin cracked it with their Modern Poets series. Each slimmish volume featured a representative selection from three poets; there were two series (1962-75, 1995-97), and No 10 – 1967’s The Mersey Sound, featuring Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten – sold 500,000 copies.

And now, after a two-decade gap, we have a new series. The first thing to note is that this initial volume wholly consists of work by women. Good. By my calculations, to reach gender parity, Penguin would have to put only one male poet in the next 27 volumes. (Obviously that’s not going to happen: the next book in the series, featuring Michael Robbins, Patricia Lockwood and Timothy Thornton, will be published at the end of October.)

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Poetic justice: the rise of brilliant women writing in dark times | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

Millions are turning to poetry in response to a year of troubling news stories – with previously excluded voices in the field now going viral

“Hera Lindsay Bird has attracted the biggest hoo-ha with a poetry book I can recall,” wrote one reviewer of the New Zealand-born poet, whose recently released debut collection has become a cult bestseller in her home country. And rightly so: Bird’s frank, outrageous writing – see, for example “Keats is Dead so Fuck Me From Behind” – is in turns bleakly hilarious and peppered with pitch-perfect similes (“the days burn off like leopard print”; “Love like Windows 95”). It has made me, like many others, more excited about poetry than I have been in a long time.

She may be half a world away, but her voice seems to speak to women of my generation regardless of geography. “I love it when people who don’t usually like poetry like my poetry,” she told an interviewer recently. “It’s a mean joke, like tricking someone into joining an improv troupe.” One poem, entitled Monica after the character from the 90s sitcom Friends, has been so popular that the website that published it, The Spinoff, received more hits than it has had in its history.

So relevant and so real.

"what the cicada said to the brown boy" x @ClintSmithIIIpic.twitter.com/pEgqXIklgW

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