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Poem of the week: Matsushima by Laurence Binyon


A sensual description of the natural beauties of the eponymous group of Japanese islands, this is also a vision of earthly paradise


O paradise of waters and of isles that gleam,
Dark pines on scarps that flame white in a mirrored sky,
A hundred isles that change like a dissolving dream
From shape to shape for them that with the wind glide by!
Many celestial palaces, gardens of scented song,
Have hearts of men imagined for lost happiness;
But merely around these isles, the live sea streams among
Salt with a pulsing tide, no languid lake’s caress,
To sail and ever sail, with not a sound to feel
In the clean blue, but silence vivid with delight,
A silence winged with rush of the dividing keel,
As if the world’s sorrow and folly had taken flight,
Suspended pale as that faint circle far-away
Of mountain, and remote as ocean’s murmuring miles,
This, only this, for me were paradise to-day,
O paradise of waters, paradise of isles.

Related: Poem of the week: My Mother’s Language by Abdellatif Laâbi

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Celebrities read the poem 'What They Took With Them' to support refugees – video


Oscar winner Cate Blanchett leads a cast including Keira Knightley, Stanley Tucci, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jesse Eisenberg and Kit Harington in performing the in a film which UN refugee agency UNHCR released to support its žWithRefugees petition. The poem was written by Jenifer Toksvig and was inspired by the stories and testimonies of people fleeing their homes and the items they took with them

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Poet Rupi Kaur's Milk and Honey sells more than half a million copies


Instapoet’s originally self-published collection now into 16th printing after themes of violence, abuse and femininity gained her fans online

The “Instapoet” Rupi Kaur’s originally self-published collection Milk and Honey has sold more than half a million copies in the US and is into its 16th printing, according to its publisher.

Related: Rupi Kaur: 'There was no market for poetry about trauma, abuse and healing’

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

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In the contest of memes, the Olympics takes the gold


Funny faces, astonishing athleticism and all-round doofus Ryan Lochte have made sure it’s been a month rich in retweets

While August is fondly known as the silly season, traditionally a quiet time in the news cycle, as far as the internet is concerned it’s silly season all year round. But even the internet has its quiet periods. When the sun comes out, we become preoccupied with the real world. So it’s lucky we had that minor sporting event the Olympics to help keep us glued to all interfaces. Every four years, it’s a beacon of entertainment during a normally slow summer. And for the internet, it’s meme gold.

Related: Harambe the gorilla: whose meme is it anyway?

Will the real Swim Shady please stand up? #LochteGatepic.twitter.com/AgWF5carRQ

Roses are red,
violets are blue, pic.twitter.com/g1FxhwO0LY

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Books to give you hope: Landing Light by Don Paterson


This collection of heart-catching poetry offers something a novel never can – a world of pure potential, with no beginning or end

Why we’re writing about books to give you hope this summer

Aside from a handful of close family members, novels are, without question, the things I love best in the world – so I was surprised to find myself struggling to name a single one from which I walked away with a feeling of hope. Joy, delight, satisfaction, comfort, solace – yes to all, in spades. Hope? Nope.

Why the omission? I’ve been turning the question over and the answer, I think, is this: novels are inherently temporal. Within the compass of their pages, they construct a facsimile of life as we experience it – of the forward motion of hours, days and years – but with the crucial difference that, as readers of the lives of others rather than participants in our own, they grant us knowledge of the end. “Endings,” said the novelist Sarah Moss in a recent interview, “are one of the great consolations of fiction,” and I think she’s right. Part of the attraction of novels is the reassurance of their narrative arc; the impression we get, reading them, that A leads inevitably to B and that, crucially, it does so for a reason.

Related: Review: Landing Light by Don Paterson

and I pitched back not my old hard-pressed grin
but his own smile, or one I’d rediscovered.
Dear son, I was mezzo del cammin
and the true path was as lost to me as ever
when you cut in front and lit it as you ran …

roaring down the back of Kirrie Hill
and your two-year-old lungs somehow out-revving
every engine in the universe.
All that trouble just to turn up dead
was all I thought that long week. Now the thread
is holding all of us: look at our tiny house,
son, the white dot of your mother waving.

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Say Something Back by Denise Riley review – exquisite, intimate, direct

Moving meditations on loss in an astonishing Forward prize-shortlisted collection

In a world where poets argue endlessly over what makes the ideal poem, Denise Riley’s verse stands out immediately as curiously, and deliciously, non-partisan. Yet at first reading it’s hard to work out why. Gradually you realise this is because her strengths are so varied: notice one quality you admire, and another follows hard behind.

Riley is an enormously gifted writer. Do you want lightning intelligence? Say Something Back, her latest, Forward prize-shortlisted collection, leaps from allusion to allusion, from La Rochefoucauld to WB Yeats, from the films of Antonioni to Piero della Francesca. Do you enjoy the colour that travel brings to the cheek? Here are “Touristic in Kyoto”, and “Krasnoye Selo”, in which the St Petersburg origins of the first world war are transformed into a timeless personal mood-picture. Perhaps you relish formal richness? In this collection, quatrains in full rhyme and a homage to William Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed on Westminster Bridge” in perfect pentameter sonnet form rub shoulders with prose poems. A courtly Renaissance diction meets informal turns of phrase that are like sudden illuminations of the highly personal nature of the writing.

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Forward Prize 2016: The Felix Dennis prize for best first collection – roundup


Every Little Sound by Ruby Robinson, Tonguit by Harry Giles, Wife by Tiphanie Yanique, Disko Bay by Nancy Campbell, Distance by Ron Carey

Ruby Robinson’s Every Little Sound (Liverpool University, £9.99) is an intelligent and disturbing debut that explores how family affects both our sense of self and our intimate relationships. Composed of free verse and occasional prose poems, it is stylistically original in its diction and syntax as speaker and poet grapple to render experience. It often gives rise to a surreal quality that appears menacing: “And what use am I, / half‑witted, unpicked, flaked / out, half a leg, a spewing mouth, brittle hair, / scooped-out heart crazed on the floor, / racked with side effects?”

Mingling English, a “mongrel and magpie”Scots, and Orcadian, Harry Giles’s Tonguit (Freight, £8.99) begins with a bold ars poetica. “Brave” energetically lists the reasons why the speaker sings, and captures the Scotland he sings of: “whit wants independence fae Tories”; “whit cadna hink o a grander wey tae / end a nicht as wi a poke o chips n curry sauce”; “whit dreams o bidin in London”, and so on. “Tonguit” means “tongued” and is pronounced “tongue it”: the poem never loses sight of its performance. In a number of works, Giles transforms found texts – from a “sampling of every mention of death” in Game of Thrones to an adaptation of a speech by David Cameron. This is an unusually adventurous and promising collection.

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The Saturday poem: My father cannot stop


by Lavinia Greenlaw

When his mind perceives itself failing
like an engine questioning its parts
everything stops
and he sees what it will be like when everything stops.

The problem is that nothing stops.
Time does not remain
and terror prompts him to do what he can to be stopped.

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Of mists, mellow fruitfulness, mortality and conkers


John Keats wrote his ode To Autumn nearly 200 years ago today – when Septembers were cooler, and the poet was near the end of his short life

Undoubtedly one of the best-known first lines in English poetry, “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” was written by John Keats on this day nearly 200 years ago in his ode To Autumn.

Related: Poem of the week: To Autumn by John Keats

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Poem of the week: The Learn’d Astronomer by Michael Robbins


Recalling the intense passions of teenage years with seriousness worn lightly, this poem finds room for both the throwaway and the infinite

The Learn’d Astronomer

How long must we hymn the twinkling stars
before we admit they are no more distant
than the glow-in-the-dark stickers adorning
the ceiling of my first girlfriend’s boudoir?

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An insider's guide to Hull: 'It's better than you think, honest …'

Keats was reconciled to his early death | Letters


Paul Brown (Weatherwatch, 19 September) is right that Keats must have been aware of his impending death, not witnessing the deaths of his mother and brother from tuberculosis, but nursing them in their final hours. Having begun but not completed his medical training at Guy’s Hospital, he could have been under no illusion as to his own prognosis. The “fume of poppies” may even refer to 19th-century medication. However, rather than expressing self-pity or melancholy, he seems to have been reconciled to his fate, the red sky of stratocumulus at sunset, combined with swallows preparing to migrate to warmer climes, together with Christian images of salvation, suggest a more positive view of his own afterlife.
Austen Lynch
Garstang, Lancashire

• Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

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A polyphonic dawn chorus in the Essex edgelands


Caroline Bergvall’s Raga Dawn is a mash-up of English, Punjabi and Romansh, poetry, music and performance art. She explains why she’s opposing ‘isolationist pride’ on the spot where the Empire Windrush docked in 1948

It’s 6.38am on Sunday morning and a crowd is gathered at the water’s edge. “Seek sunrise in all that we are,” incants a gentle voice. “Seek dawn in all that we do. Wake up. Wake up.”

What sounds like a yoga lesson on the beaches of Ibiza or Goa is far from it. Today we are at Tilbury international cruise terminal, 25km east along the Thames estuary from London Bridge. The same Tilbury where Elizabeth I addressed her fleet before they faced the Spanish Armada, and where the Empire Windrush passenger liner delivered 642 West Indian immigrants to a new life in Britain in 1948.

Related: The town that Bata built: a modernist marvel on the marshes of Essex

"Am I aware that I am asleep when I'm awake" @Cbergvall spins web of morning musing around wrapt audience #ragadawnpic.twitter.com/4zacZ5UuDi

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Trinidadian poet Vahni Capildeo wins 2016 Forward prize for poetry

40 Sonnets by Don Paterson review – playful poems from a master

Extraordinary, beautiful or funny – these poems from an expert in rhythm and rhyme stay with you

A few days ago, I played a little trick on the internet, asking people to name and date a sonnet, whose first few lines I gave as: “Whenne I was ruined by Love, I tooke a Vow / That if I loved againe, I’d love the lesse; / Soe when I spoke love, spoke it to excess, / As Love will make its mirror anyhowe.” What I had naughtily done was antiquate the spelling, for this is “A Vow”, the 17th sonnet in Paterson’s collection, off which an early 17th-century steam rises so powerfully that I couldn’t resist the joke. And I think this is precisely the effect he was after: there’s only one clue to the fact that the poem is modern: the later use of the word “lift” to mean what Americans call an elevator. (And an indirect one: a glancing reference to the speed of receding galaxies.)

But the main point of “A Vow” is that it is a beautiful poem and, once untangled (as in any good metaphysical poem, the language is concentrated, like an artful knot), it spoke to me directly, as if someone had beamed it into my head. It works in two ways: as a literary exercise and as genuinely meaningful verse.

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Robert Burns song performed as it originally sounded – video


According to the University of Glasgow, the Scottish poet’s songs were ‘tailored for the parlours of the middle classes’, and would have been performed in that setting on Baroque harpsichords, cellos and violas, rather than in a pub, accompanied by a violin or guitar. Here, musicians perform Burns’s 1795 song ‘Does haughty Gaul invasion threat?’

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Claudia Rankine wins $625,000 MacArthur 'genius grant'


Poet, whose work has tackled the everyday racism faced by black Americans, plans to use the money to found a ‘Racial Imaginary Institute’

Claudia Rankine, whose award-winning poetry collection Citizen explores the stories of black Americans encountering everyday racism, has been awarded a MacArthur “genius grant” worth $625,000 (£475,000).

Praised as “a critical voice in current conversations about racial violence”, Rankine is one of 23 people chosen by the MacArthur Foundation as a 2016 fellow. The fellowships come with a stipend of $625,000, paid out over the next five years, and are intended to allow the recipients to “exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society”.

Related: Poet Claudia Rankine: ‘The invisibility of black women is astounding’

Related: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins: 'theatre is about controversial ideas'

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Why Vahni Capildeo deserved to win the Forward prize

Clive James: ‘The Australian sun reaches around the world to roast me on my balcony’


Why did I ever leave? It must have had something with a desire to see the real world – even if it couldn’t be as good as this

The recent hot weather here in Cambridge has sent me back in my memory to Avalon, one of Sydney’s northern beaches. When I was first a student, Avalon was the weekend gathering place for the Bellevue Hill Mob, a bunch of law students I knew at Sydney University. The Mob had more money than I did, but the Australian social system, such as it was, depended on the same sun shining copiously on everybody. I hear it still does, with enough light left over to reach right around the world and roast me here on my balcony, making work impossible, except for my writing increasingly nostalgic poems about Avalon. I have plans to put a couple of them in my new slim volume of poetry, due out early next year.

I must be crazy to be planning a new book, or any new anything. In my condition, the best strategy is to lie down and expire. But while breath lasts, it seems a pity to waste any of life’s remaining blessings, and one of those is, for a little while at least, clear sight.

Related: Clive James: ‘People have come to talk about my book. Sadly, not all of them have read it’

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The Saturday poem: Chloe on the Jubilee


by Vahni Capildeo. From Measures of Expatriation, winner of the Forward prize for best collection

for Shivanee Ramlochan

The staring heterosexuals disembark,
having stared, openly, having picked the direction
for their stares: a few cubic inches,
mostly compacted of women; staring
​like a newish smoking, asphyxiation by kilometres;
the disembarking heterosexuals pit
picador arms against the heads of females,
high-end climate-change cologne;
they have vetivered and tidalled out.
Two women, seated, remain
like money, like any underground objects,
like a philosophy of inexistence, like earliness, unperceived.
Soya latte meets box handbag
meets lack of glossy magazine
meets lightweight summer brastrap,
countenance facing another, scarlet and opposite.

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