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The working class has its own cultural identity – and we must see it on the page


Stories are a key support for each person’s identity, so it’s vital we defend those going unheard and unread – or leave a void to be filled by the far right

A few years ago, fresh and excitable, just out of university, I was offered a job as writer-in-residence for the Watershed Landscape Project, to work with local communities to examine the landscape of the south Pennines and their connection to it. This morning, feeling as though the world is on the brink of something terrible – fingers of a small hand slowly loosening their grip on a cliff-edge and slipping – I take down the book of their writing from the shelf above my desk, needing to be reminded again of what they said.

Related: How The Buddha of Suburbia let me in to a wider world | Nikesh Shukla

Related: Theresa May treads the Brexit path of empathy and righteousness

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The Saturday poem: One Night Comes Like a Blessing


by Grace Nichols

Like a cruel lover or spiteful mistress
No-Sleep demands my restless attentiveness.

No-Sleep prefers me stripped –
a dark projectionist

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‘Sex and poetry have always gone together’ – meet Grindr’s new poet in residence


The gay dating app has appointed LGBT writer Max Wallis to be its first resident bard. I’m continuing what Byron started, he says

Poetry and sex have a long and venerable history, one often being used in the service of setting up the other. Catullus kicked things off, and Lord Byron, Sharon Olds and Carol Ann Duffy, among others, have run with the ball since. The work of those poets is perhaps best thought of as the context for what I am doing now. Starting next week, I will be the gay social networking app Grindr’s first poet in residence, making a video poem each month to be flashed in the app and also on its new platform, Into. They will be directed by Ashley Joiner, whose documentary Pride? premieres at the BFI’s LGBT film festival in March.

The poems play on the essential themes of the app – relationships, our increasingly unsympathetic world and quite a lot of sex (topics that have been the subject of my last two books – Modern Love and Everything Everything). Each video threads into the next, telling a larger story about what is to be gay now (although I thought it best not to limit myself to what it means to be gay and on Grindr now – as that would mean a lot of requests to “send more pics” and any number of unsolicited anatomical images).

Related: Poetry, love and psychosis: can writing help us come to terms with mental illness?

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Poem of the week: Bury Me in a Free Land by Frances EW Harper


A free African American woman, Harper wrote this intensely felt vision of intolerable injustice for campaigning journal the Anti-Slavery Bugle in 1858

Bury Me in a Free Land

Make me a grave where’er you will,
In a lowly plain, or a lofty hill;
Make it among earth’s humblest graves,
But not in a land where men are slaves.

I could not rest if around my grave
I heard the steps of a trembling slave;
His shadow above my silent tomb
Would make it a place of fearful gloom.

I could not rest if I heard the tread
Of a coffle gang to the shambles led,
And the mother’s shriek of wild despair
Rise like a curse on the trembling air.

I could not sleep if I saw the lash
Drinking her blood at each fearful gash,
And I saw her babes torn from her breast,
Like trembling doves from their parent nest.

I’d shudder and start if I heard the bay
Of bloodhounds seizing their human prey,
And I heard the captive plead in vain
As they bound afresh his galling chain.

If I saw young girls from their mother’s arms
Bartered and sold for their youthful charms,
My eye would flash with a mournful flame,
My death-paled cheek grow red with shame.

I would sleep, dear friends, where bloated might
Can rob no man of his dearest right;
My rest shall be calm in any grave
Where none can call his brother a slave.

I ask no monument, proud and high,
To arrest the gaze of the passers-by;
All that my yearning spirit craves,
Is bury me not in a land of slaves.

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Translation Tuesday: Two poems by Kim Ki-taek


An interaction with a strangely familiar cat and an ode to chewing gum, by the acclaimed South Korean poet

By Kim Ki-taek, Eun-Mi Yang and Ed Bok Lee for Translation Tuesdays by Asymptote, part of the Guardian Books Network

The award-winning poet Kim Ki-taek has been described as “an observer of minute and microscopic details” with a rational but compelling style of description that pulls you in to his universe, where no encounter is ever mundane. The art critic John Berger, who gave us Ways of Seeing, would have found much to commend about the two poems presented below.

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief, Asymptote

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Unemployed Indigenous poet Ali Cobby Eckermann wins $215,000 literary prize


Australian writer who lives in a caravan in Adelaide says surprise Windham-Campbell award will ‘change my life completely’

Now unemployed and living in a caravan in Adelaide, the Indigenous Australian poet Ali Cobby Eckermann says she “pretty much just cried a lot” when she received an email on Thursday notifying her that she had won a literary prize of US$165,000 (A$215,000).

“It’s going to change my life completely,” she told Guardian Australia after being awarded a Windham-Campbell prize. “I’m pretty emotional.”

Related: Helen Garner learns of $207,000 literary prize win after checking junk email

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Simplicity and symbolism in flowers and poems


Wenlock Edge Daisy –daes eage, day’s-eye – a wonderfully simple poetry that has become a complicated symbolic chain-link of love, innocence and death

Hazel catkins are limp, in a still brightness they hang fire, waiting. After the thrashing they got from Storm Doris it’s a wonder they survived, let alone have any pollen left, but from woods and hedges, unimpeded by leaves, the magic dust cloud drifts for wider fertilisation. The pollen record found in peat bogs shows an expansion of hazel during the Mesolithic, 11,000 – 6,000 years ago and the speculation is that travelling people transported hazel nuts, so that now, catkins dangle from here to the Caucasus and Algeria.

Related: Country diary: Wenlock Edge: The lesser celandine, the voice of spring

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Robert Lowell at 100: why his poetry has never been more relevant


Lowell’s confessional work of the 1960s marked a sea change in American letters – then he fell out of favour. But on the eve of his centenary, his work offers an urgent political message in a time of Trump

‘I was born under the shadow of the Dome of the Boston State House,” wrote the poet Robert Lowell, “and under Pisces, the Fish, on the first of March, 1917.” With his aristocratic background – all the inherited furniture and ancestral portraits surrounding him as a child, as he recalled in the memoir 91 Revere Street – perhaps it’s no surprise, reading Lowell 100 years after his birth, that he was often preoccupied with the passing of time. “Thirty-one / Nothing done,” he writes in 1948. A decade later: “These are the tranquillized Fifties, / and I am forty.” In the elegiac Grandparents, he stands over his late grandfather’s billiards table and contemplates his own “life-lease”.

Lowell is best known for his fourth collection, Life Studies (1959). He abandoned the tight metrical forms of his earlier work for free verse, helping him articulate his experiences and the turbulence of postwar America. Radiant and unsettling, Lowell examines his parents’ unhappy marriage, his responses to their deaths and his bouts of manic depression, in a pioneering style of confessional writing (“the C-word,” as Michael Hofmann put it). His psychological insights are as sharp as the “locked razor” of Waking in the Blue; in the magnificent Skunk Hour, his clarity pierces the night: “My mind’s not right.”

Seamus Heaney called him 'a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant male … writing as if he intended to be heard in a high wind'

Related: My hero Robert Lowell by Jonathan Raban

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Brian Dann obituary


My father, Brian Dann, who has died aged 90, was a poet and publisher of poetry, who, with my mother, organised thousands of poetry readings and other cultural activities in south London.

Born in Camberwell, Brian acquired from his father, Albert, a jeweller, and his mother, Sylvia (nee Lee), a lifelong enthusiasm for learning. His interests ranged from cosmology, maths and physics through to collage, drawing and poetry.

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Ali Cobby Eckermann's poetry: inspiring those of us who feel like outsiders


The Indigenous poet, one of our greatest writers, has won the Windham-Campbell prize with writing that pierces the heart

there are always seeds that thread us
and carried on the wind set us apart
does the wind come from the origin
of the mother or the father
will my origins be blown away
or remain in distance if I leave
will the wind stand breathless
shall I remain to die broken from home

Related: Unemployed Indigenous poet Ali Cobby Eckermann wins $215,000 literary prize

[My birth mother] was the first person that I saw that mirrored my face and I remember the profoundness of finally finding someone that looked like me. Because that’s what family is – we were a reflection of each other ...

My adopted mum, who I have always known, and have all the childhood memories with ... she is as integral in my life, I think, in the way that I view the world. They can only be equal, my two mothers.”

Related: Indigenous kids are still being removed from their families, more than ever before | Larissa Behrendt

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The Saturday poem: The Cinderella of Ferndale

by Simon Armitage

It was all about shoes. In that small town
there was hardly a foot she hadn’t dressed
or clamped and sized in the Brannock Device,
and barely a toe that hadn’t blenched
at the force of her thumb as she prodded and pressed.

Not known for her lightness of touch,
riding home one night at the back of the bus
she’d bungled a big tin of Dulux gloss
and a lurid delta of scarlet sludge
had fanned as far as the driver’s heels
to be walked by passengers onto the street.

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Poem of the week: An Exhortation by PB Shelley


The Romantic poet casts worldly light on his profession in a playful and complex analogy with the chameleon

An Exhortation

Chameleons feed on light and air:
Poets’ food is love and fame:
If in this wide world of care
Poets could but find the same
With as little toil as they,
Would they ever change their hue
As the light chameleons do,
Suiting it to every ray
Twenty times a day?

I can add colours to the chameleon,
Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,
And set the murderous Machiavel to school.
Can I do this, and cannot get a crown?
Tut, were it farther off, I’ll pluck it down.

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Translation Tuesday: Testament by Ana Luísa Amaral, a poem from mother to daughter


To mark International Women’s Day, a poem by the award-winning Portuguese poet Amaral, containing a message for generations of women in a family

By Ana Luísa Amaral and Margaret Jull Costa for Translation Tuesdays byAsymptote, part of the Guardian Books Network

To commemorate International Women’s Day on 8 March, I’m thrilled to present the following poem by award-winning Portuguese poet, Ana Luísa Amaral, translated by the brilliant Margaret Jull Costa. Addressed to the narrator’s daughter (and, it seems, the daughter of that daughter), these words celebrate the hidden potentiality inside every woman—and the spontaneity of life itself, even in its contemplation of sudden death.

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief, Asymptote

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The Bughouse by Daniel Swift review – Ezra Pound, antisemitic and in the asylum


Pound’s arraignment for treason and spell in a psychiatric hospital is a great subject, so why write such an annoying book?

“The only poetry,” Socrates argues in Plato’s The Republic, “that should be allowed in a state is hymns to the gods and paeans in praise of good men.” Ezra Pound’s The Cantos contains numerous hymns to the classical gods, and much praise of good men. The problem facing the United States (of which Pound always remained a citizen despite his many years in Europe) was that prominent among the good men praised in his sprawling modernist epic was the leader of a country on which the US had declared war: Mussolini.

Still, contrary to Plato, poets rarely present much of a threat to the governments of western democracies, and Pound would probably have evaded the attentions of the US authorities had he not delivered on Rome Radio at the height of the second world war a series of broadcasts that were openly treasonous. In these he savagely denounced Roosevelt and Churchill and commended Hitler for “having seen the Jew puke in the German democracy”.

It would have been awkward for the US to hang one of its best-known poets – the risk of a guilty verdict was high

This is is one of those ‘in search of’ biographical studies that dramatises every step of research

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Stranger, Baby by Emily Berry review – deeply moving study of loss

A rising poet draws on Freud in a piercing, highly intelligent interrogation of her response to her mother’s death

Emily Berry’s second collection opens with an epigraph from Sigmund Freud. “The loss of a mother,” he muses, in a letter in 1929, “must be something very strange …”. It’s a peculiar – and peculiarly unsympathetic – quotation, conveying as it does the sense of the great psychoanalyst examining the condition of motherlessness with lofty detachment, and viewing the afflicted not as objects of empathy or even pity, but of clinical curiosity. But in her book-length interrogation of her response to the loss of her own mother, to whom the collection is dedicated, it is this strangeness to which Berry cleaves, articulating and then wrestling with it in an attempt to make sense of a situation that is fundamentally senseless; to exert control over an event that could not be controlled. “If it was up to me, I would not have her back,” she says, defiantly, in “Sleeping”, one of the many poems in the book that investigates her dreams, before blankly acknowledging, in the next line’s brief, bitter staccato: “It is not up to me, and she is not coming back.”

Relationships are familiar territory for Berry; her debut collection, Dear Boy, ran the gamut of them to great effect. But while Stranger, Baby returns to the first collection’s personal-interpersonal territory, it is focused solely on the poet’s relationship with her mother - and the poems themselves appear to have been subject to a similar pruning. Where those in her first collection were sprawling, arch and metaphorically lush, these are honed down and pared back; slight, sharp slivers of verse that pierce like lances, quick and deep. The book is punctuated by a series of concrete poems laid out in narrow lines down the length of the page, only a few words wide – and it is these tightly harnessed compositions that deliver some of the richest and most impactful moments. “I filled a bowl / with a little / water,” she says in “Aqua”, one of the collection’s finest poems, in which the line breaks and lack of punctuation permit meanings to multiply, while at the same time the internal rhymes and half-rhymes braid the whole together, “praised / it slightly a feeling/ of daughterliness / came over me / I adored her / of course water / cannot hold / an imprint she / kept repeating / it’s no use you / can’t help me …”

Where her first collection was sprawling, arch and lush, these poems are honed and pared back; sharp slivers of verse

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The Accusation by Bandi review – forbidden stories from inside North Korea


Written in secret between 1989 and 1995 and smuggled out of the country in 2013, these short works offer powerful insights into a world behind walls

This collection has an extraordinary origin story. Bandi, meaning “firefly”, is the pseudonym for a North Korean who has worked, and might still work, as part of the nation’s official writers’ association. In public, Bandi contributed to government-authorised periodicals; in secret, from 1989 to 1995, he wrote stories and poems criticising the state – itself a heroic act in a land where the slightest political dissidence is enough to get you killed. When a close relative told him she planned to leave North Korea, he asked her to take along what had become a 750-page manuscript. She promised, instead, to send for it once she’d escaped. En route, she was picked up by Chinese soldiers; she bribed her way out, made it to South Korea, and enlisted the help of a human rights worker, Do Hee-yun, in retrieving Bandi’s writing. Eventually, in 2013, Do recruited a Chinese friend to smuggle out Bandi’s manuscript while visiting North Korean relatives.

The seven stories in The Accusation were selected from this clandestine manuscript, billed as the first of its kind: defectors have published books in the larger world, but not North Korean residents. Initially published in South Korea, the collection has now been translated into English by Deborah Smith, who with Han Kang won the 2016 Man Booker international prize for the translation of The Vegetarian. In Bandi’s stories, each of which is based on a factual situation, the characters are from a wide range of locales and social classes, from collective farm labourers to the Pyongyang elite. Some of them are relatively powerful, others unable to even obtain a travel permit to visit a dying parent; the accidents of birth determine much of their luck. In North Korea, people are organised into classes according to familial histories of loyalty to the Communist party. To be able to claim a father who died fighting in the Korean war, for instance, is a godsend; to have a relative who has defected to the South is the opposite.

The Accusation reads like powerful emotion felt right now, in a condition of ongoing crisis

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The Saturday poem: At Peckham Rye


by Clare Pollard

Lately, I see through a narrow chink in a stairgate.
I see doors and think: can I get my pram through that?
In the park, I dole out small snacks –
ricecake, popped grapes, elven cheeses.

If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would be infinite
but I have closed us up in stacky cups,
a nursery and naptimes;
in a rhyme for snug.

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Jacob Polley: ‘I’m a fool as a writer – you have to take risks’


This year’s TS Eliot prize winner on the freedom of his Cumbrian childhood and making a living from poetry

Jackself and Jeremy Wren are setting / nightlines in the kidney-coloured pool … ” From the first line of what would become Jackself, his 2016 TS Eliot prize-winning collection (though not, in the end, the first line of the book) Jacob Polley knew he had something different on his hands. “Oh goodness,” he thought. “What on earth are you doing? This” – each poem telling a small part of a larger story – “isn’t the way to be writing a book of poems, like those ones you wrote before.”

It is a surprise to discover this tentativeness, because Jackself is so confident, both in its handling of narrative (of two boys’ rural childhood), and of emotion. Polley’s voice is by turns mischievous, demotic, delicate, direct – and funny. So, for instance, Jeremy Wren makes a 9ft snowman based on his father “so I can give him a smile / stonier than a lip smile / poke myself / in the eyes on his hand sticks / run clean through him / and leave a me-hole”.

Related: Jackself by Jacob Polley review – sinister and mysterious

Related: Jacob Polley: ‘If I’m writing a poem, I should be kept busy doing anything other than writing’

I think you have this lightbulb of experience, this core buried inside you and you write out of the light that casts

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Poem of the week: Animal Rescue by Antony Dunn


It is not the moths, newts, sheep or spiders that are most in need of rescue in this elegant and wry poem

Animal Rescue

To say nothing of all the moths and wasps
I’ve been opening windows for;

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Still Life With Feeding Snake by John Burnside review – master of the parallel universe

Levity and gravity make perfect bedfellows in the Scottish poet’s 15th collection

The words “still life” and John Burnside do not belong together. I imagine the unattributed painting he beautifully describes in his poem Still Life to be a 17th-century Dutch genre painting (its neighbour, in this collection, is Hendrick Avercamp: A Standing Man Watching a Skating Boy). But perhaps the painting does not exist, except in Burnside’s imagination. We can visualise the canvas precisely with its Chinese glazes lang yao hong (oxblood) and qingbai (white with greenish tint) and its “blemished” grapes until it is eclipsed by a living scene. The painting is a memento mori but the poem does not – cannot – stay still. Someone – Burnside’s mother? – wraps apples in newspaper while he becomes visible, then vanishes, in the same and final line.

He watches a girl, in a blue dress, in a cafe in Innsbruck. He is spellbound as she unloosens her hair

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