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Somali-British poet Momtaza Mehri named young people's laureate for London


The 24-year-old poet, with a background in biochemistry, wants young people in the capital ‘to see poetry as part of their every day’

The 24-year-old Somali-British poet Momtaza Mehri, who has been chosen as the new young people’s laureate for London, is hoping to spend her year in the role convincing young people “to see poetry as part of their every day, rather than in some dusty tome, or academic niche interest”.

Mehri, who has a background in biochemical science and wrote the poetry chapbook sugah. lump. prayer, has been shortlisted for this year’s Brunel African poetry prize and won last year’s Out-Spoken Page poetry prize. As laureate, Mehri hopes to encourage young people to voice their concerns and experiences through poetry.

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Wade in the Water review – lost voices of the American underground

A long overdue collection from US poet laureate Tracy K Smith weaves a spiritual hymn to the nation’s forgotten people

Tracy K Smith is the poet laureate of the United States and a winner of the Pulitzer prize. Wade in the Water is, inexplicably, the first of her three collections to be published in the UK. The title is from a spiritual sung on the underground railroad that carried slaves to safety in the 19th century. Its centrepiece is a gathering of what are known as “erasure poems” – a strange term as what Smith is doing is the opposite of erasure. She is making visible the words of slaves and their owners, of African Americans enlisted in the civil war –these are found poems about people who were lost. Smith has pieced their correspondence together with the love of someone making a hand-stitched quilt.

The letter from Nashville in 1865 (below) is typical: brittle, misspelt and piercingly sad. It is a poem of salvage where salvage is no longer practical. I found myself wondering whether these were poems at all – and whether it matters. Their power to move is obvious, the injustices suffered undiminished by time. Elsewhere, Smith writes about history’s tendency to flee: “History spits, Go, go go, lurching at the horizon” (New Road Station). She is determined to hold history back, yet the outrage these poems occasion is familiar. They border on uncontroversial: no one reading this poetry could fail to be on the poet’s side.

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How to read poetry like a professor


Thomas Foster, an ex-literature professor and author, explains how to get the most out of poems while avoiding intimidation

Since retiring from his professorship at the University of Michigan-Flint, where he taught literature and writing for nearly 30 years, Thomas Foster has made a fruitful career writing instructive books about how we ought to read. With How to Read Literature Like a Professor, which he revised in 2014, Foster scored his first New York Times bestseller. It was followed by How to Read Novels Like a Professor, Twenty-five Books that Shaped America, and Reading the Silver Screen.

Now Foster, who studied English at Dartmouth College, turns his eye toward poetry, a form he says he “didn’t know how to handle” in grade school. His new book, How to Read Poetry Like a Professor, provides something of a blueprint for tackling verse while also disproving the notion that poetry is intimidating, esoteric, or, as Foster told the Guardian, “obscure on purpose”. In an interview with the professor, whose early teenage encounter with the works of Lawrence Ferlinghetti left a lasting impression, he shares his tips for understanding and enjoying poetry:

Related: Fresh voices: 50 writers you should read now

What great poets have in mind, the thing that makes them hang around, is that they speak to our imagination

Related: 'The spark will ignite': how poetry helps engage people with dementia

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Poem of the week: No Hands by Carol Muske-Dukes


Capturing the headlong descent of a cyclist – and his daughter – this anxious and moving poem almost gasps with fear

No Hands

He rode “no hands,” speeding
headlong down the hill near
our house, his arms extended,
held rigid away from his body,
our small daughter behind him
on the bike in her yellow sunsuit,
bareheaded. She held on to him
for her life. I watched them from
above – helpless: a failed brake.
Far below us, a stop-sign rose
like a child’s toy shield. He could
not stop, he would not. That hunger
for display overrode danger, illusions
of safety. Even death had less to do
with it than the will’s eventual triumph
over stasis: how he’d finally fly free
and how she might accompany him,
as an audience travels with a performer,
an object of regard. Downward, fast –
so what cannot stop holds on, holds on
to a mind flying away from itself, seeking
release from the soul speeding away, yet
staying close as breath, even at this distance.

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Linton Kwesi Johnson: ‘It was a myth that immigrants didn’t want to fit into British society. We weren’t allowed’


As the Jamaican-born dub poet reflects on decades of race relations in the UK, from the Brixton riots to Windrush, he says young black men carry knives out of fear, and questions how much progress we have made since his time as a teenage Black Panther

When Linton Kwesi Johnson was a boy, he wanted to grow up to be an accountant. “If I was an accountant,” he chuckles softly, sitting surrounded by piles of books and CDs in his modest south-London terrace house: “I would probably be a multimillionaire by now.” The world, on the other hand, would be considerably poorer.

It is 40 years since the Jamaican-born poet made his debut as a recording artist. The release of Dread Beat an’ Blood – an album of radical political poetry spoken in Jamaican patois, set to a reggae beat – created a new literary genre known as dub poetry, and introduced Johnson, now 65, as the voice of the Windrush generation. Neither he nor his work was universally welcomed. The Spectator memorably accused him of helping “to create a generation of rioters and illiterates” (the magazine was appalled by his phonetic spelling – as in “massakaha” for massacre, say) and he remembers how the police arrested and beat him up. Yet he became only the second living poet to have his work published by Penguin Modern Classics, and was the 2012 winner of the Golden PEN award for his “distinguished service to literature”. Next month, his contribution to the country’s cultural life will be honoured at the Southbank Centre in London– an occasion whose significance has been intensified by events of recent weeks.

Related: Interview: Linton Kwesi Johnson

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Lemn Sissay: ‘A childhood in care almost broke me – I needed to shine a light on it’

The writer has finally won redress from Wigan council for his mistreatment as a child. Now he hopes his story will inspire others

Lemn Sissay has spent the past two years seeking redress from Wigan council for his childhood in care. “I’ve heard some people have committed suicide going through the legal process and I can understand how it could happen. I didn’t know it would be so violently intrusive into who I am. You’re sailing so close to the storm. You’re playing with a breakdown.”

Earlier this month, two years after the award-winning poet, playwright and broadcaster made his compensation claim, and in a last-minute attempt to avoid an expensive court case, the council and its insurer finally agreed to award Sissay a six-figure sum, along with a formal apology. “You ask for redress because of your own sense of self worth. It wasn’t good enough for me as an artist to go banging on about my story without getting the institution that was my parent to recognise it on its own terms.”

In the past, reading my files from social services made me feel like a rat in a lab. Now I feel like a lion.

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Akala review – humility and harmony from history-making hip-hop poet


Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
As he unpicks the marginalisation of black people, the rapper and cultural commentator seems to draw ever more strength from his own messages

Rapper, musician and cultural commentator Akala is becoming one of the UK’s foremost critical thinkers, having recently spoken on everything from Grenfell and Corbyn to the entire span of human history in his televised epic poem The Ruins of Empires. This all-encompassing scrutiny is clear from the get-go of his sold-out show, with an introductory video in which he criticises western television for its propagation of negative images of black people over the course of history. Backed by his DJ and a live drummer, Akala carries the air of a civil rights orator. His energetic presentation and lyrically dense raps float with poise, are ingested by his cult following and reflected back in the form of constant mobbing.

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Poem of the week: The Quilt by Abigail Parry


A life’s trials, tribulations, lovers and lessons are stitched together in this week’s poem

The quilt’s a ragtag syzygy
of everything I’ve been or done,
a knotted spell in every seam,
the stuff that pricks and pulls. The quilt

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Love, Labour and 80s indie: the personal gets political for Luke Wright


Delivered entirely in verse, Wright’s coming-of-age tale Frankie Vah is set in Thatcher’s Britain but the debate is as relevant as ever

What happens if you love your parents but loathe their politics? In Frankie Vah, the second verse play written and performed by Luke Wright, Frankie struggles to reconcile his father’s “Christian empathy” as a vicar with the fact that he puts a cross next to Margaret Thatcher’s name at the ballot box. Frankie abandons the vicarage for a life on the road as a radical left punk poet. The dog collar is traded in for a pair of DMs.

Before the show begins, a spool of TV footage from the 1980s unfurls on the wall: flitting images of Spitting Image, Neil Kinnock falling into the sea and a post-Falklands Thatcher triumphant atop a tank.

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Benjamin Zephaniah admits to hitting a former girlfriend


Speaking on BBC radio the author, who has written in the past about his father beating his mother, said the violence had ‘burned his conscience’

Acclaimed author and poet Benjamin Zephaniah has admitted that he hit a former girlfriend.

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, Zephaniah, who is one of Britain’s best-known poets, confessed that in the past he had been violent to a partner. “The way I treated some of my girlfriends was terrible. At one point I was violent. I was never like one of these persons who have a girlfriend, who’d constantly beat them, but I could lose my temper sometimes,” he told presenter Nihal Arthanayake. “There was one girlfriend that I had, and I actually hit her a couple of times, and as I got older I really regretted it. It burned my conscience so badly. It really ate at me, you know. And I’m a meditator. It got in the way of my meditation.”

Related: ‘I went off the rails’: how Benjamin Zephaniah went from borstal to poet

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Kei Miller essay about white women sparks tensions among Caribbean writers


Miller’s essay has been withdrawn after divisive reception, but supporters say it is part of a necessary conversation about race and privilege

An incendiary essay by the award-winning Jamaican poet Kei Miller that probed at white women writers’ authority to speak for the Caribbean has been pulled from a new magazine after laying bare a long-festering anger in the islands’ literary community.

Miller’s essay, The White Women and the Language of Bees, was published last week in Pree, a new magazine highlighting writers from the Caribbean. Asking “how many years and decades must pass before we can belong to a place and to its words? How much time before we can write it?”, the essay saw the Forward prize-winning author discuss his interactions with four white women writers from the region, evaluating their books, and the way they have interacted with the local literary community.

We’re all trying to write, to draw inspiration from this place ... That doesn’t mean we can’t ask hard questions

All of this is about if people get to write because they’re white... What is considered a valid Commonwealth story?

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Venus as a Bear by Vahni Capildeo review – direct, intimate and funny


From Björk to beasts … impressive cross-cultural investigations into the natural world

A good place to find bears in Roman Britain would have been north of the Antonine Wall, the subject of a poem in Vahni Capildeo’s Venus as a Bear. “I want you like I want a wall / I want you in bits”, we read in “Romano-Celtic Contact in the Antonine Display, Hunterian Museum, Glasgow”, though the “bits” here refer to archaeological remains rather than the aftermath of a human-ursine encounter. As the author of the outstanding Measures of Expatriation, winner of the 2016 Forward prize, Capildeo has already given evidence of her border-crossing imagination, and in Venus as a Bear she expands her cross-cultural investigations into the natural world.

Björk fans will catch the allusion in the title to “Venus as a Boy’” and in “Björk/Birch Tree” Capildeo celebrates creaturely transformations: “Lady into swan, come down; swan into sea, / set down; fire from the sea, set out; reach; launch.” As a genre, the bestiary has appealed to poets from Guillaume Apollinaire to DH Lawrence to Donika Kelly, with the interest lying as much in its classificatory challenge as in the animals themselves. “What is the term / for the gathering of one falcon?”, asks “Day, with Hawk”, while “The Last Night, a Nightingale” worries that our interest in them may not be such good news for the animals (“Whoever drew you also caged you”).

Capildeo is engaged in remaking poetic style rather than accommodating herself to it

Related: Measures of Expatriation by Vahni Capildeo review – ‘language is my home’

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Wendy Cope on Erith: 'A place few people have heard of and even fewer can pronounce'


The poet traces her love of Gilbert and Sullivan to amateur operatic productions at the theatre in the town

I was born in Erith, Kent, a place few people have heard of and even fewer can pronounce – the first syllable rhymes with beer, not with berry. The late comedian Linda Smith was born in the same town. She once said: “Erith has a suicide pact with Dagenham.” Dagenham is directly opposite Erith, on the north side of the Thames.

Related: Wendy Cope: ‘My secret love is Strictly Come Dancing’

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Benjamin Zephaniah: ‘I don’t want to grow old alone’


The author and poet, 60, on why the best kung fu move is to run, how he’s going to try online dating and why it’s best not to touch his chocolate

There was a time when I thought I wouldn’t live to see 30, but now I’ve doubled that. It feels strange to turn 60. I don’t feel old at all. I play football with 25-year-olds and I can outrun all of them.

I went down a bad road a couple of times, but when you make mistakes it’s not about regretting them, it’s about saying, ‘How can I learn from that?’ The worst mistakes are the ones you just keep making, it doesn’t matter how big or how small.

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Poem of the week: Old Poem by Anonymous, translated by Arthur Waley


The bare scene that greets an old soldier returning from long service is understated but deeply affecting

At fifteen I went with the army,
At fourscore I came home.
On the way I met a man from the village,
I asked him who there was at home.
“That over there is your house,
All covered over with trees and bushes.”
Rabbits had run in at the dog-hole,
Pheasants flew down from the beams of the roof.
In the courtyard was growing some wild grain;
And by the well, some wild mallows.
I’ll boil the grain and make porridge,
I’ll pluck the mallows and make soup.
Soup and porridge are both cooked,
But there is no-one to eat them with.
I went out and looked towards the east,
While tears fell and wetted my clothes.

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Country diary: forget-me-nots have a heart of gold


Wenlock Edge, Shropshire: These delicate flowers are the colour of the far blue yonder, blue remembered hills, into the blue, the beyond, a spiritual eternity

“Is love so prone to change and rot/ We are fain to rear forget-me-not/ By measure in a garden plot?” asked Christina Rossetti (A Bed of Forget-Me-Nots, 1856). The flowers of forget-me-not, Myosotis, may have been reared by measure in a garden plot here, before it was abandoned a hundred years ago and a wood of change, rot and indeed love took over.

Water, creeping, pale, tufted, Jersey, wood, alpine, field, changing and early … forget-me-nots are species of Myosotis belonging to the borage family, famous for their blue flowers; the delicate pale blue of forget-me-not is unique. Some flowers on this plant growing along the path are a brilliant white, too.

Related: Plant of the week: forget-me-not

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Quiz: can you guess the city from the literary quote?


Which city did Margaret Atwood describe as ‘New York without the garbage and muggings’? Which writer called one London area ‘ungentrified, ungentrifiable’? Pit your wits against our quiz

“With so many trees in the city, you could see the spring coming each day until a night of warm wind would bring it suddenly in one morning." Which city was Ernest Hemingway describing?





"I love your criminal alleyways / Your dagger-like moon upon the hills,” wrote the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Which city was he describing?





On clear days, in which city can you see "beyond some low houses and walls of tufa and patches of thick vegetation, a blue mountain with one low peak and one a little higher", according to a famous pseudonymous novelist?





In a memoir, the winner of the 2006 Nobel prize in literature described his home town as follows: "For the more sensitive and attuned residents, these ruins are reminders that the present city is so poor and confused that it can never again dream of rising to the same heights of wealth, power and culture." Name the city.





Which city is the subject of this quote from a famous US playwright? "In this part of [town] you are practically always just around the corner, or a few doors down the street, from a tinny piano being played …"

San Francisco

New Orleans

New York City


"Ungentrified, ungentrifiable. Boom and bust never came here. Here bust is permanent …" Which celebrated contemporary author described an area of London in those words?

Andrea Levy

Hanif Kureishi

Zadie Smith

Martin Amis

“Lost and beaten and full of emptiness”, “a neon-lighted slum” and a place “with no more personality than a paper cup”. But which town is this famous private eye – who admits he'll “take the big, sordid, dirty, crooked city” every time – talking about?

Los Angeles


New York


Which North American city does Margaret Atwood describe as "New York without the garbage and muggings"?





Which city was described by Charles Dickens as a place where "the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh" and by George Orwell "as a gathering-place for eccentric people, people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and given up trying to be normal or decent"?





"The giant digital screens fastened to the sides of buildings fall silent as midnight approaches, but loudspeakers on storefronts keep pumping out exaggerated hip-hop bass lines. A large game centre crammed with young people; wild electronic sounds; a group of college students spilling out from a bar ... dark-suited men racing across diagonal crosswalks for the last trains to the suburbs ..." Which city is full of late-night energy?

Las Vegas

New York City



Which war-torn city did Khaled Hosseini describe as follows in his 2013 bestseller? "... the shell-blasted schools, the squatters living in roofless buildings, the beggars, the mud, the fickle electricity, but it's like describing music. He cannot bring it to life. [The city's] vivid, arresting details – the bodybuilding gym amid the rubble, for instance, a painting of Schwarzenegger on the window."





Which city – built to "cut a window into Europe", according to Aleksandr Pushkin – did a seminal novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky describe as "a city of half-crazy people ... there are few places where you'll find so many gloomy, harsh and strange influences on the soul of a man"?


St Petersburg



Where are the characters of an Irvine Welsh novel when they "go fir a pish in the auld Central Station at the Fit ay the Walk, now a barren, desolate hangar, which is soon tae be demolished and replaced by a supermarket and swimming centre"?





Which city is this poem about? "We make brilliant music. We make brilliant bands / We make goals that make souls leap from seats in the stands / And we make things from steel and we make things from cotton / And we make people laugh, take the mick summat rotten."





13 and above.


14 and above.


12 and above.

Well done

11 and above.

Well done

10 and above.

Well done

9 and above.

Well done

8 and above.


7 and above.


6 and above.

Not great

5 and above.


4 and above.


3 and above.


2 and above.


1 and above.

Oh dear

0 and above.

Oh dear

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Kayo Chingonyi wins Dylan Thomas prize with poems of 'vexed celebration'


Kumukanda, the Zambian-British author’s collection exploring black masculinity, wins £30,000 award for authors aged 39 or under

The Zambian-British writer Kayo Chingonyi’s exploration of black masculinity in his debut poetry collection Kumukanda has won him the £30,000 Dylan Thomas award.

The Swansea University International Dylan Thomas prize is awarded each year for the best literary work by an author aged 39 or under – the age the beloved Welsh poet was when he died. Chingonyi, who is 31, is the first British poet to win the genre-straddling award, which has gone in the past to Max Porter’s novel Grief Is the Thing With Feathers and Fiona McFarlane’s short-story collection The High Places.

Related: Man Booker prize 2017 and poet Kayo Chingonyi – books podcast

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The Poetess review – Saudi poet's reality TV breakthrough … and backlash


This entertaining documentary about Hissa Hilal, the first female finalist on the wildly popular Million’s Poet, reflects on her dazzling smackdown and the death threats that followed

Talk about a tough audience. The first time female Saudi poet Hissa Hilal walked into a TV studio to perform live, she saw a sea of men glaring back at her stony-faced, arms crossed in sulky disapproval. Or that’s what she would have seen, had the burka she was wearing not made it impossible to see. Hilal nearly toppled off the stage after delivering a dazzling smackdown of men who “collect” and discard wives. For subsequent appearances she switched to a niqab.

In 2010, Hilal made headlines as the first female finalist on Million’s Poet, a wildly popular reality TV contest now watched by 75 million people in the Middle East that is a hybrid of Britain’s Got Talent and an open mic night. Her politically charged lyrics and fearless performances were impossible to ignore. Hilal received death threats with a poem attacking fatwas issued by ultra-conservative clerics. “Would anyone give me her address?” one user posted on an extremist website.

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Poet Hera Lindsay Bird: 'I forget about the sex in my book until I read it aloud'


New Zealand’s outspoken ‘Instapoet’ star discusses sentimentality, sitcoms – and why humour is essential to her work

Acclaimed by the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, as “the most arresting and original new young poet”, 30-year-old Hera Lindsay Bird is one of the stars of the new generation of “Instapoets” – so called because of their use of social media – with hits including Keats Is Dead So Fuck Me from Behind and Monica, which riffs on the character from the sitcom Friends. She works in a bookshop in New Zealand. Hera Lindsay Bird is her first collection. She tours the UK this month.

Why did you call your debut collection Hera Lindsay Bird?
That’s my name! I was thinking about the great female pop stars of the 90s, when it was compulsory to name your first solo album after yourself, and if you were Janet Jackson, the second one too. But a lot of the first collections of poetry I owned were collected works and therefore all my Frank O’Hara and Emily Dickinson books were called “Frank O’Hara” or “Emily Dickinson”. I also thought that naming it after myself gave people permission to read it as a collection of personal poetry. I know it’s not fashionable to care about whether things in literature are true, but I can’t help it. I just want someone to tell me how to live.

Related: Hera Lindsay Bird: I prefer poetry that allows room for ugliness and error

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