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Surge by Jay Bernard review – tragedy and solidarity


An archive of black radical British history is explored against the backdrop of the Grenfell and Windrush scandals

For those readers of Jay Bernard’s debut Surge who are not familiar with the historical event to which it responds, there is a carefully detailed author’s foreword. On 18 January 1981, 13 black teenagers were killed in a house fire that engulfed a birthday party at 439 New Cross Road in south-east London. A subsequent apparent suicide, driven by grief, would bring the final death toll to 14. The cause of the New Cross Fire – it may have been a hate crime – has never been determined and the governmental silence that followed (prompting the refrain at the time “13 dead, nothing said”), in addition to hostile, haphazard official investigations, speaks to a long history of racism in Britain. Later that year, uprisings against police discrimination in Brixton, Toxteth and elsewhere would lead to a new era in black British history and identity.

Although the fire, the subsequent protests and the founding of the Black People’s Day of Action were documented by poets Linton Kwesi Johnson and Benjamin Zephaniah among others, Bernard’s work uniquely addresses a new generation encountering this past almost afresh, as it is echoed painfully in the present. A key element of the project is Bernard’s exploration of black radical British history in the George Padmore Institute’s archives, against the backdrop of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the xenophobia of the Windrush scandal and Brexit. This interrogation of the tensions between “public narration and private truths” is found throughout Surge. Bernard, who uses the gender-neutral pronoun “they”, reminds us that the self is an overlaying of multiple identities, comprised not just of what is remembered and forgotten, but of how one is located in the wider questions of belonging, memory and solidarity.

These works give ignored and sometimes maligned voices back the integrity they deserve

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Poem of the week: Bus Station by Sheenagh Pugh


Travellers using their waiting time to access the streaming world of 21st-century information are seen from a surprising new angle

Bus Station

Passengers on the move, not moving,
becalmed in a between place

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Intolerance is rising in Europe, but can writers find hope? – books podcast


On this week’s episode, Claire meets two writers from different generations who have connected though their work.

Johny Pitts, a young photographer, musician and broadcaster, travels through 10 European cities to explore what it means to be a European of African heritage today in his new book Afropean. Dub poet Roger Robinson divides his time between Trinidad and the UK. He has been a mentor to many younger writers, including Inua Ellams, author of Barbershop Chronicles and Half God of Rainfall, and Pitts.

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Lines Off by Hugo Williams review – fascinating reflections on body and mind

Inspired by a spell in hospital, Hugo Williams confronts the body in crisis with irresistible style

Hugo Williams’s “lines off” – a stage direction – were written during a period in which he had dialysis, followed by a kidney transplant. Hospitals are dramas in themselves – operating theatres appropriately named. In Transplant 2014, the surgeon is poised to give “the performance of a lifetime” (and let us not forget, Williams once worked as a theatre critic). But sickness and the surgeon’s knife do not necessarily make great poetry. What matters is Williams’s own writerly performance, his ability to rally while undergoing the trials of Job. It is the gallantry of his writing that moves. The raffish intelligence that makes all his poetry a pleasure to read does not desert him in extremis. There is – thank the NHS – never any sense of his being diminished on the page.

His old style cooperates with his new predicament even if hospital is not his preferred habitat. His gloom as he casts himself a has-been is offset by the doctor’s disbelief (in The Check-Up) that he has survived:

Readers – particularly older ones – will be tickled by his sense of the body as a docile soldier, continuing to oblige

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Punk hellraiser Lydia Lunch: 'I'm chronically misunderstood – but I get off on it'


The runaway, singer and counter-culture icon is hitting 60 – and is as incendiary as ever, touring and raging against polluters and politicians in a rip-roaring book

Lydia Lunch turned 60 this year, but age has done little to dim this counterculture icon’s lust for life. Decades after her start as the nihilist 16-year-old frontwoman of 1970s no-wave band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, the New York-born “apocalyptician” is a revered veteran of the US underground: a writer, spoken-word performer, musician, actor and artist. Lunch’s style is raw and incendiary, all sex and death and taboo-busting feminist rage. And in 2019, the sexagenarian is as unapologetic and active as ever – still writing, touring, collaborating and performing.

Lunch is in Colchester when we speak, luxuriating in a “fabulous cottage-type hotel” conveniently situated near the cultural centre where she’s set to play that night with her band, Big Sexy Noise. On the stage and the page, she’s a formidable presence – seducing, goading and tongue-lashing her audience. In conversation, via Skype, she’s surprisingly jovial: affable, accommodating, disarmingly witty, a potty-mouthed doyenne dealing out double-entendres. Is she misunderstood? “Oh, chronically! But I get off on it. I’m not a miserable person, I just deal in miserable subjects.”

Let's have a party and celebrate the fact we're still alive in spite of this nightmare

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The best recent poetry – review roundup


Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky; The Million-Petalled Flower of Being Here by Vidyan Ravinthiran; Significant Other by Isabel Galleymore; Truth Street by David Cain

“The deaf don’t believe in silence,” proclaims a supplementary note in Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic (Faber, £10.99), shortlisted for this year’s Forward prize for best collection. “Silence is the invention of the hearing.” Falling somewhere between poetry collection and morality play, this unusual book’s episodic vignettes form a narrative that explores how we think about silence – as rebellion, but also as fearful failure to act: “We lived happily during the war / and when they bombed other people’s houses, we / protested / but not enough”. Kaminsky, who lost most of his hearing at the age of four, left the former Soviet Union as a teenager and was granted asylum in the US; his tale of upheaval in an occupied territory speaks to our current political anxieties. But Deaf Republic imaginatively succeeds through its use of deafness as extended metaphor, when voices clamour and truth becomes “fake news”. Like the townsfolk he writes about, who invent a sign language as a riposte to atrocity and unrest, Kaminsky’s fluid yet fragmented verse drama is a novel response to conflict and miscommunication, hoping for peace rather than “silence, like the bullet that’s missed us”.

Also on the shortlist is another collection that approaches divisive politics with humanity and warmth: Vidyan Ravinthiran’s The Million-Petalled Flower of Being Here (Bloodaxe, £9.95). Formally assured but far from formulaic, this book of sonnets for the poet’s wife is testament, at its best, to the ways in which poetry can reach from the particular to the universal. Moving and inviting in their conversational ease, Ravinthiran’s sonnets stretch from the grounding details of life for a mixed-race couple in England today – “over the years we’d find the money / but in that area no one smiled at us” – to thoughtfully touch on themes of identity, class, work and community. If references to the Tough Mudder endurance event, Super Mario and Brexit seem strenuously current, they also authenticate poems that manage to be both hard‑thinking and sensitive, wondering at “the ways we love and hurt one another”.

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Colombia's rebel poets: from 'verbal terrorists' to favoured sons


The Nadaistas, an iconoclastic group of young poets in Medellín, once sparked outrage but now their influence is felt from the metro to the corridors of power

In a small plaza in Medellín, the teenage poets threw the canon of Colombian literature on the bonfire. Their leader, a thin 27-year-old named Gonzalo Arango, stepped forward to read out the group’s manifesto. It was written on a roll of toilet paper.

It was 1958 and the nadaístas – Colombia’s equivalent of the beatniks – were on the verge of notoriety both for their iconoclastic verse and the bohemian lifestyles that antagonised prudish Medellín society. “The Nadaistas invaded the city like a plague,” opens Arango’s most famous poem of the time.

Related: Colombians await One Hundred Years of Solitude screen adaptation with joy and fear

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Fawzi Karim obituary


My friend Fawzi Karim, who has died aged 73, was a major poet of the Arab world and beyond. His poetry has been widely translated; I met him while working on English versions of his work.

Plague Lands, his first book of poems in English, was published by Carcanet in 2011 and was a Poetry Book Society recommendation: an elegy for the life of a lost city, a chronicle of a journey into exile and an exploration of the history of a civilisation, it drew on his own experience of exile from his native Iraq.

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Poem of the week: Apology by William Morris


Opening the practical socialist’s 42,000-line epic The Earthly Paradise, this is a pithy tribute to the consolations of poetry

Apology, from The Earthly Paradise

Of Heaven or Hell I have no power to sing,
I cannot ease the burden of your fears,
Or make quick-coming death a little thing,
Or bring again the pleasure of past years,
Nor for my words shall ye forget your tears,
Or hope again for aught that I can say,
The idle singer of an empty day.

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'A unique and slightly mad effort': mapping Britain in poetry


A national community arts project, where poems are matched to precise locations, is reinventing a 17th-century classic for the digital age

Pinned just west of Marsden, Yorkshire on a 17th-century map of the UK, is a poem by the UK’s new poet laureate, Simon Armitage. “The sky has delivered / its blank missive. / The moor in coma.” Move west, to the Isle of Man, and the poet is a little less well known – she’s dubbed herself Mrs Yorkshire the Baking Bard – but the sense of place is just as strong (and the rhymes are better, too): “I climbed Maughold Head as the morning sun rose / And the darkness surrendered to light / Where the buttery bloom of the golden gorse grows / And adventurous seabirds take flight.”

The poems – two of almost 2,000, and growing – are part of the Places of Poetry project, a community arts initiative where members of the public are invited to write poems and “pin” them on a digital map to the locations in England and Wales that inspired them. Inspired by Michael Drayton’s 17th-century poem Poly-Olbion, a 15,000-word poem on the topography of England and Wales, the project is being run by poet Paul Farley and Andrew McRae from the University of Exeter.

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'I will never hear my father's voice': Ilya Kaminsky on deafness and escaping the Soviet Union


Until his family migrated to the US when he was 16, the Ukrainian-born poet lived without sound. He discusses his family’s persecution and his first collection in a decade

Ilya Kaminsky has only published two poetry collections in 15 years, but his second, Deaf Republic, has been hailed as “a contemporary epic”, “a perfectly extraordinary book” from a poet described by the writer Garth Greenwell as “the most brilliant of his generation, one of the world’s few geniuses”. The man who has attracted all this hyperbole has a wraparound smile, and responds to a photographer’s demand to look more animated by reciting poetry in Russian and English. “Here is some Mandelstam,” he says. “Now I am going to give you some Emily Dickinson.” His speech drags slightly and he is apologetic about his accent: “After all this time, it should really be better,” he says, “but I only hear what the hearing aids give me.” For Kaminsky is hard of hearing – so, if you count sign language alongside Russian and Ukrainian, he is speaking in his fourth language.

Deaf Republic is an investigation into “what happens to language in a time of crisis, how we carry on and how we try to remain human,” he explains. “It’s something I’m trying to find out in my book and in my life.” In just under 60 lyric poems, some only two lines long, it tells the story of a fictional town whose inhabitants react to the murder of a deaf child by shutting their ears. Little Petya’s crime is to spit at an army sergeant who has arrived to break up a public gathering in a time of martial law. “Deafness passes through us like a police whistle,” say the townspeople of Vasenka, who are described by the author as “the ‘we’ who tell the story”.

Related: The best recent poetry – review roundup

Poems are like spells. They’re not just about an event. They become an event themselves

He removes his hearing aids on trips back to Odessa, because only through lip-reading can he experience its familiarity

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From Ted Hughes to HG Wells: Jeanette Winterson picks the best books about the moon


Fifty years since Apollo 11 landed, the novelist shares her favourite books and poems about Earth’s mysterious satellite

There she is, 239,000 miles from Earth. A lover’s moon, a poet’s moon, a painted moon, made of green cheese, home to the Man in the Moon, visible above the lights of Moscow and Manhattan, Tokyo and London. Hanging as the silent guardian of rivers and woods. Symbol of the mystery of the universe.

None of this has changed since Apollo 11 landed on that broken silent surface 50 years ago. The moon is just as familiar and just as remote. The mythical and magical moon, the lunatic moon that drives men mad, Earth’s moon, lifting tides and raising sap.

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'Offensive' poem about Condoleezza Rice stokes New Hampshire verse rift

A woman's greatest enemy? A lack of time to themselves | Brigid Schulte


If what it takes to create are long stretches of time alone, that’s something women have never had the luxury to expect

A few months ago, as I struggled to carve out time in my crowded days for writing, a colleague suggested I read a book about the daily rituals of great artists. But instead of offering me the inspiration I’d hoped for, what struck me most about these creative geniuses – mostly men – was not their schedules and daily routines, but those of the women in their lives.

Their wives protected them from interruptions; their housekeepers and maids brought them breakfast and coffee at odd hours; their nannies kept their children out of their hair. Martha Freud not only laid out Sigmund’s clothes every morning, she even put the toothpaste on his toothbrush. Marcel Proust’s housekeeper, Celeste, not only brought him his daily coffee, croissants, newspapers and mail on a silver tray, but was always on hand whenever he wanted to chat, sometimes for hours. Some women are mentioned only for what they put up with, like Karl Marx’s wife – unnamed in the book – who lived in squalor with the surviving three of their six children while he spent his days writing at the British Museum.

Brigid Schulte is an Pulitzer prize-winning journalist for The Washington Post and The Washington Post Magazine. She is also fellow at the New America Foundation. Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte is published by Bloomsbury in March 2014

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John Cooper Clarke: ‘I didn’t want to quit heroin’

While conceding the drug was ‘fabulous the first time’, the veteran performer has one overwhelming message: don’t do it

John Cooper Clarke, the poet and performer who became famous during the punk rock era of the late 1970s, has said he didn’t want to quit taking heroin and weaned himself off the drug for the sake of society rather than for his own health.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, Clarke recalled the addiction which dominated much of his life in the 1980s, when he was living in a flat in Brixton, south London, with Nico, the late singer and muse of the Velvet Underground.

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Poem of the week: The Horse and the Monkey by Mary Jean Chan


A sunny reflection on the obstacles a couple has overcome

The Horse and the Monkey

I tell you that I am horse, you
a monkey, fated by the Chinese
zodiac to remain together as long
as both partners practise the art
of compromise
. The horse and
monkey can now be found
riding the wind at the fifth base
of Mount Fuji. We hold each other
as if our limbs were the mountain’s
melting snow. All those days when
I believed the odds were bruised:
our zodiacs, my Chinese parents.
Your tofu skin against the butter
of mine. Moments before the plane
delivers us to ground, I beg amid
the turbulence – please– to Buddha,
even to the Lord who would never
grant me permission to love you.
I am bargaining with these whorls
of steel to keep going, in spite of
everything. At home, my mother
greets us both with these words:
I love monkeys. They are auspicious
In that moment, did you
realise that we were being blessed?

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‘Like air, I’ll rise': Ilhan Omar and others on words to conquer hate


Inspired by Omar, the Guardian and Pen America asked writers to share inspiring lines from poems about overcoming hate – and readers to submit theirs

Last week, after a chant of “send her back” broke out at a Trump rally in North Carolina, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar responded by posting some lines from the Maya Angelou poem Still, like air, I’ll rise on Twitter.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

-Maya Angelou https://t.co/46jcXSXF0B

“I had to kick their law into their teeth in order to save them.

However, I have heard that sometimes you have to deal

“come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed

“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

Living every day in the

presence of those who

All year, I have worked

against this feeling, this country, this raging wreck

“You can’t trust them,” one officer says.
I’m prepared to bet he is from Brooklyn.
There is no response from the other one. He is not angry,
just sad that I now work in his country.
This quiet American has pasted a sheet with Hindi alphabets
on his left, on his right there is a proverb from Punjab.
“You just can’t trust them,” the first one repeats,
shaking his wrist to loosen his heavy watch.
The one sitting down now raises his weary eyes.
“Did you, the first time you went there,
intend to come back?”
“Wait a minute,” I say, “did you get a visa
when you first went to the moon? Fuck the moon,
tell me about Vietnam. Just how precise
were your plans there, you asshole?”

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Cats trailer’s weirdness would have appealed to TS Eliot, suggests estate


Trustees of the poet’s legacy, welcoming the forthcoming film, say it is no stranger than his Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats

Although the trailer for the film adaptation of Cats divided the internet when it was released last week, TS Eliot would likely have approved of the “rich strangeness” that has disturbed so many, according to his estate.

Related: Cats movie trailer: internet reacts in horror to 'demented dream ballet'

Related: Feline queasy: eight urgent questions about the Cats trailer

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Hurrah for 'flyting' – but we can do better than Piers Morgan and Alan Sugar


The ‘frenemies’ have taken to aiming insulting limericks at each other – but they can’t beat 15th-century poets William Dunbar and Walter Kennedy

The 15th-century Scottish poets William Dunbar and Walter Kennedy would be rolling in their graves at what the noble art of flyting– trading insults in verse – has been reduced to by the likes of Alan Sugar and Piers Morgan. The pair – who are apparently “frenemies” (as in, “Alan Sugar caught up in new homophobic row after joking with frenemy Piers Morgan about gay elephants) – began insulting each other on Thursday with Twitter limericks. It isn’t hard to imagine that they were inspired by the efforts of Britain’s new prime minister Boris Johnson, who wrote a limerick about the president of Turkey having sex with a goat three years ago shortly before his appointment as foreign secretary.

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'I, too, sing America': readers share poetry to conquer hate


After four congresswomen faced racist attacks last week, we asked Guardian readers to share inspiring lines from poems and literature about overcoming hate

After a chant of “send her back” broke out at Donald Trump’s rally in North Carolina last week, the Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar responded by posting several lines from the Maya Angelou poem Still I Rise on Twitter.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

-Maya Angelou https://t.co/46jcXSXF0B

“I don’t need your praise
to survive. I was here first,
before you were here, before
you ever planted a garden.
And I’ll be here when only the sun and moon
are left, and the sea, and the wide field.

I will constitute the field.”

excerpt from Witchgrass by Louise Glück

“We grow up forgetting
our incidental placements
become fond of whatever
bread and religion we are fed.”

– excerpt from I Didn’t Ask For My Parents by Sholeh Wolpé

“I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

“Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.

– excerpt from Remember by Joy Harjo

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