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Moon landing poem launches Simon Armitage as poet laureate

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Conquistadors – reproduced exclusively below – knits memories of first love and the Apollo 11 pioneers with reflections on colonialism. Read it below

Two months after his appointment, Simon Armitage has penned his first poem as the UK’s poet laureate: a commemoration of the 1969 moon landing, which compares the US astronauts to the Spanish explorers who conquered the Americas in the 16th century.

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The best recent poetry – review roundup

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Skin Can Hold by Vahni Capildeo, Anthony Anaxagorou’s After the Formalities and The Tradition by Jericho Brown

Vahni Capildeo’s formally ambitious third collection, Skin Can Hold (Carcanet, £8.99) recalls the memoiristic polylogues and prose poems of Measures of Expatriation, which won the Forward prize for best collection in 2016, and embraces the same interrogative approach towards identity. By contesting the suppression of voice through colonial violence, this Trinidadian Scottish writer reclaims the shame of silence and self-censorship: “Shame on behalf of others is tiring […] flips into fury.” However, with three playlets inspired by Muriel Spark, mime poems, Caribbean masquerade and a lyric remixing of Shakespeare’s dramatic speeches, this new collection is a tour de force of theatrical speculation. Capildeo experiments with call and response “syntax poems” based on the work of Martin Carter, Guyanese poet and political activist. “Four Ablutions” gives a series of surreal stage directions, and “Game, to finish: Hamlet Oulipo” invites audience participation. The work is extraordinarily perceptive about the limits of language – “commonly accused of failure, / thrown like rope” – and as a former OED lexicographer Capildeo idealises poetic form as “infinite tonguetwister, / untranslatable in transit”. Capildeo defends the “antipoetic and destructive” and reminds us that the purpose of the poem extends beyond pleasure.

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Poem of the month: The Window

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Once in a lifetime, you will gesture
at an open window, tell the one who
detests the queerness in you that dead
daughters do not disappoint, free your
sore knees from inching towards a kind
of reprieve, declare yourself genderless as
hawk or sparrow: an encumbered body
let loose from its cage. You will refuse
your mother’s rage, her spit, her tongue
heavy like the heaviest of stones. Her
anger is like the sun, which is like love,
which is the easiest thing, even on the
hardest of days. You will linger, knowing
that this standing before an open window
is what the living do: that they sometimes
reconsider at the slightest touch of grace.

• Shortlisted for the Forward prize for best single poem. From Flèche by Mary Jean Chan published by Faber (£10.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

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Tishani Doshi: 'I can go out alone at night – but the dangers don’t go away'

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The Welsh-Indian poet, dancer and writer talks about the realities of life for women in Tamil Nadu and her hit poem Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods

In the late 1990s the Welsh-Indian writer Tishani Doshi was on a postgraduate writing course at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. A literary scout came to visit and asked to meet her. “This was not long after The God of Small Things,” she recalls. “Everybody was looking for the next Arundhati Roy.” The scout was pretty direct. “He said: ‘You’re a poet. But you should be writing novels.’ I was actually quite offended. And dismayed that the publishing industry just wanted to re-order and replace. I had no plans then to write fiction. In fact, years later, when I wanted the larger canvas a novel can provide, I eventually did. But that instinctive loyalty to poetry never left me. I had discovered this thing and wanted to figure out how to do it. How to be a poet. I’m still attempting how to figure it out.”

Doshi’s loyalty was soon repaid. Her debut book, Countries of the Body, won the 2006 Forward prize for best first collection. Her first “proper” public poetry reading – as opposed to bookshop audiences swelled by “blood or friendship”, as she once put it – was at the Hay festival that year. She was on stage in front of 1,200 people, reading alongside Seamus Heaney and Margaret Atwood. “It was pretty stellar,” she laughs. “But that is the great thing about poetry. One minute you’re doing that and the next you’re reading to five people in a basement. And both events are always worthwhile.”

Today everyone is a feminist, but that used to mean demanding structural change. We need to think about that

Related: Book clinic: how can I expand my reading of Indian literature?

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The short story of a long paddle on the Leeds and Liverpool canal – a poem

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The illustrated city: This week we combine poetry and illustration to explore the story of Britain’s waterways

This week, to celebrate our Canal Revolution series, we’ve combined a fictionalised portrait of a London canal, above, with a poem from the British canal laureate, Nancy Campbell.

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Poem of the week: Prison sonnets by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt

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Written from jail in 1888, these still-forceful lines register the multiple losses suffered inside the ‘convent without God’

Sonnets III and V from In Vinculis

III.
Honoured I lived erewhile with honoured men
In opulent state. My table nightly spread
Found guests of worth, peer, priest and citizen,
And poet crowned, and beauty garlanded.
Nor these alone, for hunger too I fed.
And many a lean tramp and sad Magdalen
Passed from my doors less hard for sake of bread.
Whom grudged I ever purse or hand or pen ?

Related: Poem of the week: The Ballad of Reading Gaol

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Poem of the week: Story's End by Kathleen Raine

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From a writer whose mystical bent was out of tune with her times, this late work is candid about ‘life’s long years’

Story’s End

O, I would tell soul’s story to the end,
Psyche on bruised feet walking the hard ways,
The knives, the mountain of ice,
Seeking her beloved through all the world,
Remembering – until at last she knows
Only that long ago she set out to find –
But whom or is what place
No longer has a name.
So through life’s long years she stumbles on
From habit enduring all. Clouds
Disintegrate in sky’s emptiness.
She who once loved remembers only that once she loved.
Is it I who wrote this?

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Poetry book of the month: So Many Rooms by Laura Scott – review

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Nothing is what it seems in this debut collection, which channels Leo Tolstoy with extraordinary results

I knew nothing about Laura Scott when I picked this book up by chance. There is a thrill in encountering a debut collection that insists – in this case, with exceptional grace – on being read. I couldn’t put it down and have kept returning to these poems, drawn in – and on – by their beauty and clarity. It is the clarity that interests because it offers a false sense of security and lightly, deliberately, misleads. These poems are not as see-through as they might, at first, appear. The title is So Many Rooms, but this is a mysterious collection of secret passages and moving uncertainties.

The opening poem, If I Could Write Like Tolstoy, introduces a voice intent on investigating spaces we do not ordinarily occupy. A lazy glance might encourage the notion that Scott was merely leaning on Tolstoy, depending upon his genius. But repeated reading shows something other: her conditional tense creates a new space that does and does not exist – like imagination itself.

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Jackie Kay on putting her adoption on stage – and getting a pay rise for her successor

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When Scotland’s national poet travelled to Nigeria to ask her birth father if he ever thought of her, he said no. Does it hurt to put this on stage? And should the next ‘makar’ be on £30,000?

Before Jackie Kay was a writer, she was a character. “When you’re adopted,” she explains over lunch in a Glasgow cafe, “you come with a story.” Her adoptive mother Helen – fascinated by her possible origins – encouraged young Kay to speculate about her birth parents. It was known that her father was Nigerian, her mother a white woman from the Scottish Highlands. Were they, perhaps, torn apart by racial prejudice in 1960s Scotland?

There was tragic romance to that idea, and a fairytale quality in the notion that Kay, offspring of forbidden love, should come to live with John and Helen, two people who had plenty of love – not to mention songs and stories – to share. Little wonder that Kay has come to think of herself as a creature not only of genetics but of the imagination. As Scotland’s national poet writes in her beautiful memoir Red Dust Road, she is “part fable, part porridge”.

Scotland is 30 or 40 years behind any other English city in terms of racial attitudes and integration

Red Dust Road is at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, 14-18 August then on tour, concluding at Home, Manchester, September 11-21. Preview at the Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock, on 10 August.

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Why the Eisteddfod leaves Glastonbury in the shade | Letters

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The National Eisteddfod of Wales is an overlooked UK cultural highlight, says James Griffiths

Every year the National Eisteddfod of Wales is held in the first week of August. Every year the “national” newspapers are oblivious to its existence. This is the largest and oldest cultural festival in Europe, with very high standards in choral, instrumental and singing performances. The literary competitions in poetry and drama, and the visual arts and science exhibitions, are among the best in the “United” Kingdom, yet there is never any mention of any of this.

Highly talented young people take part in the Eisteddfod, but their abilities are ignored – and all because it is in Welsh and in Wales. There is no comparison between these high standards and the standards at Glastonbury, for example, and yet it is the latter that is given all of the publicity.
James Griffiths
Bangor, Gwynedd

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David Berman, acclaimed US indie songwriter, dies aged 52

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No cause of death has been announced for songwriter and poet known for his projects Silver Jews and Purple Mountains, and his wry, witty lyrics

David Berman, who was regarded as one of the most poetic voices in US indie rock, has died aged 52. His record label, Drag City, confirmed the news, but hasn’t confirmed the cause of death.

Berman was best known for his project Silver Jews, and his wry lyrics. The band formed in 1989 in New Jersey, when Berman was living and working with Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich, who would go on to form the successful band Pavement. Malkmus has paid tribute to Berman, writing on Twitter: “His death is fucking dark … depression is crippling … he was a one of a kinder [sic] the songs he wrote were his main passion esp at the end. Hope death equals peace cuz he could sure use it.”

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Kevin Barry: ‘I generally give people good old-fashioned book tokens’

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The Booker nominated author on how Don DeLillo changed his life, laughing at Nicola Barker and the Thomas Pynchon novel he has never finished

The book I am currently reading
Inventory by the Derry writer Darran Anderson in manuscript – it’s due next year. It’s a family memoir and a portrait of a city and many other things, and it will cause a stir. A fabulous piece of work. Also Aug 9 – Fog by Kathryn Scanlan, an adaptation of an actual, found diary, has had me pawing at the floor like an excited little dog.

The book that changed my life
I remember wandering around the city of Verona in my mid 20s tearfully clutching a copy of Don DeLillo’s Underworld, and rereading passages over and over, and just getting a view of the mountain, really.

You have to believe that the earth-shattering masterpiece is just around the corner, or you’d give up, wouldn’t you?

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Escape to the country: the best books about the great outdoors

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From wild swimming to eating strawberries in a thunderstorm, Helen Mort picks her favourite works about the joys of green space

‘God bless the great indoors” sing the Lemonheads in “The Outdoor Type”, recounting an ill-fated attempt to impress a new partner by lying about a passion for mountain biking and sleeping under the stars.

Though it might not win your lover’s heart, spending time outdoors is officially good for your health – scientists suggest exposure to green space reduces the risk of disease, stress and premature death. Writers have charted the mental benefits for centuries, and even involved them in their creative process.

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The word is out: Val McDermid selects Britain's 10 most outstanding LGBTQ writers

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The bestselling crime writer has nominated her favourite queer and trans authors and poets as part of a showcase celebrating the best in British writing

My first novel was published in 1987. It was the first British crime novel with a lesbian detective. The only route to publication was via an independent feminist publisher. Back then, there were a few radical bookshops that stocked titles like mine. But getting mainstream shops to stock it was an uphill struggle. Finding representations of queer lives took dedication and stubborn persistence.

Gradually, that has changed. Now our words are part of the mainstream of British literary life. LGBTQ writers are not only published by mainstream publishers and stocked by libraries, bookshops and supermarkets; they win major prizes. For so long conspicuous by our absence, we are now conspicuous by our presence.

Related: Pride and prejudice: the best books to help with coming out

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Kate Tempest review – this isn't a gig, it's a reckoning

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Leith theatre, Edinburgh
The performance poet absorbs all of the uncertainty and anger of our times, and pours it into ferocious, apocalyptic music that both wounds and heals

Rarely can a room have felt so alive. With her Mercury-nominated mix of spoken word, rap and poetry, Kate Tempest absorbs the agonies of the modern world and pours them into music that both wounds and heals.

The south Londoner kicks off her debut at the Edinburgh international festival with a selection of her best and most commanding work. Framed by a red moon, she starts with the catastrophic Europe Is Lost, from her 2016 apocalyptic, electronic story cycle, Let Them Eat Chaos. “Kill what you find if it threatens you / No trace of love in the hunt for the bigger buck / Here in the land where nobody gives a fuck.” From then on, the ferocity is relentless. When Tempest glides within the same note from speech to song, it is like plummeting down a rollercoaster, your stomach left mid-air.

Related: Kate Tempest: ‘I engage with all of myself, which is why it’s dangerous’

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Poem of the week: from Hesiod's Theogony

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This classical allegory of the poet’s role has intriguing modern resonance

Lines from Hesiod’s Theogony, translated by Thomas Cooke

“Shepherds, attend, your happiness who place
In gluttony alone, the swain’s disgrace;
Strict to your duty in the field you keep,
There vigilant by night to watch your sheep:
Attend, ye swains, on whom the Muses call,
Regard the honour not bestow’d on all;
’Tis ours to speak the truth in language plain
Or give the face of truth to what we feign.”
So spoke the maids of Joye, the sacred Nine,
And pluck’d a sceptre from the tree divine;
To me the branch they gave, with look serene
The laurel ensign, never fading green:
I took the gift, with holy raptures fired.
My words flow sweeter, and my soul’s inspired;
Before my eyes appears the various scene
Of all that is to come, and what has been.
Me have the Muses chose, their bard to grace,
To celebrate the bless’d immortal race;
To them the honours of my verse belong!
To them I first and last devote the song:
But where, O where, enchanted do I rove.
Or o’er the rocks, or through the vocal grove!
Now with th’ harmonious Nine begin, whose voice
Makes their great sire, Olympian Jove, rejoice;
The present, future, and the past, they sing,
Join’d in sweet concert to delight their king;
Melodious and untired their voices flow;
Olympus echoes, ever crown’d with snow.
The heavenly songsters fill the’ etherial round;
Jove’s’ palace laughs, and all the courts resound
Soft warbling endless with their voice divine,
They celebrate the whole immortal line.

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Taking a stanza: Simon Armitage cancer poem engraved on a pill

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Poet laureate’s second work in his official capacity honours a planned new research centre and has been carved into a tiny tablet

Simon Armitage’s latest poem, a “bullet / with cancer’s name / carved brazenly on it”, is yet to be printed or read aloud by the poet laureate from the stage. Instead, the work has been engraved by micro-artist Graham Short on to a 2cm x 1cm chemotherapy pill, in what Short said was probably the hardest job had had ever done.

Entitled Finishing It, the poem – Armitage’s second as poet laureate – was commissioned by the Institute of Cancer Research in London. It is intended to symbolise the new generation of cancer treatments that the Institute’s planned Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery will create, and which it hopes will turn cancer into a manageable disease.

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Poem of the week: Marriage by Alison Winch

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A philosophical look at the irreconcilable ingredients of marriage is snappier and funnier than you might expect

Marriage

Marriage sets off egg tagliatelle and shame,
insists it is the solution
and not the problem

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Does 'the English canon' still shape what we read? – books podcast

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What is the canon of English literature? When did it first emerge and why was it established? Who has challenged it and how has it changed as a result? And does it still make a difference to the books we get to read today?

Richard Lea speaks to writers including Penelope Lively, Elaine Showalter, Caryl Philips, Howard Jacobson and Yomi Sode about how this conception of the definitive literary greats has changed over time.

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September 1, 1939 by Ian Sansom review – a biography of a poem

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One of WH Auden’s most famous poems is treated to an entertaining dissection

It’s not Auden’s best poem or (since “Funeral Blues” appeared in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral) his most famous. It’s not even one he cared for: “The most dishonest poem I have ever written” he called it, and after an abortive attempt at revision he eventually disowned it. But as Ian Sansom says “September 1, 1939” is “a poem that still reverberates with meaning and controversy, a poem that readers return to at times of personal and national crisis”. His richly entertaining book explores what goes on in the poem and why it has had such an impact. Having spent the past 25 years failing to write a magnum opus on Auden, he opts for something quirkier: a jaunt round 99 lines of verse. “I sit in one of the dives / On Fifty-Second Street / Uncertain and afraid” the poem begins.

Poets can’t always be trusted when they say “I” but Auden’s diary confirms that he did indeed go to a bar (the Dizzy Club) that evening. As he sat there he may have been as troubled by a bad dream he’d had, of his lover Chester Kallman being unfaithful, as by the German invasion of Poland. Perhaps he also brooded on his abandonment of Europe for New York earlier that year, for which he’d been attacked in the UK. But such private anxieties went unspoken: nazism, Hitler, the threat to democracy and freedom – it’s the state of the world that preoccupies him over the poem’s nine stanzas.

His poem is public yet intimate – a feat so difficult to pull off that Sansom spends 300 pages trying to understand it

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