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'Never piss off a poet': Selina Tusitala Marsh on colonialism, Sam Hunt and kickboxing


New Zealand’s poet laureate rails against racism – but her poetry is more subversive than strident: ‘You can seduce someone to get your point across’

She blows in like a song carried on a powerful current: a wild-haired woman, larger than life, carrying a tall carved stick. She loses things in that hair, she says; finds pens in there days after they went missing.

A force of energy swirls around her as she sweeps into the Brisbane cafe, fresh from her daily 9km run. The stick is a tokotoko, a Māori symbol of status and authority, given to the celebrated scholar poet Selina Tusitala Marsh when she became New Zealand’s poet laureate in 2017. She carries it everywhere, a talisman not of war but of words.

Related: Generation next: the rise – and rise – of the new poets

Be a map
Marking the massacres
Uncharted rivers of blood
Be silenced
Be blackbirded
Be herded in shooting parties
Be shot
Be left to rot in reserves
Be absent so your land can be mined
Have your bones lined up
In foreign museum cases for Scientific Enquiry
Be fired in your belly.

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Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic by Simon Armitage review – collected poems

The poet laureate’s commissioned work covers subjects as diverse as war and social comedy

It was an unwritten law of postwar Britain that all large parks should contain a commissioned Henry Moore sculpture and, as chance would have it, Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic– a gathering of new poet laureate Simon Armitage’s own bulging file of commissioned work – features a series of “Henry Moore Poems”.

From the outset of his career Armitage’s great exemplar has been a fellow Yorkshireman – Ted Hughes – but that laureate approached the commissioned poem in a very different spirit. He rose to the challenge of hymning the Queen Mother by painting her, in Rain Charm for the Duchy, as godmother of the salmon. Armitage by contrast opens a sequence on Branwell Brontë by comparing him to Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba.

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The future looks bleak for the restoration of William Blake’s cottage

ITV News has the clearest take on our own bleak futures, while cinemagoers are getting younger all the time

Fans of William Blake will be flocking to Tate Britain from early September for an exhibition of the poet and artist. Many will know that Blake lived from 1800‑03 in a cottage in Felpham, West Sussex, where he wrote And did those feet in ancient time, later set to music as Jerusalem by Hubert Parry and, of course, a Last Night of the Proms regular.

There were high hopes for the cottage after it was bought from a local family in 2015 for £500,000 by a newly established Blake Cottage Trust. The bulk of the purchase money came from a fund set up in the will of a multimillionaire, who made his fortune from concrete. But four years on, the house, which is Grade II* listed, is in a state of neglect, with its thatched roof and rafters needing urgent repairs.

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Poem of the week: from The Prelude by William Wordsworth


The poet’s youthful disappointment with Cambridge University brings intriguing complication to a perennial complaint

‘Residence at Cambridge’
(Book Three, The Prelude)

Not that I slighted Books; that were to lack
All sense, but other passions had been mine,
More fervent, making me less prompt, perhaps,
To in-door study than was wise or well,
Or suited to my years. Yet I could shape
The image of a Place, which, sooth’d and lull’d
As I had been, train’d up in paradise
Among sweet garlands and delightful sounds,
Accustom’d in my loneliness to walk
With Nature magisterially, yet I
Methinks could shape the image of a Place
Which with its aspect should have bent me down
To instantaneous service, should at once
Have made me pay to science and to arts
And written lore, acknowledg’d my liege Lord,
A homage frankly offer’d up like that
Which I had paid to Nature. Toil and pains
In this recess which I have bodied forth
Should spread from heart to heart; and stately groves,
Majestic edifices, should not want
A corresponding dignity within.
The congregating temper, which pervades
Our unripe years, not wasted, should be made
To minister to works of high attempt,
Which the enthusiast would perform with love;
Youth should be aw’d, possessed as with a sense
Religious, of what holy joy there is
In knowledge, if it be sincerely sought
For its own sake, in glory, and in praise,
If but by labour won, and fit to endure.
The passing Day should learn to put aside
Her trappings here, should strip them off, abash’d,
Before antiquity and stedfast truth
And strong book-mindedness; and over all
should be a healthy sound simplicity,
A seemly plainness, name it as you will,
Republican or pious.⁠ If these thoughts
be a gratuitous emblazonry
That does but mock this recreant age, at least
Let Folly and False-seeming, we might say,
Be free to affect whatever formal gait
Of moral or scholastic discipline
Shall raise them highest in their own esteem;
Let them parade among the Schools at will,
But spare the House of God. Was ever known
The witless Shepherd who would drive his Flock
With serious repetition to a pool
Of which ’tis plain to sight they never taste.

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From Little Women to Dickinson: how modernised should adaptations be?


Recent trailers for Greta Gerwig’s take on Louisa May Alcott and Hailee Steinfeld as a punk rock Emily Dickinson suggest a resurgence for 1860s literary women

The girls of the 1860s appear to be having a moment. Two weeks ago, the trailer for Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women – featuring a stacked cast including Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern and Timothee Chalamet – dropped with much fanfare, depending on your cultural circle. The Lady Bird director’s take on Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, first published in 1868, seems ready to breathe a modern, candid air into the story of four sisters confronting change and (often thwarted) ambition during the Civil War. In the trailer, Ronan, as Jo March (the young, tomboyish writer Alcott modeled after herself), punches Chalamet, as neighbor-boy Laurie, in the arm; the sisters wrestle; Jo and Laurie dance in the dark and then break into a full, joyous flail.

Related: Greta Gerwig: why Little Women still generates a big buzz | Lucy Siegle

Little Women is released in the US on 25 December and in the UK on 26 December. Dickinson will be released on Apple TV later this year

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My Name Is Why by Lemn Sissay review – a searing chronicle


The care system’s brutal attack on a black child’s sense of self worth is targeted in the poet’s frank recollections of life in children’s homes

Early on in this affecting memoir, Sissay recalls the authors and books that fired his imagination when he was young. CS Lewis was a kind of “rock star”. In 2019, Lemn Sissay MBE is something of a literary luminary himself. His poetry and plays are lauded. He is chancellor of Manchester University. He was the official poet of the 2012 London Olympics. He was recently awarded the PEN Pinter prize and has appeared on Desert Island Discs. But glittering as these garlands might be, his early life was anything but golden. It’s a painful narrative that underpins much of his creative output and is emotively reframed in My Name Is Why.

Just after he was born in 1967, Sissay and his mother – a young Ethiopian student who had recently arrived in England – were taken to St Margaret’s Home for Unmarried Mothers in Wigan. Their short stay ended when, against his mother’s wishes, social services placed Lemn (renamed Norman by an insistent social worker) into “long term foster care” with a white, working-class Baptist family who lived in Ashton-in-Makerfield, south of Wigan.

Related: Lemn Sissay, foster child, poet and university chancellor: ‘Everything I know about myself comes from Manchester’

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Richard Harris well versed in Irish peace – archive, 30 August 1972


30 August 1972: Actor releases record of poem promoting peace as he thinks politicians have tried and failed

Mr Richard Harris, the actor, greatly publicised until recently as a hell-raising brawler, yesterday put himself forward as a disciple of peace. He called a press conference in his office 12 floors up above the Thames to launch his new 7-inch record containing a message of peace for Northern Ireland, in the course of which he pushed his forefinger at the chest of one importunate and partial questioner (another Irishman) and said “It is f...ing thinking like yours that keeps getting people shot.”

Related: Richard Harris obituary

I watch you share your silver;
Your purse rich in hate
Bleeds my veins of love
Shattering my bone
In the dust of the Bogside
and the Shankill Road.

Related: Investigations into the Troubles are vital – and that includes ex-soldiers | Kieran McEvoy

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Lavinia Greenlaw on Essex: ‘As a teen, even Siberia had to be better'


The poet and novelist recalls the lacerating east wind, the weekly library van and eventually finding inspiration in village life

When I was 11, my family moved from London to an Essex village. I was bereft. My plan for my teenage years involved going to see David Bowie and T Rex at the Roundhouse, not sitting about in bus shelters. We arrived in winter at a time of power cuts. People spoke of the lacerating easterly wind as blowing in “straight from Siberia”. Even Siberia had to be better than this. When I read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the tedium of the gulag made me sigh knowingly.

I read compulsively and without discrimination as a way of being anywhere but there. Books protected me from my loneliness, too. I read trashy apocalyptic novels, decrepit romances, the small ads in the local paper, the parish council noticeboard and the back of the cornflakes packet. A library van appeared once a week and I remember the librarian as being kindly if a little exhausted by my demands.

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The right poem for the wrong time: WH Auden’s September 1, 1939


Despite the poet’s best attempts to destroy it, readers still turn to his poem about Germany’s invasion of Poland in times of crisis. Why?

There are many acclaimed poems that address themselves to the question of love. There are many that address themselves to the problems of war. There are others, both ancient and modern, that seem to speak directly to our contemporary condition, and to various crises, fears and threats of annihilation. There are poems that console, inspire and delight. And there are some poems – a very few – that do all of the above. WH Auden’s “September 1, 1939”, written 80 years ago, is an example.

“September 1, 1939” is undoubtedly one of the great poems of the 20th century, one that marks the beginning of the second world war and which readers have returned to at times of national and personal crisis. It is also a work that Auden came to despise, and whose troubled history therefore provides us with a rare glimpse of a writer in the act of self-invention and self-reinvention, and with a unique insight into the many ways in which a poem might be interpreted, misinterpreted, used, reused, appropriated and recycled. “September 1, 1939” is a lesson in how masterpieces are produced and consumed and become incorporated into people’s lives – how, in the words of another of Auden’s poems, “In Memory of WB Yeats”, the work of a poet becomes “modified in the guts of the living”.

It is the most famous example in history of a writer attempting to revise his work, and of readers refusing to allow it

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:

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Poem of the week: Ignotum per Ignotius by Anonymous


Amid the gleeful surrealism, this 18th-century verse relays a palpable anger that resonates with contemporary turmoil

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O Positive by Joe Dunthorne review – natural joker finds a new home

Novelist Joe Dunthorne makes an assured leap to poetry in this witty and clever collection

Joe Dunthorne is a novelist who understands that joking can be the most powerful way of being serious. In his most recent novel, The Adulterants, his abject protagonist survives (only just) through last-ditch gags. How would his mutinous humour translate into poetry? The answer is: brilliantly. The delight of this debut collection is in watching a joker shuffle the darkest pack of cards. He travels so fast and far within the short spaces of his poems that readers must fasten their safety belts and be ready for anything. Including turbulence – obviously.

The opening poem, A Sighting, about seeing a bear while camping, introduces a defining theme: transformation. There is nothing Dunthorne’s imagination cannot turn inside out (not the same as saying there is nothing it cannot heal). He does not believe in seeing straight and that is the pleasure of reading him. This sighting might prove lethal. But the calculated symmetry of the lost actor within the bear and the bear within the human being is offered as a rescuing conceit.

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Poem of the week: Wildflower Meadow, Medawisla by Stephanie Burt


The miniature lives of flora, well away from human culture, reveal a much grander picture

Wildflower Meadow, Medawisla

The many-
oared asters
are coracles;

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The best recent poetry – review roundup

Nobody by Alice Oswald; If All the World and Love Were Young by Stephen Sexton; In Her Feminine Sign by Dunya Mikhail; and I May Be Stupid But I’m Not That Stupid by Selima Hill

Poetry is changing. And it’s not just spoken word and Instapoets who are changing it: at long last, diverse voices and experiences are getting a proper hearing. Across the English-speaking world, new work in every genre is demonstrating impatience with older, static verse forms. The best new writing has a kind of velocity that seems to burst open the traditional idea of single poems pinned and mounted on the page.

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Poem of the month: No one uses doilies anymore


so why do I hold the word to the window
so the holes in the pattern are years ago
and a visitor has come?

Impossible to talk of the mart or catarrh
as though days, clumps and clods of them,
could be glamoured by a paper doily
placed nicely on a plate.

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Book clinic: which collections will get me reading more poetry?

Writer and critic Kate Kellaway on anthologies to help you find your taste, and the best new poets

Q: I read a lot of fiction and nonfiction, but there is a big gap in my poetry reading. What are good collections to start with?
Emma, 29, librarian, Bangor

Observer writer and poetry critic Kate Kellaway says:
It is possible that the best approach to this is to go in for a tasting session – to get, before you even think of starting to home in on particular collections, one or two anthologies so you can see which voices have what I was about to describe as a Pied Piper effect on you – before reminding myself that you do not necessarily want poetry to lead you over the edge. The best poetry should, after all, keep you strolling along the cliff and looking out to sea.

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Poem of the week: The Song of Songs


Traditionally ascribed to King Solomon, these rich allegorical verses are ripe with sensuous passion

1. I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.

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When Milton met Shakespeare: poet's notes on Bard appear to have been found


Hailed as one of the most significant archival discoveries of modern times, text seems to show the Paradise Lost poet making careful annotations on his edition of Shakespeare’s plays

Almost 400 years after the first folio of Shakespeare was published in 1623, scholars believe they have identified the early owner of one copy of the text, who made hundreds of insightful annotations throughout: John Milton.

The astonishing find, which academics say could be one of the most important literary discoveries of modern times, was made by Cambridge University fellow Jason Scott-Warren when he was reading an article about the anonymous annotator by Pennsylvania State University English professor Claire Bourne. Bourne’s study of this copy, which has been housed in the Free Library of Philadelphia since 1944, dated the annotator to the mid-17th century, finding them alive to “the sense, accuracy, and interpretative possibility of the dialogue”. She also provided many images of the handwritten notes, which struck Scott-Warren as looking oddly similar to Milton’s hand.

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Carole Satyamurti obituary


Poet and sociologist who retold the Mahabharata in verse

Carole Satyamurti, who has died aged 80, became a poet rather late in her life. She had been a sociology lecturer at the University of East London (UEL) since 1968, when in 1984, aged 45, she decided to go on a poetry-writing course at the Arvon Foundation. Two years later, to her astonishment, she won the National Poetry Competition, with her poem Between the Lines.

Her first poetry collection, Broken Moon, was published by Oxford University Press in 1987, and five further collections were published by OUP and Bloodaxe, receiving the Cholmondeley award, two Poetry Book Society recommendations and other awards. In 2015 Norton published her retelling in verse of the great Indian epic poem, the Mahabharata. For many years she taught poetry for the Arvon Foundation and for the Poetry Society.

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Bill Liddell obituary


My husband, Bill Liddell, who has died aged 82, came from a mining area in Tyne and Wear, but became an expert on the history of somewhere much further south – Essex.

Having moved to the county in the early 1960s, he played an active part in the Essex Society for Archaeology and History and provided material for some of the many volumes of the encyclopedic Victoria County History of Essex book series. He also edited Essex and the Great Revolt of 1381, published in 1982 and, with me, wrote Imagined Land: Essex in Prose and Poetry (1996).

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The 100 best books of the 21st century