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Poem of the week: Not for That City by Charlotte Mew

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A sonnet contemplating the fulfilment of a cosmic ideal shows a very modern kind of doubt

Not for That City

Not for that city of the level sun,
Its golden streets and glittering gates ablaze –
The shadeless, sleepless city of white days,
White nights, or nights and days that are as one –
We weary, when all said, all thought, all done.
We strain our eyes beyond this dusk to see
What, from the threshold of eternity
We shall step into. No, I think we shun
The splendour of that everlasting glare,
The clamour of that never-ending song.
And if for anything we greatly long,
It is for some remote and quiet stair
Which winds to silence and a space for sleep
Too sound for waking and for dreams too deep.

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Michael Rosen: ‘Stories hung in the air about great-aunts and uncles who’d gone’

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Searching for the missing pieces in his family brought poet and author Michael Rosen closer to the horror of war

Every time the poet Michael Rosen found out something new about what happened to his Jewish relatives during the Holocaust, he would send a round-robin email to his extended family. “My research brought me face to face with the destiny of Jews in Europe, seen through the prism of my own family.” Suddenly, he could imagine the “very real” journeys his relatives had taken, the places they’d hidden, the fear and hope they’d felt. “Because of the kind of person I am, I wanted to tell that story.”

The result is his latest book, The Missing, which will be published next week. A mixture of poetry and prose, it retraces Rosen’s journey as he searches for information about his European relatives who went “missing” before his birth in 1946.

They would have been full of hope for the future at the moment the Nazis arrived

My family’s life is utterly European. I’d never fully sensed that before

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Raymond Antrobus: ‘In some ways, poetry is my first language’

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The award-winning poet on addressing the loss of his father, owning his deafness and being added to the school syllabus

Poet and educator Raymond Antrobus was born in Hackney, London, in 1986 to an English mother and a Jamaican father. He is the author of the poetry collection The Perseverance (Penned in the Margins, £9.99), and the recipient of the Rathbones Folio prize, Ted Hughes and Somerset Maugham awards. This month he was named the 2019 Sunday Times/University of Warwick young writer of the year. He was born deaf, and his poetry powerfully explores this experience, as well as issues of bereavement, race and violence.

In The Perseverance you write movingly about loss…
I guess I’m drawn to elegiac poetry. That loss was such a huge theme in the book wasn’t something I realised until I finished writing it and was redrafting. Most of the poems about my dad were written pretty much in the week leading up to and following his passing [in 2014]. So looking back at that time, it’s a blur. I rarely write at night, but all of those poems about my dad were written at night, which says something about the rhythm and spirit I needed to find him, to access him in the poems. I was writing whatever I had to write on nerve, on feeling.

I felt that I got more education outside the classroom. That was part of why I started working in schools

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The Dolphin Letters, 1970-1979: Elizabeth Hardwick, Robert Lowell, and Their Circle, edited by Saskia Hamilton – review

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This collection of correspondence between the critic and the poet as their marriage fell apart provides a riveting study of ethics and betrayal

Life is raw, but we expect literature to be properly cooked. Hence the notorious fuss about Robert Lowell’s confessional sonnet sequence The Dolphin, the narrative of an adulterous relationship in which he high-handedly versified excerpts from the distraught letters written to him by the wife he abandoned, the critic Elizabeth Hardwick.

In 1970 Lowell took up a fellowship in Oxford, leaving Hardwick and their teenage daughter behind in New York. A week later, after a party in London, he began an affair with the rackety bohemian heiress Lady Caroline Blackwood. Hardwick wondered at his silence – for which his excuses included not knowing how to buy a stamp or to lick the gummed edges of an aerogram – but even after learning the truth she remained his distant, dutiful helpmeet, preparing his taxes, dealing with “degrading money things” like car insurance, and replacing his typewriter ribbon in the hope that he would return. When the bipolar Lowell suffered a bout of mania, she hastened to London to nurse him. Blackwood had no interest in such connubial care, and preferred to express emotion operatically or perhaps alcoholically. “If I have had drunken hysterical seizures,” she told Lowell, “it’s because I love you so much.”

Often he helped himself to Hardwick's words verbatim, but when he changed them, he cruelly misrepresented her

Related: Novel, letter, essay, memoir? Eimear McBride on Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights

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Alasdair Gray obituary

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Artist whose witty, accessible words and pictures in many mediums sparked a creative flowering in his native Scotland

Alasdair Gray, who has died aged 85, was the father figure of the renaissance in Scottish literature and art which began in the penultimate decade of the 20th century. Gray’s great novel Lanark (1981) was an almost preposterously ambitious concoction of thinly disguised autobiography, science fiction, formal playfulness (the four-part story opened at Book Three) and graphic design by the author on a monumental scale. Scottish fiction, which had lain in a depressed state for years, suddenly took off in unexpected directions.

Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner, AL Kennedy and Janice Galloway, among others, were all Gray’s bairns. Authors invited Gray to illustrate their books. Little magazines sported his self-portraits and cursive designs on their covers. A graphic artist known locally for his eccentric appearance and behaviour became, at the age of nearly 50, a central figure of the literary world.

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Poem of the week: Charms by WH Davies

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To start the year, a love poem of strikingly direct and unforced expression

Charms

She walks as lightly as the fly
Skates on the water in July.

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Duolingo sparks Gaelic boom as young Scots shrug off 'cringe' factor

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More than 127,000 sign up to learn while Open University launches Scots language course

Almost double the number of people in Scotland who already speak Scottish Gaelic have signed up to learn the language on the popular free platform Duolingo in over a month, concluding a proliferation in courses, prizes and performance in Gaelic and Scots during 2019, as younger people in particular shrug off the “cultural cringe” associated with speaking indigenous languages.

The Duolingo course, which was launched just before St Andrew’s Day on 30 November and looks likely to be the company’s fastest-growing course ever, has garnered more than 127,000 sign-ups – 80% from Scotland itself, compared with just over 58,000 people who reported themselves as Gaelic speakers in the 2011 Scottish census.

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TS Eliot’s hidden love letters reveal intense, heartbreaking affair

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‘I tried to pretend that my love for you was dead, though I could only do so by pretending myself that my heart was dead,’ the poet wrote to Emily Hale

TS Eliot’s love letters to scholar Emily Hale, the great poet’s muse and source of “supernatural ecstasy” for more than 30 years, were released on Thursday amid fevered speculation and under tight security at an elegant library on the campus of the Ivy League’s Princeton University.

The Nobel laureate’s correspondence to Hale, whom he met when both were studying at Harvard University in 1912, has long been the fascination of Eliot scholars but remained hidden, on both the poet and Hale’s wishes, for 50 years after Hale’s death in 1969.

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Poem of the month: The Canon by Jacqueline Saphra

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Each month the Guardian’s Review section selects a poem to highlight

The men are in my room again: this time
I wake with Petrarch panting in my ear
while the Bard’s at my desk checking my rhymes.
Such joy; I kiss the poets’ inky fingers, share
my love, thanking them for form and beauty.
But we don’t like your lady-stuff, your loose ways
with art and man,
they say, your take on history.
Milton reminds me of my fall from grace,
Wyatt tries to bridle me and Spenser sits
too close. The men push me towards the dark
but I’m too fast. You’ll never stop my mouth
not now I’ve started. I can play rough too.
I’ll write my world, I’ll take my place.
I spit
this shape onto the page. I make my mark.

From Dad, Remember You Are Dead by Jacqueline Saphra (Nine Arches, £9.99).

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The best recent poetry – review roundup

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Reckless Paper Birds by John McCullough; Edge by Katrina Porteous; The Equilibrium Line by David Wilson; A Man’s House Catches Fire by Tom Sastry

John McCullough has a reputation for crafting lyric poems of the everyday with a surreal twist. In Reckless Paper Birds (Penned in the Margins, £9.99), his third collection and shortlisted for the Costa prize for poetry, the familiar yet strange is rarely more than a stanza away. As if Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems jumped headlong into our 21st century, McCullough’s lines sing of Lady Gaga, Instagram and house music, “plastic cats that raise huge paws” in a city where “there are many ways / to guzzle the scenery”. “Please don’t touch me, my head falls off,” reads the sign around the neck of a huge Playmobil figure in one poem; McCullough’s eye may be drawn to all manner of cultural detritus, but he is often able to find emotion and significance. History’s peculiarities also surface: “Queer-Cole” takes its name from the antiquated term for counterfeit money, blurring historical object with contemporary hurt and prejudice.

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Never date a poet. They’ll always do the dirty on you | Alex Clark

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Even from beyond the grave, TS Eliot insists on getting the last word with his ‘muse’

In between the excellent things that the early days of 2020 have brought (Greta “Sharon” Thunberg) and the terrifying (incipient global warfare) comes one that seems oddly familiar.

Details of an intimate relationship from long ago surface, revealing a complicated picture: differences in the quality and strength of feeling of the participants, ruptures and renewals, the arrival of other attachments, a closeness strangely accompanied by the failure of mutual understanding. So far, so human. But then something less workaday: the presence and the protection of not merely celebrity but intellectual and artistic reputation.

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Poem of the week: House by Robert Browning

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A brilliantly wry poem about poetry that reaches farther into society than you might expect

House

I
Shall I sonnet-sing you about myself?
Do I live in a house you would like to see?
Is it scant of gear, has it store of pelf?
“Unlock my heart with a sonnet-key?”

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Jonathan Coe wins Costa prize for ‘perfect’ Brexit novel

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Middle England’s EU referendum story secures the 2019 novel award and goes up against first fiction, poetry and biography for Costa book of the year

Jonathan Coe’s portrait of a Britain torn apart by the Brexit referendum, Middle England, has won the Costa novel award, described by judges as the perfect fiction for these times.

Moving from 2010 to 2018, Middle England features characters including a married couple divided over the EU vote, and an enthusiastic new member of a group called Students for Corbyn. On Monday night, Coe’s state-of-the-nation novel beat books by Sophie Hardach, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan and Joseph O’Connor to the £5,000 prize.

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Poem of the week – Ghazal: Myself by Marilyn Hacker

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An apparently very personal statement about how to live extends into much wider politics

Ghazal: Myself by Marilyn Hacker

They say the rules are: be forgotten, or proclaim myself.
I’m reasonably tired of that game, myself.

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British-Trinidadian dub poet Roger Robinson wins TS Eliot prize

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Judges praise A Portable Paradise for finding evidence of ‘sweet, sweet life’ in the bitterness of everyday experience

Roger Robinson, the British-Trinidadian dub poet, has won the prestigious TS Eliot prize on his first nomination for his collection A Portable Paradise.

The only poetry award judged solely by established poets, the £25,000 TS Eliot prize has been described by the former poet laureate, Sir Andrew Motion, as “the prize most poets want to win”.

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

Published with permission of Peepal Tree Press.

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TS Eliot prize-winner Roger Robinson: ‘I want these poems to help people to practise empathy’

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From a lament for the victims of Grenfell Tower to snapshots of Windrush arrivals … activist, musician and poet Roger Robinson discusses the inspiration behind his prize‑winning collection

“Since I was 19 I’ve been living in England and thinking I’d go home, but there was a point, around six years go, when I realised I’m here now: I’m black British.” So says Roger Robinson, who this week won the TS Eliot prize for A Portable Paradise, a poetry collection born of this realisation.

Furious laments for the victims of Grenfell Tower are followed by a crisp snapshot of idealistic young Jamaicans disembarking from the Empire Windrush in 1948, and a didactic sequence about the legacy of slavery today. A moody evocation of riot brewing on the south London streets sits alongside a love song to the National Health Service, which saved the life of his own prematurely born son.

I was told if you get less than 36 rejections don’t say it’s not working. On about my 37th attempt I got published

Related: Poem of the month: A Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson

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Wordsworth treasures donated to poet's Lake District home

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Collection includes family Bible and two portraits that have never been put on display

A treasure trove of newly discovered items belonging to William Wordsworth, one of England’s greatest poets, have been given to his Lake District home by his descendants.

The collection includes two portraits that have not been seen for generations and have never before appeared on public display. They were donated to the English Romantic poet’s home, Rydal Mount, near Ambleside.

Related: Poem of the week: from The Prelude by William Wordsworth

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Poem of the week: Harlem Shadows by Claude McKay

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Free from moralising, this study of life on the streets of 1920s Harlem has a flowing rhythm and charm

Harlem Shadows

I hear the halting footsteps of a lass
In Negro Harlem when the night lets fall
Its veil. I see the shapes of girls who pass
To bend and barter at desire’s call.
Ah, little dark girls who in slippered feet
Go prowling through the night from street to street!

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States of the Body Produced by Love by Nisha Ramayya review – a difficult beginning

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Learning the Sanksrit of her forebears with a colonial English dictionary has inspired the poet to explore some challenging questions

Nisha Ramayya’s collection, States of the Body Produced By Love, is a thorny debut, though containing sustained flashes of brilliance. Fans of Maggie Nelson or Anne Carson may find themselves in familiar territory: there is the same impulse for wide-ranging references, the same desire to crack words open and poke around inside them. Ramayya’s concerns, however, are broader than Nelson and Carson’s sorrows in love: as the title suggests, States of the Body addresses ideas of the nation state, Hindu nationalism, British imperialism – and yes, love too.

The collection opens with a long section of prose, much of which explores the metaphorical possibilities of the 10 Mahāvidyās, goddesses who are manifestations of the greater Hindu goddess Satī. Can they be used to illuminate the caste system, Ramayya wonders? “If I’m not careful, I allow them to mean everything,” she writes. “The Mahāvidyās are metaphors, which is where the difficulty begins.”

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‘It happens to real people’: how to help children grasp the horror of the Holocaust | Michael Rosen

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Remembering the questions of his own childhood has helped Michael Rosen to tell pupils difficult truths

As a very young child, the only inkling I had of the Holocaust was that every now and then my father would say that he’d had two uncles in France who were “there before the war and weren’t there afterwards”. I’d wonder, how could they have just disappeared? How could there only be a nothing?

At weddings and wider family gatherings, we would meet his cousin Michael and later we would be told that Michael had been “put on a train in Poland” by his parents, been sent to a prison camp in the Soviet Union, fought with Polish forces in General Anders’ army, and had somehow arrived on our aunt’s doorstep in east London, but had never seen his parents again. Living in the London suburbs of the 1950s, I couldn’t figure out how any of this could have happened. How could you lose your parents?

Related: Michael Rosen: ‘Stories hung in the air about great-aunts and uncles who’d gone’

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