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Poetry book of the month: Arias by Sharon Olds – review

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Sharon Olds’s brilliant new collection, an exploration of intimacy and estrangement, is her most moving yet

The American Sharon Olds goes where many poets would fear to tread and others not dream of treading. Like a curious child, she wanders past No Entry signs on to private land. Or, at home, she alights on subjects not expecting attention.

In Go, she writes about finding an ex-lover’s hair on top of a hard-boiled egg in her fridge. Ridiculous, you might say – but she makes a super-charged poem of it. She is flirtatious, outlandish, deeply serious.

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Jeanine Cummins on her explosive new novel, American Dirt

Poem of the week: Sycamore Gap by Zoe Mitchell

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A fierce standoff between a wall and a tree is rich with allegorical resonance

Sycamore Gap

You’re history, said the tree to the wall;
the last crumbling remains of empire.

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Margaret Atwood to publish first collection of poetry in over a decade

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Dearly, out in November, will be the Canadian author’s first book since The Testaments

Margaret Atwood is set to publish her first collection of poetry in over a decade, an exploration of “absences and endings, ageing and retrospection” that will also feature werewolves, aliens and sirens.

After jointly winning the Booker prize with Bernardine Evaristo last year for her bestselling sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments, Atwood’s publisher said today that the 80-year-old Canadian author’s next book would be Dearly. Out in November, the collection will be Atwood’s first book of poetry since 2007’s The Door.

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John Cooper Clarke: ‘I’ve dressed the same way since 1965’

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The poet and performer on keeping his clothes simple, stapling them back together, and being fashionable once every 15 years for about three months

This is my default look. I operate on a capsule wardrobe because I spend a lot of time on the road, so I ain’t got the whole rainbow spectrum of colours in my luggage. I keep it simple: a dark suit with a pale shirt. Here [at the Contains Strong Language spoken word festival in 2017] I’ve also got a bolo tie, which chimes in with the snakeskin boots by Jeffery West.

I’m obsessed with clothes and I find it very easy to write about them. I’m fashionable once every 15 years, for about three months. My look is very easy to maintain but that wasn’t always the case – in the 80s, I couldn’t find anything. Every time I obtained a tubular Ivy League blazer that didn’t have padded shoulders I had to treat it like it was made out of gold. They were never out of the dry cleaners – I’d only wear them to weddings, funerals and gigs, and I’ve still got them now. Some are held together by staples because the lining’s falling out, but you see them in photoshoots and they still look the business.

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Hylda Sims obituary

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My friend, Hylda Sims, the skiffle singer, poet, songwriter and activist, has died aged 87, after a short illness.

Hylda was a strong presence on the 1950s music scene in London and with her husband, Russell Quaye, ran the City Ramblers Skiffle Group. The couple also started the Skiffle Cellar in Soho. The club ran seven nights a week and everyone on the skiffle, folk and blues scene played there, including visiting American artists such as Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

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Jeet Thayil: ‘The last book that made me laugh? A book of poems by Narendra Modi’

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The poet and novelist on the literary merits of the Indian Prime Minister and changing his opinion of TS Eliot

The book I am currently reading
Edna O’Brien’s Girl, which serves as a corrective to the creative writing rule “Write what you know”. There is no risk or honour in writing only what you know. What a banal world it would be if writers did not use their imaginations.

The book that changed me
Books have changed my life more than once, but it may be the earliest collisions that persist. If I had to name one novel I’d say The Brothers Karamazov, which I read in my early teens. The Russian novel is uniquely suited to India: the feudalism, the insanity disguised as religious fervour, the regard for the written word, the scattershot passion and hysteria. I admired the drunkenness of the prose, the digressions and exaltation, the way Dostoevsky wrote as if each page would be his last.

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The Remains of Logan Dankworth review – a poet for our day

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Pound Arts Centre, Corsham
Luke Wright’s eloquent verse monologue pairs Brexit with the breakdown of a marriage

Luke Wright is a poet for our day and today in particular. This dramatic monologue, spoken in verse, is soaked with political – and marital – malaise. It takes us from the death of Jo Cox to Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, the EU referendum and the age of Brexit, alongside its picture of a slowly crumbling marriage.

This is the third in Wright’s trilogy of political verse plays and it is an artful cross between spoken word, standup and the soapbox. Having previously explored Thatcherism and New Labour, this one sees a character called Logan Dankworth rise from student politics to mainstream political punditry.

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

Touring until 29 July.

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Poem of the month: Moonlight Sonata by Ruth Padel

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We make the life we need.
The city’s bells are muffled,
the sky is frozen copper.
You can still hear, sometimes.
Still win the improvising contests.

A sonata in C sharp minor,
quasi fantasia, like a blind girl
lit by moonlight she cannot see.
New melodies unfold from tiny seeds.
Euphoria, then presto agitato, manic rage.

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The best recent poetry collections – review roundup

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Rendang by Will Harris; Art of Escape by Mina Gorji; Killing Kanoko / Wild Grass on the Riverbank by Itō Hiromi; and Hello by Crispin Best

Will Harris’s Rendang (Granta, £12.99) is a sharp and assured debut collection that meditates on the multiplicity of identity, the shaky building blocks that make up a country and the politics of exhibition. It travels from actual terrains – in London, Chicago, Jakarta – to the surreal “purple rock” of “Planet Mongo”, and this exploratory curiosity is matched by the collection’s formal expansiveness, encompassing accomplished prose-poems, concrete poetry and lyric sequences. Harris suffuses the everyday with a mythic dignity, so that the drunk singing Otis Redding in a pub takes on the tragic stature of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner and “bees groan inside / the carcass of the split bin bag” as Samson’s biblical riddle is brought to summer pavements to later “draw forth – not sweetness – something new”. As the speaker ticks “Other, Mixed” on forms, he muses that “some / drunk nights I theorize / my own transmembered norms”, wryly using the non-standard English “transmembered” to evade being trapped in bureaucratic boxes himself. The collection leans into a vocabulary all of its own, and announces itself as an artefact that will not be dislodged.

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Poem of the week: In the Rose Garden by Helen Tookey

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This elliptical story of a young woman is rich with possible readings

In the Rose Garden

She’s in the rose garden again, staring
at her right arm, its pale soft underside
that never gets the sun, never gets tanned.

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Raficq Abdulla obituary

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My great-uncle Raficq Abdulla, who has died aged 79, could be described as a modern-day renaissance man. A lawyer, writer and poet, he was a board member of the Muslim Law (Sharia) Council in the UK, published numerous articles and books on poetry, art and spirituality, and was involved in interfaith work between Muslims, Jews and Christians. A trustee of English PEN, he was acting president of the organisation from 2013 to 2014.

Raficq worked closely with the Egyptian scholar Zaki Badawi, a co-founder of the Three Faiths Forum, advising him on legal matters. He wrote regularly for World Faith Encounters, edited by his friend the Rev Alan Race, and also worked with Rabbi Julia Neuberger, of West London Synagogue. In 1999 Raficq was made MBE for this work.

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Ban on Aleister Crowley lecture at Oxford University - archive, 4 February 1930

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4 February 1930: Disciplinary action will be taken against university Poetry Society if Crowley is allowed to give talk on a 15th century magician

Oxford, Monday
A lecture which was to have been given to the University Poetry Society to-night by Mr Aleister Crowley has been officially banned. Mr Crowley, who was to have spoken on the fifteenth-century magician Gilles de Rais, has received notice from Mr H Speaight, the secretary of the Poetry Society, not to come to Oxford as disciplinary action would be taken if his lecture were delivered here. The secretary’s letter was as follows:-

Related: Unseen Aleister Crowley writings reveal 'short-story writer of the highest order'

I am writing to tell you that we have been unfortunately forced to cancel next Monday’s meeting of the Poetry Society. It has come to our knowledge that if your proposed paper is delivered disciplinary action will be taken involving not only myself but the rest of the members of the society. In these circumstances you will, I trust, understand why we have had to cancel the meeting.

Related: From the archive, 13 April 1934: "Black Magic" Libel Action

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Edward Kamau Brathwaite obituary

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Poet and academic who aimed to create a distinctively Caribbean form of poetry to celebrate the region’s voices and language

Edward Brathwaite, also known as Kamau Brathwaite, who has died aged 89, was a Caribbean poet and historian, praised by the American poet Adrienne Rich for his “dazzling inventive language, his tragic yet unquenchable vision, [which] made him one of the most compelling of late twentieth century poets”.

Brathwaite began composing and performing his best-known work, The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy (1973), while teaching and studying history in Jamaica and Britain in the 1960s. This epic trilogy traces the migrations of African peoples in and from the African continent, through the sufferings of the Middle Passage and slavery, and dramatises 20th-century journeys to the UK, France and the US in search of economic and psychic survival.

Rise rise
locks-
man, rise
rise rise
leh we
laugh
dem, mock
dem, stop
dem, kill
dem, an go’
back back
to the black
man lan’
back back
to Af-
rica.

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Michael Rosen condemns UK education system's 'fear of laughter'

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Announcing the winners of this years Laugh Out Loud awards for the funniest children’s books, Rosen took aim at the ‘oppressive’ solemnity of today’s schools

In an “oppressive” education system, children need the release of humour to make the world less frightening, according to the former children’s laureate Michael Rosen.

Revealing the winners of the Laugh Out Loud awards, which celebrate the year’s funniest children’s books, Rosen said that when he is performing his comic poems such as Chocolate Cake and No Breathing in Class, children “will look at their teachers, as if to say, ‘Are we allowed to laugh. Is it permitted?’

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Poet laureate Simon Armitage launches 'ambient post-rock' band

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LYR sets Armitage’s spoken vocals to music from Richard Walters and Patrick Pearson. A debut album is due in spring

Most modern poets laureate have released recordings of their work, but none hitherto has put out an album billed as providing “ambient post-rock passages, jazz flourishes and atonal experimentalism”. But that’s the latest direction for the current incumbent, Simon Armitage.

Armitage and his band LYR, which includes musician Richard Walters and producer and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Pearson, have signed to “post-classical” label Mercury KX, with their first single, Never Good With Horses, out on Friday, and their debut album Call in the Crash Team to follow in the spring.

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Danez Smith: ‘White people can learn from it, but that’s not who I’m writing for’

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The youngest winner of the Forward prize and author of viral sensation ‘dear white America’, Smith is back with a deeply personal collection, Homie

• Plus read an extract from Homie below

Danez Smith was born into a devout Baptist household in St Paul, Minnesota. Smith’s grandmother still lives there, in one of only two black households on a street that was mixed but is becoming increasingly white. Smith grew up, on this border between the blacker areas and the white middle-class enclaves of the city, as a black, queer, God-fearing child.

The future poet and spoken-word artist would listen to family members and friends telling stories on the porch, impressed by their way with words. The friends came and went but there was always one constant: church. Smith may have struggled to fit in among the congregation but Sunday morning meant worship, and more importantly a sermon. It was that rousing religious oration that opened up the world of writing and performance.

I didn’t want trauma porn. I don’t think that’s what I ever created but it was being used as that

There was always this idea that Britain was done with racism – but Meghan Markle left because you guys were racist

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Poem of the week: Song by Peter Gizzi

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Alive with thought-in-action, these verses sing a new kind of love song

Song

I want color to braid,
to bleed, want song
to fly to flex to think
in lines. To work
the pulp, to open up
this cardinal feeling
in green.

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Marc Alexander obituary

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My friend Marc Alexander, who has died aged 90, was a poet and prolific novelist who wrote more than 70 books, as well as being a journalist and professional photographer.

His books, set in New Zealand, where he grew up, and Britain, had titles such as Haunted Inns (1973), Haunted Castles (1974), Phantom Britain (1975), The Outrageous Queens (1977), The Mist Lizard (1980), Royal Murder (1978) and Not After Nightfall (1985). The horror-thriller Plague Pit (1981), published under the nom de plume Mark Ronson, was a bestseller.

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Get ready for the marmalade years | Letters

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Further correspondence on marmalade and longevity from Helen Scadding, Jan Stillaway, Clare Ronald and Steve Moore, prompted by our long-running letters thread

I am 62 and have only just reached the “marmalade years” (The preserve of a long life, G2, 10 February), but I hope your readers enjoy my marmalade poem:

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