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Bruce Dawe's passing is a great loss but his remarkable, socially aware poetry will remain relevant

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For decades when you went into a second-hand bookshop in Australia, if you found only one book of poetry there it would be Bruce Dawe’s Sometimes Gladness

The poet Bruce Dawe, who wrote his first poems in his teens under a pseudonym, has died at age 90 as one of Australia’s best-known poets, respected by a wide and diverse audience. This diversity would have mattered to him. His work was widely honoured in his lifetime, including with the Patrick White award and a Christopher Brennan award for lifetime achievement in poetry.

From a working-class background with broken schooling in Melbourne, then later ongoing commitment to part-time education, through to receiving a PhD, he eventually became a teacher and academic in Queensland. Dawe’s earlier work experience(his many jobs included being a postman, working in a battery factory and serving for a long period with the RAAF) provided the “lived life” feel of social familiarity in his poems.

Related: Ali Cobby Eckermann on winning the world's richest writing prize: 'It's taken time to adjust'

Always behind Dawe’s seemingly playful banter is his commitment to sympathy and connection with the less empowered

Dear one, forgive my appearing before you like this,
in a two-piece track-suit, welder’s goggles
and a green cloth cap, like some gross bee – this is the State’s idea ...

Be assured, you will sink into the generous pool of public feeling
as gently as a leaf ... Accept your role. Feel chosen.
You are this evening’s headline. Come, my love.

What does he do with them all, the old king:
Having such a shining haul of boys in his sure net,
How does he keep them happy, lead them to forget
The world above, the aching air, birds, spring?

Related: Awe, wonder and the overview effect: how feeling small gives us much-needed perspective | Julia Baird

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Tiger King and a bloody mary: Hilary Mantel, Simon Armitage and other writers on lockdown life

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Simon Armitage pogos to neo-punk, Anne Enright craves for Cary Grant, The Seventh Seal cheers up Julian Barnes, Diana Evans works out to hip-hop and Jeanette Winterson talks to herself … writers reveal how they’re surviving the corona crisis

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The best recent poetry – review roundup

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In the Lateness of the World by Carolyn Forché; Ledger by Jane Hirshfield; I, Ursula by Ruth Stacey; Yves Bonnefoy: Prose edited by Stephen Romer, Anthony Rudolf and John Naughton


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My favourite book as a kid: Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss

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Kicking off a series where writers revisit the book they loved most as a child, Sam Leith returns to a ‘sinister’ classic

‘Say! In the dark? Here in the dark? Would you, could you, in the dark?” Dr Seuss’s masterpiece – among his many masterpieces – is Green Eggs and Ham. It transfixed me as a child and it transfixes me now as I read it to my own children.

Perhaps the most haunting passage in it comes with those words. This demented little creature, desperate to press his unappetising brunch on the grouchy protagonist, is in a car, on a train, and that train is now hurtling through a distinctly cloacal tunnel. The egg-and-ham refuser teeters backwards on the bonnet of the car, retreating from the proffered plate. And those words: the cadence of them, the sinister whisper: here in the dark. It could be the strapline for a serial-killer movie starring Morgan Freeman, and here it is in the middle of a zany children’s book.

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Poem of the week: Easter by Róisín Kelly

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A chance sighting of an ex-lover sets off very ambivalent emotions, but also a kind of miracle

Easter

You walk by holding a bunch of flowers
never knowing that you’ve just performed a miracle.
Are those flowers for your girl?
I imagine her dressed up like an Easter egg
in yellow and pink. I’d tap at you like an egg,
cracking your thin chocolate shell.
If I were made of chocolate too, I’d break
off parts of myself to give to you and your girl.
Once, I gave my words for garden
and water and moonlit and love
to a man who kissed me. After he rolled
a stone over my heart and shut me off
from the world, I had no words left
to describe the dark dream that followed.
Now you’ve walked by, godlike in jeans
and an old t-shirt, the sun glinting on one
silver earring. Now a rose is once again
not only rose but also soft and red
and thorn and bee and honey.
Now a bird is singing song and tree
and nest in a high place and blue speckled egg.
You yourself are glowing with words, they move
up and down you as if they’re alive.
The words bring themselves to me
and tell my tongue sweetness over and over.
The words are everything. With them,
I’ll turn water to wine at your wedding.

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'We will meet again': when a monarch brings comfort with a song

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The royals aren’t partial to posh poetry – but I remember George VI, like the Queen, bringing solace with a simple line of verse

It is 1939 and I am in bed listening to the king. He seems to be reading a poem. “I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year / Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” I can feel my nails dig into the palm of my hand as his voice vanishes, perhaps for ever, into some dark pit from which it emerges suddenly with a gasp. Very like my father’s car which stops and starts for no obvious reason.

“Give me a light.” The words are simplicity itself. A child can understand them and remember them. As I do.

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Radical Wordsworth, Well-Kept Secrets, William Wordsworth review – lives of the poet

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Republican, eco-warrior young Wordsworth v grand older poet – 250 after his birth, do we still have to take sides?

James Boswell started his biography of Dr Johnson on an anxious note: “To write the Life of him who excelled all mankind in writing the lives of others,” he confessed, “may be reckoned in me a presumptuous task.” How presumptuous, then, must the biographer of William Wordsworth feel? Not only is he one of the greatest of all English poets, but in The Prelude,largely unpublished until after his death, he excelled all mankind in writing the history of his own life – or rather, what he called “the growth of a poet’s mind”. No biographer could hope to compete with the sheer audacity and originality of Wordsworth’s 14-book blank verse account of what had made him a writer and a man. But as these three studies make plain, there is more than one way to tell the story of a life.

Although his verse autobiography tracks the sources of a poet’s character and imagination, in real life its author tried just as strenuously to keep himself hidden from view. Wordsworth thought one of the best ways to put off would-be biographers was to claim that virtually nothing had ever happened to him. Now we know differently. The “well-kept secrets” to which Andrew Wordsworth (a descendant) alludes in his title are, first, the poet’s “true feelings towards his sister”, and second, “the existence of his illegitimate daughter”. The latter might justly be described as a secret, since knowledge of Caroline Wordsworth’s birth in revolutionary France did not become public until seven decades after Wordsworth had died. It is also true that he enjoyed an intensely and unusually loving, creative relationship with his sister Dorothy. But this can scarcely be said to constitute a “secret”; Wordsworth doesn’t appear to have felt burdened by his feelings towards her, nor did he try to conceal them. Andrew Wordsworth stops short of suggesting, as others have done, that the connection may have been incestuous. Rather, he sees in the five celebrated “Lucy” poems – a series of works concerning a young girl who has died, composed between 1798 and 1802 – coded references both to Caroline and Dorothy, expressing the author’s fears for the loss of one or both of them but also in some sense steeling himself to bear it.

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Government rejects bid to turn Oscar Wilde’s prison into an arts centre

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Campaign to convert the former prison was backed by Reading council and luminaries including Stephen Fry but rejected by the Ministry of Justice

The Ministry of Justice has rejected a bid to turn Reading prison, where Oscar Wilde was jailed for two years in 1895, into an arts centre.

The Grade II-listed building, which closed as a working jail in 2014, was put up for sale last year. Campaigners launched a bid to turn the site into an arts hub, attracting support from writers including Stephen Fry and Julian Barnes. But Reading borough council said on Tuesday that the MoJ has declined its attempt to buy the prison.

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Carol Ann Duffy's poems to get us through: Adult Fiction by Ian McMillan

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The poet starts a new series, picking poems from her shelves to comfort and inspire us in isolation. Here she introduces a work that celebrates the sounds and smells of libraries

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be selecting poems from my library at home in Manchester to share with Guardian readers. Now seems as bad a time as any to read good poems – to discover or rediscover our living poets.

Poetry is the quiet music of being human and in these days and nights when our humanity is fully vulnerable and exposed, poetry takes a small step forward. In our separate isolations, a poem is like the Tardis: bigger on the inside. Like spring – to recall TS Eliot – poetry mixes memory and desire.

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Country diary: the quarry is strictly for the birds now

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Glyn Ceiriog, Clwyd: No climbers today brave Hendre’s precarious walls, and daffodils grow by the old tramway

Memory hold the door! My last spring outing before lockdown, I drove steep lanes from Llangollen to the Finger Farm on an eastern ridge of Y Berwyn, from which you look south and west along hill-enfolded Glyn Ceiriog. I’d come to walk the Ceiriog Valley tramway– an old favourite of mine.

A dipper, creamy bib gleaming among ambient greys, gave its chinking flight-call as it sped upriver. Water ouzel is the old name for these tubby, hyperactive birds. It fits somehow, though they’re no relation to the ring ouzel, a rare thrush that frequents high streams of the Berwyn moorland where the Afon Ceiriog rises.

Related: Country diary: a mountain blackbird briefly elevates our almost-mountain

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Poem constructed from emails received during quarantine goes viral

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Jessica Salfia’s widely shared poem First Lines of Emails I’ve Received While Quarantining has the refrain ‘As you know, many people are struggling’

Everyone has received at least one and now they’ve been elevated to poetry: a US teacher has highlighted corporate opportunism during the coronavirus outbreak, in a viral poem titled First Lines of Emails I’ve Received While Quarantining.

Jessica Salfia, an English teacher and writer in West Virginia, posted the poem on Twitter on Saturday. “In these uncertain times / as we navigate the new normal, / Are you willing to share your ideas and solutions? / As you know, many people are struggling,” the poem begins.

This poem is called “First lines of emails I’ve received while quarantining.” pic.twitter.com/4keCqPaO63

Related: 'Everyone is pulling together': poems by NHS workers to raise money for Covid-19 appeal

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Poem of the week: Can I fight the power? by Kev Inn

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An internal dialogue wrestles with the question of how to contend with undeclared racism

Can I fight the power?

A meditation on ‘post-raciality’

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Radical Wordsworth by Jonathan Bate review – fleet-footed and inspiriting

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On the 250th anniversary of his birth, a biography focusing on the poet’s most creative years zings with passion and energy

In 1798, William Wordsworth arrived from Bristol at the cottage of his friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Nether Stowey in Somerset. Twenty-five years later, William Hazlitt, who was also in residence at the time, still remembered his first sight of the future poet laureate, a tall “Don Quixote-like” figure, quaintly dressed in a brown fustian jacket and striped pantaloons. There was, wrote Hazlitt, “a roll in his gait” and a “fire in his eye”; when he began to talk, he heard in Wordsworth’s voice “a strong tincture of the northern burr, like the crust on wine”. The poet “instantly began to make havoc” of a Cheshire cheese that was on Coleridge’s table.

The year 1798 was a miraculous one for Coleridge and Wordsworth, their glorious bromance as yet unpolluted by jealousy and opium (Coleridge), pomposity and indiscretion (Wordsworth). There, on the edge of the Quantocks – they were not yet the Lakeland Poets – Wordsworth wrote Tintern Abbey and Coleridge Kubla Khan and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Striding out in the countryside, accompanied by Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy, they talked of Shakespeare and Spinoza, their brains, like their lungs, expanding with every stride. The atmosphere, all poetry and high-mindedness, was exciting, even febrile. But Britain was also at war with France, and young men of odd appearance and grand ideas were apt to attract attention. Word of their activities having reached the wrong ears, a government spy was dispatched to observe them. What this emissary made of Wordsworth’s striped pantaloons is, alas, not known.

Fanaticism, like bereavement, freezes certain internal organs

Related: The Guardian view on poetry for dark times: add Wordsworth to the stockpile | Editorial

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The Way Out review – join Omid Djalili on a whirl through wonderland

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Available online
The labyrinthine corridors of Battersea Arts Centre become a rabbit hole of live acts in this bewitching single-take film

The Way Out, part of the BBC’s Performance Live strand, is set within the bricks-and-mortar reality of Battersea Arts Centre, with a camera capturing the drama in one unbroken shot. This might have given the 40-minute film a gritty, documentary feel but the story quickly slips into less solid space and drops down a rabbit hole.

Our latter-day Alice (Bláithín Mac Gabhann), named only as the Outsider, enters the building at night to find it alive with entertainment. The white rabbit figure is played by Omid Djalili, a Guide dressed in the red coat and hat of an impresario, and Wonderland is what Mac Gabhann finds along the labyrinthine corridors and halls of the arts venue.

Available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

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Hidden Robert Dover poem uncovered in 17th century plea roll

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Discovery sheds light on colourful character part of leading literary and legal circles of the time

A hidden poem found in dusty early 17th century legal parchments at the National Archives has shed fresh light on a colourful character who moved in the leading literary and legal circles of the day.

Written by Robert Dover, a King’s Bench attorney and friend of the poet Ben Jonson, the short piece laments the quality of his handwritten legal plea rolls due to a lack of gall apples from which to make his ink.

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Yayoi Kusama's message to Covid-19: 'Disappear from this earth'

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The veteran Japanese avant-garde artist has issued a poem of defiance in the teeth of the ‘terrible monster’, the coronavirus pandemic

Yayoi Kusama, one of the world’s most popular living artists, has responded to the global coronavirus crisis with a message of defiance.

The reclusive 91-year-old, celebrated for her polka-dot artworks and installations, has written what she says is a message to the whole world.

Today, with the world facing Covid-19, I feel the necessity to address it with this message:

A MESSAGE FROM YAYOI KUSAMA TO THE WHOLE WORLD


Though it glistens just out of reach, I continue to pray for hope to shine through

Its glimmer lighting our way

This long-awaited great cosmic glow

Now that we find ourselves on the dark side of the world

The gods will be there to strengthen the hope we have spread throughout the universe



Revolutionist of the world by the Art

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Poems to get us through: Nature Walk by Colette Bryce

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In the second of a series in which the former poet laureate picks poems from her shelves to comfort and inspire us in isolation, Carol Ann Duffy introduces a gentle study of isolated souls

Colette Bryce was born in Derry in 1970 and has received many awards for her work. A significant editor of poetry magazines, she is the incoming editor of Poetry Ireland Review in 2020. Although the poem here was written well over a decade ago, it acquires a glittering sense of loss, a prescience, in these days when we leave our homes for the briefest of times and walk carefully apart. Carpe diem, we might think, as we read the gentle, human noticing of this poem.

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Laughter in dark times: Geoff Dyer on funny books you may not have read

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A comedic war novel, Eve Babitz’s tale of sex and drugs, and a dog who comes back from the dead ... humour can be found in the strangest places

Everyone knows that writers such as Lorrie Moore, Jonathan Coe and Paul Beatty are funny, so in this list I’m including a few titles that might be expected to crop up in a neighbouring category: “Great War Novels”, say in the case of James Jones’s The Thin Red Line. Jones is not much read today – and it’s easy to see why in the unlikely event that you get through From Here to Eternity– but I was curious aboutThe Thin Red Line because of Terrence Malick’s masterly film. Well, the novel is recognisably the source, in that it takes place during the American assault on Guadalcanal in the second world war, but one slowly realises (almost disbelievingly, given the film’s stately cadences) that the book is actually a very violent comedy: “a sort of nonsensical hysteria of cruel fun”, as one officer sees it, more akin to Tarantino than Malick.

“Hysteria of cruel fun” is also an apt description of the bonkers world of Ivy Compton-Burnett. In scope (English upper-class households between the wars) and form (almost entirely dialogue), novels such as A House and Its Head and Manservant and Maidservant get by on the most meagre of narrative rations. Imagine the Wodehouse books, with Jeeves and Wooster stranded at the precise moment, in Gaspar Noé’s Climax,when the cast begin to notice that the punch has been spiked. Since this dread realisation can be expressed only within the clipped register of class and period, a tightly repressed mania holds sway. Relief takes the form of howls of laughter from the reader.

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Let’s dust down the archive descriptions | Brief letters

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Robert Dover poetry | Care workers | Unusual baby names | The Mirror and the Light

Why do journalists always describe archives and their contents as “dusty” (Hidden Robert Dover poem uncovered in 17th century plea roll, 13 April)? The whole point of a properly run archive is to create storage conditions that eradicate dust and other corrupting elements in the interests of long-term preservation.
Clyde Jeavons
Former curator, National Film Archive, British Film Institute

• There is much to admire in the ingenuity of Euan Roger’s interpretation of the newly found Robert Dover poem. But there is no need to wrest Dover’s “Apelles” into “apples” or “as pelles” (Latin for animal skins). Dover is referring to the Greek artist Apelles, a byword for the highest skill in painting.
Prof Derek Attridge
York

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All alone online: Iggy Pop and Jeremy Irons lead mass Ancient Mariner reading

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Streaming daily, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 2020 incarnation also features Marianne Faithfull and Tilda Swinton as readers, set against sound and fine art

“Alone, alone, all, all alone.” The cry of the Ancient Mariner, immortalised by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, feels particularly apposite today as the world self-isolates. Now the 18th-century poem is set to be reimagined, in a daily online reading by stars from Marianne Faithfull to Iggy Pop, Jeremy Irons and Tilda Swinton for a world audience in lockdown.

The Ancient Mariner Big Read, which launches on Saturday and was commissioned by The Arts Institute at Plymouth University, will see the 150-verse poem divided into 40 readings, with readers from Faithfull to Irons each recording three or four verses to be broadcast daily for free. (Faithfull recorded it before being hospitalised with the coronavirus.) The project will combine the readings with works from major artists including Marina Abramović, and refocus on the poem’s “urgent ecological message”.

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