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Zonal by Don Paterson review – rich, masked musings on midlife crisis

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The prize-winning poet’s new collection, inspired by The Twilight Zone, is a witty, wily hall of mirrors

There is a scene in the black-and-white sci-fi TV programme The Twilight Zone, created by Rod Serling, where a character is unmasked only to reveal a second mask beneath the first. Don Paterson’s new collection, partly inspired by the 1959-1960 first series of the show, is rather like this. In its opening pages, he issues a teasing warning. He writes that readers should not be deceived by what might be assumed to be his confessional tone: “It isn’t, except on those occasions when it is.” The first thing one has to feel comfortable with is the knowledge that Paterson will not wear his heart on his sleeve, that he is more likely to borrow a sleeve than to let us know, directly, what it is he is feeling and that any emotional authenticity – or the fleeting confessions to which he alludes – are to be dispensed via a fantastical autobiographical hybrid, a mix of disclosure and disguise.

The idea of the collection – which sounds barmy at first – is of the midlife crisis as a permanent state of mind, akin to being marooned on some godawful planet where your other half is likely, at least some of the time, to be an alien. This, I thought, after taking a brief look at the poems, has to be self-indulgent baloney. But as soon as I settled down to read these poems properly, I felt different: I love the collection’s minutely wrought originality and the way that even dismaying subjects – loneliness, insecurity, botched relationships – have hilarious side-effects. The book made me laugh aloud. It is bracing to see Paterson – a dab hand at form (40 Sonnets won the 2015 Costa poetry prize) – returning with eloquence and vim to rhythms of speech. And it is worth adding that, although The Twilight Zone is brilliant, you need not be acquainted with it to enjoy the poems: they speak for themselves.

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Caroline West Duah obituary

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My friend Caroline West Duah, who has died aged 78, was at heart a poet, although the course of her life meant she was unable to devote as much time to writing poetry as she would have liked.

She was born in Ecchinswell, Dorset, to the novelist and essayist Anthony West and the feminist painter Katharine Church. Her grandparents were the writers H G Wells and Rebecca West. Her parents divorced when she was young, and thereafter she lived in the Dorset village of Woodlands with her mother, whose home there, Sutton House, became a meeting place for many female British painters.

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Poem of the week: Safe Houses by Bernard O’Donoghue

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Wondering where the house keys are sets off a chain of associations leading to a much larger question

Safe Houses

I find that I have started recently
to keep spare keys to the front door
in several pockets, such is my fear
of being locked out. Caught by the wind
the door could shut quietly behind you,
leaving you to face the outer world alone.
Once safe inside I don’t put on the chain.

Related: Lives of Houses review – the enduring appeal of writers' homes

Bernard O’Donoghue’s most recent collection is The Seasons of Cullen Church.

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Carol Ann Duffy leads British poets creating 'living record' of coronavirus

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Major names including Imtiaz Dharker, Jackie Kay and father-and-son poets Ian and Andrew McMillan to document outbreak in verse

Carol Ann Duffy has launched an international poetry project with major names including Imtiaz Dharker, Roger McGough and Ian McMillan, as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The former poet laureate hopes the project, entitled Write Where We Are Now, “will provide an opportunity for reflection and inspiration in these challenging times, as well as creating a living record of what is happening as seen through our poets’ eyes and ears, in their gardens or garrets”.

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

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Bullfinches and robins take back control of our gardens | Brief letters

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Martin Kettle’s pandemic prescience | Bullfinches | Robins | PPE | Unusual children’s names

Our garage toilet doubles as a storage place for literature we struggle to throw away – like old issues of the Guardian Weekly. On a whim, at the weekend I tunneled into the pile, and read Martin Kettle’s piece from the edition of 1 June 2018, about the dearth of coverage being given to the 100th anniversary of the Spanish flu. His closing sentence: “If something like that happened in the modern world, our present habit of looking in the other direction would seem a catastrophic act of folly.” Bravo, Martin. And Guardian subscriptions for all our leaders, please.
Chris Clarke
Wellington, New Zealand

• No blossom on the flowering cherry at the edge of our patio, or the amerlanchier, or the damson outside the kitchen window (Carol Ann Duffy leads British poets creating ‘living record’ of coronavirus, 20 April). The predator? Not a dreadful virus but five bright bullfinches pulling off the buds to get to the grubs beneath. But what a bright and cheerful display!
Bill Messer
Pontrhydfendigaid, Ceredigion

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Lake District invaded for Wordsworth centenary – archive, 22 Apr 1950

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22 April 1950 From Europe and America, a distinguished army of scholars, poets and philosophers have assembled to honour the great poet

Grasmere, Friday
The Wordsworth centenary celebrations have begun. The Recluse, after “musing in solitude” through a reasonably mild winter in this famous valley, would have to start the summer migration a little early this year. Solitude, indeed, is about the only thing you are unlikely to meet here.

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

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

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Poems to get us through: The First Geniuses by Billy Collins

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Carol Ann Duffy continues her series of poems chosen from her shelves to comfort and inspire us in isolation. Here, a work that travels back before the start of civilisation

Born in New York City, Billy Collins is arguably the most popular poet in America, where he served as poet laureate from 2001 to 2003. Much loved in the UK, too, he was described by the late Michael Donaghy as “a rare amalgam of accessibility and intelligence”. Possessed of a surreal and darkly comic imagination, Collins is courteous to his readers, keen to take us with him on his imaginary wanderings, but always delivering so much more than entertainment, and prompting us to think below the surface of our lives.

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Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's lockdown listening: 'Doing handstands, that’s the time for music'

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The LA ambient composer shares what she’s been listening to while upside down, from Caribou to Zimbabwean polyrhythms

I live in Los Angeles with my husband in a quiet neighbourhood that looks out on the Verdugo Hills. One of our best friends lives right behind us, so we have daily balcony conversations with them; I’m very grateful for that.

When I’m doing handstands, that’s the time for taking in other people’s music. I do a hand-balancing class almost every day, and I feel comfortable holding a handstand. Right now, my best is a minute and a half. It’s a symbol to me of the impossible, my own therapy practice about trying to break through mental constructs; there are some things I feel confident in and some things where it feels as if there’s so far to go still. In the last two years, I went through a lot of health struggles and was burned out from touring. I struggled with depression, chemical imbalances, mental fog, ulcers – a whole slew of things. Through lots of different practices those all got healed, but any time I had depression, if I just got upside down it was like an instant fix.

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First Nations people have faced moments like this before. We can learn from the poems that sprung from them

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From Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Alexis Wright to Ali Cobby Eckermann and Kerry Reed-Gilbert, poetry can show us the collective power of care

This is not unprecedented.

Not the presence of a new disease. Not the enforced social measures that fragment how we interact, and who with. Not the laying to waste of the environment. Not the strategies of triage, and stratified disposability of human lives.

Related: Hey, Ancestor! by Alexis Wright

There are skinny old hungry foxes having Maccas with the lot for early Australia day breakfast.

And there is ant out there labouring in the dirt under the wings of a dead butterfly, taken it on a journey that seems to take forever, a journey as great as travelling around the world to the butterflies cemetery.

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Reasons to be cheerful: poetry and stories to give hope to adults and children alike

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Children’s author Katherine Rundell introduces original poems, stories and illustrations by the likes of Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and Axel Scheffler

We have always given each other strange advice in times of plague. During the yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia in 1793, it was thought you could purify the air by firing muskets, both indoors and out, and for a while it became impossible to go for a walk without some earnest citizen shooting you in the ear. In London in 1665, it was said that powdered dried toad would protect against the terrifying sweep of death. Tobacco was used to ward off bubonic plagues, with toddlers puffing at pipes at the kitchen table.

But there has been good advice, too, and that advice is more constant across history: we have always told each other to tell stories and try not to despair. Tomaso del Garbo, a Florentine physician working during the 14th-century Black Death, wrote that those who could not “flee the pestilence” must “use songs and games and pleasant stories that do not exhaust the body”. Writing at the same time, Nicholas de Burgo urged that people “take care to be able to be joyful … listen to lullabies, stories and melodies”. A 15th-century revised edition of Aldobrandino of Siena’s Régime du Corps, which circulated widely during epidemic outbreaks, told its readers to “read joyful and strange things”.This prescription was down, in part, to the ancient Galenic idea that fear and sorrow could alter the temperature of a person’s body and thereby render them more prone to sickness: but it was also a sense that, in the midst of horror, we need to be transported.

The world has so many possibilities that despair is misplaced – our universe is shot through with the unexpected

Emily Gravett is the illustrator and author of Meerkat Mail and The Odd Egg (Two Hoots).

Axel Scheffler is the illustrator of The Gruffalo, Zog and Room on the Broom (Pan Macmillan). His latest work is Coronavirus, a free book explaining the pandemic to children.

Rob Biddulph is the illustrator of books including Blown Away, GRRRRR! and Odd Dog Out (HarperCollins Children’s Books).

Chris Haughton is the illustrator and author of Oh No, George! and A Bit Lost (Walker Books).

Steven Lenton is the illustrator of Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam by Tracey Corderoy (Nosy Crow), as well as books by David Baddiel and Frank Cottrell-Boyce.

Jim Smith is the illustrator and author of the Barry Loser series and the Super Weird Mysteries series (Egmont).

Tom Percival is the illustrator and author of Ruby’s Worry and Perfectly Norman (Bloomsbury Children’s Books).

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William Wordsworth's 250th anniversary marked with mass readings

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Stephen Fry and Brian Cox have joined descendants of the great Romantic and members of the public to record a host of his poems

Stephen Fry and Brian Cox’s sonorous tones can be heard declaiming William Wordsworth’s The World Is Too Much With Us, Caroline Quentin is reading the Romantic poet’s Lines Written in Early Spring, and William H Macy has taken on his She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways.

A host of actors and celebrities have jumped at the chance to record their favourite Wordsworth poems to mark the 250th anniversary of his birth, with the poet’s descendants now appealing to the public to send in their own readings to help them build a living archive of his writing online.

Related: Poems to get us through: The First Geniuses by Billy Collins

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Poem of the week: The New Divan by Edwin Morgan

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To mark what would have been his 100th birthday, three pieces from his 100-part ‘war poem’ that is also about a forbidden love

Three poems from The New Divan

1.
Hafiz, old nightingale, what fires there have been
in the groves, white dust, wretchedness,
how could you ever get your song together?
Someone stands by your tomb, thinks
as a shadow thinks: much, little, any?
You swore you’d be found shrouded in another
grave-cloth of pure smoke from a heart as
burning dead as beating but the names
of cinders are thick where passions were.
Whole cities could be ash. But
not the song the Sufi says we have
but our dying song, you knew, gives us our beings.

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Poems to get us through: I Need by Imtiaz Dharker

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The former poet laureate picks favourites from her bookshelves to comfort us in isolation. In this poem, the writer reflects on her heritage to evoke sensuous delight … and longing

Recipient of the Queen’s gold medal for poetry in 2014, Imtiaz Dharker grew up in Glasgow and lived for many years in Mumbai before settling in London with her late husband Simon Powell, the creator of GCSE Poetry Live. Her work is full of a deep relish for all the world has to offer – food, travel, colour, love – and a lip-smacking relish for words themselves.

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Contemporary artistic works mark 75th anniversary of VE Day

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Online exhibition of art, poetry and music explores themes around conflict and victory

When the Spanish illustrator Cristina Daura was asked to contribute to a collection of artistic works to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day it was a challenge.

The idea of victory in war begged the question: at what cost? At 31, Daura, whose vibrant illustrations have featured in exhibitions, books, magazines and newspapers around the world, had not lived through the second world war.

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Poem of the week: The Chess Player by Howard Altmann

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A peaceful, lightly surreal scene is shadowed with wider foreboding

The Chess Player

They’ve left. They’ve all left.
The pigeon feeders have left.
The old men on the benches have left.
The white-gloved ladies with the Great Danes have left.
The lovers who thought about coming have left.
The man in the three-piece suit has left.
The man who was a three-piece band has left.
The man on the milkcrate with the bible has left.
Even the birds have left.
Now the trees are thinking about leaving too.
And the grass is trying to turn itself in.
Of course the buses no longer pass.
And the children no longer ask.
The air wants to go and is in discussions.
The clouds are trying to steer clear.
The sky is reaching for its hands.
Even the moon sees what’s going on.
But the stars remain in the dark.
As does the chess player.
Who sits with all his pieces
In position.

Related: Poem of the week: The Lake of Memories by Howard Altmann

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Roger Robinson's poems of Trinidad and London win Ondaatje prize

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A Portable Paradise is the second poetry collection to win £10,000 award for a book that conjures ‘the spirit of a place’

Roger Robinson’s vision of Trinidad as a “portable paradise” of “white sands, green hills and fresh fish”, has won the British-Trinidadian poet the Royal Society of Literature’s £10,000 Ondaatje prize, which goes to a work that best evokes “the spirit of a place”.

Robinson’s collection, A Portable Paradise, which has already won him the TS Eliot prize, moves from the Grenfell Tower fire to the Windrush generation and the legacy of slavery. In its title poem, he writes how “if I speak of Paradise, / then I’m speaking of my grandmother / who told me to carry it always on my person, concealed, so / no one else would know but me”.

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

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Leading writers take up 'darkness residencies' for art project

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Bernardine Evaristo, Max Porter and Raymond Antrobus rise to artist Sam Winston’s challenge in A Delicate Sight to submit to time in blackout


Some of the UK’s most acclaimed authors, from the Folio prize-winning poet Raymond Antrobus to the Booker-winning novelist Bernardine Evaristo, have been searching for the light of inspiration in an unusual way: shutting themselves away for hours in complete darkness.

These “darkness residencies” are the brainchild of the artist and writer Sam Winston, part of his immersive project, A Delicate Sight. Winston asked Evaristo and Antrobus, as well as Don Paterson and Max Porter, to spend hours in blackout before writing something inspired by heightened senses, identity, imagination, sensory reduction and rest. The project launched online on Wednesday, with workshops, interviews and a film by the Bafta-winning documentary maker Anna Price. An exhibition at the National Writing Centre and the Barbican, as well as a book, are due to follow later this year.

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Michael McClure, a famed San Francisco Beat poet, dies at age 87

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His early work was overshadowed by Allen Ginsberg but McClure outlasted the Beats in a career that spanned more than 60 years

Michael McClure, one of the famed Beat poets of San Francisco whose career as a poet eclipsed many others in popular culture, has died. He was 87.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that McClure died Tuesday in Oakland, California, after suffering a stroke last year.

Related: City Lights founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti: 'The US isn't ready for a revolution'

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Poems to get us through: the ghosts of cricketing summers knock Kit Wright for six

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The Roller in the Woods by Kit Wright is this week’s choice, as Carol Ann Duffy continues her series of poems chosen from her shelves to comfort us in isolation

Well-loved as a poet for both children and adults, Kit Wright lives in London and is a superb performer of his work. He can be comic and satirical, occasionally bawdy, but his poems are often elegies to what we have lost without noticing; informed with a distinctly English music which stretches back through Betjeman to Hardy.

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Harry Garuba obituary

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My mentor and friend Harry Olúdáre Garuba, who has died of leukaemia aged 61, was a poet and professor of English and African studies at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. A self-effacing but penetrating literary scholar and critical thinker, he advanced theories of reading (“animist materialism”) and translation-cum-textual circulation (“lateral textuality”).

His debut collection, Shadow and Dream and Other Poems (1982), published when he was only 24, revealed a poet of striking originality, sensitivity and tenderness. In 1987, it was first runner-up to La Tradition du Songe(1985), by the Congolese poet Jean-Baptiste Tati Loutard, in the inaugural All-Africa Okigbo prize for poetry endowed by Wole Soyinka (after receiving the 1986 Nobel prize for literature) in honour of his contemporary, the poet Christopher Okigbo who was killed in the Nigeria-Biafra civil war in 1967.

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