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Readers recommend: misanthropic songs | Peter Kimpton


Hatred of humankind? Youve got to love it. Dark humour, sharp lyrics and moving music will be among your song suggestions

From Horace to Huxley, Hogarth to Pope, Molière to Brass Eyes Chris Morris, misanthropy has peppered, with satires salty garnish, some of the finest moments in all literature, art, theatre, film and television, let alone music. Yet the golden age of misanthropy was perhaps also the golden age of satire - the 17th century, during which many protagonists sharpened their wits. And, often in a throwback to last weeks theme, their swords. One of the sharpest wielder of blades was poet, John Dryden, who detailed the finer points of highlighting human failings in his Discourse concerning the Origin and Progress of Satire (1693). His particular concern was on the very craft of character assassination.

How easie is it to call Rogue and Villain, and that wittily! But how hard to make a Man appear a Fool, a Blockhead, or a Knave, without using any of those opprobrious terms! There is still a vast difference betwixt the slovenly Butchering of a Man, and the fineness of a stroke that separates the Head from the Body, and leaves it standing in its place.

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Poster poems: Sappho

The passionate words of Sappho have been reinterpreted with each modern age; now it is your turn pen new versions of her musings on moonlight and death

With International Translation Day fast approaching, it's time for us to return to this most interesting of literary crafts. I say return because we already had a Poster Poems translation challenge a little over four years ago, but while that was a general invitation to post translations of your own choosing, this time I was thinking of something a little more specific.

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The Saturday Poem: Poem to a Friend Feeling Out of His Element

by Tony Roberts

Turgenev tells of a little French drummer
caught by the peasants of Smolensk
after the sack of Moscow and how,
as they were preparing to cram him
down a hole in the Gniloterka River,
a passing farmer offered twenty kopeks
for the boy, believing by his wild mime
that he was master of all kinds of music.
The farmer warmed the drummer in wolf fur
and took him home as piano teacher
to his girls.

There the boy was placed on
a stool before the shoddy instrument.
Impervious to the cheap perfumes
and the frou-frou of young ladies' skirts,
he finally and with deepest dread
plunged ahead, banging in his ignorance
on the keys as if they were a snare drum.
A sudden sinewy arm thrown round him
brought sensations of that coming ice,
but the farmer gave a grunt instead.
'I can see you know your stuff,' he said.

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Poem of the week: A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General by Jonathan Swift

This verdict on the passing of a publicly celebrated warrior is fuelled by a bracing contempt

Hate is as fine a motivator of the muse as love, and who better to provide an angry Poem of the week than the Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin the Reverend Dr Jonathan Swift? A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General is indeed a poem so angry it sometimes forgets to be satirical: the moral castigation is paramount, and one admires the poet all the more for getting away with the naked simplicity of it.

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Maya Angelou hip-hop album, recorded with her blessing, due out

Caged Bird Songs includes some vocals which the late author, who 'loved' the project, laid down especially

Maya Angelou's grandson has spoken about one of the late author's final projects: an album, due out this winter, which mixes her poetry and vocals with hip-hop.

Angelou, who died in May, "loved" the project from the beginning, according to her grandson Colin Johnson, who told the Associated Press that some of the 13 songs use pre-recorded vocals from the writer, and some were recorded especially for the new work. The album will be called Caged Bird Songs, in reference to Angelou's most famous piece of writing, her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

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Next Generation of 20 hotly-tipped poets announced by Poetry Book Society

Women including Mercury music prize-nominated performance poet Kate Tempest lead charge of new authors predicted for great things in the coming years

From former heroin addict Sam Willetts to the hit performance poet Kate Tempest, they are the up-and-coming new poets who have been named as the Carol Ann Duffys and Simon Armitages of the future. The Poetry Book Society has released its once-in-a-decade list of Next Generation poets, which has in the past tipped names from Duffy and Armitage to Alice Oswald and Don Paterson for future success.

The 20 new names, said the poetry organisation which was founded by TS Eliot in 1953, are expected to dominate the poetry landscape of the coming decade. More than half of them are women, from Tempest, the 27-year-old south London performance poet whose spoken-word theatre show Brand New Ancients won her the Ted Hughes award for innovation in poetry last year, to 66-year-old Annie Freud. Daughter of Lucian Freud, she writes in her second collection, The Mirabelles: Do we need to know why the child is laughing? / Or indeed that she is the artists daughter? / Not in the least. // What matters is that we register her presence / with the greatest possible immediacy: / the inexplicable human gorgeousness.

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Crowdfunding campaign hopes to save William Blakes cottage for nation


Fundraisers looking to raise £520,000 to buy the house where, he wrote, Heaven opens here on all sides her golden Gates

A campaign to crowdfund the £520,000 needed to buy the cottage on the Sussex coast where William Blake hymned Englands green and pleasant land is due to launch next week.

Blake lived in the thatched cottage in Felpham, West Sussex, between 1800 and 1803, composing much of his epic poem Milton, and the poem which became the much-love hymn Jerusalem, beneath its thatched roof of rusted gold and according to literary legend reading Paradise Lost to his wife Catherine while the pair sat naked in the garden. The property came on to the market last year for the first time since 1928, for an asking price of £650,000; the Blake Society has since negotiated a purchase price of £520,000, which it has until the 31 October to raise. There is too little time to seek the money from more traditional funding organisations, so it is turning to the public.

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Literary prodigies - make a start on our quiz

Poet, performer, novelist: the rise of the uncategorisable Kate Tempest

Mercury nomination and place on prestigious list of poets are well-deserved accolades for bright young performer

Trying to categorise Kate Tempest is something akin to untangling a basket of eels; her work a slippery, elusive thing. This week alone she has received a Mercury prize nomination for her album Everybody Down, and found herself named as one of 2014's Next Generation Poets by the Poetry Book Society. But then there is the novel. And the play she staged in 2012, as well as her phenomenal reputation as a spoken word poet.

What unites all of these is the 27-year-old Londoner's love of words as playful, pliable, powerful things, as well as her insight into a world and a generation that is often overlooked or ignored.

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Kate Tempest: a winning wielder of words | Observer profile

The rapper-cum-poet has achieved an unprecedented double: nominated for the Mercury prize and acclaimed by an august poetry society. Not bad for a woman who used to 'rap at riot cops'

Perfect storm. Thundering success. It never rains but it pours. Lightning strikes twice. Yep, the meteorological puns and weather-based wordplay were out in force last week with the news that street poet, rapper, playwright and impossible-to-pigeonhole polymath Kate Tempest had achieved an unprecedented double.

On Wednesday, it was announced that her hip-hop album Everybody Down had been shortlisted for the Mercury prize. The next day it was revealed that Tempest had been selected by the Poetry Book Society as one of 20 next generation poets, a prestigious list picked just once per decade. The 27-year-old is the youngest of the crop and described herself as "humbled, terrified and proud", adding: "Bit bonkers, isn't it?"

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Edward Hirsch: Many of us carry the dead around with us. We shouldnt feel ashamed of that


The celebrated American poet had theorised about the nature of the elegy. And then his own son died in a drug-related accident, and he was left searching for words to describe his loss. Tim Adams meets the author of a masterpiece of sorrow

Earlier this year, Edward Hirsch, who has dedicated his life to the writing, reading and teaching of poetry, published what critics widely acknowledged as the definitive handbook of his vocation. Hirsch is 64. APoets Glossary was 10 years in the making and a natural sequel to his bestselling and passionately informed work How to Read a Poem. With entries ranging from abecedarian (An alphabetical acrostic in which each line or stanza begins with a successive letter of the alphabet) to Zen poetry, it runs to 700 pages.

The glossary was organised alphabetically, and among the terms Hirsch defined, naturally, was the poetic notion of the elegy: A poem of mortal loss and consolation, Hirsch wrote, crisply, citing examples from ancient Greece to Thomas Hardy, before going on to elaborate on such a poems function: The elegy does the work of mourning, Hirsch argued, it allows us to experience mortality. It turns loss into remembrance and it delivers an inheritance. It opens a space for retrospection and drives wordless anguish, wordless torment toward the consolations of verbal articulation and verbal ceremony.

The funeral director opened the coffin
And there he was alone
From the waist up

I peered down into his face
And for a moment I was taken aback
Because it was not Gabriel

He wanted he needed to buy something
Every day a new video system an iguana
A baseball bat a football helmet

He wanted he needed to go right away
To the arcade in the Galleria
Where you won tokens that brought rewards

Hes singing the Poe Elementary School blues
Hes singing the Shlenker School blues a day school
For the offspring of upper-middle-class strivers

Hes singing the Montessori School blues
Hes singing the Monarch School blues
For kids with executive function disorders

There are no more academies to attend
He was not befriended by study
A therapist called him one of the lost boys

Nights without seeing
Mornings of the long view
Its not a sprint but a marathon

Whatever we can do
We must do
Every mornings resolve

I did not know the work of mourning
Is like carrying a bag of cement
Up a mountain at night

The mountaintop is not in sight
Because there is no mountaintop
Poor Sisyphus grief

I woke this winter morning
To the smell of the sea
And hummed a song for nothing
How nothing came to me

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Poem of the week: The Sea and the Skylark by Gerard Manley Hopkins

These ringing lines register the complex music of nature heard from the Welsh coast, set against the sordid human world

Gerard Manley Hopkins was inspired by the charm and instress of Wales and also by the Welsh poetic device known as cynghanedd. In 1877, the year of his ordination, he wrote a number of ground-breaking, almost ode-like sonnets, among them this weeks poem The Sea and the Skylark.

Spatial and sensory location are important at the start of the octet. The speaker is standing on or beside the beach at Rhyl, the seaside town in north Wales where the sonnets first draft was written. With a sense of double-occasion, he hears the sea on his right and the lark-song rising from the meadowland on his left. The registering of these complex sounds requires two ears and, from the diction, all the range of polyphonic effects it can dispense.

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Three-hundred year-old poem in support of British union goes on sale


Copy of Elkanah Settles Carmen irenicum surfaces just as Scotland readies itself for independence vote

Queen Anne I is depicted as a proud, jealous defender of a united Britain in a 1707 poem about Englands union with Scotland that year which has just gone up for sale. As Scotland prepares to vote on the future of the 300-year-old union with the Yes and No campaigns running neck-and-neck according to polls over the weekend antiquarian bookseller Bernard Quaritch unveiled a unique copy of Restoration playwright Elkanah Settles heroick poem Carmen irenicum: The Union of the Imperial Crowns of Great Britain.

Dedicated to the monarch Anne I, the poem sees Settle supporting the Union and, finally, showing the queen in triumphant, mythological terms. How shall She deck the proud Imperial Robe, / And how, how tune her whole Harmonious Globe; / Not only hush Ambition into Peace: / She can evn make Religious Discord cease, writes the playwright. No frantick Zeal at home, nor from abroad / Shall Powrs aspiring Lust dare front the God: / No Clouds within, no Tempests from afar, / A British Jove shall fear no Gyants-War.

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Clive James adds new poem to valedictory work

In Japanese Maple, the terminally ill author writes that he expects autumn will end the game

Your death, near now, is of an easy sort / So slow a fading out brings no real pain, writes Clive James in a new poem in which the terminally ill author contemplates how the arrival of autumn will end the game for him.

Diagnosed with leukaemia and emphysema in 2010, James has over the last year given readers a glimpse into his life through his poetry, last month describing his love for his wife, academic Prue Shaw, in The Emperors Last Words. With a nod to Napoleons final words about his long-estranged wife, Josephine, James ended that poem: Its time to go. High time to go. High time. / France, army, head of the army, Joséphine.

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Why Clive Jamess Japanese Maple is so much more than a poem | George Szirtes

Because we know James is dying, his poem ranks alongside Tichborne, Owen or Marvell in the canon of valedictory farewells

In his key book of 1972, Ways of Seeing, John Berger presented us with an image of Van Goghs Wheatfield with Crows, then asked us to turn the page where he showed us the picture again, this time with the text: This is the last picture that Van Gogh painted before he killed himself. He pondered on how exactly the words had changed the image: what we say and what we know are a part of what we see. Retrospective knowledge is the frame.

But what of prospective knowledge, the sense that something is not only a certainty but impending? Clive Jamess poem Japanese Maple, first published in the New Yorker and reproduced in the Guardian, is more than a poem now. We know that James is dying. We cant help but know it. The name Clive James means many things to us, but now the meaning of the name is modified. We read the poem as a formal and elegant valedictory, and since form especially as rhyme is an aspect of wit, we understand it as wit too, and admire it all the more for that. It is of a piece with the other productions of Clive James, intelligent, witty, skilful, highly crafted and, under the lightness, serious: deadly serious in fact.

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Thank you, Clive, for words of sweet beauty | @guardianletters


The Japanese maple is one of my favourite trees. Clive James could not have known the impact of his poem (17 September) for me. I am a Methodist chaplain in a large hospital. On Wednesday I was at the bedside of a lovely woman who had suffered a deep bereavement, then, a few minutes later, I was praying with someone who was close to death. So I arrived home emotionally very tired. Reading his poem over a much-needed cuppa grounded me solidly on this Earth again, while reminding me of the gap between all things spiritual and Earthly sweet beauty as when fine rain falls, On that small tree. Thank you so much, Clive, for being my Earthly pastor. And may you be richly blessed in the knowledge you have brought much joy and laughter to me and my husband on many occasions.
Carole Natton

Thanks to Henning Mankell for sharing his thoughts on having incurable cancer (There are days full of darkness, G2, 17 September.) His observation, One day we shall die. But all the other days we shall be alive speaks to everyone, sick and healthy alike. And thanks to Clive James for the poetry he continues so bravely to write. So much sweet beauty puts into just four words how lovely the world becomes as we leave it.
Pat Sutherland

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Sophie Hannah: 'I love being thought of firmly as a crime writer. I'm snobby about books that aren't crime fiction'

The poet and bestselling crime novelist talks to Alison Flood about taking on Agatha Christie's Poirot

This month, sitting in a London cafe, his famous moustache exquisite, his little grey cells as busy as ever, Hercule Poirot made his first authorised appearance in a novel since Agatha Christie published Curtain, 39 years ago. And poet turned bestselling crime novelist Sophie Hannah, signed up by the Christie estate to continue the Belgian detective's legacy, pitches him straight into the middle of the action in The Monogram Murders.

A woman, Jennie, runs into Poirot's cafe and tells him that she is "already dead or I shall be soon", that it is "what I deserve"; later that night, Catchpool, Poirot's friend and a policeman at Scotland Yard, will return, horrified, from the scene of a triple murder. Cufflinks monogrammed, naturellement have been placed into the mouths of each of the victims; Poirot makes a link with the terrified Jennie, who had pleaded "Please let no one open their mouths!" And we're away.

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The Gathering review a layered feeling for place and history

Hafod y Llan farm, Snowdonia
Gillian Clarke and Louise Ann Wilsons pastoral Welsh installation leaves its mark on the memory

It begins each September: yr helfa, the gathering of sheep from the higher reaches of Snowdonia, ready for wintering in the lowland fields. The whistling of shepherds; the barking of dogs; the strange cry of a conch, blown by the farmers boy: these are the sounds that accompany this ancient tradition as the flock streams down across thistle and slate.

These are also the sights and sounds that haunt this performance, inspired by yr helfa, and created by artist Louise Ann Wilson and Welsh national poet Gillian Clarke for National Theatre Wales. Part mountain walk, part immersive theatrical experience, it is also, in a sense, a gathering in reverse: the audience clusters in Snowdons foothills, ready to be shepherded, in groups, to higher land.

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Young Pacific islanders are not climate change victims they're fighting | Nic Maclellan


A young performance artist from the Marshall Islands will tell this weeks UN climate summit that its time for action and shes not alone

On Tuesday, a young woman from the Marshall Islands will stand before the leaders of the world.

Poet and performance artist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner has one thing to say at the opening ceremony of the United Nations Climate Summit: I want to bring my peoples message out to the world, that climate change is a threat we need to take more seriously. Jetnil-Kijiner, 26, is one of just four people chosen to address the opening of Ban Ki-Moons global assembly in New York.

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Poem of the week: Snow by Vidyan Ravinthiran

This fine, metaphysical work is as much a love poem as a love letter to that flaky white stuff

I like the way this weeks poem begins by arguing not noisily, but with quietly casual insistence. Snow by Vidyan Ravinthiran, from his debut collection, Grun-tu-Molani, is a voyage around a subject that has brought out the best in a number of poets (not least Louis MacNeice). It might be in danger of melting under the heat of massed footfall. But Ravinthiran makes his own good snow: deep and crisp and surprising.

Im tempted to say the poem is not really about snow. Its an epistle or an epithalamium, a meditation on love and marriage, on the dark alleys of life and the illuminating flights. For Ravinthiran as for MacNeice, snow generates incorrigible plurality.

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