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David Harewood: Kenya's eternal summer drove home climate impact

Andrew Motion on how to write a love poem


Penning poetry for the one you love? Here are five basic rules by Britain’s former poet laureate

Traditionally, love poems were written in sonnet form, but they don’t have to be. Find the form that suits what you are going to say. It could be a haiku or even a limerick. Be true, be forthright, and don’t get caught up in other people’s ideas of what being in love is like, or some inherited ideal of a love poem. Concentrate on the realities of the person that you are dealing with. Don’t disguise them as some kind of ideal – they are going to want to feel that’s my poem, that’s my expression, that’s what we did together.

Here are my five rules:

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Martin Green obituary

Writer, poet and publisher who was part of Soho’s bohemian world in the 1960s

Martin Green, who has died aged 82, was a writer, poet and publisher. Among the many books he encouraged as an editor at MacGibbon and Kee in the 1960s was Nell Dunn’s Up the Junction (1963). Bringing Patrick Kavanagh’s Collected Poems (1964) to publication helped establish his reputation, and he became friendly with many of MacGibbon and Kee’s other Irish writers; the public bar of the Plough in Museum Street, which became their unofficial office, was as literary a London pub as any of its counterparts in Dublin.

Green and Timothy O’Keeffe, the chief editor at MacGibbon and Kee, both disliked the new ways that publicity was used to sell books; they preferred to advertise writers by word of mouth. When MacGibbon and Kee was taken over by Granada and they were instructed to produce “12 bestsellers a year”, they left to found in 1971 their own firm, Martin, Brian and O’Keeffe (“Brian” was Brian Rooney, recruited from Faber), in small premises conveniently across the street from the Plough. But their combination of anti-commercialism and anti-intellectualism was disastrous. Both Green and Rooney departed and eventually the enterprise collapsed.

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Straight from the heart: the best love letters


Valentine’s Day is coming, and with it a poll to identify the greatest ever love letters. Here’s our alternative list, but which epistle would you nominate?

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, life insurance company Beagle Street has polled 1,000 people to find the “greatest love letters ever written”. Their list - entirely composed, incidentally, of letters by men, to women - is topped by Johnny Cash’s note to his wife, June Carter, on her 65th birthday.

Cash’s words are sweet, and heartfelt:

“We get old and get use to each other. We think alike. We read each other’s minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes take each other for granted. But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met.”

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'Where are the libraries?' The literary radical fighting Sudan's crackdowns


As writers’ unions and book markets are banned by the government, the poet and journalist Mamoun Eltlib is fighting to preserve the city’s literary scene, writes Alia Gilbert

“I believe that words can cause material change inside your mind, inside your body, inside your soul. Words were the beginning of the whole world.”

So says Mamoun Eltlib, leaning back in his chair and breaking into a smile. Sitting on his sunny balcony overlooking the bustling streets of his native Khartoum, the poet, journalist and self-described cultural activist takes an uncharacteristic pause.

He said to me ‘OK, which writer do you love?’ I said Dostoyevsky, even though I’d never read anything by him in my life

I believe that it’s a very old relationship – the one you have with your language

Related: 'I write to expel my fear' - storytelling in the Sudans

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Signior Dildo – and other perfect poems for Valentine’s Day

The antithesis of hearts-and-flowers romance, the poetry of the 2nd Earl of Rochester is prescient and moving too

If you are looking for conventional love poetry for Valentine’s Day, the verse of John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester, might not be your best bet. Any man who wrote a poem called Against Constancy is never going to subscribe to hearts-and-flowers romance. A leading figure of the Restoration court – its “blazing star”, if you will – Rochester lived out his life like a mixture of rock-star and prophet, piercing the glittering facade of the world he inhabited and exposing in his poetry the dirt and depravity behind. Dying cruelly young at 33, he deprived England, and its literature, of one of its brightest lights. He has gone on to enjoy a remarkable afterlife, being played by Johnny Depp and featured in a song by Nick Cave, but his writing has resisted all attempts to pin it down, and continues to provoke and delight more than three centuries after his death in 1680.

For many, it comes as a shock to read Rochester’s poems for the first time. Four-letter words are gaily scattered about in a manner sure to offend the prudish, and the force of the sexual and scatological imagery to be found in his writing means that preconceptions of what poetry – especially Restoration poetry – “should” be are challenged. Poems such as his bawdy social satire Signior Dildo, the chillingly misanthropic A Ramble in St James’s Park, and his brilliant meditation on premature ejaculation The Imperfect Enjoyment are strong stuff, even today; no wonder that his work was sold as pornography until the middle of the 20th century. But then again, what else can you say about a man who said of himself, in Upon His Drinking a Bowl:

Cupid and Bacchus my saints are,
May drink and love still reign!
With wine I wash away my cares,
And then to cunt again.

All my past life is mine no more,
The flying hours are gone,
Like transitory dreams giv’n o’er,
Whose images are kept in store
By memory alone.

The time that is to come is not;
How can it then be mine?
The present moment’s all my lot;
And that, as fast as it is got,
Phyllis, is only thine.

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Why you can’t have love without lies

Love and honesty go hand in hand, right? Wrong. From Shakespeare’s sonnets to the plastic surgeries of Beverly Hills, the history of romance is also one of deception

How many times during a terrible fight with a partner have you promised yourself: “This time I’m going to stay angry; I’m not going to forgive her!” (or him). Something about anger seems more real than the gentler, happier emotions: anger feels authentic, while affection sometimes feels partially made up. But maybe that’s only because it’s easy to be angry, and being loving over a prolonged spell almost always takes a little work.

There’s a point in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time when Marcel has decided that Albertine is nothing but a source of misery to him. He spends long hours – and longer sentences – contemplating ways of getting rid of her, and the many ways he would be happier without her. He knows without any doubt, as well as he knows himself, that he despises Albertine. But then his servant tells him that Albertine is gone. And instantly, and for many miserable months to come, everything in Marcel’s world is reversed. He is desperate to win Albertine back; he is heartbroken; he cannot bear the thought of life without her. Imagining her with another man or woman is worse than the idea of putting a bullet in his head.

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Young Dickens in love: sugary, and waxing lyrical about gloves


A new exhibition explores the faltering relationship between the novelist and his first love Maria Beadnell – and the resulting, questionable, poetry

A halting acrostic poem, ending with the sugary couplet “Life has no charms, no happiness, no pleasures, now for me/ Like those I feel, when ’tis my lot Maria, to gaze on thee”, offers little clue to the glittering literary career that was to follow. But, 185 years after the 18-year-old Charles Dickens fell in love with Maria Beadnell, an exhibition promises to shed light on his earliest literary efforts, with a selection of his love poetry on public view for the first time.

Dickens was working as a reporter when he fell for the 20-year-old Beadnell in 1830, and pursued her for three years, going on to immortalise her as the characters of Dora Spenlow in David Copperfield and Flora Finching in Little Dorrit. The Charles Dickens Museum in London opens a new exhibition this week featuring the author’s love poems to Beadnell, including the acrostic poem in homage to the banker’s daughter that is the first known example of his literary work.

Related: The stuff of creation – books podcast

We have all had our Floras, mine is living and extremely fat

My life may chequered be with scenes of misery and pain,
And’t may be my fate to struggle with adversity in vain:
Regardless of misfortunes tho’ howe’er bitter they may be,
I shall always have one retrospect, a hallowed one to me,
And it will be of that happy time when first I gazed on thee.
Blighted hopes, and prospects drear, for me will lose their sting,
Endless troubles shall harm not me, when fancy on the wing
A lapse of years shall travel o’er, and again before me cast
Dreams of happy fleeting moments then for ever past:

Not any worldly pleasure has such magic charms for me
E’en now, as those short moments spent in company with thee;
Life has no charms, no happiness, no pleasures, now for me
Like those I feel, when ’tis my lot Maria, to gaze on thee.

Lodgings to Let
Lodgings here! A charming place,
The Owner’s such a lovely face
The Neighbours too seem very pretty
Lively, sprightly, gay, and witty
Of all the spots that I could find
This is the place to suit my mind.

Then I will say sans hesitation
This place shall be my habitation
This charming spot my home shall be
While dear “Maria” keeps the key,
I’ll settle here, no more I’ll roam
But make this place my happy home.

A great advantage too will be,
I shall keep such good company,
So good that I fear my composing
Will be considered very prosing
Still I’m most proud amongst these pickings
To rank the humblest name. – Charles Dickens

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The Saturday poem: 041

by Iain Banks

My lady’s voice on the phone
Like an electric thread of silk
Drawing me back through night’s dark maze
To a stormy city
A handful-hundred miles away.
“There’s thunder,
Can you hear it?”
I hear
Something too fine, too balanced
To be called tangle,
Too wisely innocent of plans, devices
To be named weave.
I press the plastic closer,
Try to bring her nearer.
“Can you hear the thunder?”
But the gale is drowned,
The rain hushed,
Thunder quieted.
She speaks,
And a gentler force
Overwhelms all of them.

• From Poems by Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod (Little, Brown £12.99). To order a copy for £10.39 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846.

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‘Readers of Iain Banks’s prose will find in his poems much that is familiar’


A poet before a novelist, Iain Banks worked on his only collection in the weeks before he died

In a pub conversation in the autumn of 2012, long before he had any warning of his illness, Iain Banks told me that he wanted to see his poems published together with mine. I told him that his poems stood very well on their own. He was having none of it. Phrases like “covering fire” and “human shield” came up. I demurred; he insisted. In the end I agreed, but didn’t take the project terribly seriously. Shortly afterwards, and rather to my surprise, he sent me an email attachment of his collection. I looked it over and made casual efforts to pull together some of my own poems. It seemed we had plenty of time.

And then, of course, we found that we didn’t have plenty of time. Alas, we had even less time than we thought. Iain laboured on selecting and revising his poems in what turned out to be his last weeks. He mentioned the project and his insistence on including my poems in his final newspaper interview, with Stuart Kelly for this paper. One of the last things he said to me was that he was sorry he hadn’t had the time or energy to read all the messages of sympathy and goodwill posted to his website, or the time and energy to do more with the poems. I told him he really should not be worrying about that. Even then we didn’t know how late it was.

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TS Eliot’s restless ghost finds home in seaside idyll

Fifty years after poet’s death, his family’s summer retreat is to be turned into a fitting monument to his life and works

Last September, listeners to National Public Radio, the US equivalent of Radio 4, heard an elderly New England widow, Dana Hawkes, describe how, at home in New Hampshire, her late husband would sometimes say “he used to see TS Eliot’s ghost.”

There is something apt in this claim. The author of Four Quartets and Murder in the Cathedral, who was born in St Louis on 26 September 1888, but lived and died in London, has always projected a rather spectral persona.

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There’s poetry in peas


A book of verse written in the kitchen has pierced my heart like a skewer. But I’m still puzzled by its infatuation with blackcurrant leaves

If some cooks take pleasure in even the most boring tasks, I’m not one of them. Peeling potatoes, slicing carrots, making stock: I cannot do these humdrum, tedious things without the aid of a glass of wine and the radio. And the faster I whip through them, the better. Every evening is a race. I leave my desk at 7pm, and thereafter my eye constantly flicks to the clock as I work out if I can finish removing the thickest of the stalks from the kale and get the pasta on before The Archers is over. I guess you could say that I’m a journalist, programmed to run to deadlines, even in the kitchen.

I envy those who find nothing so companionable as a bowl of peas to be podded. I’d like to be one of them, calm and steady and noticing: the kind of person who would rather eat a Pot Noodle than leave a quince to rot in their fruit bowl, as I sometimes do. Even better would be to go one step further and become the sort of earthy yet lyrical human being who looks at slices of potato for a gratin, and sees the tiles of a roof, milk splashing on them like rain; who watches leaves of radicchio unfolding in a pan and thinks of a human palm, pink and gently lined; who finds the stench of wild garlic when pounded so crazily intoxicating that her head fills alarmingly with thoughts of Medea and all her crimes.

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Poetry Notebook 2006-2014 review – Clive James’s absorbing thoughts on verse

The great critic champions the poems that have given him most pleasure in this provocative collection of essays

Clive James is never po-faced about poetry. He writes with the buoyant, aphoristic panache that made his career and with a judgment refined by a lifetime of reading and thinking about poetry – and writing it (he has a new collection coming out this April). This sympathetic, absorbing and provocative book is a miscellany – most of its articles written for Chicago’s Poetry magazine. But there are unifying thoughts. One is that “poetry” is not what excites him – too baggy a word and covering a multitude of sins – it is the particular poem that matters, the hardest thing to write. He argues that we are living in a time when “almost everyone writes poetry but scarcely anyone can write a poem”. He is on the side of clarity (he hopes it is “forgivable to favour those poets who show signs of knowing what they are saying”) while noting how complicated simplicity can be.

Related: Clive James – a life in writing

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Philip Levine, former US poet laureate and Pulitzer winner, dies at 87

  • Poet died on Saturday, a month after being diagnosed with cancer
  • Won Pulitzer Prize in 1995, for The Simple Truth

Philip Levine, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whose intimate portraits of blue-collar life were grounded in personal experience and political conscience, died on Saturday. HE was 87.

Levine, the US poet laureate in 2011 and 2012, died at his home in Fresno, California, of pancreatic and liver cancer, his wife said on Sunday.

This is about waiting,

shifting from one foot to another.

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Poem of the week: First Love by Joan Margarit

The Catalan poet explores brutality, love and death in a lifelong journey that begins with the secret purchase of a knife as a child

First Love

In the dreary Girona of my seven-year-old self,
where postwar shop-windows
wore the greyish hue of scarcity,
the knife-shop was a glitter
of light in small steel mirrors.
Pressing my forehead against the glass,
I gazed at a long, slender clasp-knife,
beautiful as a marble statue.
Since no one at home approved of weapons,
I bought it secretly, and, as I walked along,
I felt the heavy weight of it, inside my pocket.
From time to time I would open it slowly,
and the blade would spring out, slim and straight,
with the convent chill that a weapon has.
Hushed presence of danger:
I hid it, the first thirty years,
behind books of poetry and, later,
inside a drawer, in amongst your knickers
and amongst your stockings.
Now, almost fifty-four,
I look at it again, lying open in my palm,
just as dangerous as when I was a child.
Sensual, cold. Nearer my neck.

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J-Lo sparks quest to find ‘first editions’ of The Iliad

Reference to garage-sale copy of Greek epic poem in Jennifer Lopez thriller The Boy Next Door propels Homer up AbeBooks’ search rankings

A scene in Jennifer Lopez’s new film in which her character is given a supposed first edition of The Iliad has prompted viewers to attempt to find their own first edition of an epic poem composed at least 2,000 years before the invention of the printing press.

According to books marketplace AbeBooks, since Lopez’s film The Boy Next Door was released in the US on 23 January, “The Iliad, first edition” has been its top search term, ahead of To Kill A Mockingbird. AbeBooks attributes this to a scene in the film in which Lopez’s character, a high-school teacher, is given a hardback copy of the book by the teenager with whom she is to go on to have a dangerous affair.

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Sri Lankan minister calls on poets to help unite a divided nation


Writers, actors and dancers asked to help heal the wounds of civil war as new government pushes for reconciliation

For centuries, the poets of Sri Lanka have sung the praises of the island nation’s stunning physical beauty – and spoken too of the conflicts that have torn it apart. Now, the government is looking to the country’s literature to heal the wounds of a brutal civil war.

Rajiva Wijesinha, the recently appointed minister for higher education, has called on universities to organise programmes of poetry, along with sports, drama and dance, to “bring together” the largely Buddhist Sinhala majority and the largely Hindu Tamil minority.

Related: Sri Lanka hopes President Sirisena will usher in an era of peace and reform

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Eugene Onegin review – lovestruck and snowblind in St Petersburg

Barbican, London
Rimas Tuminas’s production, though witty and full of memorable, inventive imagery, misses some of Pushkin’s deft lightness

Although Pushkin’s novel in verse has yielded a famous opera and ballet, it has rarely been dramatised. Watching this production, conceived and directed by Rimas Tuminas for the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre of Russia, I began to understand why. It is, as Pushkin’s biographer TJ Binyon points out, a work of extraordinary literariness: what you end up with on stage, for all Tuminas’s inventiveness, feels like an illustration of a great poem, rather than its essence. The basic story is well known: the lovestruck Tatyana, having been spurned by the Byronic dandy of the title, in turn rejects him when she becomes a married St Petersburg beauty. Tuminas wittily frames the action inside a ballet-school, makes imaginative use of a vast, shifting mirror, and has two actors playing the older and younger Onegin and Lensky, the poet he kills in a duel. Tuminas also creates a series of unforgettable images. The hopelessly smitten Tatyana pounds the pillows of her bed with the frenzied ardour of Shakespeare’s Juliet. Her passage to St Petersburg is accompanied by a blinding flurry of snow. Best of all is the sight of her as a society hostess whose captive conformity is echoed by six white-gowned chorines on swings. Freeze the action at any moment and you would have a memorable image. But, for all Tuminas’s visual gifts and skilful use of music ranging from folksongs to Offenbach, it remains a strangely undramatic affair. As a shredded version of Charles Johnston’s English translation hurtles across the surtitle screen, I felt we were seeing a picture-book version of the poem. Eugeniya Kregzhde brings a fine impetuosity to Tatyana, Sergei Makovetskiy exudes the right regretful lassitude as the older Onegin and the veteran Ludmila Maksakova makes a striking impression as an imperious dance-master. But, although the Russian speakers around me were in ecstasies, I missed, over close to three-and-a-half hours, the speed and lightness of Pushkin’s poem.

• Until 21 February. Box office: 0845 120 7511. Venue: Barbican, London

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The Saturday poem: Silentium

by Fyodor Tyutchev, translated by Robert Chandler

Be silent, hide away and let
your thoughts and longings rise and set
in the deep places of your heart.
Let dreams move silently as stars,
in wonder more than you can tell.
Let them fulfil you – and be still.

What heart can ever speak its mind?
How can some other understand
the hidden pole that turns your life?
A thought, once spoken, is a lie.
Don’t cloud the water in your well;
drink from this wellspring – and be still.

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A Woman Without a Country by Eavan Boland review – into the shadowlands history

Has a poetry of myth, legacy and lost lands become a one-size-fits-all historical elegy

Eavan Boland’s “The Wife’s Lament”, a translation from the Anglo-Saxon, begins: “I sing this poem full of grief. / Full of sorrow about my life / Ready to say the cruel state / I have endured, early of late.” It is a splendid performance, full of chancy verbal energy and rich historical witnessing. It’s also quite uncharacteristic of A Woman Without a Country, not in its subject matter, but in its ready embrace of rhyme and regular metre. Where themes of history and loss are concerned, Boland more usually inclines to the jagged and the elliptical, and this collection is no exception.

The book is about loss and, to paraphrase Robert Hass, in this it resembles all other Boland books. In the typical Boland poem, it is always late in the day, literally and historically; the heroes and villains of history have fled the scene; and their victims have been arranged into decorative postures of melancholy rebuke. The details of history are sketched in a kind of knowing shorthand: “1890. Empire, attitude. / A rainy afternoon in Dublin” (“Edge of Empire”). Neglected lives are juxtaposed with the overweening narratives of empire and nation state: “My grandmother lived outside history. And she died there” (“Sea Change”). “Did she find her nation?” Boland asks of her grandmother, adding: “And does it matter?” The frequent questioning in Boland’s work over the last four or more decades, and the continuing shortage of answers, suggest a challenge that is it not just difficult but well-nigh impossible.

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