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Vertigo by Alice Oswald

Let’s go to … Swansea


Dylan Thomas’s birthplace is celebrating its native poet with the first annual Dylan Day on 14 May. We look at attractions poetry-related and not, plus where to eat, sleep and, of course, raise a glass to the great man

To celebrate the first annual Dylan Day on 14 May in the poet’s home town. The new permanent exhibition at the Dylan Thomas Centre is a fascinating insight into his work and life, with free guided tours on Dylan Day.

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A Mancunian Taxi-Driver Forsees His Death

The Solace of Artemis


by Paula Meehan. Part of our series of 20 original poems by various authors on the theme of climate change, curated by the UK’s poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy

I read that every polar bear alive has mitochondrial DNA
from a common mother, an Irish brown bear who once
roved out across the last ice age, and I am comforted.
It has been a long hot morning with the children of the machine,

Related: An anthology of poetry on climate change

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Children's poetry quiz: finish the line

Do you think you know your poetry? Well let's find out how good you are with this poetry quiz! It's really simple, just finish the line... Continue reading...

The Daemon Knows by Harold Bloom review – a man of great literary faith


The Yale professor writes confidently about the ‘dozen creators of the American sublime’ he lionises – but he ignores the way power acts on their work

What more do we have to learn from Harold Bloom? In his 85th year, the critic and author of 36 books, including the monumental Anxiety of Influence, The Western Canon and Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, returns with a new study that fuses literature and faith. The Daemon Knows focuses on “the dozen creators of the American sublime”, in familiar or unexpected pairings, including Melville and Whitman, Emerson and Dickinson, Faulkner and Hart Crane.

Few people write criticism as nakedly confident as Bloom’s any more. “I do not consider Walt a product of the sensibility of his own time,” Bloom proclaims at one point. “Genius or the daemon is rare and of its own age.” This is a typical Bloom pronouncement, both personal and universal: he’s perfectly comfortable on first-name terms with “Walt”. His declarative authority is daunting to readers who are able to count on their fingers how many times they’ve read Moby-Dick.

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Robert Browning's new poem - review: from the archive, 14 May 1873


Mr. Browning takes up in turn all the various problems and enigmas of life as it presents itself in this latter half of the 19th century, but it is beyond his power to supply any solution

RED COTTON NIGHTCAP COUNTRY; or TURF AND TOWERS. By Robert Browning. Smith, Elder, and Co. London. 1873.

It would not be easy to discover a greater contrast than that presented by the respective methods of our two foremost living poets. While Mr. Tennyson, straying further and further away from the living spirit of his own times, lingers contentedly in his chosen land of the Lotophagi, the realm of Arthurian romance, from which he occasionally sends us a few strains of cloying sweetness, variations on the old well-worn theme, Mr. Browning labours under the opposite defect of being too intensely and fervently contemporaneous.

Normandy shown minute, yet magnified,
In one of those small books the truly great
We never know enough, yet know so well.
How I foresee the cursive diamond dints -
Composite pen that plays the pencil too -
As touch the page, and up the glamour goes,
And filmily o’er grain crop, meadow ground,
O’er orchard, in the pasture, farm a-field,
And hamlet on the road edge, floats and forms
And falls, at lazy last of all, the cap
That crowns the country.

Man and woman when they love their best,
Closest and tenderest,

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A climate change poem for today: Zoological Positivism Blues by Paul Muldoon


UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy curates a series of 20 original poems by various authors on the theme of climate change

Come with me to the petting zoo
Its waist high turnstile gate
Come with me to the petting zoo
We’ll prove it’s not too late
For them to corner something new
They can humiliate
You know the zoo in Phoenix Park
Began with one wild boar
It’s in the zoo in Phoenix Park
We heard the lion roar
And disappointment made its mark
On the thorn forest floor

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Why Dylan Thomas deserves his international Day


Thomas wrote with unforgettable eloquence about being human, in an English that remains uniquely Welsh. Gillian Clarke, national poet of Wales, explains why he is great

• Open thread: what makes Dylan Thomas great?

On 14 May, 1953, Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood had its first staged reading at the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center in New York. From now on, the event will be commemorated with Dylan Day, an international celebration of the life and work of the Welsh poet.

Thomas is a great writer because he wrote with accuracy and truth about being human. His language is inventive, yet stolen and re-made from every word he read, every phrase he heard. His poetry, including Under Milk Wood, which I’d call a radio poem, leaves echoes in the mind as music does, as all true poetry should. His prose shows a hawk’s eye and ear for detail; fierce, but shaped by tenderness, fearless honesty and humour. The whole man, body and mind, and the whole life are in the words. We see ourselves on the page, feel the arrow in the heart. He gave not a toss for any critical reader but himself. Music and truth, the qualities of all great writers, are what convinces us to read him, to believe him. James Joyce, one of his inspirations, is a prime example. There is no contrivance, no self-consciously “good English” in such writing.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it
was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.”

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Open thread: what makes Dylan Thomas great?


Celebrate the first Dylan day by showing why the Welsh poet deserves a place in the international calender

“Whatever talents I possess may suddenly diminish or suddenly increase. I can with ease become an ordinary fool. I may be one now. But it doesn’t do to upset one’s own vanity.” So wrote Dylan Thomas in a widely quoted letter to a childhood friend in 1932. In celebration of the first Dylan Day or - to give it its full title - International Dylan Thomas Day, the National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke makes an eloquent case for his importance to Wales and to her, but how important is he internationally and to you? And what lines you would cite to demonstrate that, 61 years after his death, he is no ordinary fool (and more than the sum of his alcoholic aphorisms)?

It’s easy to fall back on Under Milk Wood and Death Shall Have no Dominion, but here are some less well known examples to start you off:

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Poster poems: ottava rima


Dating back to Boccaccio, this form has been adopted by everyone from Spenser to Yeats. Now it’s your turn

It’s been a long time since we had a Poster poems challenge based on a poetic form, so I thought this month we should look at something we’ve never tried before. Ottava rima is an eight-line stanza developed in Italy, usually associated in English with Byron and his fellow second-generation Romantics. The standard rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c and in English the lines are usually iambic pentameters.

The earliest known ottava rima poems were written by Boccaccio, including two long epic works, Teseida and Filostrato. These poems established ottava rima as the default stanza for epics on serious themes, a use that persisted in Italian until at least the 16th century, when Torquato Tasso used it for his embroidered tale of the Crusades, Gerusalemme liberata.

Nothing has changed. No science can
protect the effects from the cause.
The birth, freed from the family plan,
reverts to genotypal laws.
The furies’ midwife genus, Man,
put back the morsel in the claws
of those whose chromosomes were rent,
contributing their fifty percent.

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A climate change poem for today: Extinction by Jackie Kay

The Saturday Poem: Baggage


By Fleur Adcock

Sealed in their heavy luggage in the hold
they’d brought the encapsulated highlights
of their shed lives: Eva’s sewing machine
and her Watteau Doulton dinner service;
Sam’s tools, of course; the tea urn his father
had made using his skills as a tinsmith,
learnt in the packing-case trade, some books; the
postcard album bulging with eight or nine
years of miniature correspondence;
and the oval portrait, painted in her
sixties, of Sam’s apple-cheeked grandmother
Mary Adcock, née Pell (or perhaps Peel),
in her plaid shawl, who came out of nowhere.

As for the books, the ranged in weight down from
the Bible through Sam’s other sacred text,
The Amateur Carpenter and Builder,
to a pocket-sized sliver: Hoyle’s Games.
Packed side by side with Sunday school prizes
(John Cotton ... A New Temperance Tale of
Lancashire Life) was something different:
The Awful Disclosures of Maria
Monk (convent, nuns, dead babies): a dollop
of bigotry for the new country – which
had its own – and an unexpected read
for a bemused future grandchild to pluck
from the glass-fronted bookcase Sam would build.

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A climate change poem for today: Scratching for Metaphor in the Somerset Coalfields by Sean Borodale

Poem of the week: You May Have Heard of Me by Shazea Quraishi


This allegorical coming-of-age story uses the figure of a bear to represent the ordinary yet thrilling process by which adulthood is attained

You May Have Heard of Me

My father was a bear.
He carried me through forest, sky
and over frozen sea. At night
I lay along his back
wrapped in fur and heat
and while I slept, he ran,
never stopping to rest, never
letting me fall.
He showed me how to be as careful as stone,
sharp as thorn and quick
as weather. When he hunted alone
he’d leave me somewhere safe – high up a tree
or deep within a cave.
And then a day went on …
He didn’t come.
I looked and looked for him.
The seasons changed and changed again.
Sleep became my friend. It even brought my father back.
The dark was like his fur,
the sea’s breathing echoed his breathing.
I left home behind, an empty skin.
Alone, I walked taller, balanced better.
So I came to the gates of this city
—tall, black gates with teeth.
Here you find me, keeping my mouth small,
hiding pointed teeth and telling stories,
concealing their truth as I conceal
the thick black fur on my back.

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Mehri Kashani obituary


Our friend Mehri Kashani, a poet and writer, who has died aged 79, was deeply admired in Persian literary circles in London, where she lived, and in Iran, her home country, which she left after the revolution of 1979, and missed.

She was born in Tehran, daughter of Mohammad-Taghi and Ozra Lankarani. Theirs was a traditional and religious family, but one open to liberal thinking and with a love of books, which influenced Mehri’s own passion for reading and writing. She married Hamid Kashani, an entrepreneur who in the early 1970s set up the first department store in Iran. Mehri devoted her life in Tehran to raising her children, writing and charitable work.

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Sentenced to Life review – Clive James’s spark is not extinguished

He jokes about each new collection of poetry being written in expectation that it will be his last, but the defining mood of James’s latest is one of grateful gallantry

The punning title of Clive James’s latest collection, published with an expectation that it will be his last, is characteristically robust. He is suffering from leukaemia but has been cracking staunch jokes recently about the embarrassment of his continuing survival in the wake of poems written at what he believed to be his last gasp. Illness has changed his thinking but has not extinguished his spark. It has made him rueful, and grateful too. Many of these poems are an appeal to the heart, and in particular to the heart of his wife. The collection’s defining quality is gallantry and it is this that makes it so moving. There are also some infuriating and, perhaps invevitably, solipsistic poems here, but there is no fault you could highlight of which James himself is not aware and addressing in print.

Each poem is accessible and the secure rhymes have a chiming poignancy – as neat as beds tucked with hospital corners – a protest against formlessness and death. James does remorse almost as well as Thomas Hardy and “Echo Point” seems an echo of the poems Hardy wrote after the death of his wife (“The Haunter”, “The Voice”). James’s use of the third person recalls Hardy, too. “His body that betrayed you has gone on / To do the same for him.” It is perhaps easier in moments of intensity to shift from “I” to “him” – a tiny sidestepping of responsibility. The poem’s setting is Australian, with its blue valley and whip-bird, and, in the title poem, he explains that his native Australia is his inner landscape still: “… The sky is overcast / Here in the English autumn, but my mind / Basks in the light I never left behind.”

Related: Clive James: ‘I’ve got a lot done since my death’

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A climate poem for today: Cantre’r Gwaelod* by Gillian Clarke

A climate change poem for today: Causeway by Matthew Hollis

Karl Ove Knausgaard and the writers who really do rock


As fans in New York will discover this week, the Norwegian writer’s rock’n’roll reputation is matched by actual drumming in a bona fide band. It seems odd that more writers don’t do likewise

I knew that Karl Ove Knausgaard was officially the coolest kid on the literary block, his intense introspection matched only by his rugged good looks and a la mode facial hair. But it still seemed a little over-the-top last year when a copy of the latest volume of My Struggle arrived at the office packaged with a T-shirt bearing Knausgaard’s mugshot and the legend ALL OVE IT. Who did the publisher think he was, a rock star?

That was only the beginning. As his books have told us, “music was the rope” from which his ambitions as a writer hung; he was once a fierce young rock critic who improvised a drum kit from piles of books. But I didn’t know that these ambitions extended to drumming with a rock trio at college, and it certainly came as news that - as the Paris Review blog reveals - “the flimsy membrane that separates him from full-on rock stardom” is to be fully dissolved on Wednesday at the Norwegian-American literary festival.

All my life I worshipped her
Her golden voice, her beauty’s beat
How she made us feel, how she made me real
And the ground beneath her feet

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