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Poem of the week: All Day It Has Rained by Alun Lewis

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The relaxed details of a slow Sunday at a military training camp in ‘Edward Thomas country’ mix with foreboding about what will follow

All Day It Has Rained

All day it has rained, and we on the edge of the moors
Have sprawled in our bell-tents, moody and dull as boors,
Groundsheets and blankets spread on the muddy ground
And from the first grey wakening we have found
No refuge from the skirmishing fine rain
And the wind that made the canvas heave and flap
And the taut wet guy-ropes ravel out and snap.
All day the rain has glided, wave and mist and dream,
Drenching the gorse and heather, a gossamer stream
Too light to stir the acorns that suddenly
Snatched from their cups by the wild south-westerly
Pattered against the tent and our upturned dreaming faces.
And we stretched out, unbuttoning our braces,
Smoking a Woodbine, darning dirty socks,
Reading the Sunday papers – I saw a fox
And mentioned it in the note I scribbled home; –
And we talked of girls and dropping bombs on Rome,
And thought of the quiet dead and the loud celebrities
Exhorting us to slaughter, and the herded refugees:
Yet thought softly, morosely of them, and as indifferently
As of ourselves or those whom we
For years have loved, and will again
Tomorrow maybe love; but now it is the rain
Possesses us entirely, the twilight and the rain.

And we talked of girls and dropping bombs on Rome,
And thought of the quiet dead and the loud celebrities
Exhorting us to slaughter, and the herded refugees:
Yet thought softly, morosely of them, and as indifferently
As of ourselves or those whom we
For years have loved, and will again
Tomorrow maybe love; but now it is the rain
Possesses us entirely, the twilight and the rain.

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Dread of literary parties led Philip Larkin to shun Oxford poetry professorship

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In letter to colleague, poet wrote that he dreaded post’s ‘sherry-drill with important people’ and that he would be ‘entirely unfitted’ for the job

A vision of the “hell on earth” that is a literary party and revulsion for “a lot of sherry-drill with important people” drove Philip Larkin to rule himself out of consideration as the Oxford professor of poetry, according to an unpublished letter recently discovered in a college safe.

As Oxford graduates prepare to vote for the next incumbent this June, with a spat breaking out over Wole Soyinka’s suitability for the post, the archivist at St Hugh’s College in Oxford has stumbled across a letter from Larkin declining a nomination.

Related: Wole Soyinka dismisses claims he is too grand and old for Oxford poetry chair

I could spend half my evenings, if I wanted,
Holding a glass of washing sherry, canted
Over to catch the drivel of some bitch
Who’s read nothing but Which

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Oxford poetry needs to broaden its accent | Letters

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It’s wonderful that the Guardian continues to devote ink (and gigabytes) to the election of the Oxford professor of poetry (Report, 26 May), but you seem to have already decided it is a two-man race – man being the operative term – between Wole Soyinka and Simon Armitage. You have almost entirely ignored the only woman running, the fine poet, classicist and translator AE Stallings, who has also been a recipient of a MacArthur “genius” award. Not only has she the support of intellectual stalwarts such as Mary Beard and Christopher Ricks (a former holder of the post), as well as an endorsement from the Times Literary Supplement, but she had the second highest number of nominators after Soyinka. Yet in the Guardian she has been relegated to the status of “also running”, if she is mentioned at all.

Unmistakably northern, Armitage writes poems that are accessible to all, regardless of age, region and class

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A climate change poem for today: Still Life with Sea Pinks and High Tide by Maura Dooley

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

Thrift grows tenacious at the tide’s reach.
What is that reach when the water
is rising, rising?

Our melting, shifting, liquid world won’t wait
for manifesto or mandate, each
warning a reckoning.

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A climate change poem for today: Nostalgia by Don Paterson

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

I miss when I could drop down on all fours
and flick the ground away from under me.
I miss the wire I ran into the earth.
I miss when I was the bloom on the sea
and we slept forever under the warm clouds
till something twitched with design
and woke the clock. So we arose and went.
Last night when the waters rose again
I rowed out to the beeless glade
and lay down on the grass. My sister
taught me to watch the stars this way
lest I think that heaven was up, or heaven,
lest I forget the stars are also below us
where they sink and sail into the dark like cinders.

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Craig Raine poem prompts Twitterstorm

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Seventy-year-old poet’s Gatwick, fantasising about a young airport worker, unleashes stream of parodies

The poet Craig Raine is no stranger to the sexually risqué - his very first collection, The Onion, Memory, famously quoted the morning-after fantasy of the lascivious butler who Henry Green said had inspired his novel Loving. The borrowed line, in Raine’s poem Bed & Breakfast, involved smelly fingers and buttered toast, and - combined with the image “five pink farrow suckle at each foot” - prompted reviewer Gavin Ewart to reflect: “When the Metaphysicals went too far, weren’t they a bit like this?”

But Bed & Breakfast was published in the days before Twitter, where Raine’s latest poem, printed in this week’s issue of the LRB, has unleashed a stream of parodies and seen him trending alongside Andy Coulson and Rafael Benitez.

That Craig Raine poem in precis: I perved over a young woman, but it's not filthy because I kept it to myself. But then I published it.

Ode to Craig Raine: pic.twitter.com/Zc72pWA17S

In the room the women come and go. Talking of Mr Craig Raine-O. (I'm a famous heterosexual man, you know.)

That dramatic pause - In your poems Is there to make us think You're deep But we both know You're really not

sext: babe I promise I won't craig raine on your parade

'Craig Raine, the poet?' We have less than half a minute. 'I studied you. For my MA at uni. I did an MA in misogyny and the male gaze.'

POEM I agree with Craig Raine: Fancying someone at the airport and not being able to snog them is a pain. Also: high risk of delayed plane.

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A climate change poem for today: A Language of Change by David Sergeant

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

‘as late capitalism writhed in its internal decision concerning whether
to destroy Earth’s biosphere or change its rules’
– Kim Stanley Robinson

We’re sat by the ocean and this
could be a love poem; but that lullaby murderer
refuses each name I give it
and the icebergs seep into our sandwiches,
translated by carbon magic. And even this might be
to say too much. But the muse of poetry
has told me to be more clear – and don’t,
s/he said, for the love of God, please, screw things up.
Ambiguous, I didn’t reply; as we’re sat
by the ocean and I could make it
anything you wanted, for this moment
of speaking – but we have made it
something forever. Together
the weather
is a language we can barely understand;
but confessional experts detect
in the senseless diktat of hurricane
a hymning of our sins, our stupid counterpoint.
Love has served its purpose, now must be
transformed by an impersonal sequester
of me into the loves I will not see,
or touch, or in any way remember.
Perhaps it was always like this – take my hand,
horizon – ceding this land.

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Craig Raine should be free to express a fleeting moment of horniness | Sophie Hannah

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The Twitterstorm unleashed by his absurd, lustful Gatwick poem is sheer bullying. Poets must be able to expose imperfect feelings

Dear fellow-artist, why so free / With every sort of company / With every Jack and Jill? / Choose your companions from the best; / Who draws a bucket with the rest / Soon topples down the hill.

What a snooty arse that WB Yeats was, eh? The above stanza comes from his poem To a Young Beauty. Yeah, right. More like Creepy Old White Guy Pervs Over Attractive Younger Woman.

Related: Craig Raine poem prompts Twitterstorm

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Pablo Neruda poisoning doubts fuelled by new forensic tests

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Claims have persisted that the communist poet was murdered in 1973 by agents of Chilean dictator Pinochet. Now a Spanish team examining exhumed bones has found troubling results

The discovery this week of “unusual” bacteria in the bones of Pablo Neruda has reopened the possibility that one of the 20th century’s greatest poets was poisoned in a Chilean hospital.

The announcement was made by a forensic team in Spain four months after a Chilean judge declared that the investigation had run its course and the body should be reburied.

Related: Pablo Neruda poems 'of extraordinary quality' discovered

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A climate change poem for today: California Dreaming by Lachlan Mackinnon

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

Almonds and vines and lawns
drink up the last
of shallow, short-term water

then suck on the black depths
with a draw mightier
than the moon’s. And suck.

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Poster poems: marriage

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For Shakespeare it is an ‘ever-fixed mark’, for Larkin it is a source of cynicism and renewal. This month, vow to reflect on wedlock with all its passions, trials and tribulations, then post your poems in the comments

In the wake of last month’s historic Irish referendum vote to legalise same-sex marriage, it struck me that a Poster poems challenge to celebrate the august institution of wedlock might just be in order. There is, after all, something profoundly poetic about a popular vote to second Shakespeare’s refusal to admit impediment to a marriage of true minds, regardless of gender.

Weddings have always been occasions for celebration, and it is not unusual to find poets writing odes on marriage – both their own and other people’s. One of the earliest and best English poems to mark the union of others is Edmund Spenser’s Prothalamion, which was written as a “Spousall Verse in Honour of the Double Marriage of Ladie Elizabeth and Ladie Katherine Somerset”. It’s a poem of great charm, and the refrain, “Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song,” is one of the best-known lines of poetry in the language.

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Beyond the Booker: in defence of the literary prize

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Philip Hensher has taken aim at the current glut of book awards. But the gongs are here to stay

Ali Smith’s Baileys prize win this week was a fabulous achievement, ensuring that her joyous, and formally innovative, novel will be the holiday reading of choice for readers way beyond the diehard followers of literary fiction. But as one of the other contenders remarked at the Hay festival last weekend – and as I’ve written before– books prizes are one arena in which the winner doesn’t take all.

After all, the way that the prize culture encourages us to mistake novelists for participants in the World Crown Green Bowling Competition 2015, gagging for a four-foot trophy in silver-gilt is, in the end, rather silly.

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Much to be learned from Philip Larkin’s letters | Letters

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The recently discovered letter from Philip Larkin to Rachel Trickett in 1968 concerning the Oxford professorship of poetry (‘My idea of hell is a literary party’, 1 June) is not the only occasion when Larkin showed reluctance to apply for posts in Oxford. In the archive of the History Centre in Hull, there is a letter from Larkin to a colleague in Oxford in 1978, thanking him for news of the vacant post of Bodley’s librarian, but saying that he is reluctant to apply. There is nothing to show that Larkin did apply for the post. There is also correspondence in this file on matters ranging from a request for a critical essay on John Betjeman to his resignation from Hull University senior common room, and letters to students asking for advice on the interpretation of his poetry, or his assessment of theirs – he wrote to Vikram Seth in 1978 that he read Seth’s poems with great interest and a good deal of enjoyment. His helpful advice to students shows he was not perhaps the misanthropist described by some of his earlier biographers.
Peter Ayling
Kirk Ella, East Yorkshire

• Philip Larkin did sometimes accept dinner invitations, and at the Oxford home of the poet Anne Ridler, who knew of his deafness, was offered as after-dinner amusement a showing of one of her husband’s home movies, a trial potentially even worse in most situations than sherry drill. But Vivian Ridler, then printer to the university, was an accomplished film-maker, and showed Larkin his sound animation of a Victorian print of the university boat race. At the end of the film, Larkin thoughtfully, and with no trace of irony, steepled his fingers and said: “Now that’s what I call a work of art.” Anne was not so rewarded. She was not included in PL’s Oxford Book of Modern Verse.
Richard Wilson
Oxford

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Love, poetry and war: the Afghan women risking all for verse

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Founder of Afghanistan’s largest women’s literary society will be speaking at International Poetry Festival in London this year

The founder of Afghanistan’s largest women’s literary society, whose female members regularly put their lives at risk to write poetry documenting sex, rage, war and heartbreak, will be among those speaking at the International Poetry Festival at London’s Southbank Centre this summer.

Kabul-based Mirman Baheer is a pioneering female literary group which enables women to share landays, short two-line poems, traditionally only performed orally, which have long been used by Afghan women as a secretive form of rebellion.

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Nick Cave: ‘The idea of censoring things as you write, it’s something I don’t do’

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The songwriter and author on finding fresh inspiration, oversharing and hanging out by Bryan Ferry’s pool

Your new book, The Sick Bag Song, started from writing down ideas, observations, memories – on actual sick bags – on a US tour to promote your 2013 album Push the Sky Away. When did you realise that these jottings could be a book?
There was certainly a point where I had to let go of the idea that it was just a really long song. Then I had to get over the particular hurdle of writing something that would open myself up to a certain amount of criticism, possibly. Because I’m stepping outside what I normally do, which is songwriting, into something that there’s a whole different critical approach to, which is poetry. I’ve always stayed away from poetry. Maybe I should stay away from poetry!

There are elements of memoir in there, but it’s a long way from a tour diary. Would you say that the Sick Bag Songit exists somewhere between fact and fiction?
Yeah, I guess. For me, it’s a character-driven story and that character is on some level a literary invention that just happens to be an ageing rock star on the same tour I’m doing. I feel I can stand outside that character and invent things for it to do, so it’s not like a confessional poem.

Related: Nick Cave: The Sick Bag Song – exclusive video

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The Curiosities review – confident, clever, captivating

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Christopher Reid’s alphabetical conceit finds the poet in an assured mood and master of his craft

The lure of the alphabet as a way of organising poetry is not new to Christopher Reid, whose work for children includes Alphabicycle Order. It might be interesting to discover why he felt moved to write a collection in which every poem began with a C (C for Christopher?). Whatever – the surprise is that, contrary to what you might predict (C is for contrivance and constraint), the book (his 13th for adults) rises above the formulaic, ranges far and wide, goes deep, paddles in the shallows and is never less than readably miscellaneous (C is for compendious).

Related: A life in writing: Christopher Reid

Related: Poet Christopher Reid talks about winning the Costa book of the year

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Citizen: Claudia Rankine's anti-racist lyric essays up for Forward poetry award

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US writer’s ‘ bold challenge to definitions of poetic form’ joins Forward prize shortlist, alongside others including Paul Muldoon and Ciaran Carson

Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, an exploration of everyday racism through lyric essays, scraps of film script and photography, might look far more like prose than the traditional definition of poetry, but the innovative work from the acclaimed American writer has made it onto the shortlist for one of the UK’s top poetry prizes, the Forward.

Running to 160 pages, Citizen, subtitled An American Lyric, eschews the likes of iambic pentameter and rhyme to command the reader’s attention with a second-person present narrative laying out a series of incidents in which black Americans – sometimes the Jamaica-born Rankine herself – encounter racism. Rankine also includes photo reels of Zinedine Zidane’s 2006 World Cup head butt, Obama’s oath of office and JMW Turner’s painting The Slave Ship. The Forward prize called it “a bold challenge to historic definitions of poetic form”.

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Poem of the week: Breezeway by John Ashbery

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There’s a generous measure of fun in the title poem of Ashbery’s latest collection, but the American poet also plays hide and seek with violence and disconnection

Someone said we needed a breezeway
to bark down remnants of super storm Elias jugularly.
Alas it wasn’t my call.
I didn’t have a call or anything resembling one.
You see I have always been a rather dull-spirited winch.
The days go by and I go with them.
A breeze falls from a nearby tower,
finds no breezeway, goes away
along a mission to supersize red shutters.

The amused impatience of the poem swells into allegory, pushing beyond the parochial towards the chiliastic

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Less of the white man in a loincloth, please | Letter

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Keep it in the Ground has offered excellent news coverage of indigenous communities in Canada and Australia confronting climate change – but Lachlan Mackinnon’s poem (5 June) ends with a tired Last of the Mohicans vision of a white man appropriating “loincloths”. Could I suggest that, to balance out this primitivist misrepresentation, Carol Ann Duffy approach one of the many excellent Native American poets of California, such as Chumash/Esselen poet and eco-activist Deborah Miranda, for a poem about and embedded in living communities and ecologies, accompanied by an article by or about leading Ojibwe environmental activist Winona LaDuke, who will be in the UK this month as part of the Origins festival. After three years of the Idle No More movement, the Guardian needs to do more to recognise the continuing presence and leadership of indigenous communities in the struggle for the living world.
Dr Sophie Mayer
Lecturer in film studies, London

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Cornel West: Australia is on the path to US-style fascism

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Any country that connects mass surveillance, corporations, big money and even bigger government is in trouble, says the American academic

“This is a blessing for me,” Cornel West says at the start of our interview, calling me brother, though we’ve never met. This isn’t to single me out: he calls everyone that, from David Letterman to right-wing pundit Sean Hannity.

It’s intrinsic to the black prophetic tradition he comes from and continually calls on – the American academic called his latest book Black Prophetic Fire. And the 61-year-old professor, philosopher, preacher and poet is nothing if not fiery, as evidenced by his Monday night appearance on ABC’s Q&A.

We must stand united around the globe to STOP the forced closure of Aboriginal Communities. #sosblakaustraliahttp://t.co/H7k1ZPgBqW

How do you ensure that black rage – Aboriginal rage – is filtered through love and justice, not hatred and revenge?

Related: The Cornel West-Michael Eric Dyson feud is petty. Black people are dying in the streets

We have to be willing to get shot down like a dog like Martin Luther King

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