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Walking Away review – Simon Armitage’s prosaic nation

The poet’s account of walking the South West Coast Path could have done with a bit more – well, poetry

In 2010, Simon Armitage walked the Pennine Way, proceeding north to south in the direction of his home in Marsden, west Yorkshire, reading poetry each night in exchange for his bed and board. He took no money with him; rather, he asked his audience to put whatever they thought he was worth into a sock he passed round, an item of hosiery he would investigate later somewhat trepidatiously in the quiet of a strange bedroom (for which reason, I’ve always wondered why he didn’t just use a hat). He regarded this journey, occasionally lonely and frequently arduous, as a test both of his reputation and that of poetry in general, and his warm-hearted account of it, Walking Home, went on to become a bestseller.

Related: Simon Armitage: making poetry pay | Aida Edemariam

There is a want of feeling in this book, a distance, even a numbness, for which I struggle to account

Related: Walking Home: Travels With a Troubadour on the Pennine Way by Simon Armitage – review

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Poem of the week: The Measure by Jon Silkin


This complex investigation into the significance of love is a fascinating example of 20th-century metaphysical poetry

We all cry for love;
But what if we get it? To hold
In sex, and affection,
The adored human creature
Making of both a unit
In love, and procreate
Which is the end of love,
Drops one small image into
A widening universe.
Man’s love disintegrates
In the space void of him;
And gradually he comes
To know that he is small.
What is man’s love? To hold
Into despair the loving creature,
And propagate an image
Is the utmost. Beyond his tides
The chronic invalids
Of broken universes
Wait in derision on man.
Yet he was formed to love.
Earth cries, sun cries,
With the stark, hapless Gods
Phenomenal of matter
In space, to this end.
But when man reaches this
And grows into himself,
He dwindles to his size.
His spaces melt into him
He occupies no area.
Love then is the space of destruction,
And but for the harmonies
Of despair, he is nothing.
Weep, then, to be a stone
Or a cold animal
In servitude to something
Other than consciousness
Which love brings; since that shape
Or measure, in awareness
Through love of what we are,
Is that measure of space death is.

Jon Silkin gestures towards the metaphysical poets in this early poem, first published in 1961. The title might make you think of mechanical devices like the pulley, which, in the eponymous poem by George Herbert, becomes a figure for God’s compassionate relationship with mankind: then there’s the measuring of Sin and Love which occupies The Agony.

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Poet beats Peter Mandelson in race to be Manchester University chancellor


Lemn Sissay – poet, broadcaster and playwright – gets 7,131 votes, beating Hallé music director Sir Mark Elder and the Labour grandee to ceremonial post

The Labour grandee Peter Mandelson has failed in his bid to become chancellor of Manchester University despite a concerted lobbying campaign, losing out to a poet from Wigan.

Lemn Sissay, a poet, broadcaster and playwright who grew up in care, was elected in an electronic vote by the university alumni with 7,131 votes. Afterwards, one of Sissay’s most vocal supporters described him as an “inspirer”, while Mandelson was a “conspirer”.

@helenpidd Lemn is an inspirer, M a conspirer. M's links to Putin. M's lack of local knowledge. L knows the city inside out.

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Through the Moon short film: the poets of Manus and Nauru – video

Janet Galbraith coordinates a writing group for asylum seekers called Writing Through Fences. They write about their traumatic experiences and also their beautiful moments, shared on Facebook. 'People have experienced extreme torture and trauma, they too find these moments of beauty, moments of creation,' Janet says. In this short film, Through the Moon, Janet explains how she supports and mentors asylum seekers in detention at Nauru and Manus Island. Recent Facebook bans on Nauru make communication via the social network limited, but as asylum seekers are allowed to use email, Janet remains hopeful about the future of the group 

• Produced by The Story Collective with funding by GetUp!
Poem written by Pacific Heron
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The Curiosities by Christopher Reid – a collection with a capital ‘C’


From cherries and cufflinks to couches and cravings, Reid’s poetry is not constrained by its USP

Spare a thought for the poor souls condemned to write poetry blurbs. Critics can argue for years – decades, centuries – over a single poem’s meaning, and fail to reach a conclusion. The task of summarising a whole book of verse in the space of just a few weeks gives a new dimension (albeit a minor, wafty one) to the term “Sisyphean”. Inevitably, therefore, publishers fall back on truisms. Hands up who’s picked up a poetry collection to find that – guess what? – the author has chosen to tackle themes of “life, death, love and loss”? So imagine, then, the relief with which the editors at Faber must have greeted Christopher Reid’s latest offering. This is one of those rare collections that lends itself to synopsis; its guiding principle can be summed up in just three words: the letter C.

Each of the 73 poems in The Curiosities is a meditation on a C-word (though never explicitly the C-word; more of what’s implicit later), from cufflinks to cravings to conversations to cabs. As USPs go, this one is so obtrusive that it risks reducing the whole enterprise to the level of gimmick, but, happily, Reid is too canny to outsmart himself like that. Thematic they may be, but these poems contain all the life, death, love and loss you could ask for, from the child who “woke to a cry not his”, via the “toxic / and irresistible rush” of an illicit affair, to the man who, in the wake of his wife’s death, “put a notice in the local paper” advertising for “a copy”. By organising them around a single letter, Reid has simply gathered his reflections and endowed them with a particular focus, providing the collection with a clarity and cohesion that compel you to read on.

Related: A life in writing: Christopher Reid

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Lemn Sissay, foster child, poet and university chancellor: ‘Everything I know about myself comes from Manchester’


He beat Peter Mandelson to be elected chancellor of Manchester University, but this doesn’t mean it is ‘time for a party’ – Lemn Sissay is determined to use his new role to help more of his fellow care-leavers into education

In October the University of Manchester is going to have to clone Lemn Sissay, or at least, he suggests, “make a hologram of me”. That’s the month the 48-year-old poet is due to collect an honorary PhD, which, as the university’s newly-elected chancellor, he is also responsible for presenting.

“It’s mad,” agrees Sissay – who left school at 15, and this week beat Peter Mandelson and the Halle Orchestra’s Mark Elder to secure the ceremonial position. “Maybe I will shake hands with myself and say, ‘Well done, lad.’”

Related: Poet beats Peter Mandelson in race to be Manchester University chancellor

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Annie Freud interview: ‘Why I’ve finally embraced the family name’

The poet talks about grand bohemian circles, being a late starter and saying no to a nude to be painted by her father Lucian Freud

Annie Freud lives on a smallholding in Dorset with a dog, sheep, chickens and her second husband Dave, a retired electrical engineer she met on the internet, who took her on a first date to Hackney City Farm in east London.

The author of three collections of poetry, the first published in 2007 and the newest, The Remains, this month, Freud’s is a story of literary achievement late in life, after some false starts, disappointments and two previous careers – one as an embroiderer and another in local government. Last year she was by far the oldest of the latest batch of Next Generation Poets, selected from writers who have published their debut collection in the previous 10 years.

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Poetic visions: my Vingt Regards to Messiaen


Messiaen’s epic Twenty Contemplations on the infant Jesus is one of the great 20th‑century pieces for piano. Ahead of a recital, Michael Symmons Roberts explains how its composition at the end of the second world war, and its filmic qualities, inspired his response in poetry to the work

When Olivier Messiaen died in 1992 at the age of 83, my first thought was that I’d missed him. I had long intended to make a pilgrimage to Église de la Saint-Trinité in Paris for Sunday mass. Since his 20s, Messiaen had served as organist there. Reputedly, if the spirit moved him, the organ play-out at the end of Mass would turn into an extended improvisation, a free concert for all-comers by one of the great musicians of the 20th century. But I never got round to it.

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The Saturday poem: Night in Arizona

by Sarah Howe

The last of the sheet I shuffle off an ankle –
a sound like the spilling of sand
from shovel and the night air blurs

for a second with its footfall.
Our entwined shape a word in the dark.
On my forehead and cheek

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Poem of the week: Song by 'Tzŭ-Yeh', translated by Arthur Waley


A flirtatious fourth-century confession of a young woman’s passion is vivid, sharp and sensual

At the time when blossoms
Fall from the cherry-tree:
On a day when yellow birds
Hovered in the branches -
You said you must stop,
Because your horse was tired:
I said I must go,
Because my silkworms were hungry.

All night I could not sleep
Because of the moonlight on my bed.
I kept on hearing a voice calling:
Out of Nowhere, Nothing answered “yes”.

For a moment when you held me fast in your outstretched arms
I thought the river stood still and did not flow.

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Poet Claudia Rankine: ‘The invisibility of black women is astounding’


The writer asked friends for their experiences of everyday racism and turned them into the award-winning Citizen. Here she talks about the power of making private anecdotes public

When Serena Williams was contesting the US Open in 2012, the American poet Claudia Rankine watched from the stands, engaged in a parallel skirmish of her own. She had taken her nine-year-old daughter to the final. They were sitting next to a white American. “And the guy,” Rankine says in surprise, “is cheering for the other player, not for Serena. So I say to him: ‘Are you American?’ And he says: ‘Yes.’ And I say: ‘So why are you cheering for the player from Belarus and not Serena Williams?’”

The man replied that he wanted a close match. Williams had taken the first set. “Oh, so it’s not that you don’t want Serena to win?” Rankine clarified, and the man assented.

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Students Express: share your spoken word videos


Young people and students: we’d like to see your spoken word videos on the theme of heat

Here at Guardian Students, we aim to provide a platform for a wide range of student and young voices. Students use our Blogging Students section to talk about everything from school feminist societies to spiked drinks.

But we know that not all young people are writers by nature. While you may have plenty to say, you might not want to express it through carefully crafted blogs. That’s why we’ve launched Students Express– a new way for you to showcase your work on the Guardian. We’ll be inviting submissions around a variety of themes and plan to compile some of the best ones into galleries and articles on the Guardian site.

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Readers recommend: minimalist songs | Peter Kimpton


Stripped back, pared down, sparse or pure? Suggest music that in sound or lyrics expresses clarity or simplicity distilled down to its fighting weight

“Less is more,” said the architect Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, minimalistic in his buildings, but certainly not his name. But how is minimalism made in song form? Be sparse, spare, pare, shear, prune, soften or shorten? The writer Nathan Morris summed it up: “Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece after all.”

So this week we’re all about music that’s trimmed down to its fighting weight. As John Cage said: “I want to get clean and mean and minimalist.” But what are minimalist songs? This need not be restricted at all to experimentalists like Cage, who created 4’33’’ of silence accompanied by the sounds of a coughing, shuffling, restless audience. Nor to those composers with whom the term minimalist is more formally associated – Michael Nyman, La Monte Young and his “drone music”, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and John Adams. Much of their work is characterised by iterations of simple phrases, often in a form known as systems music, but this repetitious technique can be found across a huge spectrum of artists. That could be in simple melodies from classical to pop, beats and basslines from reggae to dance, or anything else, before and since.

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Poster poems: ruins


Symbols of endurance as much as transience, these remnants of another age open on to a great variety of themes. Please share what you can build from the shards of history

As the latest Greek drama has unfolded night after night on our TV screens, it has been interesting to see broadcasters using backdrop images of the Acropolis of Athens as a visual shorthand for an entire country. It has been a powerful reminder of the symbolic power of ruined buildings, and their ability to simultaneously represent both the fragility and the endurance of the civilisations that built them in the first instance. It is also, as it happens, the subject of a fine poem by Lawrence Durrell.

The ruin as subject matter entered English poetry early, with the great Anglo-Saxon poem preserved in the Exeter Book of that name. The Ruin covers many of the tropes used in poems about ruins ever since: wonder at the skill of those who built the place; speculation as to why it fell into disrepair; a meditation (tacit or implicit) on our own inadequacy in comparison to the builders; a general sense of mortality wrapped up in more than a hint of nostalgia. It is, in some senses, deeply appropriate that the manuscript is, itself, somewhat ruined, thereby forcing the reader to imagine the missing sections, just as we do when contemplating an actual ruin.

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How we made HaikuJAM, the collaborative creativity app | App story


The app that encourages ‘jammers’ to collaborate through the Japanese art of Haiku has seen some unexpected uses

HaikuJAM is a mobile app through which three people can connect to create poetic expressions together. With words and photos, folks can “jam” with friends or strangers, anywhere in the world. The framework is inspired by the ancient Japanese art of haiku, a very short form of poetry.

The collaborative process involves three “jammers” and each contributes a line or photograph, turn-by-turn-by-turn. Jammers can then share the created content through social media and also earn “karma” points for doing good in the app community. These deeds include loving jams or writing positive comments. Each day our team handpicks a number of inspiring collaborations, which are then featured on the app’s home screen.

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti: ‘Most of the poets were on something, but somebody had to mind the shop’

The publisher of the Beats talks about Ginsberg the showman, the Albert hall ‘happening’ and how one of his own poets emptied the City Lights till

Breast the brow of Stockton Street in North Beach, San Francisco, and the bay opens up before you, framed by the cream-white clapboard buildings that predominate in this old Italian neighbourhood. The island of Alcatraz prison is visible just across the water. Turn right and in a few hundred yards, on a corner, is an unprepossessing three-storey house. Press the middle bell and be prepared to wait. The occupant is old: 96. A slow footfall, and there he stands, still erect and tall: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, publisher to the Beats, poet laureate to his home town.

He directs me upstairs to the kitchen of his second floor apartment, past a scrappy unframed poster of Vladimir Mayakovsky taped roughly to the wall. “It’s a real Italian building,” he says. “The kitchen is the entire width of the house.” Ferlinghetti has lived here, on his own, for more than 30 years. I’m here to talk to him about a confluence of significant events: the 60th anniversary of the company he founded, City Lights, publishers of a celebrated poetry list that includes Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and an extensive range of titles in radical politics and offbeat fiction; the appearance later this year of a collection of his correspondence with Ginsberg, and a compilation of his own travel writings; and another anniversary, that of the International Poetry Incarnation, held in the Albert Hall in London 50 years ago this summer. There, followed by Beat poets Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, he read to an audience of 7,000 at an event billed as Britain’s first “happening”.

Related: Walking the Beat

At City Lights we didn't call the police for thieves. Our manager once took down a guy’s pants to retrieve some books

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Happiness by Jack Underwood review – death, depression and boiled eggs

Universal truths huddle among the asparagus in a poetry collection that delights in the domestic

In a short YouTube video made for the Poetry Society, Jack Underwood asks why anyone should care about poetry. He asks young poets (not that he is ancient himself – he was born in 1984, in Norwich) to imagine that “your poem is a complete stranger walking around a supermarket, tapping people on the shoulder, interrupting their day”.

He suggests that a poem involves its reader, be a “dialogue”. His reasonable implication is that you are going to need something pretty arresting to get the person in the supermarket to put down their shopping. Without a reader, a poem is nothing. That is what interests Underwood – and his first collection, Happiness, happily for him and us, has the generous quality he promotes: it is conversational, arresting, makes you want to respond.

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Poem of the week: The Silver Swan by Anon


Artfully simple, this poem can be enjoyed for its pristine surface, but also suggests a melancholy allegory

The Silver Swan

The silver Swan, who, living, had no Note,
When Death approached, unlocked her silent throat,
Leaning her breast upon the reedy shore,
Thus sang her first and last, and sang no more:
“Farewell, all joys! O Death, come close mine eyes!
More Geese than Swans now live, more Fools than Wise.”

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Four weeks left to enter the Foyle young poets of the year award 2015


Newsflash: The prestigious poetry competition for 11-17 year-olds closes for entries on 31 July 2015. Don’t miss your chance to enter!

There are just under four weeks left to enter the internationally renowned Foyle young poets of the year award, which celebrates some of the most talented young wordsmiths across the globe.

Now in its 18th year, the prize is increasingly coming to represent an early career landmark for many rising poetry stars of both page and stage. Past winners include Faber New Poet Annie Katchinska and Amy Blakemore, winner of the 2014 Melita Hume Poetry Prize. More recently 17-year-old Isla Anderson, a prizewinner in the 2014 competition, has gone on to win the acclaimed Christopher Tower poetry prize, judged by Ian McMillan, Peter McDonald, and yet another former Foyle poet, Helen Mort.

Related: John Hegley performs I am a Guillemot - children's books podcast

Related: Why is children's poetry so invisible?

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Simon Armitage: Making poetry pay - Podcast

In a culture that has consigned poetry to the margins, Armitage has become something very rare: a genuinely popular British poet. Aida Edemariam hits the road with the busiest man in verse
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