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No trolls allowed: Seattle advertises a writing residency … in a bridge


The US city’s transport department offers $10,000 for a ‘unique’ residency in a bridge tower – in return for ‘an in-depth exploration’ of the space

The city of Seattle is seeking a writer for a unique residency: in one of the towers of its Fremont Bridge, which crosses the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

The selected writer – who could be a poet, fiction or “creative non-fiction” author – will receive $10,000 (£7,000) to work in the space for three months, and is expected to “undertake an in-depth exploration of the bridge” and write a literary response to the experience, to coincide with the 100th birthday of the structure in 2017.

Related: Reading American cities: books about Seattle

Related: Books about Seattle: readers’ picks

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Dylan Thomas copyright claims thrown out by Irish court


Man suffers double blow after suing Welsh government over use of historic images and bringing libel case against photographer’s 93-year-old widow

An Irish court has thrown out a case taken against the Welsh government over an alleged breach of copyright in relation to photographs of poet Dylan Thomas and his wife, Caitlin, used in a campaign by the Welsh tourist board, which shows them playing croquet and strolling through the countryside as newlyweds.

In a second hearing, also in Dublin high court, a libel case was dismissed against the 93-year-old widow of the man who took the photographs in the 1930s.

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TS Eliot prize row: is winner too young, beautiful - and Chinese?


Poet Sarah Howe’s 2016 TS Eliot prize win has been questioned by a sexist and sceptical literary press, but as the activity around the #derangedpoetess hashtag shows, we poets have had enough

The boys appear not to be happy.

When the UK’s top prize for poetry, the TS Eliot Prize, was awarded to first-time poet Sarah Howe for her book Loop of Jade (Chatto) earlier this month, a whoop of joy went up in the room. Later at the party, I heard someone say: “I wonder how long it will be before everyone begins to hate her.” Not long, as it happens.

How did Sarah Howe win TS Eliot prize, asks Private Eye pic.twitter.com/z35dsreRMj

Here it is pic.twitter.com/WtZpfA2FRz

This gentle interview with a leading young poet has led various deranged poetesses to call me thick, sexist etc... https://t.co/AN5F2TDbzM

Related: Poetry, music and identity with Sarah Howe, Emmy the Great and Solomon OB – books podcast

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The Saturday Poem: Leaving the Office


by Douglas Dunn

For Frances

Somehow it all gets done and over with–
The office emptied of its archival dross,
Papers re-read, and chucked, the years of breath
Re-breathed, moment by moment. Why feel cross
At this departure? Why feel worse than sad
For fag-ashed, faded memos, decisions taken,
Or not taken, the good, indifferent, bad,
Right ways of doing, and the mistaken?

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Was Robert Burns really a radical?


Written at a time of political repression, were Robert Burns’s late poems covertly radical, or are contemporary academics reading their own leftist values into history? Murray Armstrong on the battle for the soul of Burns Night

“Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,” wrote Robert Burns in 1793, a line that will be sung or recited countless times between this weekend and next at Burns Night suppers around the world where haggis, neeps, and tatties will be served and the “immortal memory” will be toasted.

But what will they celebrate? A sentimental nationalism is usually attached to “Scots Wha Hae”, and a masonic-style of brotherly love to that other favourite, “A Man’s a Man for a’ That”. Burns suppers have had the reputation of being little more than backward looking all-male piss-ups and in the 1930s the poet Hugh MacDiarmid condemned Burns clubs for their “canting humbug” that “preserved his furniture and repelled his message”.

Related: Bob Dylan: Robert Burns is my biggest inspiration

“Scots Wha Hae” is full of radicalism: “Tyrants fall in every foe! Liberty’s in every blow! Let us do – or die!!!”

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Poem of the week: Chainsaw by John Kinsella


Close focus on the raw machinery of cutting wood ramifies to a much grander meditation on humanity’s treatment of the natural world


The seared flesh of wood, cut
to a polish, deceives: the rip and tear
of the chain, its rapid cycling
a covering up of raw savagery.
It is not just machine. In the blur
of its action, its guttural roar,
it hides the malice of organics.
Cybernetic, empirical, absolutist.
The separation of Church and state,
conspiracies against the environmental
lobby, enforcement of fear, are at the core
of its modus operandi. The cut of softwood
is deceptive, hardwood dramatic: just
before dark on a chill evening
the sparks rain out — dirty wood,
hollowed by termites, their digested
sand deposits, capillaried highways
imploded: the chainsaw effect.
It is not subtle. It is not ambient.
It is trans nothing. A clogged airfilter
has it sucking up more juice —
it gargles, floods, chokes
into silence. Sawdust dresses boots,
jeans, the field. Gradually
the paddock is cleared, the wood
stacked in cords along the lounge-room wall.
A darkness kicks back and the cutout
bar jerks into place, a distant chainsaw
dissipates. Further on, some seconds later,
another does the same. They follow
the onset of darkness, a relay of severing,
a ragged harmonics stretching back
to its beginning — gung-ho,
blazon, overconfident. Hubristic
to the final cut, last drop of fuel.

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Tips, links and suggestions: what are you reading this week?


Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them

Welcome to this week’s blog. Here’s a roundup of your comments and photos from last week– with marvellous letters, cats and a call for the creation of “bookaholics anonymous”.

kushti shared:

Finally got round to reading an obvious omission from my reading history – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, which was voted by an assembly of critics as the best book of the [21st century so far]. And yes, it is a great read, it has a fabulous dynamic energy about it which is irresistible.

For a complete change from the rather emotionally draining Diaz, I have gone to the outer reaches of experimentalism with You & Me by Padgett Powell, which concerns a pair of Vladimir and Estragon type characters talking rubbish to each other, and nothing else, to very amusing effect.

... and really enjoyed it. I’m a big fan of Tom Cox’s writing; his turn of phrase is brilliant and there’s a genuine warmth and affection that runs through it all. Some wonderful descriptions of the Devon countryside too. My one very minor gripe is that some of it is slightly rehashed from his (sadly now defunct) Guardian column, such as Roscoe’s pub adventures, but it’s so well-written that I can’t really complain about that.

A friend recommended it to me. I’m a 19 year old man/boy and some of the stares I get on the train are quite funny but the book is pretty good and scarily relatable. I’m quite an anxious person and I struggle to make the distinction between reality and what’s going on in my own head (which are usually extremes) far too often. That’s the sense that I get with Chris’ infatuation in the book.

Oh, this book is marvellous! I’d forgotten how much I love collections of literary letters (The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor was my previous gold bar, but this one may have toppled it.) I’m a life-long fan of Maxwell, but was only vaguely familiar with Warner. Over 40 years the correspondence between Maxwell and Warner grows from the formal, editor/writer relationship, to a true and lasting love between these two, though they only met in person a handful of times. At times Maxwell appears almost besotted with Warner (though he is equally adoring of his wife Emily and their daughters.) I learned of Warner’s politics, her relationship with her partner Valentine Aukland, her friends and foes in London literary circles of the 40’s and 50’s, and she emerges as a fascinating character. It doesn’t hurt that there are frequent references to cats, both Maxwell’s and Warner’s. It took me two library renewals before I could brace myself to read the last six pages – Maxwell’s eulogy at Warner’s funeral.

Unless there’s a Heaven that allows you to b.y.o.b (bring your own books) I’ll never have enough time to read what I own. And yet ... and yet I just ordered two more novels. Does anyone else here in our community share this tragic affliction?

Related: Sign up to our Bookmarks newsletter

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The Saturday Poem: Storm

by Maureen Duffy

How you would have hated this storm, the lightning dash
and bomb-blast of thunder, and I would have hurried
home from school so you shouldn’t be alone
to find you crouched behind a door, in a corner
under the stairs. And it wasn’t a memory
of the latest thunderclap that had sent you
scuttling, not the one that buried us both
but that childhood strike of a bolt against
your 1890s’ workhouse style high brick
Board School when you fled over the wall
to Granny’s and were marked missing at roll-call
whose centenary I commemorate here
of never-to-be-forgotten terror for you
who were so brave every winter in the face
of that death that finally ran you down, when
every stifled cough might throw up your life’s blood.

And when the real bomb fell whispered to our
rescuers: “Take my little girl out first.”

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Beauty/Beauty by Rebecca Perry review – curiosity, clumsiness and charm

Mythical beasts, ergonomic desks and awkward adolescence in a wry and chatty debut

Sasquatches, dinosaurs, buried animals in a pet cemetery: Rebecca Perry’s poems are filled with creatures we can never approach. She focuses on them, dreams of their presences, gives them lives connected to her own. In “Poor Sasquatch”, she writes: “When I walked through a shopping centre, he was behind me, / peering in through the shop windows at the colourful cakes, / which he longed for.” The sasquatch, as we know, is elusive quarry, but here it tracks the poet, a shadow figure or second self. It even acts as a kind of benevolent protector as “when I walked along a pavement / he was on the traffic side, taking the hits”. The beast plays its role to the poet’s Beauty/Beauty.

All of the poems in this debut, shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize, search for the impossible-to-find, what Perry describes as her “habit / of seeking love where there is none”. This can lead to frustration and tears – and often does. Yet it also suggests empathy and humanity: “Last week a woman was crying beside me on the bus; / I willed my body to generate heat for her. / This felt like a common reaction.”

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Interference Pattern by JO Morgan review – bracingly original poetry

The award-winning poet addresses everything from bullies to the big bang in a stimulating new collection

JO Morgan’s new collection requires and rewards repeated attention. Rereading poetry goes with the territory: a poem you do not want to reread is unlikely to be up to much. But this book is especially challenging. Each time you read – like rubbing a brass or watching mist lift or solving a clue – it becomes clearer, more striking, new things come to light. It is a work to be caught in snatches, in flashes, by stealth, as life itself sometimes is. Don’t be put off by the unwelcoming title – Interference Pattern merely hints at its collage of contents. The book reminds me of TS Eliot’s much-quoted line: “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood” – words that have inspired much obscure and pointless writing. But this collection carries you, unnerves and stimulates. It absolutely meets Eliot’s requirement that poetry be “genuine”.

Related: Poet JO Morgan arrives 'out of the blue' to take Aldeburgh first poetry collection prize

It is a work to be caught in snatches, in flashes, by stealth, as life itself sometimes is

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Poem of the week: Casida of the Dead Sun by Rebecca Perry

Embarking on an epic: Homer's Iliad for February's Reading group


The motherlode of western literature has kept readers and translators busy for 3,000 years. Now it’s our turn

This month on the Reading group – deep breath – we’re going for the big one: the Iliad. The ur-text of the western canon. The beginning of everything.

If you’ve read Homer’s epic poem, you’ll have a good idea about why it’s been the bedrock of our literary tradition for so long. But if you haven’t, be prepared to be surprised.

Related: Guardian Books podcast: Rhetoric and the Iliad

Related: My hero: Homer by Madeline Miller

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Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh's death sentence quashed by Saudi court


Panel of judges downgrades punishment for apostasy conviction to eight years in prison and 800 lashes

A Saudi court has overturned the death sentence of a Palestinian poet accused of renouncing Islam, imposing an eight-year prison term and 800 lashes instead. He must also repent through an announcement in official media.

The decision by a panel of judges came after Ashraf Fayadh’s lawyer argued his conviction was seriously flawed because he was denied a fair trial. In a briefing on the verdict, Abdulrahman al-Lahem said the judgment revoked the death sentence but upheld that the poet was guilty of apostasy.

Related: Cultural figures and rights groups call for release of poet facing execution

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William Wordsworth's 'daffodils' cottage set for £5m improvement grant


Dove Cottage in Grasmere will use fund to improve displays, lighting and access to garden he and sister Dorothy loved

A grant of almost £5m will be announced this week by the Heritage Lottery Fund to improve facilities at Dove Cottage, the home of the poet William Wordsworth and the place where he wrote his daffodils poem, in time for 2020, the 250th anniversary of the poet’s birth.

The cottage is still full of the poet’s possessions, and among the treasures of the museum are his sister Dorothy’s journals, including the entry for Thursday 15 April 1802, when they saw the flowers. She described:

A long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed & reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake

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The anchored terset: can you write a poem in three words?


A radically condensed form of poetry, using just three words, is being piloted for National Libraries Day.

It’s not often that I’m moved to verse, but it’s also not often that I hear of a


Firstly, an anchored terset may only be made of three words, and its unusual spelling is a nod to the terseness of short forms. Kennings and hyphenated words may be counted as one word for those wanting to experiment and stretch the form.

Whatever three-word combination a poet or writer comes up with, the second rule of the form is that the terset must be anchored by a full-stop on the fourth line (although again, those wanting to break the rules could employ other grammatical marks).

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Poster poems: Didactic verse


It’s not much practised, but there’s a strong tradition of how-to poems, from Virgil to Henry Reed. So this month it’s your turn to teach

The question of what poetry is for is one that has as many answers as it has people who try to answer it. For Ezra Pound, following the teachers of medieval oratory, the answer was ut moveat, ut doceat, ut delectate; that poetry should move, teach and delight. Most contemporary readers would probably have no issue with the first and third of these precepts, but the didactic use of poetry went somewhat out of fashion with the Romantic movement and is still not much valued by many readers.

Nevertheless, a genre of “how to” poems does exist, and poems of instruction – more or less literal – continue to be written. This didactic tradition dates back at least as far as Hesiod’s farming manual Works and Days, with its emphasis on the value of hard work. For Hesiod, labour is both inevitable and ethically desirable, being humanity’s greatest safeguard against unnecessary strife. The poem was a major influence on Virgil’s The Georgics, which similarly emphasises the importance of hard work. Indeed, Virgil goes so far as to suggest farming as a suitable employment for retired Roman soldiers, perhaps picking up on the earlier poet’s concern with containing violence through physical labour.

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Complete Poems by RF Langley review – subtlety and flashes of clarity found through ant-like observation


From moth wings to artists’ brushstrokes, this is work that celebrates the effort of close scrutiny

“This month the lemon, I’ll say/ primrose-coloured, moths, which flinch/ along the hedge then turn in/ to hide, are Yellow Shells not/ Shaded Broad-bars,” RF Langley mused in the last poem he published during his lifetime, the provocatively titled “To a Nightingale”: two pages before it, “ants do collect confetti, wrestling/ grains of rice into cracks.” If you find such painstaking, ant-like observation compelling, you will find much to like, and something to love, in the subtleties, introverted ruminations, and sometime flashes of clarity that make up most of Langley’s Complete Poems.

Langley taught secondary school English (in Wolverhampton and Sutton Coldfield) for decades, and there is something of a good teacher’s patience – along with a veteran teacher’s willing idiosyncrasy – in his ratiocinative moods. “Every brushstroke changes the picture,” Langley wrote in a one-page “Note” on his own work: he brings to wrens, moths and teasels, to English pub interiors and Venetian edifices, the same kind of scrutiny that art historians bring to real brushstrokes, and that he must have brought to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (see his poem “Blues for Titania”) as he guided his teenage students through its revelations

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The Saturday poem: Zoi


by Fiona Sampson

Evening star, bringing back everything the bright dawn scattered– SAPPHO

Perfectly at home
street dog the colour
of coffee you forget
yourself leaning on me

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On my radar: Hollie McNish’s cultural highlights

The poet on the Shambala festival, the magic of Withered Hand, Laura Dudsworth’s Bare Reality and an inspiring visit to a Roman fort

Hollie McNish was born in Reading in 1983 to Scottish parents. Obsessed with writing her diaries in poetry since the age of seven, she finally stammered her first reading to others at the age of 25. She has since become a full-time poet, released two collections, Papers and Cherry Pie, and performed last year alongside the likes of Young Fathers, Kate Tempest and Simon Armitage. She is currently touring the UK with her latest collection of poetry and memoirs on parenthood, Nobody Told Me, out now (Blackfriars Books). Her grandmother read the first page and said “I can’t read any more”. First review done.

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TS Eliot letters reveal anguish over failure of first marriage


Correspondence to be published this month challenges view that poet was cold towards his wife Vivien as she suffered mental illness

TS Eliot’s desperation to escape the “hideous farce” of his first marriage to Vivien Haigh-Wood and her refusal to believe their relationship had reached its final chapter have been revealed in previously unpublished letters.

The full extent of their mutual anguish is conveyed through correspondence with close friends as well as each other, which casts new light on one of the 20th century’s most important writers. The contents challenge an assumption that he was intolerably cold towards her when she was suffering an obvious mental decline.

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