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Channel: Poetry | The Guardian

Poem of the week: The Concert by Edna St Vincent Millay

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When a woman insists she must go to hear the music on her own, a telling argument ensues

The Concert

No, I will go alone.
I will come back when it’s over.
Yes, of course I love you.
No, it will not be long.
Why may you not come with me? —
You are too much my lover.
You would put yourself
Between me and song.

This article was amended on 27 September 2021. An earlier version commented on the rhyme of “song” with “wrong”, rather than “long”

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The Sun Is Open by Gail McConnell; Cheryl’s Destinies by Stephen Sexton – review

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Keen wit and literary grit infuse the work of two Belfast writers who both show how poetry can transcend the everyday

This is the month to salute two Belfast poets: the first revisits something that has already happened; the second explores, more often, what has not happened in the light of what might. Gail McConnell’s The Sun Is Open is about the murder of her father. She was three when, in 1984, William McConnell was killed by the IRA. She does not remember him or his death – he was checking under the car for explosive devices when he was shot outside the family home in front of his wife and daughter. McConnell’s devastated poetry is a stand-in for memory.

Stephen Sexton, winner of 2019’s Forward prize for best first collection pushes against the limits of possibility in his pioneering second collection, Cheryl’s Destinies. Imagination seems to exist rather as if it were a second language. He is uncommonly fascinated by the thought of other people’s imagining, of imagination as a currency spent elsewhere. In The Chair, he even wonders whose dreams he is having.

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How to Be an Antiracist author Ibram X Kendi awarded MacArthur ‘genius grant’

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Writers Daniel Alarcón and Reginald Dwayne Betts have also been named on the list of 25 new fellows to receive $625,000 from the foundation

The bestselling historian Ibram X Kendi has been awarded a $625,000 (£460,000) MacArthur “genius grant” for his work on redressing racism in the US.

Kendi, the author of the bestseller How to Be an Antiracist, is one of 25 new fellows to receive the no-strings-attached grant from the MacArthur Foundation. The grants go to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction”. Candidates are nominated by a wide pool of experts, and recipients chosen by a selection committee.

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Gerda Mayer obituary

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My friend Gerda Mayer, who has died aged 94, was a talented poet with a gift for expressing the deepest of feelings in the simplest of ways. Her poetry is mostly observational, with its subjects being herself and those around her. As a child refugee, whose family largely perished during the Holocaust, she had much personal experience on which to draw.

The daughter of Erna (nee Eisenberger) and Arnold Stein, Gerda was born in Karlsbad (now Karlovy Vary), a town in the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia, where her father ran a clothing shop.

In September 1938, just before the annexation of those lands, her Jewish family fled east to Prague. In March 1939, one day before the German army arrived, Gerda escaped to the UK by plane thanks to the efforts of her parents and a Dorset schoolteacher, Trevor Chadwick, who was part of a British refugee rescue team there.

Gerda initially stayed with Chadwick’s wife and children in Swanage, having been sponsored by his mother, Muriel, before moving to a local boarding school. In 1942 she was sent to a second boarding school, Stoatley Rough, in Haslemere, Surrey, which had been established in 1934 for the education of refugee children.

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The best recent poetry – review roundup

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The Owl and the Nightingale, translated by Simon Armitage; Winter Recipes from the Collective by Louise Glück; Deep Wheel Orcadia by Harry Josephine Giles; Five Books by Ana Blandiana

The Owl and the Nightingale translated by Simon Armitage (Faber, £14.99)
This new work follows Simon Armitage’s earlier versions of Pearl and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in making the creative case for the readability of long Middle English poems. The Owl and the Nightingale is a comic disputation in 900 rhyming couplets: the joke – that the different orders of bird lack mutual respect, just like humans from different communities – has plenty of time to wear thin, especially as this translation has to work with the poem’s rural setting, which could appear to contemporary perspectives to lack edge. That we want to keep reading is thanks largely to Armitage’s way with language. Plain-speaking and laconic, it retains the metre and rhyme scheme of the original, while making it sound easy: it is not. This thoroughly poetic feat, rather than Faber’s somewhat twee illustrations or the arch self-references, ensures this graceful, elegant translation is a success.

Winter Recipes from the Collective by Louise Glück (Carcanet, £12.99)
A slim volume of just 15 pieces, but like all the Nobel laureate’s work, it punches above its apparent weight. Glück has always been a fastidiously exact truth-teller; her lucid poems pretend to a plainness that’s really the simplicity of something more fully worked out than the rest of us can manage. It is a hallmark of late, great writing, as is the courage to go into the dark: “Downward and downward and downward and downward / is where the wind is taking us.” This new collection once again examines close relationships without the sweetener of correct sentiment, recording the universal stages of human life through a woman’s experience. We’re back in the stylised, half-dreamed Glück landscapes that are rural equivalents of an Edward Hopper painting, and back with her astonishing poetry, as “the world goes by, / All the worlds, each more beautiful than the last”.

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Poem of the week: The Wife of Usher’s Well

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This ancient ballad, shaped over centuries, explores ghosts, love – and the power of time itself

The Wife of Usher’s Well

There lived a wife at Usher’s Well,
And a wealthy wife was she;
She had three stout and stalwart sons,
And sent them oer the sea.

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National Book Awards 2021: Robert Jones Jr and Lauren Groff among finalists

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The winners of the prestigious US awards, in five categories, will be announced in a ceremony in November

The finalists for this year’s National Book Awards have been announced, including nominations for Lauren Groff, Robert Jones Jr and Anthony Doerr.

The 25 finalists are spread over five categories: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, translated literature and young people’s literature.

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Patti Smith review – punk, poetry and the raw power of connection

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Royal Albert Hall, London
From punk ragers to stories of Blake and Bunyan, the poet laureate of dissent wrings blood, sweat and love out of every second of stage time

Not many rock shows begin with a standing ovation – and not many events at the Royal Albert Hall end with a mosh pit – but if there’s any artist primed to turn convention on its head, it’s Patti Smith. The punk legend and poet laureate of dissent returned to London for two nights this week, with the apparent intent to wring blood, sweat and love out of every second of stage time.

This moment is long overdue for fans – and for Smith, who speaks of having had the historic venue in her sights for years. Now 74, her voice is more robust and commanding than ever. Howling and stomping inside the grand Victorian dome, her warm and mighty presence clearly knocks something loose for everyone. Even the act of slinging off her blazer is met with admiration. “How do you stay so cool?” someone shouts from the front. “Sorry,” Smith smiles, sipping from a mug. “It’s genetic.”

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Lyrical tearaways: removable verses adorn streets for National Poetry Day

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From Bristol to Glasgow, five poems will be displayed in public on the theme of choice. The writers introduce their works

“Who can she be but, helplessly, herself?” reads a line from Imtiaz Dharker’s Choice, one of five poems appearing on billboards across the UK this week in celebration of National Poetry Day. “Choice” is the theme of the five cities, five poets campaign, and the selected poems explore the choices we make – or that are made for us – about everything from identity, to parenting and appearance.

As well as Dharker’s poem, which is on the streets of Glasgow, the five poems comprise Caleb Femi’s Thirteen (displayed in Peckham, south London), Caleb Parkin’s Shrinking Violets (in Bristol), Marvin Thompson’s May 8th, 2020 (in Cardiff) and Warda Yassin’s Weston Park (in Sheffield). Produced in partnership with Jack Arts,the billboards, which are running until the 17 October, each have tearaway sheets printed with the poems for passersby to take.

I chose Thirteen because it felt like a cornerstone moment. It’s about the first time I was arrested. I was 13 years old, and it was by a police officer who had been at my primary school a year or so before then. The description of the person they were looking for was a man. What was really striking about that moment for me was this sense of not being afforded the privilege – not even the privilege, the fact – of being a kid. And more so, the general lack of a sense of relationship between the community and the police, who are supposed to be one of the most prominent pillars in order for a community to thrive. More than anything, I chose it to underline the fact that, in a space like Peckham, which has changed over the last 10 years quite profoundly, there are still conversations that are just as relevant as they were when I was 13.

When they mentioned the theme of choice, I was thinking about the subject and the way this poem works. The voice in this poem keeps checking itself, with revisions and choices in what it’s saying. The other aspect with the content of the poem was how much space we take up, and the choices we make there. I kind of played up the digressions and the self-corrections, made them even more apparent when I edited it, because that was what I was getting at.

When I wrote Choice, I was a young mother making decisions about a child’s life, thinking about power, the limits of control and the cliff edges of risk. A poem is sometimes a navigation through the anxieties of the world and I think the form follows from this, working through questions, a kind of sifting.

I hope readers enjoy my National Poetry Day poem. The recent BBC documentary about the Cardiff Five reminded me that injustice haunts Britain, haunts Wales. As such, I am proud to have my poem placed on a billboard in Cardiff. This is a city where Betty Campbell and others have lived wonderful lives, championing justice and celebrating diversity.

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On my radar: Edmund de Waal’s cultural highlights

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The ceramicist and writer on the poetry of Louise Glück, the music of Max Richter and the best secret meeting spot in London

Born in Nottingham in 1964, Edmund de Waal is an artist, master potter and the author of The Hare with Amber Eyes, which won the Costa prize for biography in 2010. He became keenly interested in ceramics at an early age and his second book, The White Road, follows his journey through the history of porcelain, back to its origins in China. De Waal’s latest book, Letters to Camondo, is a sequence of imagined letters to a Parisian collector of beautiful objects. It’s the basis for his new show, Lettres à Camondo, at Musée Nissim de Camondo, Paris, until 15 May 2022.

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What’s our message to outer space? We are not so brilliant here on Earth | Rowan Moore

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The prize-winning poetry of the Azerbaijani president’s daughter and the Dubai Expo both lack inspiration

You might think of poets as poor – starving in their garrets, receiving tiny sums for their occasional slim volumes of verse and all that. Not so Leyla Aliyeva, one of whose works was printed in school books in her home country of Azerbaijan. As revealed in the Pandora Papers, she and her siblings were shareholders of 44 companies registered in the British Virgin Islands between 2006 and 2018, which owned tens of millions of pounds worth of luxury property, much of it in London.

It would be churlish to think that either her literary success or her wealth are anything to do with the fact that her father is Ilham Aliyev, the country’s president, or that her grandfather (the subject of the poem in the school books) was president too. Her mould-breaking achievements are surely attributable to the unique beauty and brilliance of such lines as “I wish the winds would spread the cry of my heart/ To the whole universe”.

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Poem of the week: Love and Death by Lord Byron

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Both Romantic and realist, what is thought to be the poet’s final work is a passionate declaration of unrequited love

Love and Death

1.

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TS Eliot prize unveils ‘voices of the moment’ in 2021 shortlist

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Ten collections in competition for the £25,000 award ‘should enter the stage and be heard in the spotlight’, say judges

“Ten books that sound clear and compelling voices of the moment” make up this year’s shortlist for the TS Eliot prize for poetry.

Announcing this year’s contenders for £25,000 prize, writer and chair of judges Glyn Maxwell said: “Poetry styles are as disparate as we’ve ever known them, and the wider world as threatened and bewildered as any of us can remember … these are the 10 voices we think should enter the stage and be heard in the spotlight, changing the story.”

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He’s a poet and the FBI know it: how John Giorno’s Dial-a-Poem alarmed the Feds

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After receiving hundreds of thousands of calls, the poet’s project almost broke the New York telephone exchange – leading to an FBI investigation. Will it cause similar chaos in the Instapoet era?

In 1968, the poet and visual artist John Giorno was on the telephone when he was hit with an idea. It came to him that “the voice was the poet, the words were the poem, and the telephone was the venue”. He imagined utilising the telephone as a medium of mass communication, in order to generate a new relationship between poet and audience. This would become Dial-a-Poem: one telephone number that anyone could call, 24/7, and listen to a random recorded poem – liberating spoken poetry from what Giorno termed “the sense-deadening lecture hall situation”. As part of New York’s avant garde scene, he quickly enlisted talent, tape-recording the likes of John Ashbery, Bernadette Mayer, Anne Waldman and David Henderson reading poems at 222 Bowery, his loft. He found a project sponsor, 10 answering machines fitted with these recordings were patched together and connected to phone lines and Dial-a-Poem went live.

In 1970, the project moved to MoMA, expanding to host a total of 700 poems by 55 poets – including Black Panther poets and queer erotic poetry. As the project gained press coverage, calls to Dial-a-Poem skyrocketed into the hundreds of thousands, putting immense strain on the Upper East Side telephone exchange. It’s a powerful image – thousands of people who, through some collective desire or curiosity, stretched the project and its public infrastructure to breaking point. Giorno was interested in the pattern of the calls. He imagined bored office workers phoning from their desks, or people tripping on acid, unable to sleep, dialling at 2am. The project’s popularity, for him, was “a poignant expression of the need and loneliness of people”.

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Poem of the week: Sudden Light by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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Centred on the realisation that time may not be linear, the poet explores what we now call deja vu

Sudden Light by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

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Why shouldn’t a writer for children talk of refugees, persecution and genocide? | Michael Rosen

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The We’re Going on a Bear Hunt author on how researching his family’s fractured history resulted in his latest poetry collection

There was always the mystery of my father’s uncles. My father was an enthusiast, loving jokes – especially Jewish ones – songs, poems, plays, stories and football, but he showed sadness in the face of loss. The way he talked of the uncles was, “You know I had two uncles in France … they were there at the beginning of the war; they weren’t there at the end.” As my brother and I got older we pressed him, and he would say: “They must have died in the camps.” What camps? I asked myself. Where? What did the word even mean? And why France?

Another mystery about our father was that he was American. Though he was born in the US, he had lived in London since he was two. The story was that his mother and Polish father – the brother of these French uncles – had split in Brockton, Massachusetts, back in 1922, with his mother bringing him and his siblings to London. My father didn’t ever see his father again.

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Luke Kennard wins Forward poetry prize for ‘anarchic’ response to Shakespeare

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Notes on the Sonnets took the £10,000 award for best collection, while Caleb Femi and Nicole Sealey came out on top in the other categories

Luke Kennard has won the Forward prize for best collection for his “anarchic” response to Shakespeare’s sonnets, a work which judges are predicting could “transform” students’ relationship with the Bard.

Kennard’s Notes on the Sonnets, published by small press Penned in the Margins, took the prestigious £10,000 award in London on Sunday evening, beating shortlisted poets including Kayo Chingonyi and Tishani Doshi. Notes on the Sonnets is a collection of prose poems responding to Shakespeare’s, set at an awkward house party, with a line from a sonnet introducing each poem. Judges praised the way it captures “uncomfortable elements of human interaction and the changing nature of love”.

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Poem of the week: Atavism by Elinor Wylie

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A picturesque scene in New England discloses unsettled and unsettling spirits

Atavism

I always was afraid of Somes’s Pond:
Not the little pond, by which the willow stands,
Where laughing boys catch alewives in their hands
In brown, bright shallows; but the one beyond.
There, when the frost makes all the birches burn
Yellow as cow-lilies, and the pale sky shines
Like a polished shell between black spruce and pines,
Some strange thing tracks us, turning where we turn.

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Memories of the Welsh Dial-a-Poem service | Letter

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A piece on John Giorno’s Dial-a-Poem in New York takes reader Fay Cornes back to the Cardiff-based version of the early 1970s

The poet Ralf Webb’s article (He’s a poet and the FBI know it: how John Giorno’s Dial-a-Poem alarmed the Feds, 18 October) about John Giorno’s Dial-a-Poem in New York, which is being reproduced as part of the first posthumous exhibition of Giorno’s work at the Almine Rech Gallery in London, brought back happy memories of the Welsh Arts Council’s Dial-a-Poem service, launched in February 1970 for a year and run for another year in 1972.

At that time, arrangements were made to rent one recording machine (not 10 as in New York!) and other necessary equipment. Poets were invited to submit suitable poems for consideration and each one had to be less than three minutes of reading time to also allow for a short introduction about the poet.

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Bioluminescent Baby review – ode to the insect world

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Fiona Benson’s collection of poems about fireflies, mosquitoes and the like takes us into a glowing parallel universe

I had not expected to spend long with these poems, assuming a collection devoted to insects was likely to prove marginal. But Fiona Benson’s Bioluminescent Baby has hijacked me. This is a wonder of a book and a thing of beauty: Guillemot Press has produced a small grey volume with a gleaming green firefly in its top left-hand corner that looks on the point of whizzing down to disrupt the title. Anupa Gardner’s woodcuts are an unpretentious joy and the book is framed by elegantly creepy-crawly end papers. But it is the poems themselves that are exceptional: elating, moving and revelatory. They take one aback, remind one that most of us do not spend enough time considering the insect world, a parallel universe at once so removed and so close to us with so much – and at the same time so little – to tell us about ourselves.

No need to fear that there is cute anthropomorphising ahead. Benson earns an honourable place in the company of poets who have written about insects that includes John Donne (The Flea), William Blake (The Fly) and, more recently, Denise Riley (To a Lady, viewed by a Head-Louse). She is especially interested in the science of insects and her poetry is underpinned by research. Mosquitoes, Mozambique Anopheles gambiae is a fascinating show-stopper of a poem in which mosquitoes and the threat of malaria are interwoven (of mosquitoes, she admits, “I’m one of their chosen ones”) and in Marmalade Hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus she focuses on an experiment designed to understand how hoverflies migrate, which movingly evolves into a poem about her heart’s direction. Synchronous Fireflies Photinus carolinus is a poem of ardent stealth: as she watches the fireflies, she feels suddenly excluded by their “complicated language” that reorients her towards the non-insect world and the man she loves.

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