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Channel: Poetry | The Guardian

How to Wash a Heart by Bhanu Kapil review – unsettling reflections on displacement

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The British poet, inspired by the tale of a California couple who shared their home with a migrant, examines the nature of hospitality in this TS Eliot prize-winning book

Bhanu Kapil, poet and performance artist, recently won the TS Eliot prize for How to Wash a Heart. Kapil, born in Britain to Indian parents, recently returned to the UK after years in North America. She explains, in her afterword, how the work was triggered by a news item about a “couple in California who had offered a room in their home to a person with a precarious visa status”. Kapil was unsettled by the photograph of the citizen host in the newspaper, observing “taut muscles around her mouth as she smiled”. She felt “something I could not put words to when I read her ornate way of describing the hospitality she was offering”.

Finding the necessary words became Kapil’s project. In her earlier work, she has written about trauma in the south Asian diaspora. Here, trauma is amplified by displacement. There is a deliberately uncomfortable sense of breaking a taboo in being critical of hospitality, of seeing its – in this instance – self-serving complexity and nouveau colonialism. This is an extended song about “host-guest chemistry”, about mutinous dependence. By implication, it establishes that real hospitality should not be merely about food and shelter, let alone about a host’s self-congratulation. It should be about creating the conditions in which a guest can feel free.

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TS Eliot winner Bhanu Kapil: 'It's hard to study something by standing in front of it'

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The poet’s latest collection, How to Wash a Heart, was partly inspired by a news story about a liberal white couple taking in an Asian refugee

Bhanu Kapil’s fourth poetry collection, Schizophrene, relays a scene from India’s partition. A girl fleeing her childhood home glimpses, through a hole in the cart in which she’s hidden, countless women tied to trees on the newly drawn border with Pakistan, their stomachs cut out. “This story, which really wasn’t a story but an image, was repeated to me at many bedtimes of my own childhood,” Kapil writes. This image was, in fact, “a way of conveying information”.

Throughout her work, Kapil examines the intergenerational effects of a historical silence that has slowly lifted over the largest mass migrations in history, which was also one of the most violent. These images demonstrate how colonial violence embedded in the heart of the British empire breeds racial trauma for migrants within its own borders. As she writes, again in Schizophrene, “it is psychotic not to know where you are in a national space”.

Related: How to Wash a Heart by Bhanu Kapil review – unsettling reflections on displacement

How to Wash a Heart by Bhanu Kapil is published by Liverpool University Press (£9.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

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‘You can smell the sweat and hair gel’: the best nightclub scenes from culture

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Writers and artists including Róisín Murphy, Tiffany Calver and Sigala on the art that transports them to the dancefloor during lockdown

There have been many notable nightclubs in film history. The Blue Angel in the Marlene Dietrich movie; the Copacabana in Goodfellas, accessible to privileged wiseguys via the kitchen; the Slow Club in Blue Velvet, with the emotionally damaged star turn Isabella Rossellini singing the song of the same name.

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A joy forever: poetry world prepares to mark bicentenary of John Keats

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Two hundred years after his early death, plays, readings and new poetry will honour the legacy of the much beloved author

Almost 200 years ago, on 23 February 1821, the English poet John Keats died of tuberculosis in Rome at the age of 25. “I shall soon be laid in the quiet grave – thank God for the quiet grave,” he told his friend Joseph Severn, in whose arms he died. “I can feel the cold earth upon me – the daisies growing over me – O for this quiet – it will be my first.”

Keats gave instructions for his headstone to be engraved with the words “here lies one whose name was writ in water”, and visitors to Rome’s Protestant cemetery can still make a pilgrimage to see it today. But far from being “writ in water”, Keats’s words continue to echo, with a host of writing and events lined up to mark the 200th anniversary of his death.

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Unfinished manuscripts that lay behind Palestinian critic’s stated contempt for fiction

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Scholar Edward Said longed to write novels, yet never succeeded, a new biography reveals

Edward Said was clear and firm: the work of a critic, he argued, is more important than the work of poets and novelists. It is public intellectuals, he believed, who are the writers most able to challenge power and change the world.

But according to a new biography of the highly respected Palestinian scholar and literary critic, Said secretly wrote both poetry and fiction – not even mentioning it to his friends.

Related: Return: A Palestinian Memoir by Ghada Karmi review – good intentions turn to bitterness and isolation

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Poem of the week: A Grey Day by William Vaughn Moody

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Some surprisingly buoyant and cheering verses from a neglected American writer

A Grey Day

Grey drizzling mists the moorlands drape,
Rain whitens the dead sea,
From headland dim to sullen cape
Grey sails creep wearily.
I know not how that merchantman
Has found the heart; but ’t is her plan
Seaward her endless course to shape.

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John Keats: five poets on his best poems, 200 years since his death

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From Ode to a Nightingale to Modern Love, Ruth Padel, Will Harris, Mary Jean Chan, Rachel Long and Seán Hewitt choose their favourites

Chosen by Ruth Padel

Ruth Padel has written Songs of the Night, a poem inspired by Ode to a Nightingale, to mark the bicentenary with the Poetry Society and Keats House Hampstead.

Rendang by Will Harris, winner of the 2020 Forward prize for first collection, is published by Granta.

Flèche by Mary Jean Chan, winner of the 2019 Costa award for poetry, is published by Faber.

Tongues of Fire by Seán Hewitt is published by Jonathan Cape.

My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long, shortlisted for the 2021 Folio prize, is published by Picador.

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The Great British Art Tour: why is Keats at Guy's hospital?

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With public art collections closed we are bringing the art to you, exploring highlights and hidden gems from across the country in partnership with Art UK. Today’s pick: Stuart Williamson’s statue of Keats in London

The Romantic poet John Keats died 200 years ago today at the young age of 25. He has long since been celebrated for works such as Ode to a Nightingale and To Autumn. Less well known, perhaps, are the years he spent as trainee doctor before giving up medicine to focus intensively on poetry.

This statue of Keats sits in an alcove outside Guy’s hospital because he worked and studied there. He was only 14 (as was the norm in the early 19th century) when he was first apprenticed to a suburban apothecary, the equivalent of a GP. He later moved to Guy’s to undertake further training under the legendary surgeon Astley Cooper.

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Nude selfies: are they now art?

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Lockdown has triggered a boom in the exchange of intimate shots – and now a new book called Sending Nudes is celebrating the pleasures and perils of baring all to the camera

Have you ever sent a nude selfie? The question draws a thick red line between generations, throwing one side into a panic while the other just laughs. And yet, as far back as 2009, that fount of moral wisdom, Kanye West, was advising how to stay safe. “When you take the picture cut off your face / And cover up the tattoo by the waist,” he rapped in Jamie Foxx’s song Digital Girl.

As the pandemic forces relationships to be conducted remotely, more people than ever are resorting to the virtual exchange of intimacies. Last autumn, a poll of 7,000 UK schoolchildren by the youth sexual health charity Brook put the figure at nearly one in five who said they would send a naked selfie to a partner during a lockdown.

Sending nudes was an attempt to find reassurance that, despite my darkest beliefs, I was lovable after all

One story, Unthinkable, chronicles a painful 14-year affair conducted largely by selfie

Related: Why my nude selfie is a feminist statement | Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and founder of City Lights bookshop, dies aged 101

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Poet and countercultural pioneer put on trial for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl went on to become a beloved icon of San Francisco

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet, publisher, painter and political activist who co-founded the famous City Lights bookshop in San Francisco and became an icon of the city himself, has died aged 101.

Ferlinghetti died at home on Monday night. His son Lorenzo said that the cause was interstitial lung disease.

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

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti obituary

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Poet whose outlook spanned anarchism, ecology, publishing and the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet, artist, activist and founder of San Francisco’s famous City Lights Bookstore, who has died aged 101 of interstitial lung disease, was the least “beat” of the Beat Generation. In addition to a political commitment that blended anarchism and ecology – he loathed the motor car, calling it “the infernal combustion engine” – he had an instinctive business sense, based on the principle of small is beautiful. City Lights, which he started in partnership with the magazine editor Peter Martin in the early 50s, is still among the most welcoming of shops, with its tables and chairs, sheaves of magazines, and signs saying: “Pick a book, sit down, and read”.

Ferlinghetti discouraged interviewers and seekers of personal information. “If I had some biographical questionnaire to answer, I would always make something up,” he once said. Different reference books give different dates of birth, and one published story had it that he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the place of the pissoir in French literature. For many years, he listed his dog, Homer, as City Lights’ “publicity and public relations officer. The poet recalled that Homer Ferlinghetti received regular mail, but that his public relations career stalled when he peed against a policeman’s leg. For this, he was immortalised by his master in the poem Dog.

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The soul of the city: San Francisco honors literary hero Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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The co-founder of the City Lights Bookstore had global stature but remained a neighborhood fixture

By early afternoon, a small memorial of flowers and a can of Pabst had begun to accumulate outside the door of City Lights Books, to commemorate the death of its co-founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

And by the evening, a vigil for Ferlinghetti, one of the last living links to the Beat generation, was being held in the adjacent Jack Kerouac Alley, a tiny side street that separates the bookstore – a tourist attraction and official city landmark for decades – from the celebrated Beat hangout Vesuvio Cafe.

Related: Lawrence Ferlinghetti obituary

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Struggling in lockdown, I have found solace in the wisdom of my grandmother | Nikita Gill

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My grandmother tells me off for bemoaning my life. Her memories of losing everything and beginning again continue to inspire me, writes poet Nikita Gill

“You are the granddaughter of a family that has known war and trouble like it is the back of our hands. Building hope where there is none it is part of our legacy.” My grandmother said these words, gently but firmly, on a recent phone call that I had spent lamenting the state of the world, and the pandemic, and feeling rather sorry for myself.

She was right, as she often is.

I’ve called my mother and my family more than ever before because I know that pain can bring a family closer

Related: ‘The wounds have never healed’: living through the terror of partition

Where Hope Comes From: Healing poetry for the heart, mind and soul by Nikita Gill is published by Trapeze (£14.99). To order a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com.

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Two Way Mirror by Fiona Sampson review – a fine life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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A portrait of the poet and ‘public prophet’ spotlights her entanglements with empire and race but doesn’t neglect the schlockier pleasures of biographical speculation

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” asked Elizabeth Barrett Browning in 1850, unwittingly turning herself from one of Britain’s pre-eminent poets into a Valentine’s card fixture. It wasn’t just the words, which are still lovely, but the way they tend to be read in conjunction with the story of her clandestine courtship by fellow-poet Robert Browning. In 1846, after a year and a half of epistolary romance and secret meetings, young Browning famously burst into the 40-year-old’s London sickroom and whisked her to Italy and a new life of sunshine, sex and lyric poetry.

Of course, this biographical reading would have appalled Browning, who spent a career trying to break the automatic identification between the “I” of the poem and the “me” of the poet. Chances are such a reductive approach would have unsettled Barrett Browning too. She saw herself as a public prophet rather than as what she scathingly called a “fair writer”. Her first publication as a precocious 14-year-old had been an account of the Battle of Marathon, and she went on to tackle big, gnarly subjects including the iniquity of laissez-faire capitalism (“The Cry of the Children”) and the struggle of Italy for political self-determination (“Casa Guidi Windows”). These days we forget that when Wordsworth died in 1850 it was Barrett, rather than Tennyson, who was most often mentioned as the next poet laureate.

Guilt about her background, Sampson thinks, accounts for Barrett’s claim that she herself had ‘the blood of the slave’

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Before the purge: when the avant garde swept Georgia – in pictures

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For a brief period from 1918, modernist art and poetry flourished in Georgia – until the Red Army’s arrival ushered in censorship and the Great Terror of 1937

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Writ in water, preserved in plaster: how Keats' death mask became a collector's item

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The recent sale of a cast for £12,500 is a testament to the Romantic poet’s enduring legacy, on the bicentenary of his death

There’s no mention of John Keats’s name on his tombstone – in fact you might accidentally pass right by it while strolling through the Cimitero Acattolico in Rome, were it not for its distinctly dour epitaph. “Here lies one whose name was writ in water,”is the bitter description, etched at Keats’s dying request, the final sentiment from a poet who believed his words would fade into oblivion.

When Keats died from tuberculosis aged 25, on 23 February 1821, the furniture in his room – now a museum – was burned. But his face was shaved and prepared, so a plaster cast could be applied to preserve his likeness. Now, 200 years on, two versions of Keats’s death mask produced by two castmakers circulate galleries, auctions and private collections for large sums. Their value is a testament to Keats’s enduring appeal; Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak owned one and would reportedly take it from its box next to his bed to stroke its forehead.

Related: John Keats: five poets on his best poems, 200 years since his death

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Acts of pettiness delight me | Hannah Jane Parkinson

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The pettiest person in the world is Donald Trump. It is the only thing to recommend him

Though I am a huge fan of parochial wars over loud flute-playing dominating local newspapers, and adore a pointless petition, generally, the more extreme the pettiness the greater the delight I take. I feel sick whenever I consider Saudi Arabia’s regime, but when the Saudis threatened to dig a canal and turn their nemesis nation Qatar into an island, I could only gasp in admiration at the level of pettiness.

Politics lends itself brilliantly to pettiness. After being sacked as education secretary by Theresa May in 2016, Nicky Morgan responded with a barb about May wearing a pair of £995 leather trousers for a photoshoot. Morgan was then disinvited from a meeting at Downing Street.

Related: It’s time to find my perfect winter coat | Hannah Jane Parkinson

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Colum McCann: 'I’ve never finished Finnegans Wake by James Joyce – I’ve dabbled in it'

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The novelist on the influence of Benedict Kiely, the comforts of Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine and feeling changed by Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

The book I am currently reading
I am rereading Jim Harrison’s book of poems Letters to Yesenin. The poem is an epic suicide note to a suicide, but Harrison says that it doesn’t come to him like a burning bush or a pillar of light but he has decided to stay.

The book that changed my life
My father [Sean] wrote a children’s soccer book, Goals for Glory, in the 1970s. It was read aloud by one of my teachers at school in Dublin. When Georgie Goode, the hero, scores the winning goal it set my class alight: one of my friends danced on the desk. And I remember thinking: that goal came from the inside of my father’s head.

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A joyless trudge? No, thanks: why I am utterly sick of ‘going for a walk’

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As a Canadian living in the UK, there’s one thing I still don’t get about the British: what’s so great about trudging through a muddy field to nowhere?

There are lots of things about the British I do not understand: the national compulsion to clap along, in unison but off the beat, to any music; Mr Blobby’s Christmas No 1; the use of “quite nice” to mean “really not very nice at all”; bread sauce. Being a Canadian living in this country is a never-ending cycle of getting confused, asking for clarification, understanding, and then ending up somehow more confused.

In the heady days of our bubbled summer of 2020, when such a thing was possible, I went on holiday to Sussex with my Canadian partner and three of our oldest friends, all Brits. Having met in our early 20s, we had always been too broke to holiday together. Now we were in our 30s and affluent enough to split a cottage five ways for four nights; this was a landmark moment. Look, I could spend a lot of time setting the scene, or cut to the chase and tell you that we were there for five days and went on long, aimless walks every single day. This was how I discovered the British Walking Sickness.

One moment we were simply walking, the next ‘on a walk’: aimless, unguided, unending. No destination, only a journey

Related: ‘Fresh air is medicine’: British ramblers on the joy of their daily walk

Picnicking and sitting are forbidden. The government has spoken: we’ll walk our way through this. I am exhausted already

Related: 'I was an ex-wife. Time to become a hot ex-wife': how I found myself at Spin class

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'I felt a strange grief when I found my birth mother': Jackie Kay on The Adoption Papers

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The poet explains how researching her history led her to tell the story from three perspectives: the birth mother, the adoptive mother and the daughter

In one way, I’d been writing the poems in The Adoption Papersfor my whole life. I’d been making up an imaginary birth mother and father with my adoptive mother for years, since I was a kid. She would say of my birth father: “I’m picturing a Paul Robeson figure, Jackie, perhaps with a bit of Nelson Mandela mixed in.”

In another, I started writing the book when I was pregnant. It’s difficult when your writing infiltrates your life and vice versa, difficult to work out what actually happened and what didn’t. Your imaginative life is your reality.

Frances Anne cut up my poems and pasted them on to the walls of my living room. I nearly passed out

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