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Channel: Poetry | The Guardian

Elaine Hugh-Jones obituary

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Composer whose settings of texts in English displayed dramatic flair, poetic awareness and assured piano writing

The composer Elaine Hugh-Jones, who has died aged 93, made a striking contribution to English song. In her survey New Vocal Repertory (vol 1, 1986), the soprano Jane Manning wrote of the pleasure of discovering a composer with a complete mastery of voice and piano writing: “Although they are firmly based on a traditional musical style – that of English post-Romantic – the songs are not in the least derivative [but show] a wonderful assurance and freshness of approach and an exceptionally sensitive response to words.”

The works in question were six settings of poems by Walter de la Mare, written between 1966 and 1985. Two more, from 1988-89, went on to make a set of eight, and they have been broadcast several times on BBC Radio 3.

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Jhumpa Lahiri: ‘I’ve always existed in a kind of linguistic exile’

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A decade ago, the Pulitzer-winning author threw herself into mastering Italian. She talks about her love for Rome, translating Italy’s ‘finest living writer’ and rewriting her own work in English

Jhumpa Lahiri’s third novel is the triumphant culmination of her 20-year love affair with Italian, an obsession that led her to move to Rome with her family almost 10 years ago. She renounced all reading in English and began to write only Italian. Published in Italy in 2018 as Dove mi trovo– “Where I find myself” or “Where am I?” – it is her first novel written in Italian. Now she has translated it into English under the title Whereabouts.

The story follows an unnamed woman around an unnamed city over the course of a year, each chapter an espresso shot of regret and loneliness. In the second chapter, “On the Street”, the narrator bumps into a man, the husband of a friend, whom she “might have been involved with, maybe shared a life with”: they go into a lingerie shop because she needs to buy a pair of tights, leading the reader to think we have begun a particular kind of story. But many of these streets lead nowhere. The chapters relate different relationships or connections: a visit to her mother; a daily chat with a barista; a fleeting encounter. The novel asks: “How does a city become a relationship in and of itself for the female protagonist?” she says now. This is a book about belonging and not belonging, place and displacement – questions of identity that Lahiri has explored throughout her fiction, whether set in New England, Calcutta or now (we guess) Rome. Following a year of enforced isolation for so many, not least in Italy, this “portrait of a woman in a sort of urban solitude”, as she describes the novel, has assumed an unexpectedly timely resonance.

It is hard to explain the forces in life that drive you to a language and then to a place and then to a new life

Related: Jhumpa Lahiri: ‘I am, in Italian, a tougher, freer writer’

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri is published by Bloomsbury (£14.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

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On my radar: Stacey Dooley’s cultural highlights

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The documentary maker and Strictly champion on her love of Dolly Parton, the Pose playlist and Rupi Kaur’s poetry

Documentary-maker and presenter Stacey Dooley was born in Luton in 1987. After appearing in 2008’s documentary series Blood, Sweat and T-shirts, she has presented Stacey Dooley Investigates on BBC Three on topics ranging from child labour to whale hunting to female suicide bombers. In 2018, she won Strictly Come Dancing with dance partner Kevin Clifton and she presents Glow Up: Britain’s Next Make-Up Star and This Is My House. The new series of Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over starts on 3 May and her new podcast Fresh Starts will be available on BBC Sounds from 4 May.

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A drop of hope: new poetry exhibition celebrates power of Covid vaccine

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Works inspired by messages from staff, volunteers and jab recipients will go on display at the Francis Crick Institute in London

Throughout the pandemic, the Francis Crick Institute in London has been closely involved: first with the research, and then with the fightback, once it had opened as a key vaccination hub. But from this weekend, the renowned biomedical research facility, the base of Nobel prize-winning geneticist Sir Paul Nurse, will also become the venue for a major poetic response to Covid-19.

Staff, volunteers and neighbours, along with those just coming to the institute for their jab, have all been invited to write words that capture their feelings about the disease and the role of science. These messages, written on postcards, have been used as the inspiration for a series of poems that will be arranged in a large rainbow display.

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‘Silenced’ voice of Great War poet to be heard for first time

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Ivor Gurney’s writings from an asylum were ignored. But a new study reveals their genius

While he was locked up in an asylum, the great war poet and composer Ivor Gurney wrote hundreds of songs and poems that have never been seen or heard in public.

Dismissed as “too crazy” to publish during his lifetime, they reveal a startling new side to Gurney’s genius, according to a new biography of the poet, Dweller in Shadows – A Life of Ivor Gurney by Dr Kate Kennedy, that comprehensively considers his unpublished work for the first time.

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Boland: Journey of a Poet review – a profound portrayal of Eavan Boland’s life

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Mick Lally theatre, Galway; available online
Drawing on her early writings, Colm Tóibín captures the essence of the late Irish poet in this transformative livestreamed production

Eavan Boland, poet and writer, died a year ago last Tuesday, aged 75. In this complex, profound and transformative new drama for Druid Theatre, Colm Tóibín blends together excerpts from Boland’s essays and poems. The programme tells us that the selections have been “edited by” him, but there is more than editorial assemblage in his arrangements.

There is a dynamic unfolding of the ideas and perceptions of the poet at a point in her life when, a young mother living in a Dublin suburb, she was actively struggling with questions that were shaping her work: questions around the influences of her Paris-trained artist mother, working from home, and her piano-playing, Jesuitical, diplomat father, relocating the family from Dublin to New York and London; questions around her particular experiences as woman, wife, mother, against a hinterland of male-formed, Irish literary models; questions, too, around notions of authorship, of personal and collective identities, of memories and myths.

Available online until 2 May

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Poem of the week: Grey Natural Light by Katherine Horrex

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Climate change and pollution make for surreal and ghostly imagery in this understated and restrained poem

Grey Natural Light by Katherine Horrex

It breaks through voile and stains
like tannin leaching into a cup;

You can savour more of the range and originality of Horrex’s work in this reading of poems from Growlery.

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‘He’s got a wee spring in his step’: 92-year-old grandfather becomes bestselling poet

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Gordon McCulloch’s 101 Poems becomes a hit on Amazon after his granddaughter asked her followers to take a look at the book

A self-published poetry anthology by a 92-year-old Scottish grandfather was outselling Amanda Gorman and Rupi Kaur on Amazon in the UK last week, after his granddaughter appealed to readers for reviews.

Gordon McCulloch self-published his collection, 101 Poems, on 24 March. Covering “a wide range of topics such as love, romance, relationships, religion, prayers, the meaning of life, death and our relationship with God”, it has become a surprise bestseller, last week topping the poetry anthology charts for Amazon in the UK, where it has received more than 1,000 five-star reviews. At time of publication, it is sitting at No 14 on Amazon’s UK poetry charts and No 8 in the US.

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Living through India’s pandemic: ‘Oxygen is the new currency’

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As India is devastated by a crippling second wave of coronavirus, its leaders’ response to the pandemic is causing anguish and disbelief, writes author Jeet Thayil

When the second wave began, we woke each day with a premonition of dread and as the days passed, and the toll climbed, taking our family members, our friends, our acquaintances and colleagues, the dread became ever present, like the dead, who took up residence in our hearts. Then came the fear, which crippled us even when the fever did not. We thought ourselves lucky if we did not fall ill, knowing it was only a matter of time before it would be us on the pavement outside a crowded, underfunded hospital, begging for a bed from the overwhelmed orderlies and nurses.

People spoke in metaphors. They spoke of apocalypse and its bearded saffron-clad horsemen, of inferno and the pyres of hell that burned in parking lots, in open fields, in the streets adjoining graveyards and crematoria. They spoke of life during wartime. But instead of air raid sirens we heard ambulances, day and night. There were curfews and lockdowns and shortages. There were hoarders and black marketers. Oxygen and medicine became the new currency. The cries of the stricken appeared on our social feeds, asking for a cylinder of oxygen, a vial of remdesivir, a hospital bed, home remedies, any kind of advice or solace. And it was on social media that we found help, and if not help then sympathy. We found others who shared the nightmare to which we woke. Strangers stepped forward to set up their own networks of rescue, beyond bureaucracy, religion and politics, complete strangers who cooked for the sick and checked up on them, who spent entire days arranging a bed or medication, who found care for the small children orphaned overnight. This miracle began in a matter of days, just as soon as we understood that those we had elected to protect us had failed us at the time of our greatest need.

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Windows on the world: pandemic poems by Simon Armitage, Hollie McNish, Kae Tempest and more

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Six of the UK’s best poets reveal exclusive new work and reflect on the last year, losing relatives, long-distance relationships and ‘artistic claustrophobia’

Slug by Hollie McNish is published on 13 May (Hachette)

Safety in Numbers by Roger McGough is published in November (Viking)

All The Names Given by Raymond Antrobus is published in September (Picador)

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Poem of the week: American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes

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The US poet began writing his sonnets the day Donald Trump was elected president – but even after Trump, they remain fierce, profound and ageless

American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin

I only intend to send word to my future
Self perpetuation is a war against Time
Travel is essentially the aim of any religion
Is blindness the color one sees under water
Breath can be overshadowed in darkness
The benefits of blackness can seem radical
Black people in America are rarely compulsive
Hi-fivers believe joy is a matter of touching others
Is forbidden the only word God doesn’t know
You have to heal yourself to truly be heroic
You have to think once a day of killing your self
Awareness requires a touch of blindness & self
Importance is the only word God knows
To be free is to live because only the dead are slaves

From American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes.

Related: Political writing from Terrance Hayes to the Anglo-Saxons – books podcast

Hayes reads from his collection here and gives an interview with Review 31 here.

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‘My head is on fire’: Roger Ballen finds poetry in pain – in pictures

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Paint, collage and photography combine in Ballen’s tumultuous The Earth Will Come to Laugh and Feast. Italian poet Gabriele Tinti reflects on his work ...

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Whiskers, claws and applause: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats – in pictures

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Since its debut in May 1981, the poetically inspired Cats has become one of the most popular stage shows in the world. Forty years on, here’s a look back at how the long-running musical began

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Labour’s flag-waving sends distress signal | Brief letters

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Wolverhampton | The Guardian | Ageing poets | Union flag | Labour | Starlings

John Harris mentions “the arrival of Conservative MPs in such traditional Labour redoubts as ... Wolverhampton” (Labour’s crisis comes from the huge gap between politics and people, 9 May). Before the 2019 general election, Wolverhampton had had at least four Conservative MPs since 1970, including the long-serving Enoch Powell and his successor with similar ideological affinities, Nick Budgen. So I’m not convinced that “Labour redoubt” is an accurate description of the city’s political complexion.
Michael Cunningham
Wolverhampton

• My late father, Arthur White, was a proud compositor on the Manchester Guardian from 1946 until his retirement in 1984. When I was a child growing up in Moss Side, he told us that you didn’t read the Guardian but wore it. Ironically, he read the Express. He always encouraged me to take the Guardian as it improved his generous pension. I have had it delivered for 50 years, and would rather miss my breakfast than my paper.
Laura Hopkins
Manchester

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The Butchers: novel set in Irish BSE crisis wins Ondaatje prize

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Ruth Gilligan’s thriller about eight men who cull cattle in rural Ireland wins £10,000 for books that ‘best evoke the spirit of a place’

Ruth Gilligan’s literary thriller The Butchers, set in the Irish borderlands during the BSE crisis, has won the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje prize for books that “best evoke the spirit of a place”.

Gilligan’s novel beat titles including James Rebanks’ memoir of his family farm, English Pastoral, and Nina Mingya Powles’ poetry collection Magnolia, 木蘭 to the £10,000 prize. The Butchers opens with an ancient curse that decrees that eight men must touch every cow in Ireland as it dies, and follows a group of eight men as they roam rural Ireland in the 1990s, slaughtering the cows of those who still believe in the old ways. The novel unpicks the mysterious death of one of the Butchers, whose corpse is found suspended from a meat hook.

Related: The Butchers by Ruth Gilligan review – scepticism v superstition

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A Blood Condition by Kayo Chingonyi review – deep, subtle grace

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The Zambian-born British poet explores colonial history, the origin of HIV and survivor’s guilt with a quiet power

Kayo Chingonyi’s A Blood Condition has a dignity that honours the past without indulging in any overflow of personal feeling. Dignity is an interesting quality in a writer – it cannot be faked without presenting as pomposity. Chingonyi’s authentic, reined-in passions are stirring. His impressive first collection, Kumukanda (2017), showed a poet who already understood that you do not need to be attention-seeking to deserve attention. In this second collection, he takes quietness further. The “blood condition” remains unnamed, although even the most defective of detectives will know it to be HIV. Eastern and southern Africa have been ravaged by the disease and Chingonyi, born in Zambia, lost both parents to HIV-related illnesses. Many of his poems bless the departed (in the affecting Guy’s and St Thomas’s he cannot dissociate the memory of his mother from hospital buildings where she once worked). But the collection is about loss in a far wider sense and its precise devastations will find echos in this time of Covid.

The opening prose poem, Nyaminyami, is dedicated to the Zambezi River god and the whole collection runs like a river that keeps breaking its own banks. Chingonyi compresses Zambia’s troubled history into its flow. He describes the insult of colonial interventions: the building of a dam, the greed for copper, the indifference to the old stories:

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Vincent D’Onofrio: ‘I really did get mugged by a monkey’

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The esteemed actor discusses his move into the world of poetry and his distrust of ‘devious’ primates

“First of all, let me preface what I’m about to say with this: that other than actual writing itself, which does take up a big part of my life these days, the whole ‘monkey situation’ is not something that’s on my mind daily,” actor, writer, poet and artiste-of-all-trades Vincent D’Onofrio says to the Guardian. “Though I do find aspects of monkeys a little crazy and daunting, from time to time.”

Related: Olivia Williams: ‘I’ve been close enough to stardom to see how horrifying it is’

Mutha: Stuff and Things is out on 18 May

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Poem of the month: Auspices by Rachael Boast

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It’s better not to move
in the long heat and languid evenings,
or maybe just this arm, looking
for a way of overcoming –

it will do its work. You bring
the silver breeze with you
up from the forest path, a delicate mercy
cool around my ankle like a bracelet.

Still I’m adorned with the fire
of the day. Don’t fan the flames,
don’t call the song thrush over
to beat her wings.

• From Hotel Raphael by Rachael Boast (Picador, £10.99).

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The best recent poetry – review roundup

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The Trojan Women by Anne Carson with Rosanna Bruno; The Gododdin by Gillian Clarke; Hotel Raphael by Rachel Boast; American Mules by Martina Evans; pandemonium by Andrew McMillan

Even at its best, the poetic mainstream we call the lyric tradition can run the risk of appearing po-faced. So it’s a joy to come across a mistress of the art taking rumbustious pleasure in revisiting the matter of poetry itself. Anne Carson’s new version of EuripidesThe Trojan Women (Bloodaxe), with artist and cartoonist Rosanna Bruno, is resolutely subtitled A Comic;and a graphic novel is exactly what it is.

Fiona Sampson’s Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning is published by Profile.

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Dave Cunliffe obituary

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My friend Dave Cunliffe, who has died aged 80, was one of a group of poets and publishers who helped to spark the 1960s British counterculture and a wave of experimental verse through their small press activity.

Born in Blackburn, Lancashire, to Alex, an insurance salesman, and Hanna (nee Woods), a nurse, Dave went to Blakey Moor secondary modern school in the town.

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