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John Lithgow: 'Trump keeps on surviving. Karma never quite wins'

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The actor on playing Churchill, almost becoming Frasier Crane, and writing satirical poems about the US president

John Lithgow, the self-described “professional actor” and “amateur satirist”, has won many Tonys, Emmys and Golden Globes. Recently he starred as Winston Churchill in the first season of The Crown, the predatory CEO of Fox News Roger Ailes in the 2019 film Bombshell, and an attorney in the TV reboot of Perry Mason. Last year his poetry book, Dumpty, about Donald Trump and his cronies, became a bestseller. A follow-up, TrumptyDumpty Wanted A Crown: Verses for a Despotic Age, has just been published.

What were your honest emotions when you learned Trump had tested positive for Covid-19?
Oh well, they were complicated and mixed. With so many of my friends, we’ve said: “Oh, why doesn’t he get the coronavirus?” Then when it happened, it’s like a child’s magical thinking. You immediately feel ashamed of yourself. But it is karmic. The reason why I wrote these books, and it was so easy to write them, is because so many elements of the Trump personality and the Trump administration are the elements of comedy. He’s hubristic, then karma catches up with him over and over again. But ultimately, he keeps on surviving. Karma never quite wins.

Churchill was as different from most Englishmen as he is from Americans, in a sense

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Poem of the week: from The Wanderer by Christopher Brennan

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This intense account of a lonely winter journey owes much to Milton and German Romanticism

From The Wanderer

The land I came thro’ last was dumb with night,
a limbo of defeated glory, a ghost:
for wreck of constellations flicker’d perishing
scarce sustained in the mortuary air,
and on the ground and out of livid pools
wreck of old swords and crowns glimmer’d at whiles;
I seem’d at home in some old dream of kingship:
now it is clear grey day and the road is plain,
I am the wanderer of many years
who cannot tell if ever he was king
or if ever kingdoms were: I know I am
the wanderer of the ways of all the worlds,
to whom the sunshine and the rain are one
and one to stay or hasten, because he knows
no ending of the way, no home, no goal,
and phantom night and the grey day alike
withhold the heart where all my dreams and days
might faint in soft fire and delicious death:
and saying this to myself as a simple thing
I feel a peace fall in the heart of the winds
and a clear dusk settle, somewhere, far in me.

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Val Warner obituary

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Acclaimed poet, editor and scholar responsible for the rehabilitation of the ‘forgotten’ poet Charlotte Mew

Val Warner, who has died aged 74, was a gifted poet, an editor, scholar, translator, teacher and occasional short-story writer. She was largely responsible for the rediscovery of the early-20th-century poet Charlotte Mew, whose collected poetry and prose she edited for Carcanet/Virago in 1981.

This was not her only exercise in rehabilitation. Her book The Centenary Corbière, with her own translations from French of Tristan Corbière’s poems and prose writings, was published to great acclaim in 1975, and drew attention to a poet whose reputation had waned somewhat in comparison with that of Jules Laforgue, say, or Charles Baudelaire.

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The best recent poetry – review roundup

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Poor by Caleb Femi; The Actual by Inua Ellams; Arrow by Sumita Chakraborty; and Gigantic Cinema: A Weather Anthology edited by Alice Oswald and Paul Keegan

It’s rare for a book of poems to repeatedly leave you breathless when reading it. Such is the urgent brilliance of Caleb Femi’s Poor (Penguin, £9.99). A former young people’s laureate for London, his series of dispatches anatomising the south London estate he grew up on is a multilayered accounting of the lives of young black men. He avoids an “urge to exorcise” or brittle celebration; rather he is clear-eyed and cool-headed, which makes observations like those in “Concrete (I)” all the more devastating: “I have nothing to offer you / but my only pair of Air Max 90s. / In principle, they are my autopsy laid out / in rubber and threading.” Femi’s language is restlessly inventive, unerring in uncovering images that lodge in your memory. His use of concrete as a recurring motif is brutally graceful, encapsulating this startlingly beautiful book, a landmark debut for British poetry.

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Margaret Atwood reads her new poem Dearly - audio

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Margaret Atwood explores memory, loss and the passage of time in the title poem from her latest collection, Dearly.

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Caught in time’s current: Margaret Atwood on grief, poetry and the past four years

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In an exclusive new poem and essay Margaret Atwood reflects on the passing of time and how to create lasting art in a rapidly changing world

Read Dearly by Margaret Atwood

I can say with a measure of certainty – having consulted my poor excuse for a journal – that my poem “Dearly” was written in the third week of August 2017, on a back street of Stratford, Ontario, Canada, with either a pencil or a rollerball (I’d have to check that) on some piece of paper that may have been anything from an old envelope to a shopping list to a notebook page; I’d have to check that as well, but I’m guessing notebook. The language is early 21st-century Canadian English, which accounts for the phrase “less of a shit”, which would never have been used in, for instance, Tennyson’s “In Memoriam AHH”; though something like it might have appeared in one of Chaucer’s more vernacular tales – “lesse of a shitte”, perhaps. This poem was then taken out of a drawer, its handwriting more or less deciphered by me, and typed as a digital document in December 2017. I know that part from the date and time identifier on the document.

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‘Don’t read Clockwork Orange – it’s a foul farrago,’ wrote Burgess

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The great novelist saw himself as a poet, and newly found stanzas show him berating his own bestseller in verse

Previously unpublished love poems written by Anthony Burgess to each of his two wives have been discovered, along with a verse in which he dismissed A Clockwork Orange, the savage satire for which he is best known, as “a foul farrago”, urging people to read Shakespeare and Shelley instead.

They are among dozens of unknown poems that have been found, the majority in his vast archive held by the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, an educational charity in Manchester, where the writer was born in 1917.

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Poem of the week: On a Pebbly Beach by John Birtwhistle

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A family game provides the occasion to consider some aesthetic principles

On a Pebbly Beach

When our family was young
and the children took off over the stones like little dogs
as we followed in our different conversation
and the game was, to come back with the Best

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Joe Biden's love for Seamus Heaney is evidence of a soul you can trust | Jonathan Jones

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The president-elect has often quoted Heaney’s poetry, with his reading of The Cure at Troy going viral after his election victory

I didn’t fall for Joe Biden until I learned that he loves the poetry of Seamus Heaney. Anyone who responds to the steady, humane voice of Heaney has the timbre of soul you can trust. It’s not like a politician rattling off a quotation from Shelley or St Francis of Assisi. You can’t pretend to love Heaney, for he’s too subtle for that; a slow-speaking country man giving up his secrets gradually, like a farmer revealing the land’s hidden knowledge – and its graves.

Related: Joe Biden picks Seamus Heaney to add to his appeal

“two soldered in a frozen hole
On top of other, one’s skull capping the other’s,
Gnawing at him where the neck and head
Are grafted to the sweet fruit of the brain,
Like a famine victim on a loaf of bread.”

“How culpable was he
That last night when he broke
Our tribe’s complicity?”

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Nandita Ghose obituary

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My sister, Nandita Ghose, who has died aged 57, was a playwright, poet and producer for BBC Audio Drama and the World Service.

Nanda was strongly inspired by her dual Indian and British heritage, and drew on an extensive knowledge of Asian and Greek mythology in her work. She wrote and directed drama for Radio 4, dramatising works by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Meera Syal and Rabindranath Tagore, and wrote episodes of Crossroads for ITV and Doctors for BBC TV.

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'Treasure trove' of unseen Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney writing found

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Affectionate friendship between the two poets and artist Barrie Cooke, united by a love of fishing, revealed in a collection of correspondence that was believed lost

A “treasure trove” of unseen poems and letters by Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney and the artist Barrie Cooke has revealed the depth of a close three-way friendship that one Cambridge academic has described as a “rough, wild equivalent of the Bloomsbury group”.

Cooke, who died in 2014, was a leading expressionist artist in Ireland, and a passionate fisherman. Fellow fishing enthusiast Mark Wormald, an English fellow at Pembroke College, Cambridge, came across his name while reading Hughes’s unpublished fishing diaries at the British Library. He visited Cooke in Ireland, and discovered the close friendship between the three men.

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On my radar: Jay Bernard's cultural highlights

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The poet on logic puzzles, sweetcorn ribs and listening to Idles on repeat

Jay Bernard (who uses the non-binary “they”) is a British artist, writer and poet born in Croydon, London in 1988. They studied English at Oxford University and, in 2005, were named a Foyle young poet of the year. Their multimedia performance workSurge: Side A, which explores the New Cross fire of 1981, won the 2017 Ted Hughes award for new poetry. Bernard’s short film Something Said won the best experimental category at Aesthetica short film festival and best queer short at Leeds international film festival. Their 2019 poetry collection Surge (Chatto & Windus) was shortlisted for various prizes including the TS Eliot prize and the RSL Ondaatje prize, and most recently, the Sunday Times young writer of the year award.

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Poem of the week: Now that you are not-you by Rosie Garland

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A very modern, secular kind of elegy reflects on death with a surprising lightness

Now that you are not-you

and have satisfied the finger-check of pulse
at throat and wrist
ear to the chest
mirror to the lips

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National Book Awards: Charles Yu and Malcolm X biography take top prizes

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Yu, writer of short stories and television, won best fiction for Interior Chinatown, his inventive, ‘gut punch’ second novel

Charles Yu, a writer whose talents range from short stories to episodes of HBO’s Westworld, has won the National Book Award for fiction for Interior Chinatown.

The novel, his second after his 2010 debut How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe, beat out A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw, Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, and Rumaan Alam’s dystopian Leave the World Behind (soon to be a Netflix thriller starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington) for the top fiction prize at the all-virtual awards ceremony hosted by the National Book Foundation.

Related: The Dead Are Arising by Les Payne and Tamara Payne review – the real Malcolm X

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Arts world dismayed at fate of London home of Rimbaud and Verlaine

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Georgian house where infamous French poets lodged was to become an arts centre – but its owner has had a change of heart

It was the London home of the 19th-century Decadent poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, two of France’s greatest literary heroes, whose tempestuous love affair ended with a shooting and prison. A Georgian building in Camden, where they rented lodgings in 1873, was to have become “a poetry house”, an arts and education centre in one of the capital’s most deprived areas, after a campaign involving some of Britain’s foremost arts figures.

But the arts charity behind the project has been dismayed to discover that Michael Corby, the benefactor who promised to bequeath the historic building to the charity a decade ago, has changed his mind without warning, deciding instead to sell it on the open market.

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Poem of the week: Blowing Smoke by Nii Ayikwei Parkes

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A reflective love poem captures an expanding range of intimate associations

Blowing Smoke
for the curve of dismounts

o

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Dearly by Margaret Atwood review – the experience of a lifetime

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Dedicated to her partner, Atwood’s first poetry collection in more than 10 years is wry and entertaining

Margaret Atwood does not do nostalgia. This collection of poems, her first in over 10 years, is a reckoning with the past that comes from a place of wisdom and control. Now 81, she harnesses the experience of a lifetime to assume a wry distance from her subjects – as if, in an astounding world, nothing could throw her off balance. This mastery, even at her most subversively fantastical, is part of what makes her an outstanding novelist. But poetry is different. Atwood is an undeceived poet and, even though the collection is full of pleasures, reading her work makes one consider the extent to which poetry is not only about truth but about the importance of being, at times, mercifully deceived – what Robert Lowell dubbed the “sanity of self-deception”.

The title poem is about words threatened with extinction.

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Costa book awards: Susanna Clarke nominated for second novel after 16-year wait

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Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell author picked for Piranesi, alongside Denise Mina, Julian Barnes and the late Eavan Boland, in prizes for ‘enjoyable’ books

Sixteen years after she published her debut, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke has made the shortlist for the Costa book awards for her second novel, the long-awaited Piranesi.

The Costas recognise the “most enjoyable” books across five categories, with 708 books submitted this year. Piranesi, the fantastical story of a man who lives in a house in which an ocean is imprisoned, was described by the judges of the £5,000 Costa best novel award as “magnificently imagined”. Clarke, who was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome after publication of the bestselling fantasy Jonathan Strange, said she was “so pleased” to make the Costa lineup.

Related: Susanna Clarke: ‘I was cut off from the world, bound in one place by illness’

Related: ‘My mum was more than the woman shot by police’: read an extract from The Louder I Will Sing

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British Library apologises for linking Ted Hughes to slave trade

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The poet had been wrongly included among more than 300 figures whose collections were associated with wealth obtained from colonial violence

The British Library has apologised to Carol Hughes, the widow of the former poet laureate Ted Hughes, after it linked him to the slave trade through a distant ancestor.

Hughes’s name had been included on a spreadsheet from the library detailing more than 300 figures with “evidence of connections to slavery, profits from slavery or from colonialism”. Hughes’s link was through Nicholas Ferrar, who was born in 1592 and whose family was, the library said, “deeply involved” with the London Virginia Company, which was set up to colonise North America.

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Best poetry books of 2020

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Clive James’s joyous farewell, David Bowie speaks to Simon Armitage – and sounds of the city from Caleb Femi

While the pandemic might have stopped poets gathering physically, poetry itself is in good health. This year books of urgency and contemplation have jostled for attention, and striking new voices have emerged. Prime among these has been Will Harris, whose RENDANG (Granta) won the Forward prize for first collection. Harris writes with a piercing clarity and intelligence, his voice warm as it crisply ruminates on big issues such as our shared cultures and identities, as well as more intimate moments.

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