Jorie Graham: ‘I am living in the late season, but it has its songs, too’

The Pulitzer-winning poet on mortality, makeup and capturing life’s complexity

The last lines of the last poem in Jorie Graham’s most recent collection, FAST, imagine dawn giving way to day: “Leaving / grackle and crow in the sun – they have / known what to find in the unmade / undrawn unseen unmarked and / dragged it into here – that it be / visible” – which is as good a way as any of summing up what Graham has tried to do ever since she began writing poems: to look hard at the world around her, especially the natural world, but also at the hard questions – what does it all mean and what is it all for? To stay as open as possible in order to catch whatever answer there might be unawares, and hold it up to the light.

Nothing is out of bounds – geese, laundry, erosion, ...

Histories by Sam Guglani review – linked tales from the world of medicine

An oncologist’s meditation on power, humility and empathy and what it means to be a doctor

The catechism of health/ill-health – age, height, weight, blood pressure, what seems to be the matter – otherwise known as taking a patient’s history, is at the centre of medicine. However hi-tech or interventionist the eventual outcome, this conversation must always come first, and a doctor’s skill resides both in understanding the physical implications of the answers, and in intuiting any mental and emotional troubles that may lie beneath and between them. All life is here, as the long list of doctor-writers, from Avicenna to Chekhov, Bulgakov to Atul Guwande, have always known; Sam Guglani’s specific insight is to locate it in the idea of that first series of questions.

Histories is, therefore, a novel, but a novel structured as a series of linked histories, where each chapter is told from the point of ...

Jacob Polley: ‘I’m a fool as a writer – you have to take risks’

This year’s TS Eliot prize winner on the freedom of his Cumbrian childhood and making a living from poetry

Jackself and Jeremy Wren are setting / nightlines in the kidney-coloured pool … ” From the first line of what would become Jackself, his 2016 TS Eliot prize-winning collection (though not, in the end, the first line of the book) Jacob Polley knew he had something different on his hands. “Oh goodness,” he thought. “What on earth are you doing? This” – each poem telling a small part of a larger story – “isn’t the way to be writing a book of poems, like those ones you wrote before.”

It is a surprise to discover this tentativeness, because Jackself is so confident, both in its handling of narrative (of two boys’ rural childhood), and of emotion. Polley’s voice is by turns mischievous, demotic, delicate, direct – and funny. ...

Now & Again by Charlotte Rogan review – the price of morality

A woman glimpses secret documents at a munitions plant and is faced with a profound moral quandary in this confident followup to The Lifeboat American author Charlotte Rogan’s widely praised first novel, The Lifeboat, took a bare minimum of pages to wreck a passenger liner, set 39 people adrift in an overfilled lifeboat on the Atlantic ocean, and force them to ask the big questions. What to do if the choice is between one’s own survival or the survival of the majority? Who lives and who dies? Her second novel takes an even shorter time to set the questions running. We meet Maggie Rayburn at the same moment in which she sees a secret document on her boss’s desk; she works at a munitions plant that, among other things, makes shells containing depleted uranium. “Discredit the doctors,” she reads. “Flood the system with contradictory reports.” What should she do? Continue reading...

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta review – love and conflict during the Nigerian civil war

A young gay woman looks for forgiveness from God in a brave novel seeking to challenge prejudice ‘Midway between Old Oba-Nnewi Road and New Oba-Nnewi Road, in that general area bound by the village church and the primary school … ” Under the Udala Trees begins in the same way that many of the short stories in Chinelo Okparanta’s debut Happiness, Like Water did: with a clear, attentive setting-down of the parameters of place – streets and street names, houses and bushes, trees and walls – and how they make sense of each other, protect each other. “Ours was a gated compound, guarded at the front by thickets of rose and hibiscus bushes.” The descriptions are cool, exact; yet what grows out of these carefully laid beginnings is a story with the highest of stakes. First comes the war: the little compound is in Biafra, and within a year the area ...

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans – bright mischief, quiet melancholy

The small, brave heroine of these sweet tales is full of infectious fun, but adult readers can sense the sadness behind the fun

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines …” If you know these lines at all you cannot help but know more of them; the rhythm practically defies you not to continue: “lived twelve little girls in two straight lines. In two straight lines they broke their bread and brushed their teeth and went to bed.” And the smallest of them all, of course, is Madeline. When I started reading the Madeline books to my daughter it was well over 30 years since they had been read to me by my mother – and yet all the lines were there in my head, waiting. Before ...

Sweet Caress by William Boyd review – love and war in the 20th century

Boyd makes an effective use of real-life pictures to illustrate this photographer’s brisk account of her life

Amory Clay is at boarding school and working her way through the standard teenage rebellions – smoking, sexual experimentation, talking back to a headteacher who’d like to persuade her to try for Oxford – when her father arrives on an unexpected visit. He is cheery, handsome and confident, a successful short-story writer who has produced nothing since service in the trenches. He takes her for a drive in the countryside, past where she thinks they might stop, towards a castle – perhaps there is a tea shop? – but no, they keep going, right into a lake. No one dies (he was misinformed about its depth), but she is thus notified how war and the effects of war will run through her 20th-century life like a rotten seam, cracking open what seems solid ground, twisting ...