James K Baxter: venerated poet’s letters about marital rape rock New Zealand


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Collection of writings just released includes references to rape of then-wife Jackie Sturm, herself an acclaimed poet and author

A new collection of letters from one of New Zealand’s most significant poets, James K Baxter, that includes a blunt admission of marital rape is causing shockwaves through the literary community.

Baxter died in Auckland in 1972 but remains one of New Zealand’s literary giants. He achieved international attention in the late 1950s after Oxford University Press published his poetry collection, In Fires Of No Return.

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‘It destroyed me, in a good way’: the best books about modern romance


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Adulterous, drug-addled, digitised … the many shades of romance are celebrated by author Emma Jane Unsworth

The first time I read Carol Ann Duffy’s collection Rapture, I finished it, took a breath, and read it again. I had rarely encountered anything so raw and it contains some of my favourite poetry. It tells the story of an affair – a modern one, for the digitised masses. “I tend to the mobile now like an injured bird / We text text text our significant words.” But something remains of old romance in here, too. These poems are defiantly and gleefully lyrical.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is a nimble, satirical delight – skewering the idea of the tragic woman “on the shelf”. Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori, it centres on Keiko, a woman who works in a convenience store and finds fulfilment there, much to ...

Recasting Fairy Tales: Snow White Learns Witchcraft by Theodora Goss


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Theodora Goss was an award-winning writer of short stories (and poems) before she took to novels (The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman) but her novels were the first of Goss’s work I’d ever read. I admire them deeply: they’re engaging, solid, well-crafted examples of the form. But Goss’s shorter work, collected here in a new volume, aren’t just good: they’re a revelation.

Snow White Learns Witchcraft—published by Mythic Delirium Books, an outfit perhaps best currently known for its Clockwork Phoenix anthology series and Mythic Delirium Magazine— collects poems and short stories on fairytale themes. There are eight short stories and twenty-three poems, with each short story bracketed by several poems that bear it some thematic or topical similarity.

I’m not particularly enamoured of Goss’s poetic style. It’s a little too plain and unadorned for me—I’m fond of blank ...

The Built Moment by Lavinia Greenaw review – coming to terms with grief


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This collection focuses on a father’s slide into dementia, and the daughter’s acceptance of time passing

Time – what it is, how it shifts, what happens when we lose our grip on it – is at the heart of Lavinia Greenlaw’s new collection. The first section describes, in snatched, harrowing glimpses, her father’s descent into dementia, a state in which the present is the only available tense; in the second, her grief, which is a function of memory, plunges her into the fourth dimension. In both halves, there’s a subtlety and an intellectual curiosity to Greenlaw’s interrogation of this most fundamental subject that belies the wrench and rawness of the material: through her use of form, micro and macro, she manages to exemplify both her father’s experience of time and her own.

The poems, short and desolate, capture discrete, disconnected moments: their titles (“My father appears”, “My father’s weakness”, “My ...

Dylan Thomas prize: teacher and nurse among ‘starburst’ of young talent


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Sally Rooney, Sarah Perry and Michael Donkor among those longlisted for £30,000 prize for books by writers aged 39 or under

From the critically acclaimed debut of Emma Glass, a 31-year-old still working as a nurse, to the first book by 33-year-old Michael Donkor, who currently teaches English in a London secondary school, a “starburst of young literary talent” makes up the longlist for the largest prize in the world for young authors.

Given to the best literary work in English by an author aged 39 or under, the £30,000 Swansea University International Dylan Thomas prize is named after the beloved Welsh poet, who died at the age of 39. It is intended to “invoke his memory to support the writers of today and nurture the talents of tomorrow”.

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‘Keats is dead…’: How young women are changing the rules of poetry


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A new generation of female writers has attracted millions of online followers and an increasingly diverse audience

Charly Cox is explaining why she thinks her poetry is so popular with young women. “It’s a really difficult age to articulate how you’re feeling,” she says. “We’re all so stressed out. We’re so confused, so lonely. Poetry is an incredible form of solace. If you encounter something in a poem that you feel you’re feeling, it is a freeing, lovely experience.”

Cox, 23, leapt into the list of top 10 bestselling poets last year with She Must Be Mad, her debut collection of poems about her journey from girl to woman. Like Rupi Kaur, the 26-year-old Canadian-Punjabi who dominated the bestsellers last year, Cox first began publishing on Instagram. “A lot of the poets who are coming from online platforms are women or people of colour, and I think ...

‘Keats is dead…’: How young women are changing the rules of poetry


This post is by Donna Ferguson from Books | The Guardian


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A new generation of female writers has attracted millions of online followers and an increasingly diverse audience

Charly Cox is explaining why she thinks her poetry is so popular with young women. “It’s a really difficult age to articulate how you’re feeling,” she says. “We’re all so stressed out. We’re so confused, so lonely. Poetry is an incredible form of solace. If you encounter something in a poem that you feel you’re feeling, it is a freeing, lovely experience.”

Cox, 23, leapt into the list of top 10 bestselling poets last year with She Must Be Mad, her debut collection of poems about her journey from girl to woman. Like Rupi Kaur, the 26-year-old Canadian-Punjabi who dominated the bestsellers last year, Cox first began publishing on Instagram. “A lot of the poets who are coming from online platforms are women or people of colour, and I think ...

Land of westlin’ winds: the best Scottish poetry for Burns Night


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James Naughtie’s picks include bashed pillows, sharp stars and sexy spacemen. What are your favourites?

In a week that feels ripe for celebrating the reach of poetry – and just in time for Burns Night – the Scottish Poetry Library has asked James Naughtie to choose his “best of the best” Scottish poems of the past 15 years.

Moving from, as Naughtie puts it, “Edwin Morgan in his last years talking about love” to “Kathleen Jamie catching a sense of national belonging in a few short lines”, it is a soul-quenching selection. There is humour and beauty in Claire Askew’s I Am the Moon, and You Are the Man on Me: “Tonight, I am white and full. / My surface is all curves / and craters,” she opens, later writing, deliciously: “Your compass does not work here, / but you are sexy / in your spaceman ...

Poetry pharmacy set to open in Shropshire


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The Emergency Poet, Deborah Alma, plans to dispense literary first aid from a shop in Bishop’s Castle

Following in the hallowed footsteps of Milton, who wrote in 1671 that “apt words have power to swage / The tumours of a troubled mind / And are as balm to festered wounds”, the poet Deborah Alma is preparing to open the UK’s first poetry pharmacy. Here, instead of sleeping pills and multivitamins, customers will be offered prescriptions of Derek Walcott and Elizabeth Bishop.

Alma, who as the “Emergency Poet” has prescribed poems as cures from the back of a 1970s ambulance for the last six years, is now setting up a permanent outlet in a shop at Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire. An old Edwardian ironmonger’s, it still has the original fixtures and fittings, and, together with her partner, the TS Eliot prize-shortlisted poet James Sheard, Alma is preparing to turn ...

‘Pretty aint it … Mrs Yonge said so’: the changing face of teaching poetry


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An exhibition in Cambridge shows how poems have been taught to GCSE students down the decades – with pupils’ own textbook annotations included

“This bum is the property of the Education department. Parents are asked to cooperate in seeing that the bum is kept clean and in good repair.”

You can almost hear the gleeful sniggers with which an unknown pupil at Grange Academy in Ayr neatly and repeatedly replaced the word “book” with “bum” in a poetry textbook in the 1970s. The defaced book, Here Today, is one of dozens of anthologies used by GCSE students over the decades that have been collected by former teacher Julie Blake, some of which are now on display at Cambridge University library.

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Poem of the week: The Calabash by Christopher Reid


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A drolly refashioned creation myth finds both God and Man short on inspiration, and the newly created Woman unconvinced

The Calabash

Having fashioned the first man out of sticks and mud,
God looked at him and thought, ‘Not bad.’ But Man
was of a different opinion.
Equipped from the outset with the twin gifts
of speech and dissatisfaction, Man said,
‘God, be honest, are you really happy
with this bodge, this shoddy bricolage,
this job at best half done?’ ‘What do you mean?’
God asked. ‘I need a mate,’ Man told him,
‘and I need one fast.’ God was flustered;
he’d run out of ideas already; so he replied,
‘If you’re so certain what you want,
tell me how to make it.’ Glancing about,
Man’s eye fell on a plump gourd hanging from a tree:
a calabash. ‘That will do,’ he said.
God nodded and ...

Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson review – songs of shock and survival


This post is by Kate Kellaway from Books | The Guardian


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Benson’s extraordinarily moving collection is a bold confrontation of violence against women

Vertigo & Ghost is one of the darkest, bravest and most unsettling collections I have read in a while. Its first half turns to Greek mythology to explore violent crimes against women and casts Zeus as he-man, ace swimmer and serial rapist. Yet the opening poem, on the dawning of female sexuality, gives no clue of what is to follow. It describes girls gathering on a tennis court:

and sex wasn’t here yet, but it was coming,
and we were running towards it,
its gorgeous euphoric mist;

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Poetry sales soar as political millennials search for clarity


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Record £12m sales last year were driven by younger readers, with experts saying hunger for nuance amid conflict and disaster were fuelling the boom

A passion for politics, particularly among teenagers and young millennials, is fuelling a dramatic growth in the popularity of poetry, with sales of poetry books hitting an all-time high in 2018.

Statistics from UK book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan show that sales grew by just over 12% last year, for the second year in a row. In total, 1.3m volumes of poetry were sold in 2018, adding up to £12.3m in sales, a rise of £1.3m on 2017. Two-thirds of buyers were younger than 34 and 41% were aged 13 to 22, with teenage girls and young women identified as the biggest consumers last year.

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Mary Oliver, Pulitzer prize-winning poet, dies aged 83


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The poet, known for her nature and wildlife-themed work, died at her home from lymphoma

Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer prize-winning poet whose rapturous odes to nature and animal life brought her critical acclaim and popular affection, has died. She was 83. Bill Reichblum, Oliver’s literary executor, said she died on Thursday at her home in Hobe Sound, Florida. The cause of death was lymphoma.

Author of more than 15 poetry and essay collections, Oliver wrote brief, direct pieces that sang of her worship of the outdoors and disdain for greed, despoilment and other human crimes. One of her favorite adjectives was “perfect”, and rarely did she apply it to people. Her muses were owls and butterflies, frogs and geese, the changes of the seasons, the sun and the stars.

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‘A star is born’: TS Eliot prize goes to Hannah Sullivan’s debut


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Poet’s ‘absolutely exhilarating’ first collection Three Poems takes £25,000 prize

Poet Hannah Sullivan has won the prestigious and lucrative TS Eliot prize for her first collection Three Poems – just the third debut to land the award in its 25-year history, and a sign that the poetry world is hunting for a new generation of voices.

Sullivan, a 39-year-old Londoner who won the £25,000 prize on Monday night, is the third first time poet to take the prize, with all three winning in the last five years: Vietnamese-American Ocean Vuong in 2017 and Chinese-British Sarah Howe in 2015. Before then, the prize had tended to be awarded to more established poets a few collections into their careers, among them Derek Walcott, Carol Ann Duffy, Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney.

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‘Poetry is the antidote’: in fight against Hindu nationalism, India turns to verse


This post is by Alice McCool and Tamseel Hussain from Books | The Guardian


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Buoyed by social media, Urdu poetry is enjoying new popularity in the face of divisive sectarian politics

In a Delhi hockey stadium in December, about 100,000 people of various ages, genders, and classes flooded in for two days of poetry, debates, food and calligraphy sessions. It was Jashn-e-Rekhta, a three-day Urdu cultural festival, and its popularity reflects a wider appreciation for Urdu poetry. Shayari, historically associated with the politics of resistance, is experiencing a revival in the face of rising Hindu nationalism in Delhi.

At the festival, as people take selfies in front of an “I love Urdu” cutout, Shweta, a 20-year-old college student, says she believes shayari poetry could unite people.

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