Andrew Motion on Stisted: ‘That’s where I first began to care about poems’

The former poet laureate on the village perched between Braintree and Halstead where his eyes were opened to the world

“Fair seed-time had my soul,” says Wordsworth in the first book of The Prelude, “And I grew up / Foster’d alike by beauty and by fear.” Quite so. Beauty and fear. The essential, paradoxical ingredients of childhood. One filling us with wonder; the other threatening our hold on the world and hereby making it all the more precious.

When Wordsworth wrote this phrase he was thinking about his birthplace – in Cockermouth, on the northern edge of the Lake District. My own birthplace had no such effect – I now think because the balance between beauty and fear was tipped too heavily towards fear. Fear that my parents, my mother especially, would disappear; fear (of a more circumstantial and less existential kind)of my father’s severities; fear that as time ...

We can’t paint over our racist past | Letters

Manchester university students defacing a Kipling poem draws mixed responses from readers

I read the article about how at the University of Manchester the students painted over the Kipling mural and replaced it with a Maya Angelou poem (Report, 20 July). How disappointing. It seems England is following the same path as the US where our 19th- and early 20th-century racist past is concerned. We cannot go back and undo what was done but we can learn from them. Whitewashing the past, pretending it did not happen is not how we learn.

In the US we are also selective in what monuments etc we tear down. Statues of Robert E Lee and other southerners must be torn down immediately, but the golden statue of a northern general in New York’s Central Park must not be touched, even though William T Sherman turned to the same scorched-earth policies against ...

From Catullus to Dylan Thomas: the top 10 elegies

They date back to ancient times and remain a strong current in modern poetry. Here are some of the best

Elegy, an individual response to the death of a person or a group, began in Greece and Rome as a particular metrical form. But elegies are among the greatest poems in every language, whatever their form. Traditionally, they mirror three elements of mourning: grief; memories of the dead; and some kind of consolation – because people in grief often find relief in poems expressing a loss they thought was unique to them.

But elegy took me completely by surprise, just as death itself can do. When I began work on my new collection Emerald, I was simply interested in the gems themselves, their mining, myths, geology, history. I talked to emerald cutters, pondered the paradoxical symbolism of green, colour of envy and poison as well as magic. Then, very ...

Poem of the week: Animal Planet by Ana Blandiana

A plainly spoken reflection on a violent, guilty world adds up to a kind of ‘anti-prayer’ that does not rule out belief

Animal Planet

Less guilty, though not innocent,
In this universe where
The laws of nature decide
Who should kill whom
And whoever kills most is king.
How admiringly they film
The placid and ferocious lion as it tears a fawn to pieces!
And whenever I close my eyes or switch off the telly,
I feel that I participate less in the crime,
Even though the candle of life
Will always need blood to go on burning –
The blood of another.

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Dylan Moran: ‘Britain is sending itself to its room and not coming down’

The comedian’s new show questions how to cope with the relentlessness of today’s politics. He discusses the ‘cult’ of Catholicism, his love of poetry and giving up his vices

“I’ve been doing this for a quarter of a century,” points out Dylan Moran. “I’m probably going to know about as much as I’m ever going to know on a working level. There’s a liberty in that.” It’s hard to believe so much time has passed since the Irish comic first shuffled on to the stage, cigarette and drink at the ready, and appeared not to know what on earth he was doing there. In 1996, aged 24, he became the youngest person to win the Perrier comedy award at the Edinburgh festival, and embarked on his first UK tour the year after. TV and film opportunities followed, often playing various iterations of his rumpled, grumpy stage persona: in the ...

From Dante to I Love Dick: top 10 books about unrequited love

Novelist Kirsty Gunn chooses books that explore a very literary kind of longing

In Katherine Mansfield’s exquisite long short story At the Bay, Beryl, a middle-aged woman still fantasising about the young girl she once was and the lovers she could have captured then, stands in a darkened room half-imagining someone is out there in the dark, desiring her. So much of fiction is about desire, a yearning of some kind or another … the love of reading itself a sort of intense affair.

These thoughts and more were whirling around in my mind when I wrote my own novel about unrequited love, Caroline’s Bikini, the story of middle-aged Evan’s great love for his landlady, the desirable but always just out of reach Caroline Beresford.

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Donald Hall, US poet laureate and prize-winning man of letters, dies at 89

  • Daughter confirms death at home in New Hampshire
  • Hall was known for work on love, loss, baseball and the past

Donald Hall, a prolific and award-winning poet and man of letters who was widely admired for his sharp humor and painful candor about nature, mortality, baseball and the distant past, has died. He was 89.

Hall’s daughter, Philippa Smith, confirmed on Sunday that her father died on Saturday at his home in Wilmot, New Hampshire, after being in hospice care for some time.

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Now We Can Talk Openly About Men by Martina Evans – poetry review

A pair of contrasting monologues set in 1920s Ireland are witty and humane to an outstanding degree

Kitty Donovan, a dressmaker in the time of the Irish war of independence, arrives on the opening page of this book fully formed. It is 1919. She does not seem invented. You hear her voice in your head – insistent, opinionated, revved up – and long to hear her speak aloud for this poetic monologue is just begging to be performed. Martina Evans’s outstanding book needs to be taken on as a radio piece without delay – or, perhaps, put on stage. Its second half belongs to another Irish woman, Babe Cronin, who, like Kitty, vents about life, but times have now changed and it is 1924. Babe is a stenographer in London who has fallen in love with a young revolutionary and their monologues are intertwined because Eileen, the woman with whom ...

Carol Ann Duffy: ‘I wish I’d written Harry Potter, obvs’

The poet laureate on her deep shame at not having read Don Quixote and always laughing at Cold Comfort Farm

The book I am currently reading
The Poem: Lyric, Sign, Metre by Don Paterson. Reading it, your estimation of your own IQ incrementally diminishes. There are diagrams. Also Jay Bernard’s Ted Hughes award-winning collection Surge: Side A.

The book that changed my life
Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking – about 30 years ago. Hurrah!

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s ‘experimental’ new book due in time for 100th birthday

Blending autobiography, literary criticism poetry and philosophy, Little Boy will be published in March 2019, the author’s centenary

The 99-year-old poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, one of the last surviving members of the Beat generation, has sold an “experimental” new novel to a major American publisher, and it is due out in time for his 100th birthday.

Ferlinghetti, one of the US’s best-loved poets and a veteran of the second world war, told the New York Times that the book, Little Boy, was “not a memoir, it’s an imaginary me”. He added: “It’s an experimental novel, let’s put it that way … It’s the kind of book that I’ve been writing all my life.”

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Poem of the week: Husk by Margot Armbruster

A strikingly accomplished work from a 16-year-old poet reflects on the resonances of anorexia with religious fasting


How did we ever get here? I have been measuring
my worth in etched wrists for so long I think my bones
are made of aspartame. Or plum blossom. Can I
gain solubility, dissolve? Can I become entirely blood?
Viscera. Cold palms pressed against
my back. Ribs. Ankles, spine. This resembles a checklist
but is more truly a prayer. A prayer offered
in the rain with a headache behind my eyes.
A prayer offered propped against the car with trembling
hands. Some Magnificat for vivisection. He hath filled
the hungry with good things. Communion wine burns
on an empty stomach. Lord, have I already martyred
myself for skinny jeans? What if I wake up a husk,
made clean and dry by sunlight? What if I wake up
as sunlight itself, yellow and sharp and hard?

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Simon Armitage on Marsden: ‘The hills stand far taller than the architecture’

The poet on growing up in Yorkshire and watching the world from his bedroom window

I grew up in the West Yorkshire village of Marsden at the head of the Colne Valley, a close-knit community of about four thousand people high in the Pennines, last stop before Lancashire. It was an uninterrupted and in some ways uneventful childhood.

As a consequence there was always a tendency to magnify the smaller details and on those rare occasions when something truly dramatic happened – a suspicious death, a sexual scandal, a mill burning down – those incidents became the stuff of fantasy and mythology. My first poems were about Marsden, and my latest collection contains pieces that reference the village, either directly or indirectly.

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Kayo Chingonyi: ‘The most formalist poetry I have been exposed to is rap lyrics’

The winner of the Dylan Thomas prize explains how his poems are infused with the rhythms and rhymes of garage, grime and hip-hop

When Kayo Chingonyi was awarded the £30,000 Dylan Thomas prize for his debut poetry collection, Kumukanda, he used his acceptance speech to thank some of his former school teachers, including one who had given him a copy of Thomas’s play for voices Under Milk Wood. “I was very grateful for that, it led me to Thomas’s poetry,” Chingonyi says; he was delighted and surprised to have come out ahead of fellow shortlisted authors including Sally Rooney and Gwendoline Riley for the prize awarded to writers aged 39 or under, the age Thomas was when he died. “I was also grateful that these teachers shared their enthusiasms with me. A lot of what I write is embedded in my wanting to share enthusiasms.”

Related: Kayo Chingonyi ...

Ode to whiteness: British poetry scene fails diversity test

Study shows poets of colour are underrepresented in the UK, as Forward poetry prizes announce trailblazing shortlists

The British poetry world is “failing to meet even the most basic measurements of inclusivity”, according to a new report which highlights the “systemic exclusion” of poets and critics of colour from UK and Irish poetry magazines.

Collecting data from 29 magazines and websites including PN Review, Poetry Review, the Guardian and Oxford Poetry, the study found that between 2012 and 2018, 9% of almost 20,000 published poems were by poets of colour. Of the 1,819 poems, 502 were published in a single magazine, Modern Poetry in Translation; if this is taken out of the equation, only 7% of poems were by poets of colour. The studyPDF, conducted by poetry reviewer and blogger Dave Coates for Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics, points out that in contrast, at the 2011 census, 12....

Poem of the week: They (may forget (their names (if let out))) by Vahni Capildeo

A brilliantly energetic and inventive sonnet bounds into the mind of a not entirely domesticated pet dog

petcitement incitement of a pet to excitement
petcitement incitement into the excitement
of being a pet petcitement incitement to be
a pet a fed pet a fleece pet incitement to be
a floorpet a fleapit a carpet a polkadot
blanket pet blanket pet answer brass doorbell what name
tin waterbowl what name thrilled vomitfall polkadot
padded on patted on turded on welcome mat name
turns to no-one’s reminder walks wilder walks further
downriver from calling calling owner predator
who that who tagalong meaner whose canines further
from food fleece floor flea cloth car poll card dot blank bit door
no no owner owns in nomine domini pet
outruns petfetch petcome will wild default reset.

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Salley Vickers on Stoke-on-Trent: ‘Thanks to my upbringing, my books have a tenderness for misfits’

The former therapist and novelist on her ‘committed communist’ parents, seeing Paul Robeson sing and her abiding love for the Potteries

I was born in Liverpool, my mother’s home town, which was bombed during the second world war. But my father was warden of Barlaston Hall near Stoke-on-Trent, a residential adult education college, founded by Josiah Wedgwood, and run jointly by the WEA (Workers’ Educational Association) and the TUC.

Related: Lisa O'Kelly talks to therapist turned author Salley Vickers

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Liu Xia: Paul Auster and JM Coetzee lead renewed calls for Chinese poet’s release

Liu, who has never been charged with a crime, has been under house arrest in China since her late husband Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel peace prize in 2010

Paul Auster, JM Coetzee, Alice Sebold and Khaled Hosseini are among dozens of major writers issuing an urgent call for the Chinese poet and artist Liu Xia to be freed after almost a decade under house arrest.

Liu, 50, has been under house arrest in China since her late husband, the human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, was given the Nobel peace prize in 2010. Chinese authorities insist Liu “enjoys all freedoms in accordance with the law”, but supporters say her movements have been severely restricted and she lives under constant surveillance.

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Ondaatje prize goes to ‘mythic’ poems about a mother’s mental illness

Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica takes £10,000 prize for writing evoking the spirit of a place – here blending a hospital with the rainforest

Pascale Petit’s poetry collection Mama Amazonica, which merges the Amazon rainforest with the psychiatric ward caring for her mentally ill mother, has won the RSL Ondaatje prize for books that best “evoke the spirit of a place”.

Petit’s seventh collection tells the story of her mother, exploring the consequences of abuse as she transforms into a series of creatures – a hummingbird, a wolverine, a “jaguar girl”. Petit, who dedicated the book to her troubled parent, writes: “She’s a rainforest / in a straitjacket,” And: “My mother, trying to conceal / her lithium tremor // as she carries the Amazon / on her back, // her rosettes of rivers / and oxbow lakes, // her clouds of chattering caciques, / her flocks of archangels.”

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