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From a lament for the victims of Grenfell Tower to snapshots of Windrush arrivals activist, musician and poet Roger Robinson discusses the inspiration behind his prizewinning collection

Since I was 19 Ive been living in England and thinking Id go home, but there was a point, around six years go, when I realised Im here now: Im black British. So says Roger Robinson, who this week won the TS Eliot prize for A Portable Paradise, a poetry collection born of this realisation.

Furious laments for the victims of Grenfell Tower are followed by a crisp snapshot of idealistic young Jamaicans disembarking from the Empire Windrush in 1948, and a didactic sequence about the legacy of slavery today. A moody evocation of riot brewing on the south London streets sits alongside a love song to the National Health Service, which saved the life of his own prematurely born son.

It was the arrival of this baby just the 1kg of him / all big head, bulging eyes and blue veins that prompted both his acceptance that he was here to stay, and his investigation of the possibility that paradise might be portable. I thought Id look at the utopian idea of paradise, which is so important in this country, and then it began to mean a lot of different things hope for my son, and the paradise that was denied to the people of Grenfell who had come looking to build theirs here and died because they werent in a position to do so, he says.


A musician and cultural activist as well as a poet, Robinson is no stranger to public interventions. In 2018, he launched a Twitter appeal for 100 poems protesting about the mistreatment of the Windrush generation. He also recorded an eight-minute music track for BBC Radio 3, Survivor (For the Grenfell Survivors). Ive lived in tower blocks so I know what its like to live there and the community who do, he says. Theyre not all immigrants and not all poor, but theyre all trying to build a better life and get out of there. It wasnt that I was poor, I just didnt have lots of housing opportunities. So when Grenfell happened I felt it viscerally.

Robinsons own relationship with England doesnt follow an obvious narrative. Now 52, he was born to Trinidadian parents in the east London borough of Hackney due to the system of opportunistic parents who always had a plan for you to go to university here, he chuckles. When he was three years old, they returned to Trinidad, where his father became a PR executive for an oil company one of the first black men to rise that high and his mother worked as a nurse. His father encouraged him with comic book versions of the classics, while his mother is an incredible storyteller. To a certain extent my poetry came out of her storytelling at the dinner table.

He went to one of Trinidads top schools, where expectations were high and his teachers included the playwright and later government minister Ralph Maraj. Its impossible to make a living as an artist in Trinidad because its so small, so a lot of the teachers were artists who had returned from studying abroad. At 19 he returned to the UK, initially to live with his grandmother in Ilford, Essex. Now that was a real culture shock. I couldnt feel at home there. He soon found that Brixton was more congenial, forming a bond with the south London district that remains strong, even since he has forsaken its tower blocks for a three-bedroom house in Northampton, where he lives with his wife and their six-year-old son.

Beware these hot nights in Brixton, opens one observational poem, which is charged with the threat of urban unrest. Ashes to Fire was partly inspired by a night in 2011 when Robinson was dropped off in Brixton on his way home from a gig just as the London riots were starting. In a collection notable for its tonal and generic variety, this poem stands at one extreme a thrumming reminder that he started out as a dub poet, and that dub is the poetry of working-class suffering and protest. He has also released five albums, and is the lead vocalist for his band, King Midas Sound, for which surprisingly, given his rich bass speaking voice he often sings in a high tenor that spills into falsetto.

He began to make his name on the London poetry scene in the 1990s, eking out a living by doing workshops in London schools. It was a time when many schools were thinking about role modelling, he says. I was trying to convince kids mostly young black boys who were not doing well at school that poetry could touch their lives and reading could be useful to them. He looks momentarily bashful behind his grizzled beard then adds, I dress relatively decently now but I used to be a bit more urban swaggering.

His belief in mentoring was rooted in his own experience. I have had many mentors and one of them was [Booker prize-winner and poet] Bernardine Evaristo , who said: Youve got talent but you need to hone your craft. By his mid 20s he knew that he wanted to be an artist, and that if he was going to succeed he would have to live frugally. My mentors taught me that if you control your economics you can control your output.

Evaristo was working for the writers support agency Spread the Word and, crucially, offered him the chance to attend free workshops, which he snapped up. During one, he met the poet Kwame Dawes, who urged him to broaden his reading. He introduced me to Chinese and Russian and European poets. At the time I was only reading what I liked. They werent all black poets I was into Seamus Heaney but I was reading for culture; he made me read for craft, and think about why things worked.

Dawes also told him: If you get less than 36 rejections dont come to me and say its not working. On about my 37th attempt I got published. His first two pamphlets, Suitcase (2004) and Suckle (2009), were put out by another of his mentors, Nii Ayikwei Parkes. Portable Paradise is his fourth collection and, he says, it began to shape itself in a way that was beyond my authorial control, coming together so quickly that he was adding and removing poems until the day it went to press. (Even some of the poems in the ebook version didnt make the printed book.)

Beneath the idea of paradise lies the concept of prayer, whether this involves the refusal of an Afghan immigrant to accept the substitute of therapy If it is Allahs will, who is he to unload his burden on someone else? or Robinsons own fervent prayers for his newborn son to be spared. The collections two dominant impulses, observation and entreaty, come together in fortuitous ways, and never more so than in the name of the nurse who cradled his son in neonatal intensive care, which becomes the title of the most overtly moving poem, Grace. Was she really called that? Yes, yes, he insists. He occasionally spots her driving around, though he has heard she has recently retired.

Which brings us to the question of his own faith. I am Christian. I say prayers, but I dont get to church much, he says. Faith, for Robinson, is tied up with an idea of community and service. So many people came up to me after the [TS Eliot prize] readings and said: My child was premature, you expressed exactly what I felt. I want these poems to be useful and to help people to practise empathy. Demonstrating how a prayer might work to achieve this, he quickly improvises one that could also be a standalone poem: If you want people to understand the power of prayer in a time of trauma, let this book spread.

A Portable Paradise is published by Peepal Tree (9.99). To order a copy go to Free UK p&p on all online orders over 15.

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What difference does a decade or two make in the worlds of music, kids TV and poetry?

Grandmaster Flash, 61, hip-hop pioneer, and AJ Tracey, 25, MC

Grandmaster Flash born Joseph Saddler on New Years Day, 1958 is often credited as one of the pioneers of hip-hop, but his achievements are as much in the field of engineering as they are in music. It was Flash who invented the slipmat that allowed records to be manipulated by DJs; who used solder and Super Glue to give decks a separate headphone channel, so they could hear the record they were cueing up; and who invented the quick-mix theory, allowing small portions of tracks to be looped. Those innovations formed the basis of modern DJing.

Hip-hop has gone through many iterations since Flash debuted his skills on the wheels of steel (a phrase he popularised) at block parties in the Bronx. AJ Tracey, the London MC, tries to embody them all, combining grime, UK drill and trap in his music. An outspoken supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, he is one of the leading lights of the UK rap scene, registering a No 3 album and selling out two nights at Londons Alexandra Palace. The pair immediately hit it off and talk constantly during the photoshoot about love, their roots and Nandos, sometimes to the dismay of the Guardians photographer. How can you photograph us having a talk if were not talking! shouts Flash.

Grandmaster Flash So what would you do if it wasnt music?

AJ Tracey I dont want to say something incriminating! I was at university, so, hopefully, I would have got a job. I was doing criminology.

GF Criminology? So which side of the coin were you working?

AJT Ha, both sides. Studying their side, but doing my side. I love learning about history. I thought criminology would give me a bit of an insight into how cities work.

GF Did your parents want you to stay at college?

AJT My dad was born in the UK, but he actually got sent back to Trinidad for a while for misbehaving. He was impoverished and obviously black people had it hard it in the UK. He was a rapper, too, but my grandma told him, I want you to go to school and bring some money to the family because you should be grateful for the British education.

So when it was my turn, he said I should go to college. Any parent who cares about his son would say that, especially any parent from Trinidad. And when I told my gran that I wanted to do the music thing and leave uni, she rolled up her sleeves, got the spoon and just whacked it.

GF I used to get my ass whacked, too! My father was an avid collector of vinyl records. The rules of the household were: never to go in the closet where dads records were, and never to touch the stereo. But as soon as I heard his tools go over his shoulder, and the door slam, I would grab a chair, play music and dance around the living room. Whoever was home would say, Dad will take your head off if he sees this, and he would kick my ass, but in a way that made me know the records were really valuable, so Id do it again.

After a while, I had to start diagnosing the vinyl. My mother was a seamstress, so I took one of her needles and put the tip inside the black tunnel and felt a vibration. Im like, Holy moly the music lives in the black tunnels! Then it was on: me going in the closet, him beating my ass, me going in the closet. My dad was the brother of the 1948 featherweight champion of the world, so he had hands of stone.

AJT I can identify with that. My mother was a pirate radio DJ. Being a white Welsh woman spinning hip-hop was unheard of my dad obviously fell in love with that. She used to spin NWA. Shes got NWAs first vinyl, and she has two copies: one to spin and one thats sealed. She knew it was going to be crazy valuable. Thats the record I wasnt allowed to touch. But actually my mum was the one saying: Go for it, do music.

GF Oooh, thats interesting. It was mom saying go for it.

AJT What would you have done if not music?

GF I think I would have been an electronic technician, because I was always unscrewing the back of amps and seeing how the circuitry worked. Thats what my people wanted me to be. I actually had to stop hanging around people

AJT who were telling you that its not going to work out [in music]?

Photograph: Janette Beckman/Redferns/Getty Images

GF Exactly. In my teenage years, when I was trying to figure out the quick-mix theory, I had a crew. They would knock on the door and say, Can Joe come out and play? Id say, Ill be right there. After months and months, they realised I was never coming out. So all my friends left and my audience was my miniature doberman pinscher named Caesar.

Later, when we would play in the neighbourhood parks, my problem was there was no place to plug in, because if you asked a person in the nearest apartment, thats a lot of juice! By this time I had knowledge of electronics, so I worked out that the lamp-post turns on at dusk automatically. I had to break the lamp-post door, find the electronic timer, cut the head of the extension cord and wire it so the electricity was going all the time. These were the challenges.

AJT I wouldnt go to the park, but I would go to pirate radio stations to try and get the microphone. You almost have to fight your way in there. Its really a hood thing you need to be built tough, because you need to go in there with your people and say: Its my turn. Often it was 2am in Enfield not many listeners could hear me, but I could hear me.

GF Exactly! Its about that practice. For us it wasnt pirate radio, but we did deal with the cops. Early on, they would shut us down. But what would happen is that all the big-time drug dealers and hood rats and killers would come into the park and jam with us what we were doing just brought the best out of people. Drug dealers were going to the shop and buying 300 bottles of pop and 300 bags of crisps for the audience. And the cops would just sit around and be happy they had nothing to do.

AJT Man, I cant imagine British police saying its a good thing, but one day they will. UK rap is a baby compared with the US were still new to this. We need some more time for everyone to become accustomed to black culture.

GF Are you a perfectionist?

AJT Absolutely. Im my worst critic.

GF Me, too. Ill come off stage and people will be cheering one more tune, and all Ill be able to think about is 15 minutes into the set I fucked up a mix.

AJT Me too, bro. My tour manager will say it was a great show, but I wont be happy, because I know I fumbled. Theyll say no one noticed. But I notice.

GF So whats the biggest difference for us? The internet.

AJT That would be the defining thing. You were in the Bronx, and I was growing up in west London but with the internet were half a second away from everyone. I was recording music in a trap house, pressing a button and uploading it to SoundCloud which means its in peoples bedrooms, in white households in America, in Japan. Its much easier for me to sneak around the powers that be, and the gatekeepers, and get my sound out there. I still wanna rap about things that are close to home. You cant tell me I should speak on Trump or Brexit, just because its two big things that are happening. Thats not how it works. I will speak on Grenfell or the Labour party things that are close to home.

GF Right. Its got to be something that affects the artist, their family or their neighbourhood.

AJT I wouldnt say we had the same struggles, but theyre similar struggles. Our parents, being black and from black heritage, the struggles of being a perfectionist. I feel like thats within every artist the struggle that led you to excel, and that in turn leads you to want to give perfection.

Janet Ellis, 64, writer, actor and television presenter, and Will Lenney, 23, YouTube superstar

Lenney and Ellis: I think its important for the ideas to come from you. Photograph: Pl Hansen/The Guardian

In 1983, Janet Ellis was looking for a new challenge. Having previously only accepted acting roles, she initially felt offended when it was suggested she audition to be the new Blue Peter presenter; she was only persuaded after betting her agent 5 she wouldnt get the gig. She lost the bet, and became one of the shows best-loved hosts.

Her four-year stint was followed by regular BBC presenting jobs and occasional TV appearances with her daughter, the singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Her main focus is now fiction; her second novel, How It Was, was published in August.

Childrens television has changed a lot since Elliss day, not least in that little of it is watched on television. Half of children over eight say they prefer YouTube, and the majority of 12- to 15-year-olds say they regularly watch content made by vloggers. Will Lenney, better known as WillNE, is a 23-year-old YouTube superstar with more than 3 million subscribers. His posts are mostly first-person looks at internet culture: These Life Hacks Are Beyond Useless or Remaking The Worst Tik Toks I Could Find, for instance. Hes often joined by other popular YouTube personalities, although Lenney brings a sense of humour and self-deprecation to his vlogs. The channel began as a bedroom exploit in Whitley Bay in North Tyneside, but has now made Lenney rich enough to move to a flash London apartment, where his videos are recorded.

Today, Ellis and Lenneys 41-year age gap feels immaterial; they josh and banter as if they have just been announced as two brand new Blue Peter presenters, assuming boy-band poses and swapping stories of their most disastrous links (Lenney just rerecorded his, whereas Elliss went out on TV to millions).

Janet Ellis This is a question you must be endlessly asked: how do you become a YouTuber?

Will Lenney Theres no follow this first step, no path. You give it your all and hope for the best. I think thats probably one of the biggest similarities between our careers.

JE Yeah, I had no career plan. When I was little, I wanted to act, but when you go, I want to be an actress, people just go, Well, did you know, 75% of the people in the profession are out of work? And I have to say, I just went: Well, poor them.

WL Sod yous, yeah? I like that. The one thing Id say is that if you start out wanting to do YouTube as a job, youre finished from the get-go.

JE I get that. When people say, I want to be a presenter, I think: what do you want to talk about on camera? Why do you want to be there?

WL For me, it started as a hobby just making daft comedy videos maybe once or twice a year. I failed my A-levels spectacularly and had to retake them, but I used all the spare time I had to give the YouTube thing a really good go.

JE I got my provisional Equity card early and did loads of theatre, and then four episodes of Doctor Who. Along the way, I had Sophie and then went straight back to work. I did a kids series called Jigsaw just weeks after she was born.

WL That must have been hard.

JE I didnt know any different. I had her when I was 23, so the same age as you. I felt clever, you know: I can do all this and Ive got a kid. Also, in real life, if somebody says: Right, youre going to get up at six in the morning and go parachuting, Id say no. But presenter-me says, Oh yes! I suppose what makes a good presenter is allowing people to see that actually, you would rather be in bed, or that youre scared.

WL Totally especially on YouTube, when people will go, I got up, I ate breakfast, you know, I went to John Lewis. If you bring people into that, they feel like they know you as a mate.

JE I wanted to ask you about ideas, because the stuff Ive done, theres been an office full of people whose job it was to find something to do. On Blue Peter, 75% of it was viewer-suggested. Do you have people who suggest content?

WL I think its important for the ideas to come from you, because its your channel. But we get immediate feedback with analytics. You can see the number of people watching your channel over the last 60 minutes, then for each minute, how many times someone clicked on each video. When shows like Love Island are on, theres no point in uploading, because I can see the huge drop-off. No one is on YouTube at that time.

JE Yeah, we owned them: the audience had nowhere else to go. Not just the kids, but the parents, because everyone understands the words Blue Peter. Its been on now for 60 years. Even by the time I joined, it was 25 years old, and if parents went into the room and their kids were watching they would probably stay, for reasons of nostalgia. I have grandsons now, and theyre all fully YouTube conversant, but its not that thing of getting home from school and its there, and mum might come in and watch, too.

Do you like the fact that it enables young people to have this thing that has nothing to do with us?

WL Parents should always be aware of what someone is watching but yes, we specifically target who we think is our demographic. Having said that, I would never put something in my videos that I wouldnt say to my mum.

JE That is an excellent rule.

WL That usually helps me walk the line pretty well. I find it liberating. I quite enjoy the responsibility, or burden, of knowing the buck stops with me.

JE I left the BBC years ago, but you become a spokesperson for it. I have lost count of the number of times Ive been asked to defend childrens television, and you will be asked to defend YouTube.

WL Yeah, I get that quite a lot. YouTube is very strictly regulated now, whereas maybe it wasnt seven or eight years ago. There are dos and donts. Now, if you say certain jokes, YouTube are not going to put any adverts on your video. I just have to make the decision: is this worth the risk?

JE With live telly, people always assume that youre desperate to swear or do something wrong. But I wouldnt ever do that. I joined Blue Peter when I was 28, so I wasnt going to be living a nun-like existence, but the first responsibility was always it sounds so prissy to the viewer. I dont want to be the person they see falling over pissed and being horrible to waiters, or something. But this was way before Twitter, paparazzi; I suppose its harder now.

WL It can be very volatile. There was a big YouTube scandal in 2017 when a lot of advertisers pulled out over concerns about what their adverts appeared on. It had just become my full-time job. Id moved down to London, I was paying rent, and suddenly you go from getting paid, say, a pound for 1,000 views to 10 pence.

JE When the News Of The World published an expos of Richard Bacon, 22, taking cocaine, it was horrible. Hes still one of the best presenters they ever had, and he was immediately sacked and the then head of childrens programmes, Lorraine Heggessey, sat in front of a bowl of daffodils and did this sort of Queen-like speech before the programme went on air, you know: very disappointed in the behaviour. They dragged some of us out of retirement because they were suddenly one presenter down. So I went and did a few programmes. But it was ridiculous.

WL Thats a horrible existence that, innit? On the other hand Ive been doing these live shows and its been such a lovely experience and privilege just to speak to people on the street who enjoy what you do.

JE YouTube makes people scared, so you have to hold their hands and tell them its fine. My 10-year-old grandson has started talking into the camera completely unaffectedly, wandering around the house using entirely the wrong angle.

WL Youve got to start somewhere.

JE Well, he always starts with: Hey, guys.

WL Thats so sweet. Ten is young for it, but by the time hes 15, he could get bloody good. I havent even been doing it for five years. I hope he keeps doing it.

Alice Oswald, 53, Oxford professor of poetry, and Yrsa Daley-Ward, 30, Instagram poet

Daley-Ward and Oswald: Now I am happy to sit or walk, waiting for a poem. Photograph: Pl Hansen, Gareth Iwan Jones/The Guardian

Alice Oswald was elected Oxford professor of poetry in June this year, succeeding Simon Armitage and becoming the first woman in the role. It follows a string of prestigious poetry prizes, and acclaim from her contemporaries: Carol Ann Duffy hailed her the best UK poet now writing, bar none, while Jeanette Winterson said she was making a new kind of poetry, bringing the countryside, myth and nature to life.

Oswalds career has centred on traditional published collections and literary magazines; by contrast, Yrsa Daley-Ward self-published her debut collection, Bone, in 2014, but rose to prominence after publishing excerpts and new poems on Instagram (she has amassed more than 150,000 followers). These were initially interspersed with photos from her modelling career and videos of live performances. She bristles at the label Instagram poet, but the way she posts poetry, sometimes as a screengrab of her Apple Notes app, or scribbled down in a notebook, feels especially urgent. Modelling has mostly been replaced by acting, and shes currently appearing as Connie in World On Fire, Peter Bowkers new BBC drama about the second world war.

Daley-Ward, who was born in Chorley, Lancashire, and raised in part by strict Seventh-day Adventist grandparents, now lives in New York, from where she spoke on the phone to Alice, who was in her cottage in south Devon.

Alice Oswald I think its fascinating that poetry has found its way on to Instagram. I wonder whether it might then grow into a form where its not so autobiographical, and maybe the images are not personal that it might create a form thats more like Chinese poetry, which tends to be both visual and verbal at the same time.

Yrsa Daley-Ward You know, on social media, we cant hide from the fact that a lot of things are very self-centred. They just are. And if we think about things generationally, as well, people [of my generation] are almost obsessed with our journey, our feelings about this, our trauma. I dont think you have to be like that to do well on social media. I always hear this thing Instagram poet, but often people are using excerpts from much longer works.

Do you ever split poems up in that way? Do you see four or five lines from the larger body of work as standing alone, and maybe even meaning something else?

AO Yes. I like the notion that the poem is a very intense, airborne thing. One only captures a little bit of the poem you get in a book just a trace of some actual alive poem thats always elsewhere.

It does feel as if people are talking more about poetry now, and Im delighted by that. I was always frustrated that it only ever seemed to put people off when it was taught in schools. Its exciting that, suddenly, performance poetry and social media poetry have changed that.

YD-W I think theres been a huge surge. People are going into prisons and care units and facilitating the writing of poetry. Im from a very religious background, so I grew up on biblical text. Also, Im Jamaican and Nigerian, so I grew up on knowledge of the ancestors or oral storytelling, fables. When that meets this modern way of processing, understanding and speaking about things in a very simple and succinct way, you almost, as the writer, dont have to make it happen. Its already there.

AO For me, poetry is all about expressing the fact that I dont know whats going on. Does that have any resonance with you?

YD-W Im interested in what I do know and what I dont know. I think I found poetry because I wanted to talk about things that were in front of me. But I dont always understand a feeling before its on the page. So I think the genesis of it is still what I dont know. Then somewhere in that process, it becomes very personal.

AO When I was younger I used to suffer from that panic of, Oh Im never going to write again, this has gone. Now I am happy to sit or walk, waiting for a poem. Its not really up to me I just have to do the listening.

YD-W I know I want to be very serene, and not that intentional. Which is why I write in the morning because then everything still feels possible. I feel open and not too much has happened in the day to make me distracted.

AO I, too, love the early morning to get up before anyone else is awake, drink strong coffee. That does offer a kind of clarity that isnt always there in the rest of the day. But I do notice that, however much I try to say to myself that its a daily discipline, probably the more inventive poems emerge at times when things arent manageable.

YD-W Yeah, I agree I think because the mind has to go somewhere.

AO Thats exactly it. If you reach impossibility, then thats when the imagination kicks in, I think.

YD-W Theres a passion that comes during those times. Where you put your energies is particularly surprising and important.

AO Yes, I remember when I was 20 or so, and I decided to try writing so-called free verse. I remember feeling physical panic as I was doing it, which was exhilarating. But I think the things poetry summons up are quite terrifying.

YD-W Absolutely. But I think we can always rest in the knowledge that the work stands alone. When somebody is there with your book, youre not there in person. Its no longer about you.

AO Theres a difference between Alice and Alice Oswald, and I spend most of my time trying to escape Alice Oswald. I hate her. If she is anywhere near me when Im trying to write, thats a disaster. So I have good ways of getting rid of her. I find her entirely fictional and redundant. I like the thing you say somewhere: You know youre writing the truth when youre terrified.

YD-W I think that whenever you are nervous that youre revealing yourself, or that youre saying something you havent said before thats when youre striking something important.

If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazines letters page in print, please email, including your name and address (not for publication).

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No cause of death has been announced for songwriter and poet known for his projects Silver Jews and Purple Mountains, and his wry, witty lyrics

David Berman, who was regarded as one of the most poetic voices in US indie rock, has died aged 52. His record label, Drag City, confirmed the news, but hasnt confirmed the cause of death.

Berman was best known for his project Silver Jews, and his wry lyrics. The band formed in 1989 in New Jersey, when Berman was living and working with Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich, who would go on to form the successful band Pavement. Malkmus has paid tribute to Berman, writing on Twitter: His death is fucking dark depression is crippling he was a one of a kinder [sic] the songs he wrote were his main passion esp at the end. Hope death equals peace cuz he could sure use it.

Though not reaching the same level of success as Pavement, Silver Jews became a cult group in the US indie rock scene. Berman long refused to tour, but changed his mind for fifth album Tanglewood Numbers (2005), and toured with the band which included his then wife Cassie Berman until their dissolution in 2009. He also published a book of poetry, Actual Air (1999), and another of cartoons, The Portable February (2009).

One of the reasons Berman gave for breaking up the band was the work of his father, lobbyist Richard Berman, known in Washington political circles as Dr Evil for his advocacy work on behalf of industries including tobacco and fossil fuels. Previously I thought, through songs and poems and drawings, I could find and build a refuge away from his world, Berman wrote shortly after the end of Silver Jews. But there is the matter of Justice There needs to be something more. Ill see what that might be. He began developing a TV show based on his father, and said he was in discussions with HBO to make it, but it was never filmed.

Berman disappeared from the public eye for a decade, but returned this year with a new project, Purple Mountains, featuring him backed by the folk-rock band Woods. The album was hugely acclaimed, with a five-star Guardian review describing it as having likely the best lyric sheet of the year. He was due to begin a US tour with the group this week.

He fought mental health and substance misuse issues. In 2005, he described a long, suitcase-battering journey of sub-aqueous intoxication when he used crack cocaine, alcohol and painkillers; he said he took every drug in every way from 15 on.

Drag City paid tribute to him, writing: A great friend and one of the most inspiring individuals weve ever known is gone. Nastanovich wrote: I was amazed by David as a person, a humorist and a writer.

Other musicians have paid tribute. Berman collaborated with the Australian group the Avalanches for their 2016 album Wildflower they wrote on Instagram that he provided much guidance, solace and humor reflecting on our shared struggles and described his work as sublime. US indie-rock band the Mountain Goats wrote: Of, loosely, my generation of songwriters, the best of us. This loss is devastating, while Kurt Vile wrote: Davids music always hit on a basic human gut level just in the power of his lyrics and voice alone … in a way no other modern artist of my generation has been able to. The Nationals Aaron Dessner called Berman a massive talent and a huge influence on us.

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Poetry reflecting on nationhood, sex and whiskey, written in 1970 after Lou Reed left the Velvet Underground, is to be published for the first time

We are the crystal gaze returned through the density and immensity of a berserk nation. Its a line that could have been written by an angry young poet from Trumps America, but it was actually penned decades previously, by the bard of New Yorks grimy rocknroll underbelly: Lou Reed.

A collection of the songwriters previously unseen poems will be published later this year, along with recordings of him performing them at St Marks Church, New York, in 1971 (with Allen Ginsberg in the audience). The book, entitled Do Angels Need Haircuts? and published in April, will also feature an afterword by his widow Laurie Anderson, as well as Reeds own introductions to the poems. Of the 12 poems and short stories in the collection, only three have been published before, one as a Velvet Underground song and two in small-press poetry zines.

The line quoted above is taken from a poem entitled We Are the People, published exclusively for the first time here, along with a recording of it at the St Marks Church performance.

We are the people without land. We are the people without tradition. We are the people who do not know how to die peacefully and at ease. We are the thoughts of sorrows. Endings of tomorrows. We are the wisps of rulers and the jokers of kings.

We are the people without right. We are the people who have known only lies and desperation. We are the people without a country, a voice or a mirror. We are the crystal gaze returned through the density and immensity of a berserk nation. We are the victims of the untold manifesto of the lack of depth of full and heavy emptiness.

We are the people without sorrow who have moved beyond national pride and indifference to a parody of instinct. We are the people who are desperate beyond emotion because it defies thought. We are the people who conceive our destruction and carry it out lawfully. We are the insects of someone elses thought. A casualty of daytime, nighttime, space and god without race, nationality or religion. We are the people. The people. The people.

Reed, who died in 2013 and would have turned 76 today, is one of the most distinctive songwriters of the 20th century, first in the Velvet Underground, whose stark, droning take on rocknroll pointed the way to punk and became hugely influential. His subsequent solo career featured lush pop hits such as Perfect Day and Walk on the Wild Side as well as the uncompromisingly noisy likes of Metal Machine Music. He recorded over 20 solo albums, including Lulu, a collaboration with Metallica that his one-time producer David Bowie regarded as Reeds masterpiece.

The poetry comes from a six-month period in 1970, after he left the Velvet Underground and went to work for his fathers accounting firm. Within six months, he had reversed his decision to quit music and was writing solo material, but the book gives a fascinating glimpse into his mindset at the time.

The rest of the poems are being kept under wraps for now, but the Guardian was granted a sneak preview. Away from the political We Are the People, others reflect on love, sex, and whiskey, and some are droll character studies. Musical references abound one poem is entitled Playing Music is Not Like Athletics, a kind of philosophical inquiry into the reasons for making music, while another, The Murder Mystery, is an epic concrete poem in stereo, with different coloured lines of poetry printed alongside each other, almost like a multitracked song. It was recorded by the Velvet Underground and included on their self-titled third album.

Lou Reed, lower left, with the Velvet Undeground: , John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Nico and Sterling Morrison. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The poems are part of Lou Reeds archive, acquired by the New York Public Library following Reeds death. The Lou Reed Archive has been keen to to publish some of the rare and unique material from the diverse and extraordinary collection of Lous lifes work, and we decided to start with these poems, said archivist Don Fleming, who has co-produced the book. Lou was a writer at heart, and during this period he considered giving up music to follow this path. Finding Lous own cassette tape in the archive, that he recorded at the event, was very exciting because we knew about the reading but had little idea of what he had read. His introductions to the pieces also gave us great insight into his creative process. He added that he was happy to share this lesser-known but important chapter in his life.

The literary critic and head of UCLs English literature department, John Mullan a self-professed Reed fan had a muted response on seeing the poetry, however, saying Reed is not afraid to court banality. He added that some of the poems look like, and read like, the transcripts of songs. We all know what Lou Reeds voice sounds like, and you find yourself projecting that amazing voice onto the poems, backed with some sort of doomy bassline. They almost live as songs but I dont think they survive the journey to the page; what was a heady quality in the songs is not a heady quality in the poems.

Reed is far from the first rock star to with varying levels of dilettantism write poetry outside of their song lyrics. In 1964 as the Beatles career was going supernova, John Lennon published In His Own Write, a collection of surreal, free-associative poems and short stories I typed a lot of the book, and I can only do it very slowly with a finger, so the stories would be very short because I couldnt be bothered going on, he said in a 1968 interview.

Bob Dylans Tarantula, written in 1965, is a Beat-inspired poetic stream of consciousness, while more recently Tupac Shakur, Ryan Adams, Jill Scott and Tom Waits have all published poetry collections. In 1996, REM frontman Michael Stipe and six friends each wrote a haiku poem every day, and posted them to each other 365 of them were collected for the resulting book The Haiku Year.

One of the most significant rock star poets is Reeds friend Patti Smith, who has published numerous collections of her verse. In her speech for the posthumous induction of Reed to the RocknRoll Hall of Fame, she declared that as a poet, he must be counted as a solitary artist. And so, Lou, thank you for brutally and benevolently injecting your poetry into music.

We Are the People is taken from Do Angels Need Haircuts?, published by Anthology Editions, 2018 Canal Street Communications, Inc.

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Neil MacGregor. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian


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28 150th anniversary of the birth of Maxim Gorky.


Viv Albertine To Throw Away Unopened. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian


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Zora Neale Hurston Barracoon. Photograph: Little & Brown Publishing


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Bill Clinton The President Is Missing. Photograph: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP


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After two years of careful consideration, Robert McCrum has concluded his selection of the 100 greatest nonfiction books of all time. Take a quick look back at five centuries of great writing

1. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (2014)
An engrossing account of the looming catastrophe caused by ecologys neighbours from hell mankind.

2. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)
This steely and devastating examination of the authors grief following the sudden death of her husband changed the nature of writing about bereavement.

3. No Logo by Naomi Klein (1999)
Naomi Kleins timely anti-branding bible combined a fresh approach to corporate hegemony with potent reportage from the dark side of capitalism.

4. Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes (1998)
These passionate, audacious poems addressed to Hughess late wife, Sylvia Plath, contribute to the couples mythology and are a landmark in English poetry.

5. Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama (1995)
This remarkably candid memoir revealed not only a literary talent, but a force that would change the face of US politics for ever.

6. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (1988)
The theoretical physicists mega-selling account of the origins of the universe is a masterpiece of scientific inquiry that has influenced the minds of a generation.

7. The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (1979)
Tom Wolfe raised reportage to dazzling new levels in his quest to discover what makes a man fly to the moon.

8. Orientalism by Edward Said (1978)
This polemical masterpiece challenging western attitudes to the east is as topical today as it was on publication.

9. Dispatches by Michael Herr (1977)
A compelling sense of urgency and a unique voice make Herrs Vietnam memoir the definitive account of war in our time.

10. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1976)
An intoxicating renewal of evolutionary theory that coined the idea of the meme and paved the way for Professor Dawkinss later, more polemical works.

Tom Wolfe in 2012. Photograph: Mark Seliger/AP

11. North by Seamus Heaney (1975)
This raw, tender, unguarded collection transcends politics, reflecting Heaneys desire to move like a double agent among the big concepts.

12. Awakenings by Oliver Sacks (1973)
Sackss moving account of how, as a doctor in the late 1960s, he revived patients who had been neurologically frozen by sleeping sickness reverberates to this day.

13. The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)
The Australian feminists famous polemic remains a masterpiece of passionate free expression in which she challenges a womans role in society.

14. Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom by Nik Cohn (1969)
This passionate account of how rocknroll changed the world was written with the wild energy of its subject matter.

15. The Double Helix by James D Watson (1968)
An astonishingly personal and accessible account of how Cambridge scientists Watson and Francis Crick unlocked the secrets of DNA and transformed our understanding of life.

16. Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag (1966)
The American novelists early essays provide the quintessential commentary on the 1960s.

17. Ariel by Sylvia Plath (1965)
The groundbreaking collection, revolving around the poets fascination with her own death, established Plath as one of the last centurys most original and gifted poets.

18. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963)
The book that ignited second-wave feminism captured the frustration of a generation of middle-class American housewives by daring to ask: Is this all?

19. The Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson (1963)
This influential, painstakingly compiled masterpiece reads as an anatomy of pre-industrial Britain and a description of the lost experience of the common man.

20. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)
This classic of American advocacy sparked a nationwide outcry against the use of pesticides, inspired legislation that would endeavour to control pollution, and launched the modern environmental movement in the US.

Susan Sontag, pictured in 1975. Photograph: The Peter Hujar Archive; courtesy Pace MacGill Gallery

21. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S Kuhn (1962)
The American physicist and philosopher of science coined the phrase paradigm shift in a book that is seen as a milestone in scientific theory.

22. A Grief Observed by CS Lewis (1961)
This powerful study of loss asks: Where is God? and explores the feeling of solitude and sense of betrayal that even non-believers will recognise.

23. The Elements of Style by William Strunk and EB White (1959)
Dorothy Parker and Stephen King have both urged aspiring writers towards this crisp guide to the English language where brevity is key.

24. The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith (1958)
An optimistic bestseller, in which JFKs favoured economist promotes investment in both the public and private sectors.

25. The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working-Class Life by Richard Hoggart (1957) This influential cultural study of postwar Britain offers pertinent truths on mass communication and the interaction between ordinary people and the elites.

26. Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin (1955)
Baldwins landmark collection of essays explores, in telling language, what it means to be a black man in modern America.

27. The Nude: A Study of Ideal Art by Kenneth Clark (1956)
Clarks survey of the nude from the Greeks to Picasso foreshadows the critics towering claims for humanity in his later seminal work, Civilisation.

28. The Hedgehog and the Fox by Isaiah Berlin (1953)
The great historian of ideas starts with an animal parable and ends, via a dissection of Tolstoys work, in an existential system of thought.

29. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (1952/53)
A bleakly hilarious, enigmatic watershed that changed the language of theatre and still sparks debate six decades on. An absurdist masterpiece.

30. A Book of Mediterranean Food by Elizabeth David (1950)
This landmark recipe book, a horrified reaction to postwar rationing, introduced cooks to the food of southern Europe and readers to the art of food writing.

American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin in 1979. Photograph: Ralph Gatti/AFP/Getty Images

31. The Great Tradition by FR Leavis (1948)
The controversial critics statement on English literature is an entertaining, often shocking, dissection of the novel, whose effects are still felt to this day.

32. The Last Days of Hitler by Hugh Trevor-Roper (1947)
The historians vivid, terrifying account of the Fuhrers demise, based on his postwar work for British intelligence, remains unsurpassed.

33. The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care by Dr Benjamin Spock (1946)
The groundbreaking manual urged parents to trust themselves, but was also accused of being the source of postwar permissiveness.

34. Hiroshima by John Hersey (1946)
Herseys extraordinary, gripping book tells the personal stories of six people who endured the 1945 atom bomb attack.

35. The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper (1945)
The Austrian-born philosophers postwar rallying cry for western liberal democracy was hugely influential in the 1960s.

36. Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth by Richard Wright (1945)
This influential memoir of a rebellious southern boyhood vividly evokes the struggle for African American identity in the decades before civil rights.

37. How to Cook a Wolf by MFK Fisher (1942)
The American culinary icon was one of the first writers to use food as a cultural metaphor, describing the sensual pleasures of the table with elegance and passion.

38. Enemies of Promise by Cyril Connolly (1938)
Connollys dissection of the art of writing and the perils of the literary life transformed the contemporary English scene.

39. The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell (1937)
Orwells unflinchingly honest account of three northern towns during the Great Depression was a milestone in the writers political development.

40. The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron (1937)
Much admired by Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, Byrons dazzling, timeless account of a journey to Afghanistan is perhaps the greatest travel book of the 20th century.

George Orwell seen at his typewriter. Photograph: Mondadori/Getty Images

41. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936)
The original self-help manual on American life with its influence stretching from the Great Depression to Donald Trump has a lot to answer for.

42. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (1933)
Brittains study of her experience of the first world war as a nurse and then victim of loss remains a powerful anti-war and feminist statement.

43. My Early Life: A Roving Commission by Winston Churchill (1930)
Churchill delights with candid tales of childhood and boys own adventures in the Boer war that made him a tabloid hero.

44. Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves (1929)
Gravess account of his experiences in the trenches of the first world war is a subversive tour de force.

45. A Room of Ones Own by Virginia Woolf (1929)
Woolfs essay on womens struggle for independence and creative opportunity is a landmark of feminist thought.

46. The Waste Land by TS Eliot (1922)
Eliots long poem, written in extremis, came to embody the spirit of the years following the first world war.

47. Ten Days That Shook the World by John Reed (1919)
The American socialists romantic account of the Russian revolution is a masterpiece of reportage.

48. The Economic Consequences of the Peace by John Maynard Keynes (1919)
The great economists account of what went wrong at the Versailles conference after the first world war was polemical, passionate and prescient.

49. The American Language by HL Mencken (1919)
This declaration of linguistic independence by the renowned US journalist and commentator marked a crucial new chapter in American prose

50. Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918)
Stracheys partisan, often inaccurate but brilliant demolitions of four great 19th-century Britons illustrates life in the Victorian period from different perspectives.

Virginia Woolf, pictured in 1933. Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images

51. The Souls of Black Folk by WEB Du Bois (1903)
The great social activists collection of essays on the African American experience became a founding text of the civil rights movement.

52. De Profundis by Oscar Wilde (1905)
There is a thrilling majesty to Oscar Wildes tormented tour de force written as he prepared for release from Reading jail.

53. The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1902)
This revolutionary work written by Henry Jamess less famous brother brought a democratising impulse to the realm of religious belief.

54. Brief Lives by John Aubrey, edited by Andrew Clark (1898)
Truly ahead of his time, the 17th-century historian and gossip John Aubrey is rightly credited as the man who invented biography.

55. Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S Grant (1885)
The civil war general turned president was a reluctant author, but set the gold standard for presidential memoirs, outlining his journey from boyhood onwards.

56. Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain (1883)
This memoir of Samuel Clemenss time as a steamboat pilot provides insight into his best-known characters, as well as the writer he would become.

57. Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson (1879)
The Scottish writers hike in the French mountains with a donkey is a pioneering classic in outdoor literature and as influential as his fiction.

58. Nonsense Songs by Edward Lear (1871)
The Victorians loved wordplay, and few could rival this compendium of verbal delirium by Britains laureate of nonsense.

59. Culture and Anarchy by Matthew Arnold (1869)
Arnold caught the public mood with this high-minded but entertaining critique of Victorian society posing questions about the art of civilised living that still perplex us.

60. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859)
Darwins revolutionary, humane and highly readable introduction to his theory of evolution is arguably the most important book of the Victorian era.

Mark Twain. Photograph: Alamy

61. On Liberty by John Stuart Mill (1859)
This fine, lucid writer captured the mood of the time with this spirited assertion of the English individuals rights.

62. The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands by Mary Seacole (1857)
A gloriously entertaining autobiography by the widely revered Victorian sometimes described as the black Florence Nightingale.

63. The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell (1857)
Possibly Gaskells finest work a bold portrait of a brilliant woman worn down by her fathers eccentricities and the death of her siblings.

64. Walden by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
This account of one mans rejection of American society has influenced generations of free thinkers.

65. Thesaurus by Dr Peter Mark Roget (1852)
Born of a Victorian desire for order and harmony among nations, this guide to the English language is as unique as it is indispensable.

66. London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew (1851)
The influence of the Victorian journalists detailed, dispassionate descriptions of London lower-class life is clear, right up to the present day.

67. Household Education by Harriet Martineau (1848)
This protest at the lack of womens education was as pioneering as its author was in Victorian literary circles.

68. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass (1845)
This vivid memoir was influential in the abolition of slavery, and its author would become one of the most influential African Americans of the 19th century.

69. Essays by RW Emerson (1841)
New Englands inventor of transcendentalism is still revered for his high-minded thoughts on individuality, freedom and nature expressed in 12 essays.

70. Domestic Manners of the Americans by Frances Trollope (1832)
Rich in detail and Old World snobbery, Trollopes classic travelogue identifies aspects of Americas national character still visible today.

Frederick Douglass, pictured in 1855. Photograph: Library of Congress/Getty Images

71. An American Dictionary of the English Language by Noah Webster (1828) Though a lexicographical landmark to stand alongside Dr Johnsons achievement, the original sold only 2,500 copies and left its author in debt.

72. Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas De Quincey (1822)
An addiction memoir, by the celebrated and supremely talented contemporary of Coleridge and Wordsworth, outlining his life hooked on the the drug.

73. Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb (1807)
A troubled brother-and-sister team produced one of the 19th centurys bestselling volumes and simplified the complexity of Shakespeares plays for younger audiences.

74. Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa by Mungo Park (1799)
The Scottish explorers account of his heroic one-man search for the river Niger was a contemporary bestseller and a huge influence on Conrad, Melville and Hemingway.

75. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin (1793)
The US founding fathers life, drawn from four different manuscripts, combines the affairs of revolutionary America with his private struggles.

76. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
This radical text attacked the dominant male thinkers of the age and laid the foundations of feminism.

77. The Life of Samuel Johnson LLD by James Boswell (1791)
This huge work is one of the greatest of all English biographies and a testament to one of the great literary friendships.

78. Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke (1790)
Motivated by the revolution across the Channel, this passionate defence of the aristocratic system is a landmark in conservative thinking.

79. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano (1789)
The most famous slave memoir of the 18th century is a powerful and terrifying read, and established Equiano as a founding figure in black literary tradition.

80. The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne by Gilbert White (1789)
This curates beautiful and lucid observations on the wildlife of a Hampshire village inspired generations of naturalists.

Mary Wollstonecraft. Photograph: Alamy

81. The Federalist Papers by Publius (1788)
These wise essays clarified the aims of the American republic and rank alongside the Declaration of Independence as a cornerstone of US democracy.

82. The Diary of Fanny Burney (1778)
Burneys acutely observed memoirs open a window on the literary and courtly circles of late 18th-century England.

83. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (1776-1788)
Perhaps the greatest and certainly one of the most influential history books in the English language, in which Gibbon unfolds the narrative from the height of the Roman empire to the fall of Byzantium.

84. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (1776)
Blending history, philosophy, psychology and sociology, the Scottish intellectual single-handedly invented modern political economy.

85. Common Sense by Tom Paine (1776)
This little book helped ignite revolutionary America against the British under George II.

86. A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson (1755)
Dr Johnsons decade-long endeavour framed the English language for the coming centuries with clarity, intelligence and extraordinary wit.

87. A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume (1739)
This is widely seen as the philosophers most important work, but its first publication was a disaster.

88. A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (1729)
The satirists jaw-dropping solution to the plight of the Irish poor is among the most powerful tracts in the English language.

89. A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain by Daniel Defoe (1727) Readable, reliable, full of surprise and charm, Defoes Tour is an outstanding literary travel guide.

90. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke (1689)
Eloquent and influential, the Enlightenment philosophers most celebrated work embodies the English spirit and retains an enduring relevance.

The Flame collects unpublished poetry, as well as notebook entries and song lyrics, and offers an intimate look inside the life and mind of a singular artist

A book of Leonard Cohens final poems, completed in the months before his death and tackling the flame and how our culture threatened its extinction, according to his manager, will be published next year.

Describing the collection, The Flame, as an enormously powerful final chapter in Cohens storied literary career, publisher Canongate said that the Canadian singer-songwriter had chosen and ordered the poems in the months before his death in November 2016. The overwhelming majority of the book, which will be published next October, will be new material, it added.

Cohen, who died at the age of 82, originally focused his career on poetry, publishing the collections Let Us Compare Mythologies in 1956, The Spice-Box of Earth in 1961, and Flowers for Hitler in 1964. By the late 60s, he was concentrating more on music, releasing his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, in 1967.

Cohens manager and trustee of his estate Robert Kory said that pulling The Flame together had been a key ambition for the singer-songwriter at the end of his life. During the final months of his life, Leonard had a singular focus completing this book, taken largely from his unpublished poems and selections from his notebooks. The flame and how our culture threatened its extinction was a central concern, said Kory.

Though in declining health, Leonard died unexpectedly. Those of us who had the rare privilege of spending time with him during this period recognised that the flame burned bright within him to the very end. This book, finished only days before his death, reveals to all the intensity of his inner fire.

In an interview with the New Yorker last October, Cohen spoke of how my natural thrust is to finish things that Ive begun, and of how he was getting up well before dawn to write.

I dont dare attach myself to a spiritual strategy. I dont dare do that. Ive got some work to do. Take care of business. I am ready to die. I hope its not too uncomfortable. Thats about it for me, he told the magazines editor David Remnick.

In a certain sense, this particular predicament is filled with many fewer distractions than other times in my life and actually enables me to work with a little more concentration and continuity than when I had duties of making a living, being a husband, being a father. Those distractions are radically diminished at this point. The only thing that mitigates against full production is just the condition of my body At a certain point, if you still have your marbles and are not faced with serious financial challenges, you have a chance to put your house in order.

The Flame will also include an extensive selection from Cohens notebooks, which Canongate said he kept in poetic form throughout his life, and which it promised would offer an unprecedentedly intimate look inside the life and mind of a singular artist and thinker. The full lyrics of his final three albums, along with those he wrote for the album Blue Alert by his collaborator Anjani, will also be included, along with prose pieces and Cohens own illustrations.

Canongates Francis Bickmore, who acquired UK and Commonwealth rights, called it a towering final book, hulking with morbid wit and lit up with insight This substantial parting work, from a great artist now gone, will speak to anyone who has been moved by Cohens unique voice.

The Flame will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the US, and McClelland & Stewart in Canada.

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Ashbery, who won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for his collection, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, died at his home on Sunday of natural causes

John Ashbery, an enigmatic genius of modern poetry whose energy, daring and boundless command of language raised American verse to brilliant and baffling heights, died early Sunday at age 90.

Ashbery, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and often mentioned as a Nobel candidate, died at his home in Hudson, New York. His husband, David Kermani, said his death was from natural causes.

Few poets were so exalted in their lifetimes. Ashbery was the first living poet to have a volume published by the Library of America dedicated exclusively to his work. His 1975 collection, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, was the rare winner of the American book worlds unofficial triple crown: the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle prize. In 2011, he was given a National Humanities Medal and credited with changing how we read poetry.

Among a generation that included Richard Wilbur, WS Merwin and Adrienne Rich, Ashbery stood out for his audacity and for his wordplay, for his modernist shifts between high oratory and everyday chatter, for his humor and wisdom and dazzling runs of allusions and sense impressions.

No figure looms so large in American poetry over the past 50 years as John Ashbery, Langdon Hammer wrote in the New York Times in 2008. Ashberys phrases always feel newly minted; his poems emphasize verbal surprise and delight, not the ways that linguistic patterns restrict us.

But to love Ashbery, it helped to make sense of Ashbery, or least get caught up enough in such refrains as You are freed/including barrels/heads of the swan/forestry/the night and stars fork not to worry about their meaning.

Writing for Slate, the critic and poet Meghan ORourke advised readers not to try to understand the poems but to try to take pleasure from their arrangement, the way you listen to music. Writer Joan Didion once attended an Ashbery reading simply because she wanted to determine what the poet was writing about.

I dont find any direct statements in life, Ashbery once explained to the Times in London. My poetry imitates or reproduces the way knowledge or awareness comes to me, which is by fits and starts and by indirection. I dont think poetry arranged in neat patterns would reflect that situation.

Interviewed by the Associated Press in 2008, Ashbery joked that if he could turn his name into a verb, to Ashbery, it would mean to confuse the hell out of people.

Ashbery also was a highly regarded translator and critic. At various times, he was the art critic for the New York Herald-Tribune in Europe, New York magazine and Newsweek, and the poetry critic for Partisan Review. He translated works by Arthur Rimbaud, Raymond Roussel and numerous other French writers.

He was a teacher for many years, including at Brooklyn College, Harvard University and Bard College.

Starting at boarding school, when a classmate submitted his work (without his knowledge) to Poetry magazine, Ashbery enjoyed a long and productive career, so fully accumulating words in his mind that he once told the AP that he rarely revised a poem once he wrote it down. More than 30 Ashbery books were published after the 1950s, including poetry, essays, translations and a novel, A Nest of Ninnies, co-written with poet James Schuyler.

His masterpiece was likely the title poem of Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, a densely written epic about art, time and consciousness that was inspired by the 16th century Italian painting of the same name. In 400-plus lines, Ashbery shifted from a critique of Parmigianinos painting to a meditation on the besieged 20th century mind.

I feel the carousel starting slowly

And going faster and faster: desk, papers, books,

Photographs of friends, the window and the trees

Merging in one neutral band that surrounds

Me on all sides, everywhere I look.

And I cannot explain the action of leveling,

Why it should all boil down to one

Uniform substance, a magma of interiors.

Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, in 1927 and remembered himself as a lonely and bookish child, haunted by the early death of his younger brother, Richard, and conflicted by his attraction to other boys.

He grew up on an apple farm in the nearby village of Sodus, where it snowed often enough to help inspire his first poem, The Battle, written at age 8 and a fantasy about a fight between bunnies and snowflakes. He would claim to be so satisfied with the poem and so intimidated by the praise of loved ones that he didnt write another until boarding school, the Deerfield Academy, when his work was published in the school paper.

Meanwhile, he took painting lessons and found new meaning in Life, the magazine. An article about a surrealist exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art so impressed him that he kept rereading it for years. At Harvard University, he read WH Auden and Marianne Moore and met fellow poet and longtime comrade, Kenneth Koch, along with Wilbur, Donald Hall, Robert Bly, Frank OHara and Robert Creeley. He would be grouped with OHara and Koch as part of the avant-garde New York Poets movement, although Ashbery believed what they really had in common was living in New York.

His first book, Some Trees, was a relatively conventional collection that came out in 1956, with a preface from Auden and the praise of OHara, who likened Ashbery to Wallace Stevens. But in 1962, he unleashed The Tennis Court Oath, poems so abstract that critic John Simon accused him of crafting verse without sensibility, sensuality or sentences. Ashbery later told the AP that parts of the book were written in a period of almost desperation and because he was living in France at the time, he had fallen out of touch with American speech, which is really the kind of fountainhead of my poetry.

I actually went through a period after The Tennis Court Oath wondering whether I was really going to go on writing poetry, since nobody seemed interested in it, he said. And then I must have said to myself, Well, this is what I enjoy. I might as well go on doing it, since Im not going to get the same pleasure anywhere else.

His 1966 collection, Rivers and Mountains, was a National Book Award finalist that helped restore his standing and Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror raised him to the pantheon. In 2011, he was given an honorary National Book Award for lifetime achievement and declared he was quite pleased with his status in the world of writers.

His style ranged from rhyming couplets to haiku to blank verse, and his interests were as vast as his gifts for expressing them. He wrote of love, music, movies, the seasons, the city and the country, and was surely the greatest poet ever to compose a hymn to president Warren Harding. As he aged, he became ever more sensitive to mortality and reputation. How to Continue was an elegy for the sexual revolution among gays in the 1960s and 70s, a party turned tragic by the deadly arrival of Aids, a gale [that] came and said/it is time to take all of you away.

Reflecting on his work, Ashbery boasted about strutted opinion doomed to wilt in oblivion, but acknowledged that: I grew/To feel I was beyond criticism, until I flew/Those few paces from the best.

In the poem In a Wonderful Place, published in the 2009 collection Planisphere, he offered a brief, bittersweet look back.

I spent years exhausting my good works

on the public, all for seconds

Time to shut down colored alphabets

flutter in the fresh breeze of autumn. It

draws like a rout. Or a treat.

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What to pack along with the aftersun and flipflops? From novels about gay footballers and updated Greek classics to biographies and poetry, our guest critics offer their holiday must-reads

John Banville

Colm Tibns exhilarating House of Names (Viking 14.99) is a retelling of Aeschyluss drama on the sacrificing by Agamemnon of his daughter Cassandra and its tragic consequences, including the murder of Agamemnon by his wife, Clytemnestra. The book has a controlled, hushed quality, like that of a Morandi still life, which only serves to heighten the terror and pity of the tale. Michael Longleys latest collection, Angel Hill (Jonathan Cape 10) what a genius he has for titles is at once lush and elegiac, delicate and muscular, melancholy and thrilling. I shall not be going anywhere hate holidays but will stay happily at home, rereading Evelyn Waughs second world war Sword of Honour trilogy (Penguin 14.99). Pure bliss.

Clover Stroud

With five children to entertain, Im not sure how much reading Ill actually do on holiday in Santander this summer, but luckily I have already romped through my best summer books.

Haunted by the shadow of a father killed in a motorbike accident, William Giraldis The Heros Body (No Exit Press 9.99) is a terse, gripping memoir set in working-class New Jersey. Giraldis hyper-masculine childhood is a foil for his revelations on the true fragility of male identity. I loved Elizabeth Days glamorous thriller The Party (4th Estate 12.99), about a sinister secret between two friends that unravels in midlife. Days writing is both elegant and claustrophobic, and deeply revealing of how entrenched questions of class remain today. I could not put it down. And I galloped through Mr Darleys Arabian (John Murray 25), Christopher McGraths brilliantly colourful romp through the extraordinary horses and scandalous characters who make up the history of British horse racing.


AM Homes

Neel Mukherjees A State of Freedom (Chatto & Windus 16.99) is a brilliant novel, deeply compassionate and painterly, reminding me of Howard Hodgkins paintings. Mukherjee brings to life the colours and sounds of a place where modern life is constantly crashing against tradition. And in my suitcase: Howard Jacobsons Pussy(Vintage 12.99), because as much as I need to laugh, I also need to confirm that my sense of horror is not just in my imagination but indeed shared; David Goodharts The Road to Somewhere(C Hurst & Co 20), because I am still looking for clues as to how we got where we are, and where we might be headed next; Don DeLillos entire backlist, and a bit of Norman Mailer because in retrospect, despite what one might call his personality problems with women, he was an amazing writer with a political eye.

Curiously, Im coming to the UK, spending a month in Oxford, keen to look at a landscape other than my own.

Curtis Sittenfeld

I loved the novel The Idiot (Jonathan Cape 16.99) by Elif Batuman. Its about a girl in her first year at Harvard in the mid-90s, and her email correspondence (when email is still new) with an older male student. The whole novel is full of hilarious, brilliant observations about writing, life and crushes. I was also blown away by Jane Mayers nonfiction book Dark Money (Scribe Publications 9.99), which meticulously, fascinatingly and horrifyingly explains how eccentric American billionaires hijacked our democracy. Im travelling to see my sister in Providence, Rhode Island, this summer, and Ill take the story collection Strangers to Temptation (Hub City 13.33) by Scott Gould (about a boy in the American south of the 1970s) and the novel Silver Sparrow (Algonquin) by Tayari Jones (about two girls in the American south of the 1980s). Im hearing buzz about Joness 2018 novel (An American Marriage) so I thought Id read this one first.

Melvyn Bragg

In the 11 skilfully detailed chapters of The Matter of the Heart (Bodley Head 20), Thomas Morris gives us the spectacular history of heart surgery. He spares us nothing and in gripping stories delivers everything you would want to know about his superbly chosen subject. Deaths of the Poets by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts (Jonathan Cape 14.99) is a witty and erudite journey into the characters of doomed poets using location as a steer. Chatterton kicks off and along the way there are arguments for and against the notion of whether poets are especially doomed artists. Surprisingly entertaining. For my own travels, I shall be taking House of Names by Colm Tibn (Viking 14.99). Tibns recent masterworks, Brooklyn and Nora Webster, gave little intimation that he would home in on the bloodiest violence in Greek tragedy for this novel. I cant wait to see what he does with it.


Jackie Kay

Id recommend readers take poetry with them on holiday poetry is so portable, travels light, but digs deep. Id take Hollie McNishs Nobody Told Me (Blackfriars 13.99), winner of this years Ted Hughes award, and a funny, very moving collection, taken originally from the poets diaries, about motherhood. Another wonderful debut is Kayombo Chingonyis Kumukanda (Chatto & Windus 10) a subtle and affecting, lyrical and powerful collection that explores boyhood, rites of passage, the ancient and the modern world. Id pack the small poetry pamphlet Toots by Alyson Hallett (Mariscat Press 6) poems so fresh and enlivening, you want to knock back the whole book with a cold beer. Im hoping to go to the Greek island of Halki. I went last year and loved it. And Im going to pack George Mackay Browns short stories Andrina (Polygon 7.99), having just come back from St Magnus festival in Orkney. I love the mystery and militancy he weaves into stories like The Box of Fish. And Im also going to take Maxine Beneba Clarkes The Hate Race (Corsair 18.99) a powerful memoir about growing up black in Australia.

Harriet Lane

Based on a True Story (Bloomsbury 12.99) by Delphine de Vigan (elegantly translated by George Miller) is a wonderful literary trompe loeil, a novel about identity and writing, reality and imagination. Its dark, smart, compelling and extremely French. I also enjoyed James Lasduns The Fall Guy(Jonathan Cape 12.99), a creepy little satire in which several New Yorkers, none of them terribly appealing, escape the city heat for a summer in the Catskills, and Denise Minas bleak and atmospheric The Long Drop(Harvill Secker 12.99).

For my own holiday (rural East Sussex, near Eastbourne the sunshine coast!), I will pack Amanda Craigs The Lie of the Land (Little, Brown 16.99) and Susie Steiners Persons Unknown(Harper Collins 12.99).

Patrick Ness

Definitely take two titles from the Baileys prize longlist this year (both of which, I think, are better than the winner): CE Morgans The Sport of Kings (4th Estate 16.99), contender for the Great American Novel, and Heather ONeills The Lonely Hearts Hotel (Quercus 16.99). For your teen, After the Fire (Usborne 8.99) by Will Hill a tough, enthralling YA novel about the Waco cult. I just got back from holiday, where I finally read Wilkie Collinss The Woman in White(Alma Books 4.99), which is, if were honest, ridiculous but ridiculously enjoyable, and Adam Johnsons fascinating Pulitzer prize-winning novel about North Korea, The Orphan Masters Son(Black Swan 8.99). Go big; youve got the time.


Lionel Shriver

I strongly recommend Lawrence Osbornes forthcoming novel Beautiful Animals(Hogarth 14.99), about two young women who try to help a refugee washed up on the Greek island where their families are holidaying. The altruism doesnt end well Im also intrigued by Dirk Kurbjuweits novel Fear (Text Publishing), about a stalker living downstairs. Im not finished, but so far so good. While in both NY and on a quick first trip to Mexico, I also hope to get through Preparation for the Next Life (Oneworld 8.99) by Atticus Lish, a strenuous recommendation by my friend Tracy Chevalier, and perhaps to finally have a go at CE Morgans The Sport of Kings (4th Estate 16.99).

Kirsty Wark

Sebastian Barrys Days Without End (Faber 8.99) is a novel so rich with character, so visceral in its action, that you literally hold your breath reading it. The character and voice of Thomas McNulty who escapes the Irish famine and becomes embroiled in both the American Indian wars and the American civil war will last in your mind much longer than your summer holiday. For a fast-paced, brilliantly constructed thriller with a difference, reach for Robert Harriss Conclave (Cornerstone 20). All you wanted to know about the Vatican but were too scared to ask. Ill be taking Richard Fords memoir Between Them: Remembering My Parents (Bloomsbury 12.99) in my own book bag in preparation for interviewing the author at the Edinburgh book festival (and also rereading Canada, which I loved first time around) as well as Judy Murrays Knowing the Score: My Family and Our Tennis Story (Chatto & Windus 18.99) because, quite simply, she is inspirational, passionate and great fun. I admire her enormously and theres always the chance that my serve might improve.

Cornelia Parker

Dadland (Vintage 8.99) by Keggie Carew is a brilliant, bittersweet biography of her maverick, charismatic father Tom Carew. He was an undercover agent in Vichy France, a guerrilla fighter, Lawrence of Burma, and very possibly the inspiration for his friend Patricia Highsmiths infamous character Ripley. We Do Things Differently: The Outsiders Rebooting Our World (Profile 12.99) by Mark Stevenson is an inspiring book that makes you feel optimistic about the future; much needed at this moment in time. I have just finished reading Zeitoun (Penguin 9.99) by Dave Eggers a chilling factual account of a family caught up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and an indictment of Bushs America. I wonder how the inevitable climate-related disasters will fare under Trump?


Rohan Silva

You cant go wrong with Harriet Harmans wonderful autobiography A Womans Work (Allen Lane 20) its just so human and inspiring, and my favourite book of the year so far. The Nature Fix (WW Norton & Co 20) by Florence Williams is an ideal holiday pick too, chock-full of insights about the health benefits of spending time in nature. (It turns out that lying on the beach is good for you.) And if youre worried about the state of the world, Matthew Boltons brilliant How to Resist (Bloomsbury 9.99) shows how each of us can do our bit to fight populism.

As for me, Ill be packing Arundhati Roys new novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Hamish Hamilton 18.99), which Ive been saving for my travels. Im sure itll be worth the wait.

Carol Morley

When I go on holiday I love to read short stories. Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? (Granta 12.99) by the film-maker Kathleen Collins is a beautiful collection, written in the 60s and 70s, but unpublished in her lifetime. I also love the language and surprises in Irenosen Okojies collection Speak Gigantular (Jacaranda Books Art Music Ltd 8.99). For August, I have pre-ordered We That Are Young (Galley Beggar Press 9.99) by Preti Taneja. It sounds wonderful an epic family tale involving corruption and betrayal that looks to hold a mirror to our times.

Mark Haddon

I need you to read four books, so Ill be brief. The Man Booker-shortlisted Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (Oneworld 12.99) is a single afternoons disturbing read that will haunt you for weeks. Joe Moshenskas A Stain in the Blood: The Remarkable Voyage of Sir Kenelm Digby (Cornerstone 20) reads like a thrilling historical novel but amazingly happens to be nonfiction. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (Macmillan 20) is the best true-crime reportage and simultaneously the best memoir Ive read for several years. And The Unaccompanied by Simon Armitage (Faber 14.99) won me over completely after a period of several years in which I suffered a profound allergy to poetry of all kinds.

My own summer reading (during a week in Portugal and a week in Switzerland in an attempt to satisfy all family members) will be the new translation of The Arabian Nights by Malcolm C Lyons (Penguin Classics). Its three volumes of a thousand pages each so it may be my reading for the following summer as well.


Louise Doughty

Ive been reading a lot of nonfiction lately and three very different books that Ive admired are: The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (Macmillan 20), true crime in the same category as Truman Capote or Janet Malcolm; A Secret Sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney (Aurum Press 20), about friendship between famous female writers; and Hannah Lowes engaging cross-cultural memoir, Long Time No See (Periscope 9.99). Its time for some novels on holiday I think its going to be Croatia this year and were living in a golden age for genre-busting fiction, narrative-driven books that are still beautifully written. Among the many Im looking forward to catching up with are The Party by Elizabeth Day (4th Estate 12.99), The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig (Little, Brown 16.99) and two debuts, You Dont Know Me by Imran Mahmood (Michael Joseph 12.99) and Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney (Faber 14.99) good prose and a secret waiting to be unlocked are always a winning combination for me.

Laura Barnett

No suitcase should be without a copy of The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (Granta 12.99) one of the sharpest, most startlingly original novels Ive read in years. And while A Manual for Heartache by Cathy Rentzenbrink (Picador 8.99) might not sound like holiday reading, its the perfect choice for anyone keen to use the time off to make sense of any recent emotional upheaval.

Many people I respect have raved about Amy Liptrots The Outrun (Canongate 8.99), so Ill be taking that to a yoga retreat in Sweden. And Fran Coopers debut novel These Dividing Walls (Hodder & Stoughton 14.99) will be coming with me on a weekend trip to Paris: its set in the city, and I cant resist a location-appropriate holiday read.

Illustration by Giacomo Bagnara.

Marina Warner

I recommend: The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories, edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin (Solaris 10.99), entertaining, sexy, and mischievous; The Power (Penguin 12.99) an enthrallingly told Cassandra-like prophecy from the ever-inventive Naomi Alderman; and Lesley Nneka Arimahs tales, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (Headline 14.99), ranging from the memorably weird to the delicate and psychological. Ill be going to Sicily, and am packing Jerry Brotton, This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World (Allen Lane 20), which continues his brilliant recovery of the intertwined Mediterranean, and Jack Zipess Catarina the Wise (University of Chicago Press 15), a fabulous dish of frutti di mare.


Nick Hornby

Two books have stood out for me so far this year: Keggie Carews Dadland (Chatto & Windus 16.99) and Francesca Segals The Awkward Age (Chatto & Windus 14.99). Carews memoir about her father follows a winding, extraordinary path through the thickets of dementia and the jungles of Burma a thrilling, bloody, educative history of Churchills Special Operations Executive (AKA the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare) in the second world war combined ingeniously with a tender, moving, funny portrait of the authors father. Segals The Awkward Age is a very smart, soulful, compelling, elegantly written domestic novel about a wedged-together family, and what can go wrong when teenage children decide they have minds (and hormones) of their own. I will be sitting on a sun-lounger reading Glenn Frankels High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic(Bloomsbury 30), Naomi Aldermans The Power (Penguin 12.99), and one of the many classics that I have hitherto ignored, Willa Cathers Death Comes for the Archbishop (Virago 8.99).

Lucy Hughes-Hallett

I recommend A Bold and Dangerous Family (Chatto & Windus 20), Caroline Mooreheads humane and engrossing book about two brothers, both courageous anti-fascists, murdered by Mussolinis hit men. Also Standard Deviation (4th Estate 12.99) Katherine Heinys novel is a comic masterpiece and her Audra is the funniest heroine ever. A faltering marriage, a vulnerable child, an origami class full of seriously weird loners dark material transformed into pure gold by Heinys spot-on comic timing. Ill be in Suffolk rereading another comic masterpiece The Diary of a Nobody (Penguin 6.99) because Rough Haired Pointers hilarious stage version (directed by my daughter Mary Franklin) returns to the Kings Head Islington from 31 October.

Julie Myerson

Ive been writing a novel of my own, which means I can only allow in certain voices and so am woefully behind on reading, but Delphine de Vigans Based on a True Story (Bloomsbury 12.99) hit the exact right note: frighteningly honest, precise and thrilling. I hope to spend most of August by the bluest of blue seas in East Sussex where I will sit under a huge purple umbrella reading Elizabeth Strouts Anything Is Possible (Viking 12.99), Monique Roffeys The Tryst (Dodo Ink 8.99) and Richard Lloyd Parrys Ghosts of the Tsunami (Jonathan Cape 16.99) all of them enticing-sounding books by proper grown-up writers who arent afraid to go to uneasy places and whose work I have previously found so inspiring.


Frank Cottrell-Boyce

Andrew OHagans The Secret Life (Faber 14.99) brings together three brilliant pieces hes written about the impact of the digital world on our fleshly selves. They are written like thrillers freighted with challenging and urgent questions. In these dark times we have a responsibility to imagine what good times would look like. Rutger Bregmans Utopia for Realists (Bloomsbury 16.99) is a cheery rough guide to an archipelago of ideal societies. In my suitcase, as we head to the west of Ireland, is Walter Millers sci-fi classic about a future monastic society, A Canticle for Leibovitz (Orbit 9.99), and this years Carnegie winner, Ruta Sepetyss Salt to the Sea (Puffin 7.99) the story of the greatest maritime disaster of all time. On audible Ive got Stay With Me (Canongate 14.99) by Aybmi Adby.

Alex Preston

Im going to be speaking about a neglected classic Charles Sprawsons extraordinary literary history of swimming, Haunts of the Black Masseur (Vintage 9.99) on the brilliant Backlisted podcast in a few weeks time. Its the perfect poolside companion. If youre holidaying in more rugged terrain, how about Adam Nicolsons light-filled hymn to the birds of our coasts and oceans, The Seabirds Cry (HarperCollins 16.99)? I adored it. Finally, Ive been delighted to see Amanda Craigs The Lie of the Land (Little, Brown 16.99) being garlanded with such praise. Its a hell of a novel dark, gripping and beautifully written. For my own holidays in France, Ill be taking two advance proofs that have got me moist-palmed with anticipation. Ive read bits of Anthony McGowans The Art of Failing (Oneworld 12.99, out in September) and cant wait to immerse myself in this excruciating memoir of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. Kamila Shamsies new one, Home Fire (Bloomsbury 16.99, also September), reimagines Antigone in two modern Muslim families.

Linda Grant

The most memorable nonfiction work of the year so far has been Allan Jenkinss Plot 29(4th Estate 14.99), his account of a search for family and the solace of gardening which for me, as a new gardener, was an instructive pleasure. Gwendolyn Rileys First Love (Granta 12.99) is a tremendous novel with an unreliable narrator and one of the most enjoyable monsters in contemporary fiction, the mother, holding forth in a Liverpool cafe. Loved it. Ive come absurdly late to Henry James having developed an allergy reading The Ambassadors as a set university text. I expect to finish The Portrait of a Lady (Vintage, 6.99) in Fowey, Cornwall. So much more fun than Middlemarch.


Geoff Dyer

For long summer days I warmly recommend Gerard Revess hilariously gloomy The Evenings (originally published in Dutch in 1947 but only recently appearing in English courtesy of the Pushkin Press, 12.99). I see it as a Dutch version of Kafkas Metamorphosis in which the narrator who lives at home with his parents instead of turning into a giant bug undergoes a psychic disintegration which is all but unnoticeable on the outside. In the intriguingly titled Novel 11, Book 18 (Vintage 8.99) Norwegian writer Dag Solstad serves up another helping of his wan and wise almost-comedy. (Lydia Davis taught herself Norwegian entirely from his books.) My wife and I are heading that way-ish, to Iceland, where Ill be reading Raja Shehadehs Where the Line Is Drawn: Crossing Boundaries in Occupied Palestine (Profile 14.99).

Charlotte Mendelson

Reading has always been everything: until now. My concentration is shot; life is complicated, the news is so bad. Dozens of just-begun books pile up by my bed; the only two that gripped me to the end are Susie Steiners novel Persons Unknown (HarperCollins 12.99) and Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevichs The Fact of a Body(Macmillan 20). Holiday reading makes me panic at the best of times, which this is not. The classics I mean to bring Laxness, Chekhov will stay on the shelf. I can manage Elizabeth Strout, and Alys Fowlers Hidden Nature(Hodder & Stoughton 20); Im impatient for Maggie OFarrells memoir, I Am, I Am, I Am (Headline 16.99), out in August, and Alan Hollinghursts sixth novel The Sparsholt Affair (Picador, October). Please hurry; meanwhile its back to my crime stockpile, and trying to ignore the news enough to write.

Alastair Campbell

At the risk of coming over all Remainiac, I am recommending a French book as the best I have read this year. Lettres Anne by Franois Mitterrand (Gallimard 35), is a 1,200-page collection of the letters the former French president wrote to his mistress, Anne Pingeot, over the decades of their love affair. It is breathtakingly romantic at times. I would also recommend The End of Europe by James Kirchick (Yale University Press 18.99), a young Americans brilliant analysis of the dire state of world politics. The subtitle, Dictators, Demagogues and the Coming Dark Age, gives you a flavour. Putin, Trump and Brexit figure large, and Kirchick shares my exasperation that we are turning away from liberal values and the benefits of the EU. Top of my reading list for the summer is The Jacobite Trilogy by DK Broster. I have read the first of the three, Flight of the Heron. I have also got the new book about Emmanuel Macron, Un jeune homme si parfait, by Anne Fulda (Plon 15,90). And, yes, I am going to France.


Julian Baggini

Travel will for once broaden your mind this year if you pack Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperbers The Enigma of Reason (Allen Lane 25). It takes the new common sense that human beings are governed by irrational emotions and shows why these are not design flaws in the brain but design features. Erica Benners Be Like the Fox (Allen Lane 20) turns more conventional wisdom upside down by showing that Machiavelli was not as Machiavellian as you thought. Im hoping to be in post-deadline mode at home reading David Foster Wallaces essays on tennis, String Theory (Turnaround 16.99), ready to start watching the real thing if it disappoints.

Suzanne OSullivan

I will be alternating scuba diving with lots of reading on a Maldivian island this summer. I plan to take The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Pan 8.99). Henriettas story is extraordinary she changed the world without ever knowing it. I will also be reading Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt (Granta 12.99). Im a big admirer of deWitts originality. And I recommend In

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Fusing writing, music, art and technology, a new generation is taking poetry beyond the bookstore

If youre not an Instagrammer you may never have heard of Rupi Kaur. In fact, if youre not a young female Instagrammer, then your chances are probably even slimmer.

And yet, with almost 750,000 Instagram followers and more than half a million copies of her debut poetry collection, Milk and Honey, sold worldwide, Kaur is one of the biggest names on the literary scene right now.

Dubbed the queen of an emerging trend of Instapoets, this 24-year-old Indian-Canadian writer is leading the charge in an exciting new movement of young writers reclaiming poetry for the digital age.

Fierce as they are fleeting, Kaurs poems are the kind that can be read on a morning commute, a coffee break. Poems that can be screenshot and shared, re-blogged and repurposed.

With her posts gaining upwards of 50,000 likes a pop, it might be tempting to read their impact in simply viral terms transient and trivial, clickable and forgettable. But this would be to underestimate their impact on an emerging online readership.

In her spare, sweeping lines, Kaur boldly takes on issues of femininity, sexual assault, body image and racial discrimination. You/ have been/ taught your legs/ are a pit stop for men, she begins one of the opening poems in Milk and Honey. Dont tell me my women/ arent as beautiful/ as the ones in/ your country she concludes another.

A photo posted by rupi kaur (@rupikaur_) on

Her first taste of internet celebrity came when a photo of the young poet proudly sporting a period stain went viral. Kaur does not shy away from elements of the female experience that are deemed unspeakable. And, from the attention she is gaining both online and off, it seems this is just the kind of honest and empowering voice young women are looking for.

In the aftermath of the US election, Wendy Copes takedown of mansplaining, Differences of Opinion, was shared far and wide proving yet again that poetry resonates in troubled times. And across the world a new generation of feminist poets are going viral and changing the ways we view the impact of poetry in the new age.

In the UK, the young Somali-British poet Warsan Shire has shot to fame after featuring in Beyoncs internet-breaking Lemonade. Tackling issues of race, immigration, culture and relationships, Shires poetry has commanded attention from a diverse audience, from her 50,000 Tumblr and Twitter followers to elite literary gatekeepers, who named Shire Londons first-ever young poet laureate.

Over in Londons south-east, the poet, rapper and performer Kate Tempest is unleashing rapid-fire lyrical attacks on consumerism, inequality and injustice. From award-winning poetry collections, sellout hip-hop shows and YouTube spoken-word videos, to an opening slot at this years Sydney writers festival, which itself commanded global attention, Tempest is as prolific as she is shapeshifting breaking down the boundaries of what poetry is and can be in the current social order.

In the US, a new league of feminist slam poets such as Savannah Brown, Brenna Twohy, Lily Myers and Imani Cezanne are also taking on the system with their powerful spoken-word performances lyrical tirades on everything from sexism and beauty standards to resting bitch face.

This years inaugural Feminist writers festival in Melbourne highlighted growing demand for a diverse new set of feminist voices, with a lineup featuring the Afro-Caribbean-Australian slam poet and writer Maxine Beneba Clarke, the Cypriot-Australian poet and performer Koraly Dimitriadis and the young Indigenous poet and activist Nayuka Gorrie. And in New Zealand, poetrys latest it girl, Hera Lindsay Bird, is amassing a semi-cult online following for her smart, sassy and explicit takes on everything from female sexuality to Friends.

With their playful and fluid approaches to the poetic form fusing writing, music, art and technology these are poets youre just as likely to discover on your daily social media scroll as scouring the isles of a bookshop. They have looked around at a fractured world at the issues facing women, queer communities, people of colour or socioeconomic disadvantage and found new ways to project these concerns through poetry, into the spaces in which they will be noticed and shared.

In an online age overwhelmed with up-to-the-minute news, opinions, memes and videos, these young writers have returned to one of our most ancient literary forms as a way to cut through the noise and get their voices heard. If this is the direction poetry is moving in an increasingly technological era, the future is looking bright for a new canon of female poets.

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