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The love song of TS Eliot: intense letters reveal the passion behind the pen

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The great poet’s newly released missives to his lost love put the lie to his aloof image – but were dismissed by the man himself as fantasy

To many who knew him, TS Eliot was considered a remote and intellectually aloof man, as perhaps befitted the author of the bleak and foreboding epic The Waste Land. His contemporary, the poet Siegfried Sassoon, went as far as to describe him as “cold-storaged humanity”.

But previously unpublished letters show that the great modernist writer was actually an intensely emotional and passionate man.

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TheDimPause
27 days ago
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Aberdare, UK
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DBC Pierre: 'You can be shut down from life because of one mistake'

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BC Pierre is the author of seven books, including Release the Bats, a guide to writing fiction, and Vernon God Little, which won the Booker prize in 2003. At the ceremony, Pierre (born Peter Finlay in Australia in 1961) pledged his prize money to friends he had duped during an itinerant past life as a self-confessed conman and addict; his initials stand for Dirty But Clean. He spoke to me from his current home in Cambridgeshire, where he wrote his latest novel, Meanwhile in Dopamine City, a satirical dystopia about a widowed sewage worker struggling to raise two children in an age of digital innovation run riot.

What led you to send up big tech and the internet, or “the grid”, as it’s called in the book?

I’d love to write a book about butterflies or something, but I [got] so incensed about what’s happening. About five years ago it became clear that for many reasons the notion of us all having a voice [online] was going to take a different route than we had expected, because of brain chemistry and mob culture and what suited the profit motive... I’m not in any way a technophobe: this is about the extremely alarming agenda behind [online] technologies. We’re running around saying we suddenly have a voice [but] the internet infantilises you – you’re automatically a teenager when you use any of these [social media] tools. They are geared that way: we’re creatures who love an idea much more than a fact, and so we can ignore a whole lot of facts. As a novelist I’m daunted because it’s impossible... well, it was impossible to write satire 20 years ago, to be fair.

You’re finding your creative resources more stretched than when you wrote Vernon God Little?

Oh yeah, for sure. I made the mistake, for about a year of writing this, of thinking, I’m just gonna look five, 10 years ahead. So I invented some cool stuff; by the end of that year, all of those [made-up] technologies were old news.

Early on in the book, the protagonist finds himself branded an abuser after he smacks his daughter.

Lonnie was brought up in a liberal world of second chances. My life is built from second chances; I wouldn’t be speaking to you but for having been forgiven and helped off the floor and back on my feet. I believe that’s the correct way, [but] that’s being thrown out very quickly. You can be shut down from life on the basis of one mistake.


Lonnie is worried that his daughter is growing up too fast...He’s like a Commodore 64, and his code suddenly doesn’t run on the modern system, whereas the kids are born with Windows 10, and he’s got to work out that code. He’s been symbolically down in a tunnel during the years of change, working in the sewers – I had to put him in a physical tunnel to make that [symbolism] stick – and now he’s above ground forcibly [he loses his job] and discovering that the world has shifted. He’s justifiably concerned. It’s bound to be the feeling of a person from my generation, but my feeling is that [Lonnie’s] coding was more benign and noble than we give it credit for, and endowed with more freedom.

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TheDimPause
49 days ago
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Aberdare, UK
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Poem of the week: Welcome to Donetsk by Anastasia Taylor-Lind

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A poet and photojournalist reflects on her experiences working in Ukraine, both in 2014 and now

Welcome to Donetsk

You teach me this wartime trick –
to look for living pot plants
in the windows on Kievska Avenue.
Most are crisped and brown.

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TheDimPause
60 days ago
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Aberdare, UK
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IPES food report: The Politics of Protein

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TheDimPause
64 days ago
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Aberdare, UK
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TS Eliot’s The Waste Land issues weather warning for our times

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A century on, modernist poem’s visions of a desiccated landscape still resonate today

Weather plays a key role in TS Eliot’s modernist classic The Waste Land. Its centenary is being celebrated now, even though it was published in October 1922, because of the poem’s famous opening line: “April is the cruellest month ...”

April is notoriously changeable and can bring anything from warm sunshine to plant-killing frost. Eliot finds it cruel, though, because it forces the world, which has slept peacefully through winter, back to life, “stirring dull roots with spring rain”.

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TheDimPause
70 days ago
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Aberdare, UK
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Plague poems, defiant wit and penis puns: why John Donne is a poet for our times

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Master of the Revels at a time of persecution, Donne broke new ground with poems that burst with sexual desire and intellectual curiosity

It was 1593 and John Donne was 21: tall, dark and exquisitely moustached. He was studying law at the Inns of Court in central London, and was living high. He excelled at the business of frivolity and was elected Master of the Revels, in charge of putting on pageantry and wild parties for his fellow scholars, with raucous singing and drunken dancing of the galliard. (The dance, which involved great leaps and kicks and spins, was Queen Elizabeth’s favourite: she was said, even in her 50s, to dance “six or seven galliards in a morning”.) He was writing, for a group of male friends, rakish poetry that was beginning to make him known.

But as the year went on, the plague was spreading: the theatres were ordered to close, the bear-baiting to cease. In the streets officials wielded 3ft-long marshal wands, to swat at people who weren’t social distancing. Donne wrote to a friend a lament for the city’s swagger:

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TheDimPause
70 days ago
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Aberdare, UK
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