Last June when I arrived at Lumb Bank, a forbidding granite farmhouse above Hebden Bridge, the house manager Becky didn't take my luggage, but she did take a weight off my shoulders: "There's no television, radio or internet connection here," she mentioned breezily as she showed me to a small, sparse bedroom. It struck me then that a holiday might be as simple as removing the white noise of everyday life for a while. And that, I thought guiltily, includes my two small children whom I had left with my wife. But guilt passes. And in my case, quickly.
Last Letter has been revealed, but is it what he would have wanted
Ted Hughes's poem "Last Letter", newly discovered in the British Library, is a shattering piece of work. Not because it's the first piece of writing in which he addressed the circumstances of Sylvia Plath's suicide. Not because it tracks through the last three days of her unhappy life on earth. Not even because it's a great poem, although it has moments of Parnassian brilliance. What makes it an emotionally draining experience is the tension it embodies, between what the angry, distraught, bewildered husband Ted Hughes wants to say about his wife's final hours, and what the cool, judicious, focused poet Ted Hughes will allow himself to say about them for posterity. Wordsworth said poetry was "emotion recollected in tranquillity". I don't believe I've ever read a poem in which emotion was so obviously recollected in anguish and turmoil, barely contained by the formal requirements of line, sense and rhythm.
The late poet laureate Ted Hughes would have been 80 this month, and to mark the occasion, The Independent is giving you the chance to listen to and download an exclusive new drama by Made in Manchester/Dark Smile.
Mad dashes and flying colours
Since she last appeared at the National six years ago, Helen Mirren has become a dame and played the Queen. So she's no stranger to the purple in Jean Racine's great classical 17th-century tragedy about a dysfunctional royal expiring with incestuous love for her stepson.
Mirren's purple patch comes to an end
The <i>IoS's</i> literary editor, Katy Guest, considers how Carol Ann Duffy will handle the 'poisoned chalice' of being the new Poet Laureate