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Could this have been an act of sabotage by the outraged burghers of bucolic Stedham, deep in the Sussex countryside?

A birthday encounter

Together at last: Princess Margaret, who will be 65 on Monday, and the Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, who came of pensionable age last Thursday. Miles Kington chanced upon them at the Palace

Oaks and boles and other royal nursery rhymes

WHEN you spot a gnomic headline like "'Mighty tree' tribute to Queen Mother" it can mean only one thing: the poet laureate, Ted Hughes, has written a set of execrable verses to mark a royal occasion. His latest, in honour of the Queen Mother's 95th birthday, opens with one of those brain-teasing images that are an obligatory feature of the form.

Business types everywhere would benefit by listening to a chap with a Ted Hughes accent and a David Lodge haircut declaiming poetry

I am lost in admiration for Mr David Whyte, a pugnacious-looking Yorkshireman, who has successfully penetrated the defences of half-a-dozen philistine multinationals to bring poetry into the souls of company executives. Mr Whyte is the author of The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of Self in Corporate America, one of that peculiar brand of inspirational tomes (Iron John, the tree-hugger's and armpit-sniffer's manual, springs lethargically to mind) that periodically takes the Yank bestseller lists by storm.

BOOKS: All those sermons in stones

William Scammell on grunting for God, weather, marriage and schoolboy japes in some of the new collections

THE GOOD, THE GREAT & THE UGLY No. 99 Ted Hughes

What exactly is new about the new Ted Hughes Selected Poems?

POETRY: Catching Daphne

AFTER OVID: New Metamorphoses eds Michael Hofmann & James Lasdun, Faber £14.99

TALKING BOOKS

ONE small explosion in British publishing during 1994 was in books on tape. Gone are the days when recorded literature meant jerkily abridged novels by the very dead intoned with full RSC elocution, or perkily put across by some soap star. Publis hers are matching the huge appeal of authors reading their own work - both poetry and prose - with the hi-tech realities of life, which mean that many people have more time to listen than to read. Good books have become a performance art.

On this day:

Huguenots and Catholics clashed when the Battle of Dreux was fought, 1562; Toulon was recaptured by Napoleon Buonaparte from Alexander Hood, 1793; during the American-British war of 1812, the Toronto parliament building was set alight, and Fort Ni agara was taken by the British, 1813; the United States recognised the independence of Hawaii, 1842; in the New Hebrides, over 500 people were killed following a volcanic eruption, 1913; the German luxury liner Columbus was scuttled by her crew after bei ng intercepted by a British destroyer, 1939; the British evacuated Penang, 1941; an air service between London and Moscow was begun, 1957; eight crew members were drowned from the Penlee lifeboat and eight people from the Union Star coaster, Cornwall 19

BOOK REVIEW / In the biographer's laboratory: 'The Silent Woman' - Janet Malcolm: Picador, 14.99 pounds

TOWARDS the end of The Silent Woman: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, Janet Malcolm describes the mood in which we habitually read biography as one of 'bovine equanimity'. One thing that can be said about her intensely compelling, intensely uncomfortable book is that she makes damn sure we can't read it in this complacent state of mind.

Books: An uncollected poem by Sylvia Plath

By the early summer of 1957, just before she took her Tripos exams at Cambridge, Plath had become a fairly regular contributor of poems and stories to Granta, as well as being published in various American periodicals. It was a happy time in her life; her letters home are full of optimism and excitement at the literary success both she and Ted Hughes were enjoying. This poem, one of several she wrote at the time, appeared in Granta at the request of Michael Frayn, but has apparently never been reprinted.

Books: Everything but the truth - While Sylvia Plath's poetic fame grows and grows, a new book shows how her life story is 'trapped for ever at the terrible raw moment of her suicide'

SOMETHING like 20 years ago, I was invited by Faber & Faber to consider writing a biography of Sylvia Plath. My response was cautious, but the idea interested me. I had published one biography of a great woman, Mary Wollstonecraft, whose story mixed personal tragedy with high achievement; and Plath was another such, a true and extraordinary poet who had also gone to a terrible death.

Schools' modern book list cut to 12 authors

A NEW book list of 20th-century writers containing only 12 authors - all British and all male except one - has been recommended by government advisers for use in schools from next autumn.

Memory champion sets world record

THE professional memory man Dominic O'Brien was beaten at his own card game yesterday, losing his world title to an Oxford student.

Contest to remember

The world memory championships opened yesterday at Simpson's-in-the-Strand, the London restaurant. Among other tests, contestants, aged 16 to 50, were required to memorise, with punctuation, a specially written 40-line poem by Ted Hughes. Leading at the half-way stage was Dominic O'Brien, current champion, who broke his previous record by recalling the first 142 random digits from a list of 300 after they had been spoken once.

POETRY / For crying out loud: Poets have never had it so good, but can the same be said of those who pay to hear them read their work? Some poets should never be allowed to move from the page to the stage, while others add a new dimension to their art in performance. Michael Glover surveys the good, the bad and the fuddy

Once upon a time poetry in the West was locked inside books, savoured in the mind alone. Only in Russia, it seems, has it been a public art in our century, big and popular enough to pull crowds and engage with surges of feeling. Only Yevtushenko was seen as a challenge to the public order. Now, even in the West, that is changing. Public readings of poetry have reached unprecedented levels of popularity: every day, in London alone, there is usually at least one reading at one of several venues - the Voice Box in the South Bank Centre; the Troubadour Cafe on the Old Brompton Road; the Torriano Meeting House in Kentish Town or the Poetry Society's curiously narrow and confining reading room on Betterton Street, Covent Garden. The list goes on. But what are the consequences of all this? An increase in the sale of books, undoubtedly. But also a bringing to ground of what many people have regarded as an aery, abstracted discipline, the humanising of an art that has looked cold and cerebral on the page.
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