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

Books: Myth in the making: Ted Hughes has always had his doubts about criticism, but this first collection of prose gives the remarkable range of his work over 30 years, as well as insight into his motives and methods

ONE NIGHT, as a student at Cambridge, Ted Hughes had a strange dream. For some time he had been finding his weekly essay a torment to write, and once again he had ended up sitting over a blank page till 2 am before giving up and going to bed. He dreamt that a fox - a very large fox, as big as a wolf - walked into the room on hind legs. It looked as if it had just stepped out of a furnace, its body charred, its eyes full of pain. It came up to his desk, laid a bleeding hand on the blank page, and said: 'Stop this - you are destroying us.'

INTERVIEW / He knows his words' worth: William Scammell has given up his day job to try to wring a livelihood from his verse. He'd be better off taking photos on the QE2

At the age of 54, William Scammell has become a full-time poet. Given up his day job. Henceforth, he'll be hanging on by his words. Pretty brave. Only a handful of poets live full time by their poetry. Perhaps another 50 call themselves poets, but they have other jobs.

Best Buy: Conger Eel

'CONGER EEL', one of the illustrations from the first edition of a new book, The Mermaid's Purse, with 28 poems by Ted Hughes and 28 illustrations by R J Lloyd. Only 100 copies in a cloth-bound slipcase have been printed; they cost pounds 85 each including p & p. Hughes and Lloyd are old friends who have done two other books together, but the commercial edition of this book will have black-and-white illustrations by a different artist. The first edition is thus an instant collector's item, obtainable from The Sunstone Press, Iffield House, North Road, Bideford, Devon EX39 2NW (tel: 0237 472435).

Diary: Sylvia's battling biographers

IT IS now 30 years since the suicide of Sylvia Plath, but the public's interest in her life has not waned. Nor have people lost interest in the many biographers who have fought with Ted Hughes, Plath's former husband, for the right to tell the unexpurgated story. So far, only one biography - Bitter Fame, by Anne Stevenson - has received the Poet Laureate's blessing, and that book failed to receive critical acclaim. Depending on whom you believe, here is the reason.

Door closes on memory game

NATASHA DIOT, 16, was annoyed at herself for forgetting the door. If she had remembered to go through that door, she would have found the four playing cards she left in the room behind it. Then she could have remembered the whole pack, but even that would not have stopped Dominic O'Brien from retaining his title as World Memory Champion at Simpson's restaurant in the Strand in London yesterday.

POETRY LIBRARY QUIZ WINNERS

The winner of a weekend for two in Dublin is Brian Docherty of Crouch End, London; the second prize goes to Peg Topping of Bournemouth; and the five runners-up prizes to Nigel Bartlett of West Hampstead, London; Ivy Dennett-Thorpe of Felixstowe; Sue Deakin of London NW11; Mrs S C Gibb of Tiverton, Devon; and Mr P Thompson of Stoke Newington, London.

England's not the country, nor the country England

THAT word again. The death of Bobby Moore, England's hero. Golden-haired, a gentle giant, a great Englishman. Sport, where Britain supports different national teams, has become one of the few areas where an uncomplicated celebration of Englishness is permissible. It is only a mild exaggeration to call England the submerged nation.

BOOK REVIEW / Lonesome Larks and the Fabulous Rosina: Anthony Lane reads the letters of Philip Larkin, and takes refuge in the poems: Selected letters of Philip Larkin 1940-85 - Ed. Anthony Thwaite: Faber pounds 20

SO NOW we know. There we were, thinking of Philip Larkin as a poet of great gifts and a bachelor of modest means, and all the while, curled snivelling in the corner, sat his monstrous crime: failure to purchase a wireless licence in 1954. Worse still, he admired Patience Strong and enjoyed watching Miss World, an intriguing combination. Above all, he had mauve sheets on his bed: 'I shall have to wear the mauve pyjamas to match.' Was there no end to this man's calumny. Why didn't they lock him up?
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