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Parenting

Forward prize winner Fiona Benson: ‘It’s still taboo to talk about rape and women’s bodies’

The poet, who wrote her winning collection in almost a single sitting, talks about motherhood, sexual violence and using poetry to process trauma

Fiona Benson’s second volume of poems, Vertigo & Ghost, which this week won the Forward prize for best collection, is so full of small, blindingly bright explosions that sometimes you almost drop the book. On the morning after winning the £10,000 prize, the author is suffering from a headache – brought on by adrenaline rather than alcohol – and is full of praise for her fellow shortlisted writers (there are Forward prizes for first collection and best poem, as well for best collection). These include Jay Bernard, Ilya Kaminsky, Raymond Antrobus and Holly Pester, “who read an amazing poem at the award ceremony, about an abortion – it was ragged and raw and beautiful”, she says. “Poetry is so rich and healthy and diverse at the moment.”

In person Benson is quietly spoken, often ending an answer to a question with an apology – “sorry for the feminist rant” – or by checking to make sure she’s been clear. She describes herself as a “private person” living in Devon with her husband and two daughters, but her poems, written “as if nobody is listening”, are exposing. They peel away at the layers of the female body and examine, tenderly yet unflinchingly, its murky chambers. There’s a poem about the “ridged outer labyrinth”, the “intimate, violet latch” of the narrator’s placenta; another called “Ruins”, which describes the worn landscape of a post-partum body, its “inflamed trenches / and lost dominions”.

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Read more: theguardian.com

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Parenting

From sex to money: the eight deep discussions that can save a dying relationship

John and Julie Gottman have devised dates for ailing couples – but how many are ready for this level of openness and sincerity?

How often do we really talk to our partners? About the big stuff, not about childcare arrangements, or what the funny noise coming from the fridge means? According to a study at the University of California, Los Angeles, couples with small children, and who both have careers, talk for just 35 minutes a week, and mainly about errands. That study, says John Gottman, “alarmed” him and his wife, Julie. “It seemed like couples who had been together a long time were not taking care of the relationship – their curiosity in one another had died,” he says.

Gottman, the renowned relationships researcher known for his work on divorce predictors, and Julie Schwartz Gottman, a psychologist, have been married for 32 years. They founded the Gottman Institute, which conducts research and trains therapists. Their Gottman method is an approach designed to repair and deepen relationships, concentrating on three main areas – “friendship, conflict management and creation of shared meaning”. They have also written many books, together and separately. Their latest book, which they wrote as a couple, is Eight Dates. It guides couples through eight conversations – to have on dedicated dates – on the big issues such as sex, parenting and how to handle conflict. It was partly sparked by the rise of online dating and to provide new couples with a roadmap to navigate tricky subjects, but mainly to give long-term couples a project to steer their relationship to a better place. “Couples who have been together for quite a long time create a relationship that grows stale with time, and they lose track of one another,” says Julie. “People evolve over time. They change.”

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Read more: theguardian.com

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Parenting

‘I thought losing my virginity would be rape’: inside Christian purity guides

The youth movement that swept US churches in the 1990s also spawned many anti-dating books. Now, some writers are losing faith in ‘the Mike Pence rule’

Joshua Harris was just 22 in 1997 when he published I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a dating guidebook for young Christians that advised them to do anything but. Dating was a “training ground for divorce”, he argued in the book, which sold almost 1m copies worldwide. It also made Harris a superstar in the Christian purity movement, a pro-abstinence crusade that began in evangelical churches in the 1990s and became well-known in the purity ring-wearing hands of Jessica Simpson and the Jonas Brothers. Many authors came after Harris – John and Stasi Eldredge, Hayley DiMarco, Tim and Beverly LaHaye – all of them in the US, where religious publishing is worth $1.22bn (£1bn) a year.

Now 44, Harris made headlines this week when he revealed he no longer considers himself a Christian. He has been issuing apologies for his own books over the last decade, even making a documentary called I Survived Kissing Dating Goodbye. On his Instagram this week, he wrote: “I have lived in repentance for the past several years – repenting of my self-righteousness, my fear-based approach to life, the teaching of my books, my views of women in the church, and my approach to parenting to name a few.”

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Read more: theguardian.com

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Parenting

Kitchen experiments with the kids – just the thing for half-term

Edible slime, jelly worms, ‘unicorn noodles’: what better way to entertain children than by making a mess in the name of science?

The last time I did science in the home with an 11-year-old, something happened that I can’t tell you about until the person whose chair it was has died. That is my abiding conclusion about the natural sciences: they stain, and don’t let anybody ever tell you they won’t.

Nevertheless, I have just undertaken science in the kitchen – nudged by a new book, The Kitchen Science Cookbook by Michelle Dickinson – because I have exhausted all the other ways of getting them to join me there. “This dish reminds me of evenings spent making bechamel with my mother, her apron brushing against my cheek as we spake of fat and its magical alchemy,” said every cookbook ever, but my parenting is much more in the Johnny Ball style: “Kids, you can’t teach them anything, but they learn everything from you.” I’m still in phase one: they will not touch my wisdom with a bargepole. C, 11, will enter the kitchen for anything that ends in a cake, but then we just end up with a load of cake. H, nine, will promise me the moon on a stick, then get distracted by a bee. T, 11, thinks it is emasculating to crack an egg. It wasn’t for the science that I tried a new tack; it was just for the company. Plus it was half-term, and you have to keep them occupied somehow.

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Read more: theguardian.com