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Coffee House Culture House Daily

Spectator competition: compose an elegy for an endangered profession (plus Jack Kerouac gets the golfing bug)

21 June 2014

9:30 AM

21 June 2014

9:30 AM

Competitors rose admirably to the recent challenge to step into the shoes of a well-known writer and submit a poem or piece of prose in praise or defence of something unexpected.

It was nice to glimpse a lighter side of Leonard Cohen courtesy of Martin Parker’s twist on ‘Bird on a Wire’, and Alanna Blake submitted a well-made Wordsworthian tribute to wind farms. Ernest Hemingway came out for the League Against Cruel Sports and against sobriety, and in J. Seery’s entry Barbara Cartland showed her true Marxist colours: ‘There is no phrase in English more sensuous than “dialectical materialism”’.

Other stellar performers were John Samson, Josephine Boyle, C.J. Gleed and Jamie Burnham, who restyled Arthur Ransome as a health-and-safety nut. The winners take £25 and Frank Upton earns the extra fiver.

Frank Upton/Jack Kerouac
My only witness, the damp grass. I close my eyes, let my nerves untangle, feel my breath fall into time with the slow throbbing futility of the universe. I know it is simple. I look, I focus on the small white sphere. There is a promise of flight, of trajectory, of leaving in order to be found again. I act alone. The pointlessness of this crazy business, its point. I swing. I am surprised at how easy it is. Easy, if I unhook myself. As my eyes follow the ball, my entire life arcs out into the uncaring sky, made real by gravity, pulled down and down, but magnificent. One day it will end, lost, destroyed, drowned in a ditch maybe. For now, happy. In my plaids, my brogues, grass-stained, driving, chipping, putting, arriving, leaving again, I am real, I make sense at last.

Rob Stuart/Keats
I wander oft amongst these stately aisles
Where one may many gourmet foods procure;
Entranc’d, I’d rather linger here than tour
The ruin’d temples of Aegean isles.
They ne’er run out of bread — there’s always
        piles —
Their fruit is ever fresh, their cheese mature,
The checkout girls are charming and demure,
And fairer still than Helen was, with smiles
That make each moment queuing seem a joy.
Potato waffles, Wotsits, Snickers bars,
Exotic oriental leaves — bok choi —,
And gherkins too, display’d in crystal jars;
Such dainties are the buyer’s to enjoy,
And stir me more than any grubby vase.

Bill Greenwell/Emily Brontë
I have remarked awhile, on ascending the local crags, how haggard are my neighbours; not by the effects of sin, or for lack of nourishment — for there is bread aplenty. It strikes me, however, that the purgatory these souls inhabit might well be rendered obsolete by strong drink. Vociferous although that might make them at evening, I fancy it might bring them to pleasure, where now there is melancholy. There are ales and spirits sufficient to rid them of their terrible exasperation, and the malignity of these liquors is much exaggerated, by curates and by doctors especially. Consequently there is much misery. I fairly expostulated with my father on the subject, but, finding no support, I have turned my hand to the construction of a still, having read that potatoes may produce, under proper circumstances, an efficacious gin. I own that I wish Haworth had more spring in its heels.

[Alt-Text]


Hugh King/John Betjeman
Through the cosy Chiltern country
Thrusts the thrilling HS2,
Concrete viaduct and gantry
Soon to brighten up the view.

Let Brunel look on in wonder
At the engineering skill
That allows such trains to thunder
Past Grim’s Ditch and Bacombe Hill.

Whizzing through Hyde Heath they’ll come,
Stupendous in their speed and power.
Thus the journey time to Brum
Is cut by up to half an hour.

Woe to stuffy opposition,
Like The Woodland Trust’s sad pleas,
Fuddy-duddies on a mission
Just to save a few old trees.

Sylvia Fairley/Dylan Thomas
Do not go mental, bingeing through the night,
Imbibing liquor every drunken day,
Rage, rage against it, sign the pledge and fight.

Don’t learn too late, but know the way that’s right;
Defeat the demon drink without delay,
Do not go mental, bingeing through the night.

For total abstinence will ease your plight
And crush the evil beast, keep it at bay;
Rage, rage against it, sign the pledge and fight.

And when you see the creeping signs of blight:
Your brain’s a mess, you’re prematurely grey,
Do not go mental, bingeing through the night

Grave men, take heart, for I have seen the light;
In praise of temperance, I’ll lead the way,
Do not go mental, bingeing through the night,
Rage, rage against it, sign the pledge and fight.

Alan Millard/e.e. cummings
next to of course god mister gove i
love you futuring the past as be-
ing where it is and me oh man i buy
it. no more grammarblind i see
just where youse backwards going to
which is (damascus roadwise) why
i’ll kidlike batandball along with you
and ‘i’ my dots from here on now by
gollygosh i will. you mister gove
(britannia shake the spear) have shown
the world your eng lit treasure trove
which being never ruleless rules alone
and leaves us (fools too late learn)
rueing all (god save america) we strove
to write — so (stripped of stars) we turn
to you the master teacher mister gove

Your next challenge is to submit an elegy for an endangered profession. Entries of up to 16 lines should be emailed to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 2 July.

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