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Spectator competition winners: poems about HS2

7 December 2015

6:30 PM

7 December 2015

6:30 PM

The idea to ask for poems about HS2 came to me as I was listening on YouTube to W.H. Auden’s poem ‘Night Mail’, which he wrote to accompany a section of the terrific 1936 documentary about the London to Glasgow Postal Special directed by Basil Wright and Harry Watt (who described Auden as looking like a ‘half-witted Swedish deckhand’).
Not altogether surprisingly, the tone of the entry was less celebratory than Auden’s, with the notable exception of Carolyn Thomas-Coxhead’s prize-winning submission, written in the finest MacGonagallese. Her fellow victors are rewarded with £30 apiece and George Simmers snaffles the extra fiver.

George Simmers
There’s a thunder down the line at eleven fifty
      nine,
And there’ll be another due at twelve o-six.
Yes, several times each hour a train of massive
      power
Is hurtling busy townies through the sticks,
And leering through the glass of a window in
      first class
(At meadows trashed and woodlands bulldozed
      flat)
Is a vicious tabby gent claiming dubious descent
From Skimbleshanks, the famous Railway Cat.
His moggy grin is mirthless, mocking dwellings
      rendered worthless
By the track that’s scarred the centre of the
      nation.
Skimble Junior (‘Call me Skimby!’) hisses scorn
      for every nimby
Who’s inclined to sob at rural devastation.
There’s no mercy in his features for otters or
      such creatures
Who have lost their fine and ancient habitat.
‘Businessmen demand a beeline!’ mews this
      hard efficient feline,
Skimble Junior, the modern high-speed cat.

Basil Ransome-Davies
It’s as pointless as cheating at patience,
As cuckoo as ironing the cat,
A businessmen’s scheme, a commercial wet
      dream
In the shape of a formal diktat.

Though the magic words ‘northern’ and
      ‘powerhouse’,
Pronounced like a mystical spell,
Are combined to inspire, setting all hearts on
      fire,
They exude a pestiferous smell.


Prepare for those time and cost overruns
As it links cities already linked
But at much greater speed, like a junkie in need,
All reason and judgment extinct.

Perhaps in some dim, distant future
A drone locomotive will zoom
Through environments grey with exhausted
      decay
And a dreamlike, Ballardian gloom.

D.A. Prince
This monster-clogging transportation
with costs outstripping past inflation,
loading despair on expectation
across the whole mistrustful nation;
this can’t be simply job creation
to give a workless population
something for hope and exultation
instead of permanent stagnation;
this hare-brained scheme is suffocation
of countryside and preservation,
revealing London’s concentration
on rural life’s elimination;
the HS2 is pure damnation
from birth to final destination.

And what would bring us some elation?
An end to this embuggeration.

Carolyn Thomas-Coxhead
All success to the project HS2!
It’s designed by Her Majesty’s Government for
      people like me and you
Who want to get very quickly from London to
      Leeds
And be able to do so in great comfort, all built
      on the proceeds
Of enormous private investment and revenue
      streams
(’Tis one of the Department for Transport’s
      greatest dreams)
Which is very good news since it looks as though
      it’ll cost dear
And George Osborne hopes that China will see
      its way clear
To stump up for some of those three hundred
      and fifty one miles of new track
Which will pass through, under or above several
      beautiful places, to which some cry ‘Alack!’
These high speed trains are most beautiful to see
And may possibly prove quite handy for people
      like you and me.

Brian Allgar
Well, here I am, in keen anticipation
Of travelling on the splendid High-Speed train.
Gone are the days of feckless cancellation
Provoked by fallen leaves, or heavy rain,
Or unexpected sunlight on the rails,
Or snow, or fog. We’ll soon be setting off…
But shouldn’t it be here?
The speaker wails
And crackles into life; a furtive cough,
A disembodied voice: ‘Regrettably,
For passengers who’ve booked with HS2,
The train that was announced on Platform Three
Is cancelled. We apologise. It’s due
To fallen leaves and snow at Watford Junction
And unexpected sun in Kentish Town,
Which caused a massive system-wide
      malfunction
And brought our whole computer network
      down.’

Your next challenge is to submit an acrostic poem containing some predictions for the next decade, in which the first letters of the lines read NOSTRADAMUS. Please email entries, wherever possible, to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 30 December.


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