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Spectator competition winners: Pam Ayres meets John Milton

30 January 2016

9:30 AM

30 January 2016

9:30 AM

The latest brief, to submit up to 16 lines of verse that are the fruit of a collaboration between two poets (living or dead) was open to interpretation — which clearly drove Andrew Duncan-Jones potty:

They fuck you up, these blasted comps
Whose rubrics make you scratch your head.
So do they want poetic romps
Penned by one living and one dead?
Or should they be equivalent —
Both buggers dead, or both alive?
The spec. is so ambivalent,
How can we struggling compers thrive?

Still, ambiguity produced a varied entry. Some of you submitted centos (poems comprised of lines from existing poems); others imagined a pair of poets co-writing a new work incorporating the styles and/or themes of both and elements of existing poems. And while some match-made poets with similar preoccupations; others saw the attraction in opposites. Here’s Warren Clements’s Poe putting the dampers on Wordsworth’s daffs:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky —
Or would, if this infernal cold
Weren’t death for such as I.
The daffodils their magic spread
Through vale and over hill.
And soon they will be dry and dead,
The stragglers limp and ill…

It was clever and engaging stuff, and narrowing down such an impressive field to just six was a long and painful process. The following would have been worthy winners had there only been more space: W.J. Webster, Katie Mallett, David Silverman, Alanna Blake, G.M. Southgate, Martin John, G.M. Davis, Basil Ransome-Davies and Brian Murdoch. Those printed below earn £25 each.

George Simmers, John Betjeman and Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Steel from Sheffield, hearts from Woking
Take the valley like a storm.
Last night they drank champagne and brandy;
Last year they bullied in the dorm.
Half a league and half a league more,
Though the air is thick as cake
With cannonballs instead of currants.
Surely there is some mistake?
Six hundred soldiers ask no questions;
Smoke and terror parch their throats.
Mr Russell of the Times
Is very busy making notes.
That night the colonel writes a letter;
It will make the whole world lurch.
The family will place a simple
Tablet in St Leonard’s Church.


Mike Morrison, Emily Dickinson and T.S. Eliot
Dear Tom – in Truth I craved — your Gloom
How came you — by such Fun?
The fog was in the fir trees, Em
So nothing could be done.
Because I do not hope to turn
Fear not — I turn for you
I am that patient, etherized
Yes — I have been there too —
I died for Beauty — but you know —
Tell me, went all things well?
Earmarked — I found Eternity —
Me, short-listed for Hell.
Why write we thus — poor Poets
Misunderstood, forlorn?
We should have met before we died
Or better — not been born

Chris O’Carroll, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning
I love thee with a heart that overflows,
With all the vital passion of a soul
That reaches upward toward a higher goal,
And ever greens and flowers as it grows.

I will not stoop to say what I require
Of you for such a love. Do you admire
Alike all works of nature and of art?
Or do you place one foremost in your heart?
I love thee with the warmth of every breath
I love thee with my laughter and my tears,
With all my present, past, and future years,
I love thee living, dying, and after death.

You are a thing of more than mortal beauty,
And yet you do not comprehend the duty
You owe my love. But let what may befall,
You will look splendid painted on my wall.

Alan Millard, Thomas Hardy and Lewis Carroll
Westering forth from Beeny, now the sun,
Foreshadowing twilight gloom sinks in the sea.
‘I think,’ the whiting, says ‘it’s time for tea,’
And, being kind, he gives the snail a bun.

Faltering forwards, never more to glance
Upon her face, for ever lost from view,
The puzzled whiting wonders what to do
And sighs, ‘Oh will you, won’t you, join the
      dance?’

As was her way in former days, she parts
Yet, seemingly, no more to reappear;
‘Oh dear, oh dear!’ the whiting cries, ‘I fear
That naughty snail has taken all the tarts.’

Then, veiled in dusk, before his startled eyes
He sees her shimmering spectre standing there.
So off they trot, this merry little pair,
To dine on toasted snark and treacle pies.

Rob Stuart, John Milton and Pam Ayres
O teeth, I would I’d shown thee better care,
Else seal’d my lips to form a bulwark ’gainst
Such sweetmeats as have spell’d thy gradual
      doom.
Are any of thee worthy still to claim
The name of tooth when thou art chiefly made
Of precious metals, not of natural stuff?
If only I had used my purse to buy
More wholesome fare, or scour’d thee with a
      brush
In such a manner as I’d been advis’d,
That perfect string of lustrous pearls the Lord
Benevolently gifted me in youth
Might yet endure entire within my maw:
This dread contraption would not be my seat
And nor these chasmal nostrils now my view.

Frank McDonald, A.E. Housman and William Wordsworth

Where are those blue, remembered hills
Where I espied my daffodils,
When, lonely as a cloud, I’d go
To see the cherry hung with snow?
They were a phantom of delight,
Like Shropshire lads all gone from sight,
Blooms from the land of lost content
To be a moment’s ornament.
Earth has not anything more fair
Than these, and oh that I were there!
My heart leapt up, but now it’s sad
For I am not a lightfoot lad.
Young rustics more alive than I
By springs of Dove go gaily by
And so with rue my heart is sore
For over brooks I’ll leap no more.

Your next challenge is to submit a Valentine’s triolet. (The wording of the repeated lines should be identical, but the punctuation may vary.) Please email entries, wherever possible, to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 10 February.


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