The latest competition called for a sonnet that has the name of a tree hidden in every line. This fiendish challenge, which was suggested by a reader, drew a large entry — and the following envoi from Alanna Blake: ‘Gor blimey, not the easiest of romps!/ But, Lucy, press on with these teasing comps.’
We had room for seven winners this week. High fives to unlucky losers John Priestland, Nicholas Hodgson and Matt Quinn; 20 quid each to those below; Frank McDonald takes the bonus fiver.
The Roman gods were wittier than ours;
They could appear in shapes that fooled our
Bamboozling hapless maidens with their powers
And giving those that pined some recompense.
Our little planet offered loads of fun,
And gods would often plump for competition,
Confirming they were masters of their art,
Clashing with fools who showed too much
They were the richest, nuttiest divines,
Who did not tax us with demands for love.
They fathered budding heroes and gave signs
That lust can figure in great minds above.
If only we could sup as gods once did
Or trace real truths that from our eyes lie hid.
Bid me to live, nor yet in passion die,
Your treasures shine, ne’er keep them locked away;
Your voice, in sweetness, charmed larks from the
When you appeared and sang a roundelay.
And as the bee charts routes through nectar’d
To sip each honey’d cup in dappled shade,
I’ll choose the plumpest buds that nature yields,
To pin e’en next your breast, where ne’er they’ll
Your prisoner; I’ll find a certain peace,
Come — love or chide me, let the sentence start,
For you will own the terms of my release,
My bonds, when cloaked in lust, confine my heart.
But when I hear your husband turn the key
I’m overwhelmed with longing to be free.
The cold grey logs of my once roaring fires
Herald a wrinkled brow and liver spots,
A crown far balder than a plank, spare tyres
Pleated like pelmets, corns, arthritis, clots,
Dull ears and rheumy eyes, a crumbling spine,
Peg-teeth condemned to Bircher muesli, soup
And mushy peas. Boy-racer in decline,
Must I, resigned to spattered slime and gloop,
Despair of looking spruce? Whoever said
Our elders were our betters didn’t dream
These golden years meant nappy rash ahead
And sores that weep like willows by a stream.
My box lies waiting for the final chop.
But life’s a beech — I’ll climb until I drop.
Through chancel arch I saw the shrine arrayed
With bread, fruit tinned and fresh, and sheaves
The priest and all his elders bowed and prayed
Until the thankful service was complete.
I left my box-pew for the ‘coffee’ rite
But paused to throw another glance to where
She stood against the lime-washed wall, in sight,
Yet far away, as pensive as a prayer.
‘O! Live with me!’ I thought; I would that she
Renounced archangels for an earthly love.
She lit a candle, nutant; saw not me
But left me to repine, and gazed above.
These thoughts, I keep them locked and in
A Book of Hours whose shining ink goes faint.
An Elmore Leonard thriller hits the spot,
Its soaks and junkies riding for a fall
As greed for sex and cash divides them all.
They rage and row and fight and lose the plot.
There may be echoes of a code, but not
A firm morality, since there’s no call
For ethics: in this blind entropic brawl
Appearing virtuous can get you shot.
So what’s the merit of this trail of slime,
These lives lived in a dope haze, louche, malign,
Mapless, astray, random as dominoes?
It’s Leonard’s humorous command of prose
To picture those who sin and don’t repine —
A palmist tracing dirty lines of crime.
As hawthorn lights the way towards full Spring
And drapes the hedgerows with an ermine cloak,
So May for townsfolk has a certain ring,
With pictures that the mind’s eye will invoke.
This fancy, pressed too far perhaps, then sees
The ancient wood where planners placed a road
An old map lets us know there once were trees
Where Hyssop Lane is now a traffic node.
Not wholly parted from the natural world
(In town we don’t escape a rain-drenched day),
We may not see the first leaf buds unfurled
But Spring still overwhelms us in its way.
The countryside will own the rite of Spring:
May it be echoed long where no birds sing!
I cedar world inside a grain of sand
And pine for what my life has left behind.
As I grow alder, help me understand
How fir I am from what I thought I’d find.
I’ve been a seeker. Now I sycamore.
It’s all so hazy, but the hazel lift
And life won’t be a beech as heretofore.
Olive each day as if it were a gift.
Though memories maple me to the ground
I’ll do what any dogwood do: I’ll bark.
Wherever mangoes, that’s where I’ll be found.
But wattle help me navigate the dark?
I haw and hemlock Hamlet in his play
But almond darkness at the close of day.
It’s festival season — in case you hadn’t noticed. Your next challenge is to provide extracts from the unappealing-sounding programme of a festival that is making a misguided attempt to stand out in an overcrowded marketplace. Please email entries of up to 150 words to email@example.com by midday on 6 July.