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Spectator competition winners: famous authors on the art of seduction

5 March 2017

9:45 AM

5 March 2017

9:45 AM

The call for lessons in the art of seduction in the style of an author of your choice drew a large and stellar field.

Henry James — whose labyrinthine sentences would surely bore the objects of his affection into submission — was a popular choice. Here he is, as expertly imagined by John Maddicott: ‘If her defences, imperfectly nurtured by an occasionally burnished but never entirely unshakeable conscience, were to be penetrated — and he allowed the delightful vulgarity of the thought to send a miniature frisson of undeniable pleasure through his diminutive frame — it must be by methods which, though crude in their essaying, combined the subtlety of experiment with the heavy-handed assertiveness of the tried and not infrequently tested.’

Children’s authors also cropped up a lot. I liked D.A. Prince’s touching account of an admirable but doomed attempt by Pooh and Piglet to help Eeyore find love: ‘It starts with a hum, a love-y sort of a little hum, with another person, and then you look into their eyes and a smile comes.’

And Tracy Davidson provided a memorable addition to Roger Hargreaves’s Mr Men library in the shape of Mr Stud: ‘…he could not rely on his sexy smile and smouldering eyes alone. Mr Strong had helped him build up his six pack. Mr Greedy had given him advice on what food and wine to woo her with.Mr Clever had helped coach him on intelligent things to say …The doorbell rang. She was here! By the morning Little Miss Virginal would need a new name.’

Others who shone were Ralph Rochester, Noah Heyl, Jennifer Moore, Barry Baldwin, Alan Millard, A.K. Colam and Sylvia Fairley, but they were all pipped to the post by the winners, printed below, who earn £25 each. The bonus fiver belongs to Brian Allgar’s Andrew Marvell. Perhaps Henry James should take a leaf out of his book.

Brian Allgar/Andrew Marvell
‘Had we but world enough, and time…’
It never fails, my am’rous rhyme.
I lead them to a private place,
And strip them of their flimsy lace.

’Tis true that in my younger days,
My poems caused their eyes to glaze;
They fell asleep, a sorry fact,
Virginity still quite intact,
And vainly, I would try to shake
My vegetable love awake.


This lesson learned, ’tis my belief
You’ll benefit from being brief,
Eschewing all poetic lumber —
‘Ganges’, ‘wingèd chariots’, ‘Humber’.
Maidens spurn long-winded bores;
Six lines at most, and she’ll be yours.

W.J. Webster/Arnold Bennett
Bursley was not over-furnished with verdant spaces but Brougham Park was as leafy and tranquil a spot as could be found anywhere in the Five Towns. Here it was, on a bench facing the fitful Victoria fountain, that Albert Grint and Sarah Claypool now seated themselves. Neither knew it was the destination the other had been thinking of for a week. Sarah touched her new cream bonnet. ‘Fetching’, the draper’s assistant had called it. Sarah savoured the word. Albert thought little of bonnets but much of his royal blue tie and golden pin. He raised his chin to reveal the effect, maintaining the manly profile he had practised with two mirrors. Meanwhile, unaware and unobserved, Sarah cast downward her slyly enticing glance.

‘Happen us might,’ proffered Albert.

‘Happen,’ countered Sarah.

It was the moment, each thought, of triumph and submission. A glimpse into the paradisal mystery of consummation.

Adrian Fry/Samuel Beckett
Go, spruce in your father’s greatcoat, to that place of assignation, dimmest of dim. Thereat await, interminably, finitely, another. At length and at last, said other arrives, alabaster skin, eyes duck-egg blue, brim-full of apologies not entirely unmeant. Pass time ordering drinks, alcohol bypassing distance. Exchange words full of empty. One tells, for instance, a comical anecdote about a stone, the other a tall tale about a tree. Thus is silence abated, temporarily. Glances exchanged, furtive, first, then less so: some meaning here, arguably. Sap rises. Alcohol lessens habitual gulf. Abridged autobiographies swapped for requisite commiserations. Place of assignation suddenly stifles. And so out. Out through indifferent dark. Eventually to room — yours else that of other, differences being now negligible — dimmest of dim. Perfunctory beverage offered, accepted, neglected. Then commences usual mammalian squalor; touch substituting for connection, nakedness aping honesty. To bed, Gasped endearments. Gurgles of outflow. Enough.

G.M. Davis/Hilaire Belloc
When Norman was a growing lad
He had a craving to be bad,
A Byron sinfully inclined
With fornication on his mind.
His parents disapproved, but he,
Libidinous to a degree,
Would pester women, macho-style,
Devoid of subtlety or guile,
Bombarding them with boastful lies
About his organ’s mammoth size.
He kept it up until he met
Germaine, a sturdy suffragette,
Who gave him a derisive stare
Then kicked him in the you-know-where.
The moral is: don’t treat ‘em rough.
Respect outplays the caveman stuff.

Alanna Blake/Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How do you trap him? Let him, for a start
Believe that he is your superior:
Feign female faintness and a tender heart
Beneath a self-possessed exterior

Admire his talents, but not overmuch,
Express yourself, but let him have his say,
Maintain your distance — just the briefest touch
Suggesting promise for another day.

Shared interests will be useful but beware
If he’s another poet, mind your feet
When venturing on lyric ground, for there
It may perhaps be meeter if you tweet.

Ignore parental pressure, friends’ advice,
Be your own woman and consolidate;
But note: those first impressions which entice
Don’t always indicate a perfect mate.

Chris O’Carroll/Shakespeare
The world’s a lover’s stage, and words of love
A player’s best prologue to love’s great act.
With tongue or pen her heart he must engage
Ere ingress to love’s treasure house she grant.
The sun uncoaxed doth light and warmth
      bestow,
The which a man thereafter may extol,
But know thy mistress is another star
Whose glow, whose heat, whose light thy praise
      must spark.
Words are faint phantoms moving in the mind,
Lacking the active substance of the flesh,
Yet wraithlike language, insubstantial verse
Will stir the flesh to play love’s comedy.
The nothingness of words is everything
To every lover with a will to win.
So long as men may woo, let this be heard:
Ever in love’s beginning is the word.

Your next challenge is to submit a poem of 16 lines in which the lines begin with the letters of the alphabet from A to P. Please email entries, wherever possible, to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 15 March.


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