The idea for the latest challenge, to submit a poem about a domestic object, came to me when reading about an exhibition at the University of Hull (until 1 October) of Philip Larkin’s personal possessions. Alongside books, records, a pair of knickers and a figurine of Hitler is the lawnmower that inspired the poem ‘The Mower’, which he wrote in the summer of 1979 after inadvertently killing a hedgehog while cutting the grass. According to Betty Mackereth, Larkin’s secretary and one-time lover, he told her about the incident ‘…in his office the following morning with tears streaming down his face’.
Your poems made me smile rather than cry: this was another popular comp that drew an entry packed with wit and inventiveness. Alanna Blake, Nathan Weston and Mae Scanlan stood out, and the winners, below, take £25 each.
O simple implement, no shrewd machine,
No moving parts — just handle wed to bowl.
Armed with no more, we face the great unseen
And trust in one spoonful to taste the whole.
A curve as casual as bone or bough,
The grace of flesh in sleek metallic lines.
How minuscule each captured taste, and how
Immense the cosmos one spoonful defines.
Stirring a bright or bitter morning cup,
We thrive on rich, far scents of bean and leaf,
The whiff of essence one spoonful lifts up
Modest as time is vast and life is brief.
That we may prize the small, attentive taste,
Stay by us, prized utensil, night and noon.
That we may let no flavour go to waste,
Uphold our lives with your light lift, O spoon.
Wallace Stevens had a jar,
Eliot coffee spoons,
Each of them a superstar
At writing loony tunes.
The commoner the household thing,
The more abstruse the thought.
The reader is left puzzling,
And more than somewhat fraught.
I have a Daffy Duck egg cup
I bought in Santa Cruz.
I feel that I should big it up
Into a vital Muse.
Like Shakes, I crave a muse of fire.
Alas, however hard
I try, my duck does not inspire.
It’s only a canard.
It keeps the half-tiled background framed
Within its still reflective gaze
Until its services are claimed
When there’s a close-up to appraise.
With awful clarity it shows
The morning blear, the night-time sag;
And from a long acquaintance knows
Each deepening line, each drooping bag.
The truth it offers, face to face,
For anybody taking stock
Puts undeniably in place
A visual ticking of the clock.
Yet it does give this much relief,
For all the searching light it’s shone:
Its images are Snapchat brief —
Just turn away and they are gone.
He’s a slender kind of blender
and the secret of his splendour
is the wattage of the motor at his heart.
He’s the fella that Nigella,
Pippa Middleton and Ella
always reach for when the juicing has to start.
Take a bale of curly kale,
add (for iron) a six inch nail,
and some nuts that you’ve unthreaded from their
a soupçon of cinnamon,
just a drop of Three-in-One,
then ignore metallic screams and fearsome jolts,
for his blade will not be swayed
on nutritional crusade
with the power of love and fifty thousand volts.
Sir Walter Raleigh, mariner of fame,
In the Americas sought what was new,
And brought great benefits when home he came:
Tobacco, yes, but the potato too.
Then sometime after that — when, we can’t tell,
No one man has it under sign and seal —
Some metalworker, some nameless Brunel,
Made the device that would shave off the peel.
A new world lay before us: mashed or roast
Or chipped, or mayonnaised within a salad —
Thin-peeled potatoes are our finest boast,
And peelers should be hymned in every ballad.
They rest anonymous, unloved, unheeded,
but not unused, in every kitchen drawer.
How much this simple implement was needed!
How little can mankind its worth ignore!
As life grew more perplexing and complexer,
I sometimes didn’t know which song to play,
That’s why I thought I’d like to ask Alexa
To check my algorithm every day.
At her request, I ordered more devices,
Now she’s a monitor in every room:
Dots, Echos, Echo Dots — at killer prices —
Life hasn’t been this stress-free since the womb.
More helpful than the best encyclopedia,
She knew just what to do straight from the box;
She sets the temperature, controls all media,
Appliances, alarms, the lights, and locks.
She’s great at generating my to-do list;
She’s a post-modern-household-goddess-treasure.
I couldn’t do without her, she’s the coolest,
And being her assistant is a pleasure.
Your next challenge is to change a letter of the title of a well-known play and submit a programme note for the new production (e.g. King Leer). Please email entries of up to 150 words, providing a word count, to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 16 August.
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