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Spectator competition winners: is August the cruellest month?

3 September 2017

9:54 AM

3 September 2017

9:54 AM

The latest competition invited poems in praise or dispraise of August. There was a whiff of collusion about the entry this week, so many references were there to rubbish television, rubbish weather, fractious kiddies, tired gardens, traffic jams; as Katie Mallett puts it: ‘A turgid time of torpor and delay.’

But there were some sparkling, inventive turns too. David Silverman was on pithy form:

Oh, thou cruellest month!
If August comes, then winter
Can’t be far behind.

And hats off to A.H. Harker’s well-made nod to Eliot, to Paul Freeman and to W.J. Webster, a rare but eloquent fan of August. The winners take £30 and John Whitworth pockets £35.

John Whitworth
August, August, it’s the tops.
August tastes like lollipops.
August in the midday sun,
Everybody having fun.
Summer days will last for ever.
Boys are bathing in the river.
Girls in cotton dresses go
Up and down and to and fro.
Perfect in their loveliness
Like the girls of Lyonesse,
Free from worry, free from care,
Happy faces everywhere.
All the world is fresh and bright
In that special August light.
Anyway, that’s how it seems.
August is the stuff of dreams.

Nick MacKinnon
Augustus Caesar stole the days, but when his
      Empire died
the Anglo-Saxon freeman claimed the weeks of
      Lammastide;
a quiet month, a riot month, when pupils kick
      their heels
before their bad exam results and up-the-creek
      appeals;
a hazy month, a lazy month and such as we would
      see
each time we drove to Kynance Cove along the 303.


We are not fans of caravans, nor statics by the
      shore,
our kinship dwells in canvas bells that dad pitched
      in the war;
we push their poles down last year’s holes in
      bristly thrifted turf,
incant a spell for north-west swell and wild
      Atlantic surf,
and catch a wave that mermaids crave, as tide
      begins to run
across the teeth of a granite reef aglow in the
      August sun.

Frank McDonald
On either side of summer lie
Long terms that make a teacher sigh
But solace comes with sweet July
When Sir can cease to damn a lot.
For holidays reduce the strain
Of coaching thugs and feeling pain;
Poor Sir can be himself again
And may begin to charm a lot.
Kind August lets a teacher rest
From discipline and tiresome test.
This is the month that he loves best
For he can play and dram a lot
In foreign parts with foreign sun
Where joy is measured by the ton;
August invites him to have fun
And Sir will then stay calm a lot.

G.M. Davis
August’s a month I winnow down
To an intense epitome:
A cricket match in Chaucer’s town
In August, 1953.

The Aussie players, tanned as bark,
Were twice as talented as browned,
And playing as if for a lark
They smacked our bowlers round the ground.

Their single innings beat Kent’s two.
They won the crowd, not just the game,
Lusty and cavalier. We knew
Defeat by masters is no shame.

The stats the record books will cite
Are true, but only half the story.
When times grow dark I can relight
That unforgotten August glory.

Bill Greenwell
August is a smörgåsbord of boiling hot and
      freezing:
As raucous as a beach resort, as silent as the rain
      —
It seems to be seducing you, but ah, it’s only
      teasing:
It offers you its sedatives, but brings a special pain.

It offers you tranquillity, and claims it’s
      transcendental,
It offers you siestas and some sultry après-midis:
The sea, the lake, the river, how they promise to
      be gentle,
But never do they mention all the chaos of the
      kiddies.

Children play at August like some spoilsports high
      on dexies,
Scuppering the karma, and alarming every nerve:
You thought you’d find nirvana, but you’re filled
      with apoplexies —
You thought you’d straighten up, but you are on a
      vicious curve.

Here is August, loitering, with intent and with
      invention,
Its cocked and crooked finger urging you to take a
      break,
To holiday, to move yourself into the fifth
      dimension.
And now it comes to numb you, and your eyelids
      start to ache.

Your next challenge is to submit an extract from the diary of the spouse of a high-profile political figure, living or dead. Please email entries of up to 150 words, including a word count, to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 13 September.

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