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Spectator competition winners: ‘Of January wary be!’ (plus: a presidential patter song)

15 January 2018

6:15 PM

15 January 2018

6:15 PM

In the brief for the latest challenge — to submit poems entitled ‘January’ — I mentioned William Carlos Williams, R.S. Thomas and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, as all of them wrote poems with ‘January’ as their title. But that most maligned of months also lands a starring role in the opening stanza of George Barker’s charming ‘January Jumps About’: ‘January jumps about/ in the frying pan/ trying to heat/ his frozen feet/ like a Canadian…’

Freezing temperatures were very much on your minds, too, and for Jayne Osborn they are a cause for celebration: ‘Being constantly hot is tremendous fun – not!/ and although I have yet to reach ‘old’,/ it’s much more than a blush when you have a hot flush/ so I’m happy whenever it’s cold…’

Other strong performers, in a wide-ranging entry, were Nicholas Stone, Nick MacKinnon, Brian Murdoch, Nick Milne and Hamish Wilson. But they were pipped by the winners below who are rewarded with £25. Chris O’Carroll is overall champ and earns £30.

Chris O’Carroll
One face surveys the long, cold month behind,
One contemplates the deep, short freeze ahead.
Too much of nature on your watch, you find,
Is more than metaphorically dead.

Yours is the standstill at the end and start:
The pied, bright spring will flourish from this ice;
Refreshed from every flower’s fragrant heart,
The air will soften as it wells with spice;

From silver frost a golden sun will climb,
Gilding green pastures, warming every beach;
The crops and herds will fatten in their time,
Full of those lessons plenty has to teach;

But once brief bounty has been stored away,
The harsher lessons learned from scarcity
Will loom; the cold truth of the shortest day
Will dim the world your backward gaze can see.


Alan Millard
Of January wary be!
The fairy on the Christmas tree
Can wave no more her magic wand,
She’s in the loft, she won’t respond.
A cold east wind from Europe blows
But what it augurs no one knows,
It bites the ears and seems to moan
‘We’ll freeze you out. You’re on your own.’
Then, turning to the west, we hear
The Mighty Trump sound loud and clear:
A wild, discordant blast that hails
More vehement storms and violent gales;
This month bodes ill but all’s not lost,
The spring might yet unfreeze the frost,
And kinder months are on their way,
There’s always hope, there’s always May!

Paul Carpenter
Cooler month, you find us huddled
In the ashes, ex-Noelled;
Overhung, contrite and muddled
Needing Christmas fog dispelled.

Mark our faces, whitened, ashen,
Pull us up and set us straight.
January, with compassion
Save us from this chastened state.

Back to work now firmly send us;
Pay no heed to our complaints.
With new discipline amend us,
Set our boundaries, cast constraints.

Slowly then, reveal your glory:
Longer days to which we cling;
Month of firsts, renew our story,
Send us hopeful into spring.

Katie Mallett
January now. It should be cold,
Freezing breath and slippery underfoot
With frost and hoary leaves in every fold
Of earth, its hard and wizened face like soot
Where spiders’ webs and scattered dirt streak
      out
From corners where the hose has splashed in
      pots.
But still the soil is soft and through it sprout
The sturdy spears of daffodils and knots
Of tiny seedlings. Still the cannas stand
Erect and green, like loyal sentries fixed
On duty as the seasons’ change is spanned,
And autumn’s death and spring’s new life are
      mixed.
But who knows what the morning light will
      show —
Cold sexton winter still could bring us snow.

Basil Ransome-Davies
There are three months that start with J:
January, June, July.
June leads July but follows May.
Does anyone know why?

In June the weather’s fairly warm;
In July much the same.
But rain and sleet and icy storm?
That’s January’s game.

June as we know can name a girl.
July is Caesar’s tag.
Cold January’s a cruel churl,
A murderous old lag.

As sensual souls beneath the moon
We can enjoy a flux
Of pleasure in July and June,
But January sucks.

Frank McDonald
We welcome you and yet you turn your back
On thoughts of spring, presenting snow and ice.
Our streets are traps, our pavements icy black
And bleakness wrapped in bleakness is your
      vice.
December loved our generosity
And rang her bells with optimistic joy
But you arrived with animosity
To inconvenience, anger and annoy.
There was a time in childhood when your snow
Had playful kindness and you even smiled;
Now that our steps are warier and slow
We are your playthings, rattled and reviled.
And so, dark month, we do not call you friend
But shiver till your tribulations end.

Thanks go to @huntthesnark on Twitter for the next challenge, which is to take as your first line ‘I am the very model of a Very Stable Genius’ and continue for up to a further 15. Email entries to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 24 January, please.


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