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Spectator competition winners: The ballad of Mar-a-Lago

1 April 2018

9:45 AM

1 April 2018

9:45 AM

This week’s challenge marks the centenary this year of the birth of Muriel Spark.

‘I still take a poetic view of life as I see it through the novel,’ Spark once said, explaining that she viewed her novels as long prose poems. So a verse assignment seemed just the thing: you were asked to come up with poems with the title ‘The Ballad of [insert place name here]’.

The entry that most closely referenced Spark’s glorious The Ballad of Peckham Rye was Max Gutmann’s but there were deft Sparkian touches elsewhere. I especially admired David Silverman’s crisp, caustic, comic ‘Ballad of Westgate Shopping Centre’, and Paul Carpenter’s timely ‘Ballad of Knotty Ash’) was good too.

The prizes, though, go to those printed below, who take £25 each.

The Ballad of Mar-a-Lago by Chris O’Carroll
In the gold of the Florida sunshine,
Where gunplay enlivens the air,
The rich pay to hang with the richer
At the president’s opulent lair.

With its beach-blanket, surfer-dude moniker
And its six-figure membership fees,
This joint is the acme of classy,
Like those White House Seals marking the tees.

This enclave is stately like Vegas,
With the gilt of imperial Rome.
The Golfer-in-Chief has decreed it
His own customised pleasure dome.

He meets here with all the top leaders.
He shows them his bombs and his cake.
Someone’s sure to be turning a profit
On the fabulous deals they all make.

The Ballad of Watford Gap by Bill Greenwell
O I have been to Watford Gap
And I have passed between its tors
And I have eaten many a snack
Within its service station doors.


In Watford Gap there dwelt the Saxons –
Dwelt also Normans, cruel and coarse:
Cars and barges jostle thither
Where Watling Street heard Roman horse.

‘O have you been to Watford Gap
And is it hard by Patchetts Green?’
‘Alas, fair maid, beshrew thy maps –
A different Watford dost thou mean.’

No sea brims over Watford Gap,
No river fills its surly mouth:
But Southerners may sense The North
And Northerners may greet The South.

The Ballad of Morningside by Brian Murdoch
The girls who live in Morningside
Are not of slender means,
For this is Edinburgh posh;
These little girls are queens.

Their dreams are never troubled
By things which seem absurd –
Of nunneries, or of closed doors.
They’re not to be disturbed.

From Morningside they sally forth
Just after breakfast time,
To learn more than the facts of life
From a teacher in her prime.

Nobody ever rings them up
To tell them they must die.
Sex and religion fill the world
From here to Peckham Rye.

The Ballad of Reyston Cross by W.J. Webster
No one foresaw the motorway
Would bring commuters down
And turn into a dormitory
What was a sleepy town.
You couldn’t blame the farming folk
Who cashed in on their land,
You couldn’t blame the councillors –
It wasn’t what they planned.
The neighbouring county’s superstore
Was what hit High Street trade;
Now Amazonian predators
Invisibly invade.
They didn’t knock down Reyston Cross,
They siphoned off its soul,
And where its heart for centuries stood
They left a yawning hole.

The Ballad of Silicon Valley by Max Gutmann
When Gougal Douglas came to town,
He saw how things were run.
We toiled at jobs the livelong day;
We had no time for fun.

He gave us social media
So we would not be squares.
He got us all to use our cars
To save folks taxi fares.

He showed the news was all online;
We send it to our pals
Along with kitty videos
And pics of naked gals.

His motto ‘Don’t Be Evil, guys’
We’ve grown to understand.
To work for pay was such a bore.
To work for free is grand!

The Ballad of Maple Park by D.A. Prince
They’re men who live in Maple Park
whose wits are cold as snow,
who warm themselves on barbed ripostes
and commenting below.

These men who live in Maple Park
draw down the internet
and find themselves reflected in
like-minds they’ve never met.

The Maple Park men air their views
to such as care to scan
and, hunched with finger-printed screens,
feel this is man-to-man.

Women whose home is Maple Park
(their real-world address)
prefer the cheery face-to-face
of kindred sisterness.

Your next challenge is to provide a lesson in the facts of life courtesy of a well-known character in fiction (please specify). Email entries of up to 150 words to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 11 April, please.


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