The request for sonnets inspired by a well-known contemporary figure’s characteristic feature went down a storm. Entries ranged far and wide, from Victoria Beckham’s pout via Gorbachev’s birthmark to the rise – and fall – of Anthony Weiner’s penis. But both John O’Byrne and Barrie Godwin used Sonnet 18 to hymn hairstyles – Donald Trump’s and Boris Johnson’s respectively (Shall I compare thee to a bale of hay?/ Thou art more windblown and intemperate…’)
There was a spot of preposition-related confusion this week – my fault entirely – and sonnets either ‘to’ or ‘on’ were acceptable. Honourable mentions go to Mike Morrison, Jonathan Pettman, Douglas G. Brown, Max Gutmann and Michael Jameson. The winners earn £20 each. W.J. Webster takes £25.
The sweet disorder of his flaxen mop
Seems artificial now, just done for show:
His telling feature’s not that cartoon prop
But something that lies hidden far below.
Though waywardly deployed when he was young
The trouble that it caused was brushed aside;
For then it seemed that with his silver tongue
All consequence could be, with charm, defied.
But as his public prominence has grown,
He finds he’s held more closely to account;
He has to reap from careless seeds he’s sown,
With only weak defences left to mount.
Friends fear, foes hope, all wait for where he’ll put
That much-misguided, twelve-inch thing, his foot.
I have been told that Philip Hammond keeps
His small charisma locked up in a box
Where it is safe, immune from fortune’s knocks,
But, curled away and private, mostly sleeps.
Some politicians like to beat loud drums
And let their huge charismas flounce and preen,
But Philip Hammond’s hides at home unseen
And sometimes giggles at his vulgar chums.
Let Brexiteering bunglers act like prats;
Let Boris burble and let Govey spout.
In time they’ll doubtless wear each other out.
Meanwhile, enjoying spreadsheets full of stats,
Hammond and his charisma, firmest friends,
Spend happy evenings mapping fiscal trends.
This lady’s voice is nothing like the one
That Shakespeare lauded, though it’s pitched
Persuasive when she’s wanting something done
The breathy, confidential tone’s to show
Her hearers they are privileged to share
The insight she is ready to dispense
Without discussion, it is only fair
That we accept she must be talking sense.
She is so skilful at the party game
That tells us what to think and how to vote;
I wonder if some day she’ll be a Dame,
That voice befitting an ennobled throat.
Fulfilment’s dear, but promises are cheap,
Diane has many promises to keep.
So frozen and so frightened and disdainful,
No matter what an interview discusses,
You hold your shape. It must be very painful,
And looks like ‘Blakey’ Blake’s in On The Buses.
Are you a champion cramp that crimps the lip?
Do you relax when PMQs are finished?
Do inner voices tell you ‘Get a grip’?
Because of you, your wearer is diminished.
Did you replace a rosebud or a cherry?
Or else a perky pout, or crescent moon?
Perhaps there was a time when, temporary,
You never dreamed she’d follow Cameroon,
But now preside upon her mouth, judicial,
As static as a prune, but artificial.
The doe, the demon — innocence and guile,
The sham, the shy — pretence and bashfulness,
The calm, the fraught — serenity and stress,
The stony glare in conflict with the smile;
All’s in those eyes, wide open in surprise
Or half-closed in a wry, reptilian way,
Sky-blue at times, at others ashen grey,
Though none is sure what lurks behind the guise.
To many they possess the Devil’s taint,
To some the clearness of an open book,
But few can read for certain if that look
Speaks plainly of a sinner or a saint;
The stare of Blair contains his rise and fall,
He is his gaze — the eyes, they have it — all!
You squat on Paxo’s face; I pause awhile
to catch you on those archived Newsnight clips
as you enhance his pugilistic style,
each insult framed by thinly sneering lips.
You share those views that brook no compromise,
interrogating skills that won’t diminish,
the timing as he interrupts replies —
no need to let his hapless victims finish.
You’re still attached to him, as he creates
an atmosphere of conflict and division;
from withering heights, his word intimidates
his guests, and you’re the lips stretched in derision.
Of all the qualities that I revere
I cherish that eviscerating sneer.
Who, from the leaders of the world, could bare
a torso so meticulously toned?
That tanned self-confidence, the savoir faire
of one whose grasp on power’s so finely honed —
we get the drift. The iron man, whose steel
is central, from the cortex to the core;
proud hunter, leader — so the people feel
protected from the worst Fate has in store.
Those photos in the wild: hard-muscled, taut,
gleaming and seeming effortless; it’s just
your way to advertise that you’re the sort
the weaker, feebler masses need to trust.
From Omsk to Perm, from Kursk to Novgorod;
half-stripped and wholly macho, demi-god.
Your next challenge is to take a well-known figure on the world stage, living or dead, and cast them in the role of agony aunt/uncle, submitting a problem of your invention and their solution. Please email entries of up to 150 words (please provide word count) to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 27 June.