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Spectator competition winners: a life in sixteen lines

4 November 2018

9:30 AM

4 November 2018

9:30 AM

The latest challenge, to supply a short verse biography of a well-known figure from history, produced a commendable entry in which notables long gone — Diotisalvi, Vercingetorix the Gaul, Dr Dee — rubbed shoulders with those still very much with us — Anthony Weiner, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson. There were borrowings from Edward Lear and Lennon and McCartney (‘BoJo was a clown who thought he was a leader/ Made it to King Charles Street too…’) as well as echoes of Ogden Nash.

An honourable mention goes to Brian Allgar for getting into the Halloween spirit with his life of Vlad the impaler. On equally eye-catching form were D.A. Prince, Sylvia Fairley, Bill Greenwell, Douglas G. Brown and W.J. Webster, who submitted a concrete poem. But the prizes go to the winners, printed below, a varied bunch who are rewarded with £25 each.

Chris O’Carroll
How unpleasant to meet Mr Pound
With his motley assortment of views —
Some, about verse, not unsound,
Others toxic, e.g., about Jews.

Both Image and Vortex were isms
He championed as new and exciting.
If Modernists had catechisms,
It’s Ezra’s words they’d be reciting.

In his youth he looked Three Musketeerish,
Though he swashed less and buckled more later.
In the war he waxed Fascist and sneerish.
His native land called him a traitor.

His Cantos is much praised but nearly
Unread outside graduate school.
His career demonstrates all too clearly
That a genius can be a damn fool.

Ann Drysdale
Old Adam was a gardener
And walked upon his lawns
But Lilith grew the eglantine
And battled with the thorns.


Old Adam was a gardener
And strode among his trees
But Lilith trimmed the terminals
And tended to the bees.

Old Adam was a gardener
And played the king therein
But Lilith made the compost heap
And let the rot begin.

Old Adam was a gardener
And slumbered in the sun
But Lilith fed the apple tree
By which he was undone.

Basil Ransome-Davies
He was immune to discipline,
As quarrelsome as Punch,
At war with his immediate kin
And strictly out to lunch.
Through marriage to a teenage bride
His loneliness was purged
Too briefly. When Virginia died,
His melancholia surged.

The Godfather of gothic crime,
He never stood a chance,
A writer born before his time
First valued most in France.

You’ll know that he was truly great
If ever you have read him,
But Poe, a tragic reprobate,
Bit every hand that fed him.

Alan Millard
Not hardy, but a weakling born,
Ay, weakling born,
Who lived a life forlorn and torn
To shreds by woes and strife:
Two marriages and both a curse
The first a pain, the second worse,
Small wonder that, in doleful verse,
He rued his troubled life.

Confessed as one ‘who no heart hath’,
Ay, ‘no heart hath’,
Who trod the cheerless Egdon path
Beset by wind and rain,
Such words were uttered not in jest,
For now, long severed from his breast,
His heart twixt both wives lies at rest
Freed finally from pain.

David Silverman
Holily, Galilee:
Jesus of Nazareth:
Daddy’s a Deity;
Born in a shed.
Parthenogenesis,
Lucifer’s nemesis,
Counterintuitive:
Rose from the dead.
Empirical miracles:
Raising of Lazarus,
Walking on water and
Water to wine.
Dishes of fishes and
Dissing of riches
Incontrovertible:
Jeez was divine.

Max Gutmann
Quirkily-workily
Jorge Bergoglio,
On a career path with
Quite a steep slope,

Unostentatiously
Worked as a janitor,
Then as a bouncer, and
Then as the Pope.

Last year Canongate published The Beautiful Poetry of Donald Trump by Rob Sears. You are invited to compose submissions of up to 16 lines for volume II. Please email (wherever possible) entries to lucy@spectator.co.uk by 14 November. A maximum of four entries per competitor, please.


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