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Spectator competition winners: Sonnets found in ‘Theresa’s loony bin’

21 April 2019

9:28 AM

21 April 2019

9:28 AM

G.K. Chesterton once observed that ‘poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese’. Well, not the anonymous author of the curious poem that inspired the latest challenge — to submit a ‘Sonnet Found in a Deserted Mad House’. Line eight of this sonnet, which appeared in A Nonsense Anthology (1915), edited by Carolyn Wells, refers to ‘…mournful mouths filled full of mirth and cheese…’

Though there was no cheese in your excellent and varied compositions, food did feature (a boiled egg — two mentions — artichokes, yogurt, custard pies…). There was also a strong topical thread — for mad house read House of Commons — which is reflected in the winners below, who, in a hotly contested week, take £20 each.

Alan Millard

Wild ayes and noes resound inside my brain

Indicative of something I suppose,

Who has it? Do the noes or ayes? Who knows?

To me the ayes and noes are all insane.

I had a deal; a deal I had for sure,

The only deal that dealt with all ahead,

I put it forward. ‘Here’s the deal,’ I said,

A deal I’d offered many times before.

Now ‘deal, no deal’ with ‘ayes and noes’ all

Like frenzied ghosts inside my addled mind

Yet, running free through fields of gold, I find

Cold comfort in a strange recurring dream:

I gloat while all my foes and so-called friends

Fall on their swords and meet their grizzly ends.


Sylvia Fairley

My face is smeared with cadmium, ochre, chrome,

I eat a range of paints, but who can blame me?

my brain’s confused and I am far from home

and mad, incarcerated in Saint Rémy.

Although you’ll see I’m parted from one ear

(the drastic outcome of self-mutilation)

the circling crows I yet am doomed to hear

betwixt the bouts of darkness and elation.

In lucid spells I paint with manic speed

more than a hundred paintings — none will sell —

a blaze of sunflowers, cornfields, yet I heed

a sombre truth, and one I know too well:


When I am dead and gone, my frail flesh rotten,

I and my art will surely be forgotten.


Brian Allgar

What happened to the other lunatics?

The men in white have taken them away,

Those broken men destroyed by politics.

‘Leave now! No deal!’ they shrieked. ‘Oh, wait!

            Let’s stay!’


I think this place was once (or am I dreaming?)

The House of Commons. Now it’s simply called

‘Theresa’s Loony Bin’. She went out screaming;

‘Just one more vote, the twenty-third,’ she bawled.


They took them one by one, enraged or passive,

Still babbling, drooling, from the nearest exit

To God knows where, those intellects once

Now driven to insanity by Brexit.


These lines must be my final words to you;

The men in white are coming for me too.


Chris O’Carroll

The spaceship will be coming for us soon.

There can’t be any other explanation

For everything that feels so out of tune

About this planet Earth, about this nation.

It’s waiting somewhere out beyond the moon.

Unseen, it boggles my imagination.

I’m like a cartoon with a Wow! balloon,

In love with my own keen anticipation.

In June and January, night and noon,

We feed on potions and disinformation.

The aliens are coming for us soon.

First Contact is our holy aspiration.

The world will wonder where and how we went

As we embark on infinite ascent.


Basil Ransome-Davies

It’s manifold, the state of otherness,

As numerous as stars, as wide as space.

Galactically dispersed, it spreads apace,

Making for hardcore connoisseurs of stress.

We have, it’s claimed, the science to assess

The true pathology of any case —

The mute grief-monkey or the cackling face —

But lunacy is anybody’s guess.

The wards are maps of undigested pain, 

Its diagnosis I can only call

A soreness of the soul. Time and again

I bang my head against a mental wall,

Shamed by the purity of the insane.

I’m the head doctor, madder than them all.


Philip Roe

The curfew tolls the knell of passing day.

Out of the crowd a mistress or a friend

Shall with their goat feet dance the antic hay

Mad as the sea and wind when both contend.

The moving finger writes and having writ

It makes allowance for their doubting too.

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,

A hair perhaps divides the false and true.

Nature I loved and next to nature art.

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.

To raise the genius and to mend the heart

Wilt thou forgive the sin in which I run?

That cannot be; since I am still possess’d;

For some we loved, the loveliest and the best.      


Brian Murdoch

The madhouse is deserted now. They’ve gone

Into — what do they call it? — the recess?

They’ve cut the cleaning staff, so I’m alone.

Here’s my report on cleaning up the mess:

A single sock? It’s funny what you find.

Nine sandwiches. A boiled egg (free range?).

A pair of wellies! Who left them behind?

Thirteen pounds forty-six, all in loose change.

Six half-sucked lozenges down by the mace,

Some crumpled knickers? Well, they do sit late.

Old order papers all over the place,

With rude words on them. Oh, a dinner plate.

Honourable Members leave a lot of trash.

Like them it’s in the bin. I’ve kept the cash.

Your next challenge is to submit a poem in the style of a well-known poet (please specify) on the subject of Englishness. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to by midday on 1 May.

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