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Spectator competition winners: poems that go backwards and forwards

19 May 2019

9:30 AM

19 May 2019

9:30 AM

For the latest competition you were asked to compose a poem that can be read forwards and backwards, i.e. from the top down and the bottom up.

I worried, as the entries trickled in, that I had set the bar too high, especially given the anguished comments that accompanied some of them. ‘This was one of your really tough assignments,’ wrote one old hand, ‘a combination of mathematics and poetics.’ ‘This challenge almost made me cry,’ wailed another.

But I needn’t have worried: your submissions — some palindromic — combined technical adroitness with clever content. High fives to the winners below who are rewarded with £20 each.

Chris O’Carroll
What can you show me, mirror on the wall?
A rendezvous with my own face? I’ll pass.
I never was the fairest of them all.
I try to keep my head before the glass.
The glass is always full and always not.
And this illusion is a quid pro quo.
Some sights have all the substance of a thought.
The mirror can reflect, but does not know.
Reflection tells a truth and tells a lie.
Thus blindness and insight make quite a pair.
A silver sheen conspires with the eye.
We see what’s here by what’s not really there.
Reflected images fill up no space.
Can emptiness dictate some protocol?
Will vision fail to argue its own case?
Shall I ignore the mirror on my wall?

Sylvia Fairley
Into the Louvre’s angled silhouette
I’m happy that I paid ten francs, was led
Through spacious rooms and scenes I can’t forget,
By marble statues, beautiful but dead,
I turn away, but as I pause awhile
I see that face, the mood the artist caught,
That knowing look, the enigmatic smile —
Her thoughts are not as virtuous as they seem,
A blatant invitation in those eyes!
I can’t ignore that bold, lascivious gleam,
To such a challenge any man would rise,
I sense an odour of unbridled lust,
Throbbing beneath that ill-concealed bust.

Paul A. Freeman
it’s the end of days
because we’ve damaged the planet
so don’t tell me
we have the will and technology
to reduce pollution
to rid the seas of plastic
to stop forests and beasts disappearing
it’s a certainty that
humans will disappear from the Earth
nobody believes
we will overcome this crisis

Bill Greenwell
You couldn’t imagine more love if you tried.
Your mother comes in with a beautiful kiss.
Family and friends, gathered here by your side —
All of your life seems to bring you to this —
They can see how you feel by the look on your
A conjuror scrubs himself, prim fingers slim.
See the best silver implements, waiting for grace.
Here is the cloth, and, as lights seem to dim,

Take one more big breath, my dear! somebody
The candles are lit with professional skill.
They all gather round with a gleam in their eyes.
You shiver. You shake. You’re suddenly still.

The future is over, the present is due.
You’ve waited and waited. Now somebody
You’ve dreamed of this moment, you know it’s for
Somebody’s come to your door with a box —

D.A. Prince
What anchors us to life in real time?
It takes a will of iron to refuse
photos of lives pretending they’re sublime;
the unreal worlds on screens parade false news.

Unless we hand more space and hope to youth
how can imagination stretch and fly;
twisted to nail down semi-facts as truth
our narratives of history are a lie.

No magic transformations in their game;
with nothing new to help us feel set free
the bickering politicians are the same;
last summer’s past, its drought a memory.

The flames are flickering faintly in the grate.
Outside the weather’s blustery and wild;
our cue for sitting down and, silent, wait.
‘I want to tell you a story,’ says the child.

Robert Schechter
This is a verse you can flip, you can flop.
The top is the bottom, the bottom the top.
It works up or down. It’s just like a stairwell.
Aloha. Shalom. It’s both greeting and farewell.
It doesn’t much matter. It’s fine either way.
Does day follow night, or does night follow day?
Was it the chicken, or egg, that came first?
Whichever you choose works as well when
So start from the bottom, or start from the top.
This is a verse you can flip, you can flop.

Max Ross
Peerless was Wallace, ferocious and free
Fearless and princely, heroic was he.
Tough and impressive, magnificent master,
Gruff and aggressive, disdaining disaster.
Cunning was Wallace, determined and grave,
Stunning and startling, audacious and brave.
Brave and audacious, startling and stunning,
Grave and determined, Wallace was cunning.
Disaster disdaining, aggressive and gruff,
Master magnificent, impressive and tough,
He was heroic, princely and fearless,
Free and ferocious. Wallace was peerless!

Your next challenge is to compose a contemporary take on ‘The New Colossus’ (the sonnet at the base of the Statue of Liberty) by Emma Lazarus. Please email (wherever possible) entries to by midday on 29 May.

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