Competition no. 224: results

Frank Sidgwick asks for a companion poem to go with Beachcomber’s ‘Epitaph on a Lighthousekeeper’s Horse’, which goes thus:


On December 13 1950, the poem cropped up in a radio broadcast on the Home Service, (recorded two days earlier) in which the poet W. R. Rodgers quoted it admiringly, and Dylan Thomas, chairing, said he couldn’t see why Rodgers though Beachcomber was a good poet. The show was reviewed for The Listener … by Martin Armstrong. Neither Armstrong nor Beachcomber (J.B. Morton, the Daily Express columnist for over 50 years and whose only rival as a humourist of this type is Flann O’Brien) would have been enamoured of Thomas’s work. Morton and Armstrong were NS judges. Thomas was an entrant!

Sidgwick suggested four-liners but gamely half-conceded this was not an absolute rule (not good! competitors hate it when the rules are not precise!). He had not bargained non the number of entries, however (54). The cause was easy to spot – there was a heatwave in July 1934, captured by this picture from the Getty Archive:

1934 drought

While George V stopped watering his gardens, a judge (Lord Merrivale) sat without a wig, and prayers were offered for rain. And NS readers in a mood of indolence, dashed off four line epitaphs to pass the time.

Sidgwick spends his time defining – how judges love doing this – what is not right about various entries. I don’t yet know which entrant was from Wimborne, in Dorset, but he or she sent in four entries that Sidgwick dismisses as being anything but companion pieces to Morton. They refer t0 a lighthousekeeper’s wife, girl, hens and debtors: but they don’t sound similar to Morton. He quotes approvingly two verses that are ‘hors concours’, which presumably in this case means he wrote them himself … a desperate strategy for any judge, although I confess I’ve done it once, as a TES competition judge. Here are Sidgwick’s efforts:


He quotes a failed entry by David Holland, but only out of admiration for the wonderful rhyme for 3d, he/ discrepancy. In the end he splits the prizes into five half-guineas and hands them out – now here’s a surprise! Out of retirement once more comes the veteran Seacape. He is joined on the podium by H.C.M., John Mavrogordato, Saumarez, and Alfred Holland (perhaps related to David? But if not, Alfred Holland was a Derby Methodist who became Clay Cross MP in the 1935 election, in succession to Arthur Henderson, the Labour Party leader (and first cabinet minister), who died in 1935. Holland, who was 35, won the seat as the third Labour MP for Clay Cross in four years. He died of spinal meningitis within a year.His last exchange in the Commons, in April 1936, was about head teachers refusing to allow fresh milk to be delivered. The Scots Conservative MP Frederick Macquisten picked him up on this – he suggested the milk being held back was pasterised, pasteurised milk being ‘devitalised’.

One of the entries has interruptions by Prodnose. A prodnose is an inquisitive person, but Sidgwick is referring to Beachcomber, whose columns were often ‘interrupted’ by Prodnose, playing the part of the readers who were bored with his rambling (in Flann O’Brien’s journalism as Myles naGopaleen, the same role is taken by ‘The Plain People of Ireland’).



Competition no. 223: results

Suddenly Vita Sackville-West sets a competition that is very much still in the prompt-box for modern setters: it’s a cento, or patchwork poem (although she doesn’t use this terminology). I’ve done several of these in my time, and very difficult they are, too – especially if you decide to involve an exacting rhyme scheme. They are poems made up – each line being different – of lines from existing poems (it’s generally poems) by different writers. Sackville-West supplies a nicely nonsensical example (rhyming on alternate lines) that she has made up herself:


She doesn’t give the sources, but she asks for an example using living authors (a handy trap for the unwary). Still how many can you recognise? I will return to this in a bit. There are a number of also-rans who have worked hard, but they a) include lines VSW has never heard of, b) include dead authors, or c) are incoherent. Being incoherent is the main difficulty faced.

I’m in a generous mood, so here’s how to do a cento and ensure at least the semblance of coherence. Go with a theme. Look for as many lines as possible that – for instance – mention food, or sunlight, or whatever is appropriate for the competition (being given a theme makes it easier, but it also means you are competing with a whole lot of others who also find it easier). So if it’s a free choice cento, put a brake on your ambitions by setting a theme of your own. Works for me! As VSW notes with surprise, only five took advantage of a title to add the sense of coherence.

She notes with amusement the recurring favourites. Top of the list is the Traveller (‘Is there anybody there’, 9 times), but he only just beats the need to stand and stare (8), with a fat white woman walking in the fields in gloves (4), going down to the sea again (5), not to mention the isle of Innisfree (5), one competitor (‘I.M.H.R.’, anyone recognise him or her?) going to the Isle of Innisfree with a load of Tyne coal.


Author of the triolet about the fat white woman in the field with gloves – Frances Cornford (1886-1960) seen here in 1914, without gloves. Or fat. Or fields. In the 1940s, Cornford won New Statesman competitions as ‘F.C.C.’


Allan M. Laing just misses out. There are three winners: Raphanus (pseudonym means ‘radish’, not much of a clue), and (tying) E.J. and J.R.B. – with the first getting £1 11s and 6d, and the other two getting 10s 6d. Raphanus and J.R.B. are footnoted with all their sources; but E.J. isn’t – another to have a go at.


Most of these are familiar to me (although not M. Armstrong’s ‘Miss Thompson Goes Shopping’ – cited in two of the winning centos, and to be found here – it’s Martin Armstrong, of course, and a poem of his from 1921). W.J. Turner wasn’t familiar to me; I had to think before I retrieved R(alph) Hodgson. The NS & N readers are probably a more open-minded lot than WR stalwarts – hence the inclusion of Farjeon.

We are evidently supposed to know E.J.’s sources, so how have you done? Here are the answers:

W.H. Davies: Leisure

John Masefield: C.L.M.

Rudyard Kipling: Buddha at Kamakura

W.B. Yeats: The Two Trees

Rudyard Kipling: Buddha at Kamakura (again – cheating, really)

Alfred Noyes – The Barrel-Organ

John Masefield: Reynard The Fox

John Masefield: The Everlasting Mercy (too much Masefield!)

Rudyard Kipling: Recessional

A.E.Housman: Terence, this is stupid stuff (two lines)

W.B. Yeats: The Two Trees (hmmm!)

Walter de la Mare: I Met At Eve

Walter de la Mare: The Mother Bird

Rudyard Kipling: The Ballad of East and West

Robert Frost: Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

W.H. Davies: Leisure

A.E.Housman:  Along the field as we came by (two lines)

W.B. Yeats: The Song Of Wandering Aengus

Rudyard Kipling: The Last Suttee

Rudyard Kipling: Recessional

John Masefield: The Everlasting Mercy

Sir Henry Newbolt: Vitai Lampada

Not quite so impressive when you see that E.J. has only used nine poets! (Perhaps this is why VSW has left out the clues – it does read well, but it surely should.) And E.J. would surely have been well-advised to drop the last verse …

John Masefield

As for VSW’s own work (note that she doesn’t have to stick to her own rule about living poets), the cast list is

Florence Dorothea Hemans: Casabianca (two lines)

Thomas Hood: Faithless Nelly Gray – a misquotation – should be ‘And as his legs were off, of course’

Florence Dorothea Hemans: Casabianca (three lines)

Lord Byron: The Battle of Blenheim (two lines)

As it goes on, it becomes a mash-up of Robert Southey’s The Inchcape Rock, Macaulay’s Horatius, the ballad Sir Patrick Spens, and Tennyson’s The May Queen: maybe not such a great model! The poems here are a catalogue of poems I was forced to learn as punishments at the age of 11 or so.


The Inchcape Rock





Competition no. 222: results

Ivor Brown, always a dour judge, asks for an epitaph on a Dead Failure, in any field or sense. He admits to finding as many as forty good ones, and there is a string of also-rans, and a few quotations of which this one, by John A. Bellchambers, struck me as better than the actual winners:

Here lies a lass, who was, alas,
Long left upon the shelf:
She lost all lovers by her gas,
And so she gassed herself.

However, seeing off Sir Robert Witt, TE Casson, H.C.M., W. Leslie Nicholls, and others are David Holland and librarian Mariamne, the former punning on a sense of ‘ploughed’ that is, I think, no longer with us. (It is mid 19th century Oxford slang, and originally meant to be failed – and not to fail, as it is here.)


Competition no. 221: results

One craze that was gathering supporters in 1934 was the caravanning holiday – the acravan had become popular in the twenties, but the thirties (and later the fifties) saw a rapid growth in its popularity. This is from 1929:

Caravan 29

The judge is Richard Church. Church notes that caravanning is all the rage, and that ‘motor-gypsies’ will threaten the countryside, requiring competitors to submit six rules. It is interestingly evident that Church is not a regular reader of the competitions – he gives out addresses, for instance, and makes a feature of where the people are from. So we are told that T.E. Casson is from Newton-le-Willows, Lancs. Casson has bothered Church because he (Casson) suggests that there should be no drinking. This does not fit with Church’s view. He conjures up several rural vicars from the entry, and says none of them had a problem with wine. The prize goes to James Hall, and the runner-up (with a very unsatirical set of instructions, leading one to believe that he was a caravanner) is Allan M. Laing. (He is from Lyndale, 19 Wavertree Nook Road, Liverpool 15.)




Competition no. 220: results

The setter of Competition no. 1 returns again: Martin Armstrong. He is fond, as ever of setting mind-bending (or -numbing) instructions. The premise this time is thart a benevolent dictator has abolished the radio and the printing press. Thirty years later a visitor to the States sends back a letter recalling what has happened. Why is the letter-writer in the States? Why is it thirty years later? I despair. Armstrong has been hoping for a Swift or a Montesquieu or a Voltaire, and ‘inspired frivolity’. However …

‘There were ten fairly good entries,’ says Armstrong, wearily. He quotes Guy Hadley and T.S. Attlee, but suddenly breaks off and awards the prizes to William Bliss and to Molly. Bliss characteristically appends a note, and on this occasion, it’s printed.


The thirty year rule and the USA location (which Molly exploits) don’t seem to add much.