Just the one competition this week, from Gerald Bullett: the winner to get two guineas, the second to get one guinea, and the third-placed to get half a guinea (a saving of half a guinea on the usual prize pot!). ‘Spring has survived her poets, and will survive others,’ writes Bullett, a bit nebulously. He asks for a poem entitled ‘April 1933’, in three six- or eight-line stanzas, the stanzas to be in a combination of two metres. He gives an example (not to be slavishly followed) from Blake’s ‘Night’:
Oddly enough, he also says that anyone who wants to drop the 1933 is welcome to, and that those who do opt to go with 1933 ‘and who write with some consciousness of our times, are advised not to make specific political allusions’. Why? What’s the point of that?
Anyway, it’s a disaster: ‘Many entrants seemed to misunderstand the terms of the competition, thinking it sufficient to vary the length of their lines, and not troubling to introduce a definite metrical change; and others, having achieved such a change in the first stanza, failed to sustain it throughout.’ Ouch. He then proceeds to take apart Prudence’s poem (Prudence is a ‘she”), despite it being ‘charming’. William Bliss and Pibwob and ‘a few others’ are let off. The prizes go to D.C.R.Francombe, Lester Ralph and Cottontail in that order. He hasn’t got space for Cottontail’s poem, but promises it will be published very soon. It never is: the first and only example of a half-guinea being handed to a writer whose work remained unpublished in the WR.
No two ways about it: these poems could and would have won competitions set over thirty years earlier.
The WR starts 1933 with a makeover, a new type-face, which it asks readers to try to get used to before commenting. The front looks like this:
and here are the contents:
I’ll jump ahead a few weeks, when comment was invited. Two competitors vied on the letter page, one pro, one anti – George van Raalte and W. Hodgson Burnet (of the latter, notice his extraordinary address!)
Gerald Bullett sets what he fondly imagines will require ‘devilish ingenuity’ – a ‘not unseasonal sonnet’ in which the first letter of the first line is W, the second of the second is E. the third of the third is E, the fourth etc is K, the fifth is a hyphen and so on until ‘WEEK-END REVIEW’ is spelled out diagonally. In fact this proves pretty easy, and it looks a bit odd because the emboldened words don’t go very far across the verse. The winner is Cottontail, who is lucky, because Bullett prefers – yes he does – T.E. Casson, until he spots that Casson (and a newbie, Brer Rabbit, who gets a consolation prize, as Competition B has run into problems again) have each made a technical mistake. Can you spot it? I’ll explain at the end.
As a matter of record, the B competition was to offer some words from Dr. Pangloss on the international situation (Hitler was on the verge of taking over in Germany). There were very few entries, and nothing worth printing (the shortest competition report to date!)
Okay, have you spotted where Casson and Brer Rabbit went wrong? It’s to do with the hyphen. By using (as instructed) a hyphen in line 5, they have set up a rule whereby a hyphen has to be a character. So ‘deep-delved’ and ‘two-thirds’ become technical faults.
Frank Sidgwick notes that 1933 (just coming up) will allegedly be the 350th anniversary of Luther, Rabelais and Raphael and wants a discussion at Broadcasting House as to which, if any, should be celebrated, and how. The competitors take a bit of a pasting for lacking wit, and the second prize is suspended. There is only one winner – unfunny in my opinion – and that is Lester Ralph.
Sidgwick’s B competition fares little better. He wants a future OED entry for ‘unladderable’. But the entrants slip up with the shorthand of the OED, and Sidgwick bats them all aside, cancels the first prize and offers only a second to Cottontail:
Ernest Betts asks for an introduction (up to 250 words) to a new aerial Bradshaw (a Bradshaw was the annual and hefty guide to the times of trains, connections between lines, and a) retained the name of Bradshaw though he had died in 1853 and b) survived until 1961: I can just remember it, and its pages of addenda). This didn’t strike me as a very promising subject for wit or humour, and I’m afraid I was right. ‘Few in number and not extraordinary in quality,’ is Betts’ laconic comment. The winner is J.H.G.Gibbs, and the runner-up is Guy Hadley.
The B competition was for a ‘Song On The Day I Was Born’, providing you were Masefield (a bit of a WR favourite for parody), Mussolini, Bertrand Russell, or Noel Coward.
Almost nobody goes for Coward or Russell, several for Masefield, but almost everyone for Il Duce. Many says Betts, treated Mussolini ‘flippantly’, which is a ‘political crime of the first order’. I’m not so sure. The winner is nearly T.E. Casson, but Casson makes the mistake of introducing T.S. Eliot into his Mussolini song. The winner is Cottontail, and the runner-up is W.A.Rathkey.
Mussolini had been power for over 7 years at this stage. His invasion of Abyssinia was another three years in the future.