Competitions nos. 172A and 172B: results

After a while away from the fray, Sylvia Lynd sets a competition to write a poem – ‘a portrait in verse’ – in the manner of George Crabbe (1754-1832). Crabbe can be quite wearisome to read at length, in my opinion, but he is good in small does – the thirty-line limit Lynd sets is about right. The thing about Crabbe is that he almost always writes in rhymed iambic pentameter couplets, so it’s the manner rather the matter that’s a nuisance. For his day, he was a surprisingly revealing writer – the first not to vilify or patronise ordinary people, in his case, in village life. He can be sardonic when he wants, but you do get a sense of the character on whom he is fixing (I can’t offhand think of a comparable portrait artist from the eighteenth century/ early nineteenth, unless you count Wordsworth, who plods rather more dully in Crabbe’s footsteps).

CrabbeLynd wants each submission to include the phrase

“… The fuddled midnight and the peevish day …”

I’m not quite sure a) why she chose the line, and even b) if it is a Crabbe line or a pastiche of Crabbe (probably Crabbe, who loves the word ‘peevish’). My Day-Lewis selection doesn’t have it, and I may have missed it in the online collected Crabbe (you can read some of his poems here).

Crabbe is no problem for the WR competitors (he is quite easy to mimic). Lynd thinks there are many potential winners. She notices that the entrants seem to divide themselves into those who habitually have fuddled midnights and peevish days, and those who shun them at all costs. The majority are shunners (‘to their moral credit’). So she gets virtuous clergymen, punctusl clerks and octogenarian labourers by the score, who don’t do peevish. But as Lynd notes – she could have been more explicit in the instructions, perhaps? – it’s the peevish ones she was hoping to read about. So out go Charles G. Box (who I think is Charles Gerard Box, boirn 1871, and a schoolteacher at Midhurst Grammar School in Sussex), W. Leslie Nicholls, and one or two psudonymous, types, including H.C.M.

As often happens when Lynd judges, the prize money gets carved up. The two guineas are split betweem Eremita and Valimus, and the bonus goes to Hutch. They’re all perfectly competent, but Crabbe can cause an allergic, soporific reaction …

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The B competition – a little unpromising, although Lynd was surprised that entries weren’t so good – was to write a letter from one young person to another on the subject of a picnic. Lynd had been expecting wild and hilarious tales. She doesn’t get them. She also breaks the rules in giving Eremita a prize in B when she or he already has a prize in A. And once again, she splits the first prize, which is daft, as it means it is the same value as the second prize. The ‘first prizes’ belong to Eremita and Marion Peacock. the runner up is ‘F.J.B’, who must be Freda Jane Bromhead.

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Surely an argument for deducting points for being too clever?!

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Dear Alfred, – We had the best kind of picnic last night, on the way home. I don’t know quite where it was; we turned down a track on a long road between Stratford-on-Avon and Oxford, and found a field. We left the theatre at eleven (it was ‘The Taming Of The Shrew’ – I do like a bit of slapstick on a Saturday night, don’t you?’ – and the moon had set, so we couldn’t see anything, except what our headlights picked out, They made the trees look as green as delphiniums are blue. There wasn’t a sound or a movement anywhere – not a dog barking or a moth fluttering. We ate little cold sausages (the Lees call them ‘bangers’. I suppose because of the fuss they make in the drying-pan) and drank shandy. We;d bought a melon in Stratford and Peggy cut it up with Boy’s knife – “big blade is for pipe and horse’s hoofs, small blade, oranges and cheese”, and ate it standing up, and bending over so that the juice shouldn’t drip to our toes. This looks like a very heathen rite when it is done in the beams from two strong headlights, with streaming shadow behind. We were rather quiet; nobody sang or told long stories. We’d all five been together since lunch-time, but I don’t think anyone was bored, aggrieved or sick of the arrangement. Certainly I wasn’t, for someone else had driven the car, someone else had poled the punt on the river before the theatre, and someone else had provided my sausages and shandy. It was the best kind of picnic.

F.J.B.

I have to say I think the last one is the best – it catches a particular kind of idiocy that is all too believable.

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Competitions nos. 101A and 101B: results

It’s February 27 1932, and the competition starts on its second hundred. Ironically, in that very issue, former New Statesman editor Clifford Sharp’s article ‘The Press And Contempt Of Court’ is published, the one that is to lead to a libel case that will bring the Week-end Review down within two years, and move it into the New Statesman fold, competition, ‘This England’ and all.

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However, back to the competitions. Ernest Betts asks first for ‘a Song Before Breakfast by an Advertising Man’ (30 lines limit, any form). Commending the usual crew (Casson, Upward, Little Billee inter alia), he nevertheless notes that no-one produced a roaring song. But by putting ‘any form’, he has rather lost the power to discipline the competitors. He splits the total prize money of two and a half guineas between John Carter and Pibwob, each of whom have provided odes (which he can’t imagine advertising men breaking into, especially before breakfast). So, £1.6s.3d each to both winners:

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potted meat

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If you’re puzzling over the punchline, Lord Verulam was the title given to Francis Bacon …

101B asks for an imitation of Proust, no less (300 words max) – from the point of view of a gentleman of leisure on taking his first sip of sherry before dinner. (It is worth noting that much of Proust’s sequence of novels A la recherche du temps perdu was published posthumously after his death in 1931. The last part was not published until 1927, and the final section was only published in an English translation in 1931.) Freda Bromhead takes the guinea (it’s really good) and the remaining half-guinea goes to the almost equally worthy Seton. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Competitions 65A and 65B: results

Naomi Royde-Smith (her own rules as ever, with three guineas for A, and two guineas for B) first sets ‘A Song in June’ (max 21 lines, and a host of competitors stroll into the trap of rhyming ‘June’ and ‘bloom’, ‘birds’ and ‘words’; and also the trap of whingeing about rain. W. Hodgson Burnet is commended as having been amusing, but ruled out because of the plethora of serious poems (that doesn’t sound a very good reason). One by one the top twenty entrants are winnowed. Seacape: Swinburnian echo, does not fulfil promise; Anthony Cowdray: great start to sonnet, but stops at line 12 and forgets to mention June. Hilda Newman (a winner on the previous occasion Royde-Smith was in charge, and perhaps the Hilda Newman here), Yeonhala, Cherryblossom, Miss M.M. Scott and Margaret Monroe are commended for various forms of prettiness and delicacy. Now we get to the final three, ‘as remarkable as any that have ever been sent in for an open competition’, which can’t quite be true, as the first (‘Loo’) is admonished for a dreadful line, before two victors share the spoils: Valimus (one guinea) and Marion Peacock (two guineas):

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Marion Peacock is good at this kind of poem – not stolidly Georgian, but quite fluent, even Imagist.

The B competition was for ‘an essay on hairpins’. Yes, an essay on hairpins. The winner is ‘F.J.B.‘ but Naomi Royde-Smith, perhaps unthinkingly, reveals her to be Freda Jane Bromhead – who was born the second daughter of a London art-dealer in 1903, and who lived, unmarried, in London for most of her life, dying in Bristol in 1993. There is a selection of her unpublished novels in a King’s College London archive, and there are traces here and there that she had poems published: but she did have one novel published in 1962, called The Flower On The Path.

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Gladys Cooper

Some hairgrips in use