Competitions nos. 186A and 186B: results

Frank Sidgwick sets a competition which was actually set again earlier this year (2014) in New Statesman. The idea is to take a proverb, and add a rider to it. An American agricultural journal had actually remarked that ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness, but as far as cows are concerned, cleanliness should come first’. The recent NS competition gave its entrants free rein, more stimulating that Sidgwick’s stipulating (but okay, not insisting on) three well-known adages by the same writer: You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear; what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander; Heaven helps those who help themselves.

Nearly fifty entrants, but many cheerily missed out that dull insistence ‘by the same writer’. In other words, folks, farming jokes called for. Only fourteen were left at this stage. Several were eliminated for writing bad American. Having kyboshed his own competition, Sidgwick is left only with the option of divvying up the two and a half guineas so that James Hall gets one, and three others (Phiz, M.C.Trench and T.E. Casson) carry off half a guinea.


More than fifty entrants have a bash at the B competition – to make a single heroic couplet out of Walter Savage Landor’s quatrain:


This is a well-known whole poem from the first half of the nineteenth century, but one suspects that Dirce is not so well-known – she was killed by her niece’s sons, by being tied to a bull’s horns. My question is, why turn it into a couplet? Oh well. Several competitors said it couldn’t be done.

Sidgwick, who is nothing if not a rigmaroler, discusses whether is right to use a word from the poem as a rhyme word, and eventually stops fretting giving out just one guinea to a very fortunate Charles G. Box (since it is a poor effort!), although it’s first win, and he’s come close:



Competitions 81A and 81B: results

J.C.Squire asks for a narrative introducing as many English place-names as ordinary words e.g. How can I stoke the furniss when I’m reading? In principle this is exactly the same as Competition 2502, in 1978, which was the first one I entered (on that occasion it was poet’s names used as ordinary words).  the entry is predictably huge, with one competitor managing nearly a  hundred place-names in his allotted 300 (too many, says Squire, but gives him the ruinner-up spot).  D.A.M. is commended for his line  ‘She sat alone under the County Oak thinking that if a Manchester she would not be able to run Bacup the Busby lane because she was afraid of the Blackpool’ (My introduction to Martin Fagg, who gained the top prize in 2502, was his final couplet ‘A ralegh pleasant afternoon;/ I’m surrey though to have to leave sassoon’). The list of also-rans is huge; the winners are M.C.Trench and Dythe.

WR 81 really WR 81 really 2

The B competition, the winning entry of which Squire particularly admires, is for a sonnet ‘When I consider how my days were spent’ written by a young man or woman looking for a job after finishing their education. The linguist Dermot Spence is the winner and Kikine the runner-up.

WR 81 really 2a

Comps nos 13A and 13B: results

To round off the first quarter, Martin Armstrong, the first judge to set two competitions, is so pleased by what he gets back about comparing kitchen gadgets with cuckoos that he prints four complete poems that are only commended (N.B., Issachar, Cyduba, and Seacape of course). The winners are M.C. Trench and Pibwob, whose poems are said to have a ‘snap’.

“Them cuckoos, Mrs. Green,” says I,
“They know a thing or two
“Them other birds ‘ave never learned
” – No more have me or you. –
“A house and kids – lor’ what a life!
Cook, clean, and mend up clo’es –
Our labour-savin’s dirt beside
What every cuckoo knows!”


Ere incubators were evolved
    By some inventive man,
Thy natural genius had solved
    That labour-saving plan.

“Saving”? The labour’s but transferred
    By methods hardly nice.
O Cuckoo! shall I call thee bird
    Or billeting device?


The translations from the French for 13B present competitors, says Armstrong, with the problem of avoiding ‘Wardour Street Poetry’ (for a definition, see here). Some familiar names (including one called Majolica who has not yet won) are commended, but the prizes go to two new names, Elizabeth Mott and Pobs.

Sea-levels bared in their immutability
Cleave with a long gold bar the sky’s profundity.
Far up, with languour trailing like a gracile eft,
Loiters a wisp of cloud belated, rosy and lone,
Above the silent ridges notched with peak and cleft,
… Charged with a subtle stir, slow airs coe floating, blown
Across the plain and all about the tufted slopes
Where great kine mightily horned, with eyes bloodshot and deep,
Hump-shouldered and with satin skins and thews like ropes
Crop salty turf and all low-growing herbs that creep.
– Two Madagascan negroes, lean of loin and bent,
Squat there and smoke black pipes, with elbows on their knees,
And jowls propt in their palms; absorbed, indifferent,
Brooding in stupor of thoughtless timeless reveries.
… And now the master-bull, th’old seasoned chief, who knows
That homing-time is soon, that nearer comes the night,
His open mouth a-drip with slaver silver-white,
Stretches a blunt upturned muzzle and seaward lows.

                                                           ELIZABETH MOTT

Receding waves have smoothed the dunes, that now redeem
the sea and evening sky with one long golden gleam.
Alone, a wisp of cloud, still snake-like in the skies,
in idle convolutions writhes until it dies,
torn into pieces on the silhouetted hills.
A breeze, unflurried presence, not quite seen distils
a mindless charm about green slopes and greener mead,
where graze the bulls, each rock-like thrusting his great head;
alive the red-veined eyes, alive the teeth that tussle
with roots, and lustrous skins, alive the muscle.
Not far away two blacks squat idle on lean thighs,
with knees upthrust to arms, fists stuck below their eyes,
fixed in a reverie beyond harsh words and stripes,
not moving,and not living, save in their black pipes.
Until the herd’s accustomed leader, he withal
aware of night’s approach and mindful of the stall,
a skein of silver dribbling blown against his chest,
sticks out his muzzle smooth, and bugles to the rest.


It’s interesting that the definition of Wardour Street poetry given in the link above actually cites ‘withal’ as an example.