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Competition Diversions


Lucy Vickery presents the latest competition

7 October 2009

12:00 AM

7 October 2009

12:00 AM

Lucy Vickery presents the latest competition

In Competition No. 2616 you were invited to continue Edward Lear’s self-portrait in verse — ‘How pleasant to know Mr Lear’ — or T.S. Eliot’s response — ‘How unpleasant to meet Mr Eliot’ — for a further 15 lines, substituting the name of the poet of your choice, or sticking to the originals if you preferred. Lear’s poem, and Eliot’s response, proved to be a fruitful starting point, prompting an avalanche of entries in which Larkin, Eliot and Pound made regular appearances and were mostly unpleasant to meet.

I stumbled across Lear’s masterclass in the art of self-deprecation on the Edward Lear Home Page where I had come to revisit Auden’s portrait of the Laureate of Nonsense. ‘Left by his friend to breakfast alone on the white/ Italian shore, his Terrible Demon arose/ Over his shoulder; he wept to himself in the night,/ A dirty landscape-painter who hated his nose.’ P.C. Parrish’s portrait of Wystan Hugh using Lear’s model was a nice counterpoint to this, and deserves an honourable mention. Appreciative nods, too, to Frank Osen, Mary Holtby, Melissa Balmain, David Yezzi and Max Ross, whose subject was none other than star competitor Bill Greenwell. The winners are printed below and get £30 each. Frank McDonald gets £35.

How unpleasant to meet Mr Eliot
if you’re young and like verse that amuses;
he’s as funny as Judas Iscariot
and what’s much piu cattivo he chooses
to quote the Italian of Dante
with never a thought that he’s boring;
he deems the abstruse elegante
leaving customers blissfully snoring.
His scenes are unspeakably dismal
with deserts, drowned men and disease;
the depths of his rot is abysmal
with leopards round juniper trees.
He’s searched through Britannica’s pages
for facts that will drive you demented,
while his reference notes and impossible quotes
make you wish he was never invented.
Frank McDonald

How pleasant to know Wendy Cope,
A poet of true popularity,
No dismal dispenser of dope,
But a model of balance and clarity.

Who speaks to the tests of the times
In a language concise and untrendy?
Who is mistress of metres and rhymes?
My answer is totally Wendy.

Who speaks of the woe that is woman
In thrall to the mess that is man?
Who shows her condition is human?
Wendy Cope is the coper who can.

Let me give you a toast in dry sherry
To this model of Faith and of Hope,
With a Charity makes us all merry.
How pleasant to know Wendy Cope.
John Whitworth

How unpleasant to meet Mr Pound!
With his fierce and poetical beard,
And his out-to-lunch views
About bankers and Jews
And his volumes and volumes of verse esoterica
By the looniest bard by a mile in America.
How unpleasant to meet Mr Pound!
A fellow’s decidedly weird,
If his addictive taste
For black shirts must be faced.
But as Gertrude Stein said, it just couldn’t be
That Ezra was really a village explainer.
How unpleasant to meet Mr Pound!
A know-nothing bigot,
A mouth like a spigot,
And yet he is rightly revered.
Basil Ransome-Davies

How unpleasant to meet Mr Larkin,
With his voyeurist views of the young,
Looking out through his specs and imagining
And clicking his well-sherried tongue.
Consider him out on his bicycle,
As he studies and mutters and peeps,
Or wearing his wellingtons, humming Duke
‘A-Train’. It gives you the creeps:
All those rides round the ruinous churches,
All those trips to the cemetery yard,
And his sedulous gloom, meditating on doom,
And his three hundred drafts of ‘Aubade’.
With his life’s Dewey Decimal System,
All in order in Kingston-on-Hull —
With a heart like a cyst, the misanthropist gist
Of his poems — how perfectly dull!
Bill Greenwell

How pleasant to know William McGonagall
In all his fearful creative variety,
With his poetic infelicities so prodigal,
And to have the joy of hearing them proclaimed
By him in the noble and ancient town of
As the tourist views the scene with joy he smiles,
And he can enjoy the beautiful scenery
Around the city for about thirty-seven miles,
And share a beer with Mr McGonagall, with
And learn of disasters like the lamentable Tay
And thousands of sheep that together there
Browsing on the barren pasture below the ridge.
Indeed, Dame Fortune endowed Sir William
Topaz McGonagall,
Who claimed he knew nothing about poetry,
With a genius that is comical and tragical
That entertains his listeners with the greatest of
Shirley Curran

No. 2619: Mangled maxim
You are invited to submit a short fable (150 words maximum) which culminates in a mangled aphorism (eg the Bill Deedes classic, ‘You can’t make an omelette without frying eggs.’) Entries to Competition 2619 by midday on 21 October or email Email is preferable in view of the current disruption to postal services.

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