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Competition

Martian poetry

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

In Competition No. 2923 you were invited to describe an everyday object, in verse, from the point of view of a Martian.

James Fenton coined the term Martian to describe the work of poets such as Craig Raine and Christopher Reid, whose poems cast familiar objects in an unfamiliar light. In his 1979 poem ‘A Martian Sends a Postcard Home’ Raine describes books, or ‘caxtons’ as he calls them, as ‘mechanical birds with many wings/ and some are treasured for their markings —/ they cause the eyes to melt/ or the body to shriek without pain…’


This was a challenging comp. Children are well suited to writing Martian but it’s trickier for adults with their more fully formed view of the world. Though Michael Seese, Mark Shelton and Michael Spencer did well and deserve honourable mentions, the entries printed below came closest to what I was looking for. They earn their authors £25 each. Bill Greenwell takes the bonus fiver.

Lately, it has been forced
to fit in. It hides in plain view,

shameless, bright on the outside.
After a meal, it eats itself

in spasms, helped by its congregants,
who drum silver tattoos

on dirtied porcelain, filling its maw.
When no one is looking,

it passes coded messages
over the airwaves to the dog, who sniffs

at its pretension, wrestling it down.
Sometimes it hoards junk:

it takes in what no one has franked,
and keeps it, unopened,

before its dark and sleazy uterus
is skinned and evicted.
Bill Greenwell

They are ubiquitous, concealed
In every home and office block;
An object, when one stands revealed,
Whose substance is like polished rock.
A snail’s shell is its shape, turned up,
Much magnified in bulk and size;
And in its sloping, hollowed cup
A level pool of water lies.
This font, it seems, they venerate,
And worship often in its shrine,
Alone and in a secret state
Within the small and locked confine.
Their offerings they make unseen,
The water moved with drops or drill;
Then use a purgative machine
To leave the water clear and still.
W.J. Webster

They stand alone, dressed all in red,
With markings on their front and head.
Each mouth perpetually gapes
For brown and white nutritious shapes.
Their owners feed them every day,
But, when they finish, walk away.
Sometimes their chests are opened wide
By surgeons, who then grope inside.
This helps these static pets excrete
The residues of what they eat.
Jerome Betts

I see a smoothly fashioned void,
a frustum of paraboloid,
that in its simple geometry
displays a perfect symmetry
but for a small protuberance
not fabricated to enhance,
accommodating human grips,
enabling passage to the lips.
The void is filled with elements
whose flavoured texture and whose scents
when tipped into the human jaws
inspire pleasure and applause.
This solid with its hollow core,
a thing of clay, and nothing more,
gives humankind its will to be.
For them it is their cup of tea.
Frank McDonald

An oblong with a polished face
It’s carried round from place to place
In a pocket, bag, or hand,
And sometimes humans simply stand
And gaze at it, as if to see
Their future in its mystery.
Sometimes they poke its face as if
To wake it up, but hard and stiff
It lies inanimate till stirred
When it will chirrup like a bird
Or sing a song and to its cry
Its human owner then will fly
To shut it up, or full of fear
Clasp it tightly to an ear
And talk out loud. But it must be fed
By plug or mat, or it will be dead.
Katie Mallett

The people walk about and talk to God
With boxes to their ears. It’s very odd.
They tell him what they will and what they won’t
You think he’d know but obviously he don’t.

They sit and put the boxes on their laps
And gaze and gaze. What do they see? Perhaps
It is their souls they contemplate. And what
They see is something they had rather not.

The God who lives within the box is small
And sad, no majesty and power at all.
But withered, suited to their misery.
He is not anything a God should be.

Good God, is that time? Must fly, they say,
And shut him up to squirrel him away.
But still he chirrups every now and then,
Hoping that they will pick him up again.
John Whitworth

No. 2926: railway rhythms

Auden wrote a poem about the mail train to Scotland, so let’s have one about HS2. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 25 November.

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