In Competition No. 2996 you were invited to submit an acrostic sonnet in which the first letters of each line spell AT THE SPECTATOR. You weren’t obliged to make the theme of your sonnet this magazine and its contributors but many of you did, to great effect. (The tone was mainly though not universally affectionate.)
Dorothy Pope, Joseph Houlihan, George Thomson and Paul A. Freeman deserve a special mention for eye-catching contributions, and the winners, printed below, pocket £25 each. W.J. Webster takes £30.
A nest of singing birds they may not be
(Too individual in the way they speak);
Their talents, though, make quite a company,
High-class performers writing week on week.
Essential reading is the Howse report,
So full and yet so elegantly spare;
Past perfect, too, where Peter Jones has caught
Examples of what we and ancients share.
Contrasting in their styles, like blade and axe,
The Moore and Liddle duo slice and chop,
As, leading from the front, Page 3 attacks
Those failings seen as starting from the top.
Our luck to have such pieces and much more
Reminding us what weeklies should be for.
‘Aha, but what is Truth?’ quoth Pontius Pilate.
‘Truth is Beauty, Beauty Truth’ saith Keats —
There in every sunset, rose or violet;
Heard in every nightingale that tweets;
Every lark; in every rainbow’s hues —
So where do we find truth among the lies,
Prevarications, slanders and fake news,
Evasions, libels, wool pulled o’er our eyes,
Calumnies, deceit? Oh! Where to find
The sole remaining bastion of Truth?
At The Spectator! Dull he’d be and blind,
To miss this Light unto the nation’s youth!
On every page, the Truth is writ upon it,
Rightly praised in every winning sonnet.
Above all, in the topmost of the storeys,
The shrine is, where Charles Moore hymns Mrs T.
Then come three floors where young and busy Tories
Hammer out red-hot post-Brexit policy.
Expensive cocktails flow in Taki’s lair;
Steerpike and he here swap lubricious goss.
Parris pops in sometimes, and Vander Weyer,
Exuding cash, may flirt with Deborah Ross.
Come down now, past the neat abodes where Mary
Talks etiquette, and Dot makes words do gym,
And down past Delingpole the so-contrary,
Teasing the climate boys, to this most grim
Of echoing basements, where, in thrice-locked cage
Rod Liddle paws the ground in snarling rage.
‘At the Spectator’, an acrostic sonnet;
This ought to be the easiest of missions.
The twinkling of an eye, and whoosh! I’m on it;
Half a century writing competitions
Enables me to toss them off with ease…
So why this sinking feeling as I stare,
Perplexed, at gaping holes like gruyère cheese?
Eight lines at last — I’m more than halfway there.
Come on, old chap! Just keep the neurones ticking
(The few that you have left), mop up the sweat,
And try to get the rhyme and metre clicking.
Twelve lines… I’m knackered, but I can’t stop yet,
Or Lucy will believe that I’m a skiver.
Right, that’s the lot. Now, where’s my extra fiver?
As I was wandering lonely in the hills
That overlooked a little clump of trees
There chanced upon my gaze gold daffodils,
Hosts of bright flowers dancing in the breeze,
Extending like the stars in midnight skies,
Shaking their heads in never-ending line.
Poetic rapture surged from such surprise,
Evoking thoughts that might be termed divine.
Call me a dreamer but when I’m alone
These flowers fill my soul with new romance
And as I recollect the scene I’ve known
This mellow heart of mine begins to dance.
O Lord, I would immortalise those flowers
Richly in rhyme, if Wordsworth had the powers.
An actress, during lunch, made this remark:
‘The Athenaeum’s not the sort of place
To take a girl who likes to have a lark.’
Her host, a bishop, heard this with good grace,
Evincing yet a countenance serene,
Suggesting they might try another club.
‘Perhaps,’ she answered, ‘one in Bethnal Green.’
Eleven hours later in a pub,
Carousing wildly, hoarse from karaoke,
They danced the tango in a lewd embrace,
And did a striptease to the hokey cokey.
Thus was ensured episcopal disgrace.
‘O tempora! O mores!’ you may say.
Remember, though, to every dog his day.
Acrostic verse — what fun for Easter time!
The pencil’s sharp, the muse will soon descend,
The eggs will aid my search for wit and rhyme;
Hours pass, creative wits are at an end.
Each line works well, but rhymes are slow to show,
(Some sonnets take some time, as Shakespeare sussed.)
Perhaps another egg will speed the flow…
Eventually it’s finished, only just.
Come Thursday, there’ll be changes here and there
To give the finished piece a chance to win.
At last it lands on Lucy’s desk — that’s where
The ‘Bill and Basil complex’ now kicks in.
One boon I crave, with greed I can’t disguise,
Rebuff the rest — for once, give me the prize!
No. 2999: a bad lot
You are invited to supply a poem which takes as its first line W.S. Gilbert’s ‘A policeman’s lot is not a happy one’ but replaces ‘policeman’ with another trade or profession. Please email up to 16 lines to email@example.com by midday on 17 May.