Lucy Vickery

Art of darkness

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In Competition 2839 you were invited to submit a poem about the darker side of spring. There were references in the entry to Larkin, who could always be relied on to see the bleaker side of things (‘their greenness is a kind of grief’), as well as to Eliot and Thomas Edward Brown. There were also nice echoes of Ogden Nash and Wordsworth.

Nicholas Holbrook and Josephine Boyle were unlucky losers and I liked Ray Kelley’s closing couplet: ‘It’s not by mere coincidence that vernal/ Rhymes so immaculately with infernal.’ The winners, printed below, earn £25 each. Bill Greenwell takes the extra fiver.


At night the young man’s fancy burns

   With unrequited lust;

His thighs expand, his stomach churns,

   He shudders with disgust —

He hates himself, he hates the scent

   Of buds, the songs of birds.

With winter gone, his fast intent’s

   Too terrible for words.

In spring, incomprehensible,

   He springs up like a weed,

With thoughts beyond defensible

   And desperate to breed.

Every Jill and daffodil

   Should tremble at his tread:

For he is driven by his will

   To trample on their bed.

Bill Greenwell

The distinguished author of ‘The Waste Land’

   and ‘Little Gidding’

Called April cruel. He wasn’t kidding.

But it’s not only April that makes me feel like

   joining the berserkers.

It’s the whole damn vernal circus,

When normally sane adults behave like Basil


As if the world becomes full of promise

At the very first sighting of a snowdrop or a


And similar hocus-pocus.

You’ll hear people chorus ‘Ah, the sap is rising!’

Like it’s a miracle. That’s what sap does. Is that


Here’s what I believe:

Like vows of love spring flatters to deceive,

A layer of pastoral optimism

Over the abysm.

So don’t ask me to celebrate Primavera.

I’d rather poison pigeons in the park, like Tom


Basil Ransome-Davies

The robin seeks a worm to kill.

The cat lusts for the robin’s blood.

Cruel hunters shake off winter’s chill.

Death blooms beside the crocus bud.

The shriek of birds, the whine of flies,

The burn and itch of pollen spores

Assail our ears and sting our eyes.

Our noses ooze like leprous sores.

Wrapped in cold-weather anoraks,

We bulged and sagged in privacy.

Now all our pints and all our snacks

Are all too plain for all to see.

Still worse, this season brings us Lent,

Time to abstain from everything.

We suffer winter’s punishment,

And then do penance in the spring.

Chris O’Carroll

With useless hope you hurt our hearts;

The perfume on your breath

Comes not from joyous, princely courts

But from the land of death.

With songs you tease our tired lips

Too sad with age to sing.

With mirthful wine you fill our cups,

Cruel and deceitful Spring!

Give foolish boys and wide-eyed girls

Your rainbow-rich displays.

Let birds repeat your wicked carols

And please you with their praise.

But we who’ve seen your floral shows

Who once with joy believed

We could abandon winter clothes

Now view you, undeceived.

Frank McDonald

Spring cleaning must be done, a cloud of dust

Hangs mid-air in a beam of April sun,

And on the window sill a mildew crust

Reveals that putrefaction has begun.

The house, neglected through the storms and


That threatened roof and chimneys shows the


Of slow insidious damage, crumbling walls

Behind the cobwebbed paper, inky lines

Where curtains fold. I reach out for the broom,

For mops and dusters to begin my task,

Unpeeling winter’s grime from every room,

But as I sweep and scrub I have to ask

If dirt can ever be in my control,

And if hard work can ever purge the soul.

Katie Mallett

It’s Spring, and the weeds are encroaching,

But other plants, too, are a pest.

They come out of nowhere, determined to grow


We’ve planted the rarest and best.

Now, where did those violets come from?

I’d never have have planted them there.

They’re pretty enough, but invasive and rough,

And they’re seeding themselves everywhere.

Campanulas, too, are a nightmare;

We planted a small group of three.

First a pool, then a river — and now, with a shiver,

I stare at a limitless sea.

These marauders, these trespassing beauties,

Have become an unstoppable bevy.

Though the days may grow light, it’s a sobering


And my heart, I assure you, is heavy.

Brian Allgar

No. 2842: putdownable

You are invited to compose the most off-putting book blurb that you can muster. Please email entries (150 words max.) to by midday on 2 April.