In Competition No. 2962 you were invited to supply a poem about a body part of an author of your choosing. This challenge was inspired by the engaging title of a book by John Sutherland: Orwell’s Nose. In 2012 Sutherland permanently lost his sense of smell. Shortly thereafter, he set about rereading the works of George Orwell’s and was struck by how obsessed Orwell was with what things smell like.
The only noses in the entry, Gertrude Stein’s and Anna Akhmatova’s, had to share the limelight with Belloc’s bottom, Byron’s balls, Jane Austen’s breasts and Freud’s penis. In a palmary entry bursting with wit and invention Paul Evans, Christopher Boyle, Ann Drysdale, J.C.H. Mounsey, Robert Schechter and Roger Theobald stood out. The winners take £25 each. D.A. Prince pockets £30.
When he had fears that he would cease to be,
was it some half-heard prompting from his lung —
that Muse of shadowed immortality
which chilled the sunlit freedom of the young?
And when this lung had whispered, and the doubt
was seeded in his fertile, restless brain
did he find breathing more than in-and-out,
requiring more attention, too much strain.
The lung’s own language — blood-flecked,
a contradiction of all faery power —
forecast the tale that would, too soon, be told,
written (he thought) on water, some dead hour.
And, stifled, in the day’s air, short of breath,
the lung’s sole message shrank to one word: death.
I’m mad and bad of course but I’ve detected
Loads of attention in my bulbous part.
When I exposed it ladies have elected
To show concern, and offer up their heart.
I must confess romances I’ve effected
Owed more to this than to Byronic art.
Yet as a boy when I observed it grow
I thought that Beauty wouldn’t want to know.
The modest maids to whom I might reveal it
Would smile and give an understanding kiss.
Some would approach and fondly seek to feel it
And through their touching gesture offered bliss.
Yet there were times I wanted to conceal it
Believing all romance was cursed by this.
But since it’s proved a boon in love’s pursuit
I’m not unhappy with my club-shaped foot.
Alas, poor Will, it seems your skull has gone;
Headless you rest like Yorick in your play.
Perhaps the thief desired to muse upon
A head from which all thoughts had gone astray.
Who knows what works have come from
Of Shakespeare’s skull in someone’s private den?
That bony head in some unknown location
Might mutely help to fashion plays again.
Could you have guessed that theft would break
That promised rest from life’s incessant toil?
Or known that Shakespeare’s skull would have
When you had shuffled off your mortal coil?
‘Cool was the playful bard,’ Puck might have said,
‘But after quitting life he lost his head.’
What happened to Rimbaud’s right shank,
The one they lopped off in Marseille?
Was it sent back with him to be buried, this limb,
Or did they just chuck it away?
Did it fester and rot till it stank,
A puddle of suppurant matter,
Or did it survive amputation and thrive
As a writer? I favour the latter.
I can picture it under the table
Of a bar on the Canebière,
Where its pliable toes compose poems and prose
With that wicked Rimbaudian flair.
Just a gnarled, knee-high stump but still able
To cast a delirious spell,
While the rest of the bod spends for ever with God
Or a very long season in Hell.
A man of paradox, perverse,
Who’d celebrate both lust and God,
Love life and then his death rehearse,
Be plain and fancy, even odd.
His early portrait as young blade —
With moody look, cheeks dark and rough —
Above red, fleshy lips displayed
A faint moustache of wispy stuff.
Wheel turned and in his dying days
He modelled in his shroud, it’s said,
A pose discarding worldly ways
To show his rising from the dead.
St Paul’s still has the statue there,
But visitors might wonder why,
With body made so bleak and bare,
His spruce moustache should go on high.
Vile bodies may have spared the Brideshead set —
No defects in their body parts as yet —
But take the upper lip of Evelyn Waugh,
The most expressive lip you ever saw.
Though masterful with words upon the page,
In personal relations he’d engage
Eye contact, twist of lip, while with no speech
Demeaning all who came within his reach.
Occasionally one small nasal twitch
Would underline the cynicism which
Was his default emotive attitude
As he looked down on anyone who stood
Their ground against his egocentric stance.
Few critics waited for a second chance
To undergo his wordless high disdain,
See the raised lip decline and fall again.
No. 2965: selfie
Edna St Vincent Millay (among others) wrote a poem about a sonnet written in sonnet form (‘I will put Chaos into fourteen lines’). You are invited to write a poem about a verse form, written in that form (sorry, but a maximum of 16 lines please). Please email (wherever possible) entries to lucy@spectator.-co.uk by midday on 8 September.