Lucy Vickery

Competition | 15 August 2009

Lucy Vickery presents the latest competition

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In Competition No. 2608 you were invited to submit a poem in praise of adjectives. While the inspiration for last week’s challenge was a verb-hating French doctor of letters, this time around you can blame Ezra Pound. In The Spirit of Romance he states, ‘The true poet is most easily distinguished from the false, when he trusts himself to the simplest expression, and when he writes without adjectives.’

The entry was a spirited and magnificently unPoundian celebration of this oft-maligned part of speech. Commendations to Martin Parker and Melissa Balmain. They were narrowly squeezed out by the winners, below, who are rewarded with £30 apiece. The bonus fiver goes to Bill Greenwell.

No noun (or pronoun) would go down as great

If neglected by adjectives, stripped of their garnish:

If you can’t cadge an adj. to provide you some varnish,

Your prose will lack punch, and be plain as a plate.


Simenon claimed you should winkle them out,

But Maigret’s a dull dog, neither style nor panache:

Dour and powerless, under the lash,

Maigret needs adjectives — of that there’s no doubt.


Decorative, eloquent, demented, splenetic —

Whether crouched between commas or bunched up or clustered —

Where adjectives gather, the language cuts mustard:

Nouns leave the ground, energetic, balletic.


Verbs may have verve, but an adjective’s hammer

Produces the sparks from the writerly anvil:

Try Barker (the one who begins Harley Granville-),

And revel at once in the glamour of grammar.

Bill Greenwell

And what made England’s mountains ‘green’ or April showers ‘sweet’?

The adjective! It crowns the noun and renders it complete!

How dull Limpopo’s banks would seem had Kipling not been keen

To turn them ‘greasy’, make them ‘great’ and colour them ‘grey-green’.

A ‘pea-green’ boat, as Lear made clear, is more than just a boat

And any note, to be of note, should be a ‘five-pound’ note.

Nursery rhymes, for children, serve as adjective providers

With ‘silver’ nutmegs, ‘pretty’ maids and ‘incy wincy’ spiders.

To Wordsworth for a single word the world is now beholden,

His daffodils dance all the more for being painted ‘golden’.

There’s Swift (whose name’s an adjective) with ever ‘smaller’ fleas

And Shelley’s wondrous ‘wild west’ wind and Masefield’s ‘lonely’ seas.

Our blessed isle is ‘scepter’d’ thanks to Shakespeare’s wit and will

In crafting clever adjectives which aptly fit the bill.

None should frown upon the noun though never can it live

Without that polished, priceless, peerless, perfect adjective.

Alan Millard

Oh festive board, oh shitty dog, and noisome cat, my cunning tongue

is slippery, pleased to loudly laugh at spritely beasts, bright arbours hung

with vivid blossoms, heavy dropped on drowsy pates of lazy loons

who idly wait for fragrant plates of pungent broths, clean silver spoons

raised to the blazing golden sun that shyly shines through heavy vines

with prickly caterpillars clung, and loud with  stripey insect whines.

Below merlot glows redly through clear glass to swiftly steal slow wits,

so shitty dog and noisome cat are eager gobblers, the best bits

of gourmet-fare are largely scoffed by furtive beasts, while tipsy fools

oblivious and garrulous, are stupid, as grimalkin drools

and hairy Kaspar’s ancient skills demolish golden poultry roasts

before their sightless eyes, and pies, fruit-laden, crash, as drunken toasts

grow louder as besotted hosts and silly guests and louts carouse,

neglected birthday candles catch rogue winds and burn the fetid house.

Janet Kenny

There’s nothing like an adjective to qualify a noun.

It’s wholly fit for purpose, so to speak.

Applied to friends and family it serves to put them down:

Naive, psychotic, boring, idle, weak.

All book reviewers understand descriptives must draw blood

Equivalent to shrapnel wounds or worse.

An epithet-attack can mean the author’s name is mud:

Flat, turgid, unoriginal, perverse.

In mating language adjectives need never be sincere.

They’re prompts from the Pavlovian mother-board.

What pays is using clichés smitten lovers love to hear:

Exciting, gorgeous, wonderful, adored.

Some adjectives are fresh and lively, some are off the shelf,

But all are praiseworthy, even the oddest.

I have a private store I like applying to myself:

Successful, handsome, talented, wise, modest.  

Basil Ransome-Davies

What is this life if, full of care,

Our staple fayre is doing-words?

Begone the sounds of verbs and nouns!

We need a spirit that resounds

To woo-ing words, imbuing words,

True-y, bluey gooey words

And I’m-in-love-with-you-ey words.

The parts of speech that melt cold hearts

Aren’t articles or names of parts:

Was Burns’s beastie just a mouse?

So Wuthering Heights was just a house?

Is Stevie Gerrard just a Scouse?

No! Push the boat out (verbally)

In glorious hyperbole!

An ode to adjectives? You bet —

Let’s hear it for the epithet!

David Silverman

No. 2611: Holding fourth

You are invited to provide a poem to be recited on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square (16 lines maximum). Entries to Competition 2611 by midday on 26 August or email