Lucy Vickery

First thoughts

Text settings

In Competition No. 3030 you were invited to provide a poem entitled ‘January’.

I mentioned William Carlos Williams, R.S. Thomas and Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the brief for this challenge, all of whom wrote poems with ‘January’ as their title. But that most maligned of months also lands a starring role in the opening stanza of George Barker’s charming poem ‘January Jumps About’: ‘January jumps about/ in the frying pan/ trying to heat/ his frozen feet/ like a Canadian…’

Freezing temperatures were very much on your minds, too, and for hot-flush-ridden Jayne Osborn they are a cause for celebration. The winners printed below are rewarded with £25. Chris O’Carroll is overall champ and earns £30.

One face surveys the long, cold month behind,

One contemplates the deep, short freeze ahead.

Too much of nature on your watch, you find,

Is more than metaphorically dead.

Yours is the standstill at the end and start:

The pied, bright spring will flourish from this ice;

Refreshed from every flower’s fragrant heart,

The air will soften as it wells with spice;

From silver frost a golden sun will climb,

Gilding green pastures, warming every beach;

The crops and herds will fatten in their time,

Full of those lessons plenty has to teach;

But once brief bounty has been stored away,

The harsher lessons learned from scarcity

Will loom; the cold truth of the shortest day

Will dim the world your backward gaze can see.

Chris O’Carroll

Of January wary be!

The fairy on the Christmas tree

Can wave no more her magic wand,

She’s in the loft, she won’t respond.

A cold east wind from Europe blows

But what it augurs no one knows,

It bites the ears and seems to moan

‘We’ll freeze you out. You’re on your own.’

Then, turning to the west, we hear

The Mighty Trump sound loud and clear:

A wild, discordant blast that hails

More vehement storms and violent gales;

This month bodes ill but all’s not lost,

The spring might yet unfreeze the frost,

And kinder months are on their way,

There’s always hope, there’s always May!

Alan Millard

Cooler month, you find us huddled

In the ashes, ex-Noelled;

Overhung, contrite and muddled

Needing Christmas fog dispelled.

Mark our faces, whitened, ashen,

Pull us up and set us straight.

January, with compassion

Save us from this chastened state.

Back to work now firmly send us;

Pay no heed to our complaints.

With new discipline amend us,

Set our boundaries, cast constraints.

Slowly then, reveal your glory:

Longer days to which we cling;

Month of firsts, renew our story,

Send us hopeful into spring.

Paul Carpenter

January now. It should be cold,

Freezing breath and slippery underfoo

With frost and hoary leaves in every fold

Of earth, its hard and wizened face like soot

Where spiders’ webs and scattered dirt streak out

From corners where the hose has splashed in pots.

But still the soil is soft and through it sprout

The sturdy spears of daffodils and knot

Of tiny seedlings. Still the cannas stand

Erect and green, like loyal sentries fixed

On duty as the seasons’ change is spanned,

And autumn’s death and spring’s new life are mixed.

But who knows what the morning light will show —

Cold sexton winter still could bring us snow.

Katie Mallett

There are three months that start with J:

January, June, July.

June leads July but follows May.

Does anyone know why?

In June the weather’s fairly warm;

In July much the same.

But rain and sleet and icy storm?

That’s January’s game.

June as we know can name a girl.

July is Caesar’s tag.

Cold January’s a cruel churl,

A murderous old lag.

As sensual souls beneath the moon

We can enjoy a flux

Of pleasure in July and June,

But January sucks.

Basil Ransome-Davies

We welcome you and yet you turn your back

On thoughts of spring, presenting snow and ice.

Our streets are traps, our pavements icy black

And bleakness wrapped in bleakness is your vice.

December loved our generosity

And rang her bells with optimistic joy

But you arrived with animosity

To inconvenience, anger and annoy.

There was a time in childhood when your snow

Had playful kindness and you even smiled;

Now that our steps are warier and slow

We are your playthings, rattled and reviled.

And so, dark month, we do not call you friend

But shiver till your tribulations end.

Frank McDonald

No. 3033: presidential patter

Thanks go to @huntthesnark on Twitter for this one: you are invited to take as your first line ‘I am the very model of a Very Stable Genius’ and continue for up to a further 15. Email entries to by midday on 24 January, please.