Food for thought

In Competition No. 2419 you were invited to supply a poem in free verse beginning ‘I think continually of …’

‘…those who were truly great’ completes the first line of a much anthologised poem by Stephen Spender. Free verse has a tendency to slip into something like very rough blank verse, and some of you fell into this trap. Of all the things continually thought about by you I was especially tickled by Paul Griffin’s ‘the Saturday Collectors,/ Mrs Broadworthy, Mr Brisk, and the sisters Payne,/ Always the same four’. The prizewinners, printed below, take £25, and I have no hesitation in awarding the bonus fiver to Noel Petty.

I think continually of sex.
Every six minutes, they say,
the clever ones who know such things,
or is it perhaps six seconds? I forget.
I try sometimes to test this theory,
creeping up on myself
to catch me unawares,
but always I see me coming
and gaze at the sky
whistling, in a pantomime of innocence.
But I am not fooled,
and I have warned me
that if I catch me at it
it will be bread and water
for a month.
Noel Petty

I think continually of those in supporting roles:
of Elisha Cook Junior who never, never survived,
mortally cursed by his sad baby’s eyes;
of Jack Elam’s putrid stubble and alcoholic squint;
of gaunt Charles McGraw, the hatchet face of hatchet faces;
of Jack Lambert’s savage pug-ugliness modelled on rotting cheese;
of Marie Windsor’s greedy lips and gothic lashes;
of the tough dikey glamour of Lizabeth Scott.

And below them the nameless, the mute and the blurred;
the dress extras smoking and miming at the next table
in the smoky déco night club where the hero makes his play;
the low-level heavies too punkish to be shot by a star;
the women in MGM make-up with nothing to say;
the waiters and cabbies and cops at the foot of the cast list;
the unknowns and passers-by blind to the unfolding drama
or just quietly, eternally, climbing the wall.

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