Lucy Vickery

Shipping lines

Text settings

In Competition No. 3027 you were invited to submit a poem inspired by the Shipping Forecast.

Life-saver, lullaby, poetic reminder of our maritime heritage, the Shipping Forecast celebrated its 150th anniversary this year. Charlotte Green has described it as the nearest she ever came to reading poetry on air; Carol Ann Duffy ended her poem ‘Prayer’ with the lines ‘Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer —/ Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre’; and Seamus Heaney wrote a beautiful sonnet ‘The Shipping Forecast’.

Its incantatory magic inspired a entry that was funny, poignant and varied, in both content — cricket, adultery, the choppy waters of Brexit — and form (haiku, sonnet, villanelle…). The winners, printed below, take £30 each. D.A. Prince snaffles the extra fiver.

Valentia, my sweetest love,

Sandettie’s playing jazz above

while we let Ardnamurchan point

the Scilly way to light a joint.

We’re in our Forties so we know

how German Bight can spoil the show;

to me your Sole Bay spirit’s dearer

than both the kingdoms of Utsire.

My love, Valentia, my dear,

your Biscay’s now becoming clear;

the Cape Wrath of our youth is past

and we are Fastnet bound at last.

Let trumpets make the Malin ring

and Rockall dance and Dogger swing.

We’ll Lundy on without a care

until we reach our Finisterre.

D.A. Prince

Nicely spoken palpitations

In the early hours of night:

Steadily, like incantations:

Fisher, Dogger, German Bight.

As the sleepless settle in

To the darkness they patrol,

As stealthy as a bedouin:

Lundy, Fastnet, Shannon, Sole.

A roll, a schoolboy brotherhood,

Uttered to the teacher’s liking —

Hoping for the comment, ‘Good’:

Rockall, Malin, Bailey, Viking.

Perhaps a tribute to the lost,

Now their bitter lives are over —

Quietly, their graves embossed:

Fitzroy, Biscay, Portland, Dover.

Bill Greenwell

Do not go gentle to the German Bight

Rage, rage and rowing keep the sea at bay;

Be like a Viking ready for a fight.

And when you leave the sanctuary of Wight,

The waves will thunder, menacingly grey.

Do not go gentle to the German Bight.

When Fair Isle tempts and even may excite,

Beware the sirens singing far away;

Be like a Viking ready for a fight.

Go forth to meet the demons of the night

And brave gigantic storms where monsters play;

Do not go gentle to the German Bight.

There dragons lurk; a thousand perils invite

And mariners unwary always pay.

Do not go gentle to the German Bight.

Be like a Viking ready for a fight.

Frank McDonald

The Skipper sank another rum and stared into the night.

‘Is this the Hebrides?’ he asked, ‘Or just the German Bight?’

The First Mate poured himself a tot and answered, ‘Don’t ask me,

For all I know it’s South Utsire or the Irish Sea.’

They summoned up the boatswain, who’d been at the bootleg gin

And suggested ‘South-East Iceland’ with a disrespectful grin,

Then fiddled with the radio as though it were a toy.

They tipped the numbskull overboard and called the cabin boy.

The young lad was a simpleton. He stank of rotgut wine.

No flicker of intelligence, of morals not a sign.

He mumbled, ‘Dogger Fisher — either that or Dover Sole’.

He went into the briny with a kind of western roll.

The Captain and his Number One took equal turns to pour

As wicked winds whipped up the waves and battered Britain’s shore.

Both pissed as newts, they slumbered as the ship went round and round.

You don’t need navigation when you don’t care where you’re bound.

Basil Ransome-Davies

The ring of odd and yet familiar names

Recited in its stately, settled round

Beguiles us as a soothing day’s-end sound

Whose litany of states and numbers tames

Wild elements with words, and neatly frames

In measured lines those forces which, unbound,

Can render vessels wrecked and sailors drowned

As victims that the challenged ocean claims.

For those at night who brave the open sea

(Not those prepared for sleep in some quiet place)

The forecast, as an overseeing eye,

Keeps watch beyond their own vicinity:

They’re tuned to catch the hazards that they face —

Not hear some quaint euphonious lullaby.

W.J. Webster 

No. 3030: first thoughts

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Carlos Williams and R.S. Thomas all wrote poems entitled ‘January’. If they did it, so can you. Please email (wherever possible) entries of up to 16 lines to by midday on 3 January.