Lucy Vickery

Spectator competition: Autumn villanelles (plus: poems in praise or dispraise of well-known buildings)

Spectator competition: Autumn villanelles (plus: poems in praise or dispraise of well-known buildings)
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Stephen Fry is a fan of the villanelle — it was what inspired him to write his how-to book for poets, The Ode Less Travelled. And so are you, if the response to a recent call for autumn villanelles is anything to go by.

Here is the poet Stanley J Sharpless on the demands of this fiendish form: ‘There are strict rules you cannot misconstrue:/ Five three-line stanzas, capped with a quatrain,/ With only two rhymes all the poem through’.

In general, you coped admirably with these technical challenges. D.A. Prince, Mike Morrison and Brian Allgar were especially impressive and narrowly missed the cut. A round of applause for the winners below, who take £30 each.

Frank McDonald

Autumn has come and summer dreams are dead

And though she compensates with golden trees

Beyond her kind deceit death lies ahead.

She wears a smile and moves with gentle tread

And yet her tone will change as time decrees;

Autumn has come and summer dreams are dead.

Too soon her transient beauty will be shed

And withered blooms will disappoint her bees.

Beyond her kind deceit death lies ahead.

Apologies in fruit are brightly spread

But still we hear in every gossip breeze

Autumn has come and summer dreams are dead.

Although she dances, beautiful in red,

Doing her best to pacify and please

Beyond her kind deceit death lies ahead.

We never welcomed autumn to our bed

But she arrived to titillate and tease.

Autumn has come and summer dreams are dead.

Beyond her kind deceit death lies ahead.

Max Ross

It’s hard to write an autumn villanelle

On mists and gourds, maturing sun and grain.

Perhaps an ode will serve me just as well.

Late flowers and vines and bees in clammy cell

Bring nothing to poor Keats’s fevered brain.

It’s hard to write an autumn villanelle.

On lambs loud-bleating there’s a tale to tell

In lines that flow, all free of any pain.

Perhaps an ode would serve me just as well.

My heart aches for I cannot weave a spell

With this strange form. I emphasise again:

It’s hard to write an autumn villanelle.

A cider press and plumped-up hazel shell

Would make a thing of beauty, it is plain.

Perhaps an ode would serve me just as well.

Let all this repetition go to hell;

If I attempt much more I’ll go insane.

It’s hard to write an autumn villanelle

Perhaps. An ode will serve me just as well.

Ralph Rochester

Trust not this joker in his gaudy clothes.

He steals the daylight and he cools the sun.

He kills the lily and he blights the rose.

Storms are his claim to fame. He blasts and blows

and robs the mariner of all he’s won.

Trust not this joker in his gaudy clothes.

He strips the green from ev’ry tree that grows

and paints the garden brown and when he’s done

he kills the lily and he blights the rose.

Insolent spoiler, see him thumb his nose

and drown a country wedding — not just one!

Trust not this joker in his gaudy clothes.

He fills the skies with seagulls and with crows

and bids the swallows flee, the hedgehogs run.

He kills the lily and he blights the rose.

He breathes his chill on fingers as on toes

and pockets all he finds of summer fun.

Trust not this joker in his gaudy clothes.

He kills the lily and he blights the rose.

Philip Roe

This is the time to learn that men grow old.

We hear a farewell in the swallows’ call

As summer’s warmth gives way to winter’s cold.

The fields are bare as all the crops are polled

And only stumps remain of what was tall

This is the time to learn that men grow old.

The trees are covered up in greasy mould

And sprout unsightly tumours filled with gall

As summer’s warmth gives way to winter’s cold.

The leaves, so lately buds, grow rich with gold.

Weighed down, they shrivel, petrify and fall.

This is the time to learn that men grow old.

The shops remove their decent goods unsold

And Christmas chintz adorns the shopping mall

As summer’s warmth gives way to winter’s cold.

And things that never will be done are told

As empty phrases fill the conference hall.

This is the time to learn that men grow old

As summer’s warmth gives way to winter’s cold.

John Whitworth

Bright day declines. Long shadows grow

Across etiolated grass.

It is the season of the crow.

Tall forests murmur to and fro.

Their yellowing leaves are sick and sparse.

Bright day declines. Long shadows grow

Stinkhorns and polypores below

In the abandoned underpass.

It is the season of the crow.

The mood is lowering indigo.

Thick fogs descend like clouded glass.

Bright day declines. Long shadows grow.

Your steps are faltering and slow,

For fear of falling on your arse.

It is the season of the crow.

Our dream of summer’s golden glow

Has dwindled to an age of brass.

Bright day declines. Long shadows grow.

It is the season of the crow.

Your next challenge is to submit a poem in praise or dispraise of a well-known building. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 5 November.