Lucy Vickery

Spectator competition winners: is August the cruellest month?

Spectator competition winners: is August the cruellest month?
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The latest competition invited poems in praise or dispraise of August. There was a whiff of collusion about the entry this week, so many references were there to rubbish television, rubbish weather, fractious kiddies, tired gardens, traffic jams; as Katie Mallett puts it: ‘A turgid time of torpor and delay.’

But there were some sparkling, inventive turns too. David Silverman was on pithy form:

Oh, thou cruellest month!

If August comes, then winter

Can’t be far behind.

And hats off to A.H. Harker’s well-made nod to Eliot, to Paul Freeman and to W.J. Webster, a rare but eloquent fan of August. The winners take £30 and John Whitworth pockets £35.

John Whitworth

August, August, it’s the tops.

August tastes like lollipops.

August in the midday sun,

Everybody having fun.

Summer days will last for ever.

Boys are bathing in the river.

Girls in cotton dresses go

Up and down and to and fro.

Perfect in their loveliness

Like the girls of Lyonesse,

Free from worry, free from care,

Happy faces everywhere.

All the world is fresh and bright

In that special August light.

Anyway, that’s how it seems.

August is the stuff of dreams.

Nick MacKinnon

Augustus Caesar stole the days, but when his

      Empire died

the Anglo-Saxon freeman claimed the weeks of

      Lammastide;

a quiet month, a riot month, when pupils kick

      their heels

before their bad exam results and up-the-creek

      appeals;

a hazy month, a lazy month and such as we would

      see

each time we drove to Kynance Cove along the 303.

We are not fans of caravans, nor statics by the

      shore,

our kinship dwells in canvas bells that dad pitched

      in the war;

we push their poles down last year’s holes in

      bristly thrifted turf,

incant a spell for north-west swell and wild

      Atlantic surf,

and catch a wave that mermaids crave, as tide

      begins to run

across the teeth of a granite reef aglow in the

      August sun.

Frank McDonald

On either side of summer lie

Long terms that make a teacher sigh

But solace comes with sweet July

When Sir can cease to damn a lot.

For holidays reduce the strain

Of coaching thugs and feeling pain;

Poor Sir can be himself again

And may begin to charm a lot.

Kind August lets a teacher rest

From discipline and tiresome test.

This is the month that he loves best

For he can play and dram a lot

In foreign parts with foreign sun

Where joy is measured by the ton;

August invites him to have fun

And Sir will then stay calm a lot.

G.M. Davis

August’s a month I winnow down

To an intense epitome:

A cricket match in Chaucer’s town

In August, 1953.

The Aussie players, tanned as bark,

Were twice as talented as browned,

And playing as if for a lark

They smacked our bowlers round the ground.

Their single innings beat Kent’s two.

They won the crowd, not just the game,

Lusty and cavalier. We knew

Defeat by masters is no shame.

The stats the record books will cite

Are true, but only half the story.

When times grow dark I can relight

That unforgotten August glory.

Bill Greenwell

August is a smörgåsbord of boiling hot and

      freezing:

As raucous as a beach resort, as silent as the rain

      —

It seems to be seducing you, but ah, it’s only

      teasing:

It offers you its sedatives, but brings a special pain.

It offers you tranquillity, and claims it’s

      transcendental,

It offers you siestas and some sultry après-midis:

The sea, the lake, the river, how they promise to

      be gentle,

But never do they mention all the chaos of the

      kiddies.

Children play at August like some spoilsports high

      on dexies,

Scuppering the karma, and alarming every nerve:

You thought you’d find nirvana, but you’re filled

      with apoplexies —

You thought you’d straighten up, but you are on a

      vicious curve.

Here is August, loitering, with intent and with

      invention,

Its cocked and crooked finger urging you to take a

      break,

To holiday, to move yourself into the fifth

      dimension.

And now it comes to numb you, and your eyelids

      start to ache.

Your next challenge is to submit an extract from the diary of the spouse of a high-profile political figure, living or dead. Please email entries of up to 150 words, including a word count, to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 13 September.