Lucy Vickery

Spectator competition winners: letters to cities

Spectator competition winners: letters to cities
‘Dear Wells, the smallest city in the land,/ how perfectly you’re formed, size doesn’t matter…’ [Photo: Xen0phile]
Text settings

In Competition No. 3176 you were invited to write a poem to a city.

This challenge was inspired by both Simon Armitage’s letter to London (‘Dear London, I’ve applied for a restraining order requiring that you remain 200 miles from Huddersfield at all times…’), and William McGonagall’s inadvertently hilarious ‘Jottings of New York’, of which a snippet:

Oh mighty City of New York! you are wonderful to behold,

Your buildings are magnificent, the truth be it told,

They were the only things that seemed to arrest my eye,

Because many of them are thirteen storeys high.

The Tayside Tragedian’s voice lives on in entries from John O’Byrne and Alanna Blake, among others. Plaudits, too, to R.M. Goddard, for a clever reworking of Phil Coulter’s ‘To the Town I love So Well’, and to Emma Teichmann. The winners earn £25.

Dear Sunderland, your boulevards,

Your strange exotic dark façades —

Here on the coast your secrets sleep:

Your ancient minster, castle keep,

The statues to the past, the future.

The river’s simple silver suture

Stitches the northern and southern sides —

While on the coast, the riding tides

Burst over apple-dappled dunes

To fill the coal and flint lagoons.

On evenings, quiet crowds parade

After the football match is played,

And hoist their heroes, red and white,

Whose dazzling skills are dynamite.

Above the Wear, the moon breaks through!

If only half of this were true.

Bill Greenwell
Dear Wells, the smallest city in the land,

how perfectly you’re formed, size doesn’t matter!

Beside the Mendips, gracefully you stand,

exuding peace the modern world can’t shatter.


Your great cathedral, gothic-hewn, appears

where jousting knights spin clockwise every day

to subdivide the hours, the days, the years,

while centuries drift timelessly away.


While gliding smoothly on the palace moat

the swans drop in to ring the dinner bell,

and, like the swans, our thoughts, unfettered, float

with nothing untoward to break the spell.


In testing times, when forced to keep apart,

with Covid bringing lockdown to the nation,

I long to relocate — another start —

in you, dear Wells, I’d welcome isolation.

Sylvia Fairley
Dear Cambridge, you were home to me

Before I knew about your fame:

Hedge-dens and wheatfields then would be

The pictures conjured by your name.

In time I grew to find and know

Your bridges, chapels, courts and halls;

To watch your gentle river flow

As moat to ancient college walls;

Resented how the annual tide

Of undergrads with bumptious airs

Would pour in from the great outside

And dare to think of you as theirs.

But now a worse flood fills your streets

Awash with jostling crocodiles:

For them, you’re simply stuff for tweets

And backdrop for their selfie smiles.

W.J. Webster
Dear Newport — you’re the most maligned of places;

it makes me sad and I shall try to stop it.

I’ll take a selfie of our homely faces

and then I’ll see if I can photoshop it.

Nobody likes you, probably because

you’ve always been defined by what you’re not,

compared to Cardiff, given lower scores

and classified by what you haven’t got.

I shall adopt your own bold attitude —

two fingers to the guidebook on the shelf —

and call upon Saint Woolos and Saint Jude

to show me how to make you love yourself.

Come, take my hand and I’ll escort you through it;

it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

Ann Drysdale
Dear Leicester, once so quiet and — well,

dull was the only word —

then changed by the transforming spell

of Richard (King) the Third.


Who can forget your car-park trope —

the buzz, the whole world’s press,

the archaeologists, their hope

and stubborn-mindedness?


The tourist office stepped up, fast;

visitor numbers zoomed.

You even got a Pret, at last.

The whole economy boomed.


No longer dull and quiet, fame

has graced your name, and stuck;

though much-maligned (Shakespeare’s to blame)

King Richard brought good luck.

D.A. Prince
Earth had not anything to show more fair

when first I paused and wrote, a passer-by

who saw in London naught but majesty.

Yet London now doth like a felon wear

a prison house’s stench from which each bare-

faced, money-grabbing, wild, lick-penny lie

doth rise, a Devil’s incense, to the sky

and hangs like poison in the godless air.

Nowhere could sun, more hesitating, peep

to light a Banker’s paunch or shyster’s maw

and witness Mammon gorging quite so deep.

Proud Thames now creepeth past this putrid sore

where greed and easy virtue never sleep,

the City now the Devil’s cut-purse whore.

Martin Parker

No. 3179: singular sonnets

You are invited to submit a Christmas hit single (please specify) rewritten as a sonnet. Please email entries to by midday on 4 December. NB the shorter deadline is because of Christmas production schedules.