Lucy Vickery

Spectator competition winners: poems inspired by the phonetic alphabet

Spectator competition winners: poems inspired by the phonetic alphabet
Anna Carteret as Juliet Bravo. Credit: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo
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In Competition No. 3210, you were invited to provide a poem or a piece of prose containing words from the phonetic alphabet.

The brief didn’t stipulate that you incorporate all 26 words, but hats off to those who shoehorned them in. In a whopping, wide-ranging entry, with echoes of Keats and MacNeice, and ‘Papa’ Hemingway looming large, Nick Syrett, Nick MacKinnon and Frank Upton shone, but it was a terrific performance all round. The winners earn £30 each.

Why on earth in ’56 did someone rearrange

The old phonetic alphabet of 1943,

While leaving just four letters of its twenty-six unchanged

As Charlie X-ray Mike remained and Victor kept his V?

Quebec has now replaced the Queen and Love’s gone down the pan.

New Whiskey killed off William while November did for Nan

As Easy, Fox and How and Jig were all flushed down the bog

With Peter, Uncle, Oboe, Sugar, Item, Tare and Dog;

And Able, Baker, Zebra, George were also cancelled then

By the random vandalism of some bureaucrat’s red pen

Which added some replacements which scarcely augur well

Like Yankee Tango Uniform and Zulu Golf Hotel.

But I’ve made some recent changes for my private use alone

And I warn the perpetrator if I catch him on his own

That, on behalf of words to which he gave the coup de grâce,

I’ll shove his P-for-Pen right up his K-for-Khyber Pass.

Martin Parker
Mike deserved an Oscar for gloominess. His face and the November morning were a uniform grey. Then Jeeves materialised like those johnnies in India on the astral whatsit.

‘The star-crossed lovers, Jeeves.’

‘Romeo and Juliet, sir?’

‘Mike and Charlie.’

‘Sir?’

‘Aka Charlotte. Papa owns a whisky distillery but doesn’t drink, and a hotel with a dance band but thinks the foxtrot and tango are the devil’s work. And he objects to Mike. He wants an alpha male son-in-law, like Wolfe of Quebec or someone fighting the Zulu at Rorke’s Drift. And someone rich.’

‘And I’m poor,’ said Mike, ‘and play golf.’

‘Dealing with poverty first, sir, might I suggest a yankee at Sandown? Sierra Madre, Rose of Lima, Nile Delta and Golden Kilo.’

Jeeves has an X-ray eye for horses. Mike put his shirt on them and proved victor.

‘Bravo, Jeeves!’

‘Bravo!’ came Mike’s echo. ‘Now for the hero.’

Nicholas Hodgson
I had, to sample and to sell,

A kilo of Blue Mango.

I phoned a luxury hotel

And danced a solo tango.

I booked a flight. We met that night.

The stars shone over Lima.

I glowed in their romantic light,

But I’m a foolish dreamer.

Long story short, all systems fail.

She had me in the frame.

Her partner was an Alpha male

And Victor was his name.

Bravo, my dear. You played it neat.

Your nerves could handle risky.

And now I hang out on the street

And beg for cash for whiskey.

Basil Ransome-Davies
Poor Romeo, his spelling was a matter of concern,

An Oscar for his writing was a prize he’d never earn,

And when he wrote ‘Dear Juliett’ his letter she’d return

Explaining Juliet had just one ‘t’.

‘My spelling isn’t uniform,’ he answered, ‘yet it’s true

I’d learn to foxtrot, tango or do anything for you

Apart from learning how to spell, for that I cannot do,

A decent speller I shall never be.

Alas, I know your papa and your kith and kin as well

Would rather I were in Quebec, or India, or Hell,

And yet this proper Charlie who will never learn to spell

On bended knee begs, come and live with me!’

The cry, ‘Bravo’, will echo down the ages for these two,

Each of them a victor who, while living, never knew

Their alpha to their omega would speedily ensue,

When joined in death will live eternally.

Alan Millard
In an echo of an earlier era, the band switched from a foxtrot to a tango. Ordering another whiskey, Charlie asked, ‘The Delta variant from India?’

Poirot beamed. ‘Bravo, mon ami! Your Papa was right. The virus arrived in South Africa from Sierra Leone in November — the symptoms are uniform throughout the hotel.’

‘Might an X-ray help?’ ventured Hastings.

‘Hardly.’ Poirot stepped from the ballroom towards the Juliet balcony. He watched two figures approaching. The taller, although a kilo overweight, was plainly the alpha male.

‘Golf,’ he said. ‘It is a game most detestable, n’est-ce-pas? But I think the Yankee will eventually prove the victor.’

Hastings said, ‘Actually, Poirot, Mike is from Quebec. He won an Oscar playing Romeo in a production set in Lima.’

Down below, some locals were playing double-or-quits.

Regarding them, Poirot remarked suddenly, ’Heads I win, tails, Zulus!’ His eyes twinkled.

J.C.H. Mounsey

No. 3213: art nouveau

You are invited to submit a villanelle whose first line is: ‘The art of [insert gerund of choice here] isn’t hard to master…’ Email entries to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 18 August.