Lucy Vickery

Spectator competition winners: poems inspired by the Shipping Forecast

Spectator competition winners: poems inspired by the Shipping Forecast
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The call for poems inspired by the Shipping Forecast drew an entry that was funny, poignant and varied, in both content — cricket, adultery, the choppy waters of Brexit — and form (haiku, sonnet, villanelle…).

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’.

Joe Houlihan’s entry — ‘The general synopsis at 1100/ Shopping trip with spouse, new low expected./ Iceland, Tesco, Aldi/ Fare: good’ — brought to mind the clever Shipping Forecast parodies on David Quantick and Daniel Maier’s Radio 4 sketch show One: ‘And now with the time approaching 5 pm/ It’s time for the mid-life crisis forecast.../Forties; restless: three or four./ Marriage: stale; becoming suffocating.’

Other strong performers, only narrowly pipped to the post by the winners below, were Mike Morrison, Ralph Rochester, Alanna Blake and Brian Allgar. Those that made the cut take £30 each. D.A. Prince snaffles the extra fiver.

D.A. Prince

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.

Bill Greenwell

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.

Frank McDonald

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.

Basil Ransome-Davies

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.

W.J. Webster

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.

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 lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 3 January.