Lucy Vickery

Spectator competition winners: Poems without the letter ‘e’

Spectator competition winners: Poems without the letter ‘e’
The French writer Georges Perec, who wrote a whole novel without using the letter ‘e’ [Sipa/Shutterstock]
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In Competition No. 3159 you were invited to supply a poem that does not contain the letter ‘e’. This fiendish challenge was a nod to Georges Perec’s ‘e’-less tour de force La Disparition (protagonist: A. Vowl), which was subsequently translated, also without the letter ‘e’, by the heroic Gilbert Adair. Perec, who once composed a 5,000-letter-long palindrome — beat that — later took all his unused ‘e’s’ and deployed them in Les Revenentes, in which it is the only vowel.

The comp elicited moans and groans but proved wildly popular none the less. Perec’s friend and fellow Oulipian Harry Mathews said in an interview in the Paris Review: ‘What distinguishes Oulipo from other language games is that its methods have to be capable of producing valid literary results.’ Well, they did so on this occasion. Honourable mentions go to Hugh King, George Simmers, Katie Mallett and D.A. Prince, but congratulations all round. The six terrifically witty and well-made winners appear below and earn their authors £25.

If Jill, a bold and bonny girl,

Saw Jack, a strapping boy,

A loving kiss was all it took

To fill two souls with joy.


But Casanova passing by

And catching sight of Jill

Thought: ‘How amusing. What good fun

To do a fair maid ill.’


Poor Jack was dull with him around

This man was bright and gay,

A high-class sort and sharp of wit

So ’twas with him Jill lay.


Now Jack will stay away for good

And Jill cannot stop crying.

So, virgins all, if bad boys call

Look out for artful lying.

Philip Roe
This Lipogram bans it

Which may sound absurd,

But find it you’ll not,

It occurs in no word.

As a grain lost in sand

Or a pin hid in hay,

Spy it you won’t

Though you labour all day;

Look as long as you will

But this you’ll not spot

In hiding it stays,

On display it is not.

So study this stanza

And try as you might,

Your hunt cannot show

What is not within sight.

Alan Millard
My soul sings out if I catch sight

Of rainbow arcs on high

For in my far-off infancy

A rainbow brought a sigh.

Throughout my happy childhood

A rainbow’s stunning sight

Was magical and mystic;

It put my angst to flight.

Now I affirm my boyhood

Still plays its part today,

As though a boy was author

Of all I think and say.

I trust that it will stay so,

That always I’ll maintain

Fond faith in what my childhood got

From colours wrought in rain.

Frank McDonald
Shall I portray you as an autumn day?

For, truth to say, I do not wish withal

To woo you, praising darling buds of May;

Your charm doth grow as blossoms start to fall.


Its first flush past, a bloom that’s had its day

Holds fascination that can stir my passion,

I touch its rich, luxuriant display,

Its classic form surpassing youthful fashion.


As days grow short and autumn turns to gold,

Anticipation mounts, my longing now

To find forthwith a gift that doth unfold

Abundantly, and pluck it from its bough.


Lush fruits maturing slowly, by and by

Bring lasting joy, for youth may swiftly fly.

Sylvia Fairley
This glyph, in British talk, occurs most oft —

most common, too, it’s writ within our books.

Twixt ‘a’ and ‘z’ ’tis fifth, but stands aloft

although it’s unassuming in its looks.

An ‘o’ ajar, in small form, with a rod

slid inwards at a slightly rakish slant;

this symbol is industrial printing’s god,

dug in that no brash upstart can supplant.

In caps, a straight and standing pillar holds

a trio of blunt prongs all pointing right;

within our words this famous icon moulds

its myth of broad ubiquity and might.

Oh tyrant glyph, undo your crafty smirk,

I banish and dismiss you from this work.

Paul Freeman
Aaron Bronsky bought an aardvark, sat it in an aviary,

Put a cockatoo in with it. (Pong was not too savoury.)

Molly Mary bought a moggy, truly was a fractious puss,

It would rub its fur against a window jamb to start a fuss.

Aaron and his Molly Mary thought that both might go away

On a train to Torquay station, for a working holiday,

Taking aardvark, Bronsky’s birdy, Molly Mary’s moggy too.

What was Aaron’s inspiration? Not warm sands, but Paignton Zoo!

G.M. Southgate

No. 3162: double time

You are invited to supply double dactyls on stars of popular or classical music (a maximum of three entries each). Please email entries to by midday on 12 August. NB. We are unable to accept postal entries for the time being.