Lucy Vickery

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]

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 tookTo fill two souls with joy.   But Casanova passing byAnd catching sight of JillThought: ‘How amusing. What good funTo do a fair maid ill.’  Poor Jack was dull with him aroundThis man was bright and gay,A high-class sort and sharp of witSo ’twas with him Jill lay.  Now Jack will stay away for goodAnd Jill cannot stop crying.So, virgins all, if bad boys callLook out for artful lying.Philip Roe

This Lipogram bans itWhich may sound absurd,But find it you’ll not,It occurs in no word. As a grain lost in sandOr a pin hid in hay, Spy it you won’tThough you labour all day;Look as long as you willBut this you’ll not spotIn hiding it stays,On display it is not.So study this stanzaAnd try as you might,Your hunt cannot showWhat is not within sight.Alan

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in