Lucy Vickery

The secret lives of poets

The secret lives of poets
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In Competition No. 3140 you were invited to submit a poem in the style of a famous poet in which they make a surprising confession.

It’s elbow-bumps all round this week: an excellent entry. Douglas G. Brown reveals the raciness (gin; trollops) that lurks beneath Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s high-minded exterior. Nick MacKinnon exposes the jolly, ‘Kumbaya’-singing side of misery guts Larkin. And E.E. Cummings fesses up, via Christopher Davies:

it’s

time

(i came clean)

my typewriter

(is)

broken.

Commendations to Peter Mills, Paul A. Freeman, David Silverman, P.M. Davidson and Lachlan Rurlander. The winners earn £25 each.

Breathes there a man with mind so prim

That he would ne’er indulge the whim

Of borrowing his lady’s dress

That he might feel its sweet caress

’Stead harsh constriction in his breeks?

Scorn not the cumbered man who seeks,

As I confess that I have done,

A solace that is swiftly won

By wearing petticoats of silk

And other garments of that ilk.

When troubled I would oft repair

Discreetly to my rooms and there

In gown and bodice loosely strapped

Gaze out on moor and scaur, so rapt

That I would soon forget my woes

And brawny, manly verse compose.

Hugh King/Walter Scott
Her fish-netted thighs left me weak at the knees

As I climbed up behind her towards our trapeze;

Then standing surveying the crowd from the heights,

She in her sequins and me in my tights;

And the Aldershot subalterns cheering her charms

As she flew her parabolas into my arms;

And their gasps of alarm as she’d plummet and twist

Till I grasped her and clasped her by ankle and wrist.

And the thrill of her touch and the throb of each nerve

As she’d hang from my legs in a sinuous curve;

And the joy that would come, as I gathered her in,

From the nearness of sequins and tennis-tanned skin;

And the swing-along, cling-along ring-a-ding dong

Of my old part-time job at the Star-Spangled Thong;

And the furtive and hopelessly guilt-ridden fun

Of those poetry-free nights with Miss Joan Hunter-Dunn.

Martin Parker/John Betjeman
When I consider how my life is blest

Since, bullied in employment, I’d decide

To leave the civil service; thus I lied

And claimed I’d lost my sight, yet no one guess’d

How deeply in deception I’d transgress’d,

My counterfeit condition would provide

A life of ease, it cannot be deny’d,

With benefits beside, which serve me best

When with a maid; perchance my hand doth stray,

’Tis deemed an accident because I’m blind,

She little knows my malady is feign’d.

The talent that is hidden will repay

The pleasure it doth bring me, for I find

That paradise, once lost, has been regain’d.

Sylvia Fairley/Milton
These city streets are what I know

And love, this lively to-and-fro.

The countryside lacks neon light.

Here, roads are paved and no cocks crow.

It is my ‘rural poet’ plight

To be constrained in what I write.

The fans want rustic homilies,

In which my interest is slight.

I’d choose to praise amenities

Like jazz clubs, wine bars, symphonies,

Not stone walls, horses, birds and sheep,

Not snowfall-decorated trees.

The price I have to pay to keep

My popularity is steep.

My hayseed verses are a heap

Of junk that makes this grown man weep.

Chris O’Carroll/Robert Frost
There is no joy for me in using rhyme

To mark the measured order of my verse,

When every line I write expends more time

On palt’ring praise of him I daily curse.

He is no friend who holds my pen in thrall,

Prescribes what I may write and in what fashion,

Who must be shown as wise and fair withal,

The object of an unabated passion.

Cribbed so, my words can never ’scape the page

To be transformed through breath from ink to air:

He bars me from my sweet true love the stage

Where all I have to give the world may share.

A poem and a reader form one ring,

But linking with the globe, a play’s the thing.

W.J. Webster/Shakespeare
They raised me well, my mum and dad.

They taught me love, integrity.

They passed along the best they had

But always let me still be me.

I know I wrote the opposite,

But that was for the sake of rhyme.

Complaining made the metre fit,

But I will tell the truth this time:

Man hands on joyfulness to man.

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Have all the children that you can!

I wish I had some kids myself.

Robert Schechter/Philip Larkin

No. 3143: love story

You are invited to submit a short story, in the magical realist style, entitled ‘Love in the Time of Covid-19’. Please email entries of up to 150 words to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 1 April.