Literary competition

Spectator competition winners: ‘I love Big Brexit’ – Orwellian short stories

To mark the 70th anniversary of George Orwell’s death, you were invited to submit a short story with an Orwellian flavour. This challenge was inspired by an entertaining thread on Twitter started by @rcolvile who asked for ideas for sequels or spin-offs when Orwell’s work goes out of copyright next January. Among the suggestions that elicited the most ‘likes’ were @NickTyrone’s ‘a sequel to Animal Farm in which all the non-pig animals console themselves with the idea that at least they “won the argument”.’ An honourable mention goes to Nick MacKinnon, whose twist on Nineteen Eight-Four sees Winston consigned to a Room 101 that is the embodiment of his greatest

Spectator competition winners: T.S. Eliot’s cats get to grips with the 21st century

The latest competition asked for poems featuring one of T.S. Eliot’s practical cats getting to grips with the modern world. Your 21st-century reincarnations of Eliot’s felines (the poems were originally published in 1939 and inspired by the poet’s four-year-old godson, who invented the words ‘pollicle’ for dogs and ‘jellicle’ for cats) were terrific, making it especially difficult to decide on the winners. Some fine Macavitys narrowly missed the cut (take a bow, Nick Syrett, David Shields and Hamish Wilson), as did Bill Greenwell’s Jellicles and Brian Allgar’s Growltiger, the Tory Cat. This week’s top cats are printed below and pocket £35 each. Sylvia Fairley Bustopher Jones has firm flesh on

Spectator competition winners: ‘It was the best of pies, it was the worst of pies’: famous authors on food

Your latest challenge was to provide a passage about food written in the style of a well-known author. One of my favourite literary meals is in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. Here is the novel’s protagonist, the Falstaffian Ignatius J. Reilly, sizing up a mid-afternoon snack: ‘In the boiling water the hot dogs swished and lashed like artificially coloured and magnified paramecia. Ignatius filled his lungs with the pungent, sour aroma. “I shall pretend that I am in a smart restaurant and that this is the lobster pond.”’ In a large and wide-ranging entry, Douglas G. Brown’s ‘Observation on a Vegetable That Was Probably Unknown to Ogden Nash’

Spectator competition winners: Adlestrop revisited (Yes. I remember Germolene…)

The latest challenge, to submit a poem beginning ‘Yes. I remember…’, was suggested by a reader who was very taken with Adrian Bailey’s poem ‘First Love’, a clever riff on Edward Thomas’s much-loved ‘Adlestrop’, published recently in this magazine. The winners, in an entry that provided a bracing blast of new year nostalgia, earn £25 each. D.A. Prince Yes, I remember Germolene — the densely-pink tinned-salmon hue, its smell, round tin, unwonted gloss like warm and antiseptic glue. It soothed each graze from roller skates. Those tumbles from the playground swings? — anaesthetised. It smelt of care, did Germolene. And other things. One of the family: its strength was ways

Spectator competition winners: Boris Johnson in trochaic tetrameter

The latest challenge invited you to add to Sam Leith’s lines about Boris Johnson, written in the metre of Longfellow’s ‘The Song of Hiawatha’: ‘Mayor of London Boris Johnson/ Much admired the lady’s pole-dance/ Mentored well her start-up business…’ Though Longfellow has long fallen out of fashion, in his day he was a poet celebrity, imitated by Baudelaire, parodied by Lewis Carroll and outselling Browning and Tennyson (he was also the first American to be honoured with a marble bust in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey). The poet J.D. McClatchy, writing in the New York Times, noted that on Long-fellow’s 70th birthday it was proclaimed that ‘there is no man

Spectator competition winners: ’Twas the night before Brexit…

This year’s Christmas challenge was to compose a poem entitled ‘’Twas the Night Before Brexit’. That seasonal classic ‘A Visit From St Nicholas’, more usually known as ‘The Night Before Christmas’, was published anonymously in 1823 and written by Clement Clarke Moore — or at least he claimed it was. The family of gentleman-poet Henry Livingston Jr later contended that he was the author, and the controversy rumbles on. Despite the potentially uncheery theme, you came up with some pleasingly diverse crackers, which are printed below and earn their authors £30 each. All that remains is to thank you all, veterans and newcomers alike, for your terrifically witty and well

Spectator competition winners: Shakespeare on eyebrows

This time round you were asked to submit Shakespeare’s newly discovered ‘Woeful ballad to his mistress’ eyebrows’, as referred to by Jaques in As You Like It (‘…And then the lover,/ Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad/ Made to his mistress’ eyebrow…’). For the purposes of this challenge, a ballad could be any sort of poem (most of you wrote sonnets) and anachronisms were allowed. The prizewinners, in another fiercely contested week, take £20. Basil Ransome-Davies What blessing crowns thy outward loveliness? A coiffed, enrapturing head of sable hair That blazes rank above the common press. Yet there is hair invisible elsewhere. Those secret, curling wisps that underlie Thy

Spectator competition winners: ‘Toilets’ by T.S. Eliot (anagrammatic poems)

The inspiration for the latest challenge — to rearrange the letters of the names of poets (e.g. Basho: ‘has B.O.’) and submit a poem of that title in the style of the poet concerned — was puzzle writer and editor Francis Heaney’s wonderful Holy Tango of Literature, which includes such delights as William Shakespeare’s ‘Is a sperm like a whale?’, Dorothy Parker’s ‘Dreary Hot Pork’ and William Carlos Williams’s ‘I will alarm Islamic owls’. The anagrammatic titles that caught my eye in a vast and stellar entry included ‘Naughty Nude Wash’ by Wystan Hugh Auden (David Shields) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Ode to a Large, Slimy Ulcer’ (Max Gutmann). Hats

Spectator competition winners: Halloween/ Occurs between/ The end of October/ And the start of not being sober: calendrical clerihews

Your latest challenge was to compose clerihews about any date in the calendar. I was very grateful recently to eagle-eyed John O’Byrne, who drew my attention to the fact that the closing date for Competition No. 3125 was not 20 November, as printed in the magazine, but 13 November. Even better, he did it in clerihew form: The 20 November, Now that I remember, Is the closing date not for 3125 but 3126 — So herewith my quick fix! Clerihews always go down well and this challenge netted a whopping entry. New Year’s Day, Shakespeare’s birthday, 9/11, the Fourth of July, Black Friday, April Fool’s Day, 5 November, Burns Night

Spectator competition winners: ‘By Waterloo Station I sat down and…’

The latest challenge called for a poem that begins ‘By Waterloo Station I sat down and…’. Some of you begged, some swore, others slept. But most, in a pleasingly sizable entry, took their lead from weeping Elizabeth Smart. There was a welcome influx of newcomers this week, alongside the familiar names, and the tone ranged from the comic to the poignant. Honourable mentions go to Paul Freeman, Gloria Brown, Ian Barker, Tim Raikes and Alan Mil-lard. The winners below pocket £30 each and include George Simmers’s natty twist on Matthew Arnold’s friend Arthur Hugh Clough’s ‘Dipsychus’ (‘How Pleasant It Is to Have Money…’). Nick MacKinnon By Waterloo Station I sat

Spectator competition winners: ‘It’s no go the continent, it’s no go the Riviera…’ Poems about Thomas Cook

The latest challenge, a mournful nod to the recently defunct 178-year-old travel company, called for poems about Thomas Cook. The firm may have hit the buffers, but many entries featured its eponymous founder’s original offering — railway travel and Temperance tours — which would be just the job in our clean-living, climate change-challenged times. In a large and excellent crop, which had echoes of Keats, Kipling, MacNeice and Thomas Hood, the six below stood out and earn their authors £25. Basil Ransome-Davies James Cook explored, and met the end Lèse-majesté procures, But Thomas Cook began the trend For organising tours. He was dynamic, fired with hope, And thus the business

Spectator competition winners: 50 ways to leave the White House

This week’s assignment was to write the lyrics to a song entitled ‘50 Ways to Leave the White House’. While the brief steered you in the direction of Paul Simon’s 1975 hit (the inspira-tion for whose distinctive chorus was a rhyming game played with his infant son), I didn’t specify that you had to use that as your template and competitors drew inspi-ration from a variety of other well-known songs. Honourable mentions go to David Shields, Katie Mallett and Rachael Churchill. The winners below earn £30 each. Ian Barker The problem is all about having a legacy. You need to be sure they will remember you, you       see. When it

Spectator competition winners: ‘Bloody men are like bloody rockets’: famous poets on the Apollo 11 moon landing

For the latest competition you were invited to step into the shoes of well-known poets and give their reflections on the Apollo 11 moon landing, 50 years on. Cath Nichols’s enjoyable entry looked back on the lot of the Apollo wives through Wendy Cope’s acerbic eye. Nick MacKinnon was also an accomplished Cope impersonator: Bloody men are like bloody rockets, you wait nearly five billion years and as soon as one feels up your craters another Apollo appears… Rufus Rutherford, channelling Basho, submitted a charming haiku. And Robert Schechter, as Ogden Nash, also kept it brief: To the marvellous event that happened fifty        years ago I dedicate this ode.

Spectator competition winners: poems about the yellowhammer

For the latest competition you were invited to submit a poem about yellowhammers. This sparrow-sized songbird has inspired poetry from John Clare’s lovely ‘The Yellowhammer’s Nest’ to Robert Burns’s unlovely ‘The Yellow, Yellow Yorlin’ (‘But I took her by the waist, an’ laid her down in haste/, For a’ her squakin’ an’ squalin…’ and you took up this challenge with gusto. Strong performers, in a top-notch and wide-ranging entry, included Bill Greenwell and David Shields. The winners, below, earn £25 each. W.J. Webster A certain subtle, govian fellow, When asked what code name he preferred, Chose ‘hammer’ as a striking word Then made his point by adding ‘yellow’. For, emberiza

Spectator competition winners: monstrous short stories

Your latest challenge, inspired by Joan Didion’s wonderful essay of that title, was to write a short story with the last line ‘I can’t get that monster out of my mind’. Another notable American female essayist, Susan Sontag, has come in for a bit of stick in these pages over the past few weeks, and she popped up again, in Hugh King’s short story: ‘Susan Sontag, naked, terrifying, had come to him in the night, pinned him down with hawser-like arms, and demanded to know his views on post-structuralism.’ Other memorable ‘monsters’ included Beowulf, the Minotaur and Jacob Rees-Mogg. The winners earn £25 each. Frank Upton It seemed that I

Spectator competition winners: Speeches as sonnets

Your latest challenge was to recast a famous political speech as a sonnet. Lots of you opted for Elizabeth I’s address to the troops at Tilbury, but James Aske got there first in 1588, the year she gave it, with a verse reworking that appeared in Elizabetha Triumphans, his celebration of the Armada victory. You were on mischievous form this week and clearly gave careful thought to your choice of speech. The winners, who each pocket £20, are printed below. First up is Ann Drysdale’s version of Cromwell’s dissolution of the rump parliament. Ann Drysdale/Cromwell’s speech to the Commons, 1653 Its time to close the curtain on this farce, Your

Spectator competition winners: Mogg-friendly memos

Your latest challenge was to submit an extract from a government memo whose language would meet with the approval of Jacob Rees-Mogg. The Leader of the House recently sent his departmental staff a list of rules regarding grammar and vocabulary. The words ‘ongoing’ and ‘hopefully’ are out; imperial measurements are in. All non-titled males are henceforth to be referred to as ‘esquire’. Although Mr Rees-Mogg takes a dim view of words such as ‘very’, ‘got’ and ‘lot’, mischief-makers at the Guardian have pointed out that, according to Hansard, the honourable member himself has used one or other of the proscribed words or phrases on more than 700 occasions. Adrian Fry,

Spectator competition winners: ‘If you don’t whistle the correct tune, you may get maltweeted’: 21st-century fables

Your latest challenge was to come up with a fable for the 21st century, complete with moral. James Michie, my predecessor in the judge’s seat, was a celebrated translator of fables and if you were looking for inspiration, and don’t speak French, his 1973 rendering of a selection by La Fontaine serves as a shining example (they were described by the exacting Geoffrey Grigson as ‘earthier and sharper than Marianne Moore’s’). Though this challenge didn’t see you at your sharpest — some entries tended towards the heavy-handed — those that stood out are printed below and earn their authors £25 apiece. W.J. Webster One day a man was strolling through

Spectator competition winners: If Shakespeare had been an estate agent

The latest competition called for estate agents’ details in the style of a well-known author. Highlights, in a cracking entry, included Jeremy Carlisle’s Hemingway: ‘Who needs a house? Certainly no real man known to this agency. Cabin by lakeside for sale… A cabin of strong oak-framed construction. The timbers are as honest and straight as the men who worked them…’; Bill Greenwell’s Harold Pinter: ‘I mean, if you want cosy, I can do you cosy. Cosy. Bijou with all the trimmings, no word of a lie…’; Frank McDonald’s Oscar Wilde: ‘Here is security wrapped in splendour, with all the intoxication of alcohol. There is nothing to declare about the architect

Spectator competition winners: acrostic politicians

The latest challenge called for an acrostic poem about a politician in which the first letter of each line spells the name of that politician. While most of you set your sights on modern-day notables, David Silverman (as well as his poignant prizewinning haiku) submitted a nice double-dactylic portrait of Caesar Augustus. Here’s an extract: Cheesius Maximus: Augustus Caesar Empowered the People and Senate of Rome. Annexed Hispania; Raided North Africa; Authoritarian — Unless at home… It was a creditable performance all round, but Ian Barker earns an honourable mention and the winners below take £20. David Silverman Joyless autumn day: Falling like cherry blossom, Killed from grassy knoll Sylvia