Competition

Hatchet job

27 July 2013

9:00 AM

27 July 2013

9:00 AM

In Competition 2807 you were invited to submit a hatchet job by a well-known author of your choice on a book or poem by another well-known writer. This challenge was inspired by the Omnivore’s magnificent Hatchet Job of the Year award, which it describes as ‘a crusade against dullness, deference and lazy thinking’. In 1865 the award might well have gone to Henry James for his brutal review of Our Mutual Friend for the Nation magazine. ‘Our Mutual Friend is …the poorest of Mr Dickens’s works. And it is poor with the poverty not of momentary embarrassment but of permanent exhaustion.’    You were at your caustic best this week. Commendations go to D.A. Prince and Carl Tanner and the winners take £25 each. G.M. Davis pockets £30.

What, should he be the image of the times,
Who groans, in broken verse and scattered rhymes,
Of petty miseries and idle slights,
Deficient even by his humble lights,
A craven soul limned by an inept bard,
Infirm to act, yet puffed with self-regard,
Though half a eunuch, nursing still a taste
For thoughts that slyly creep below the waist?
This monologue the poetaster makes
As if repeating better men’s mistakes:
Weak echoes of Mallarmé here, I swear,
And there a clumsy touch of Baudelaire,
Then at the last a futile reverie
Of ‘lingering in the chambers of the sea’.
Let verse be the preserve of gifted men;
Let Prufrock drown; let Eliot rest his pen.
G.M. Davis/Pope on ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

 

You wandered like ‘a cloud’ you say
Aye, cloud you say,
As though a cloud could stroll and stray
Or yonder flee at will.
In Wessex, motionless, the cloud
Clings grimly to the hilltops proud
And, sombre as a corpse’s shroud,
Stays days, forever still.

 

And then you see below your hills,
Below your hills,
A host of dancing daffodils —
Absurd beyond belief!
Give me those tracks where no one goes
And naught but withered grassland grows
On hillsides where a chill wind blows
And pleasure dwells in grief.
Alan Millard/Hardy on ‘Daffodils’

 
Any intelligent believer in individual dignity must recoil in disgust from Mr Milne’s collectivist propaganda. Disguised as an innocuous compilation of tales about a small boy and his animal playmates, Winnie-the-Pooh is in reality a reprehensible screed against rational self-interest.
 
The title character, a toy bear depicted with the bloated belly of a cartoon plutocrat for whom honey is the root of all evil, steadfastly pursues individual happiness. But instead of being held up as an example for children to admire and emulate, he is repeatedly humiliated (becoming wedged in a doorway after overeating) or reduced to reliance on altruism (requiring rescue from a swarm of bees).
 
Mr Milne has given ample prior warning of his contemptible anti-individualism. The title of his poetry collection When We Were Very Young proclaimed him a tool of the tyranny that would indoctrinate children to reject the proud ‘I’ and embrace the abject ‘we’.
Chris O’Carroll/Ayn Rand on Winnie-the-Pooh
 
There may arrive a time when a casual reader, surfeited upon the excitations and melancholy coincidences ascribable to the Weaver of Fate, may reach, like a miserly hand, for the dense and undemonstrative scrubland of Mr. Conrad’s imagination. That it is far from perfervid may be evinced from a short perusal. Its teller tells his laborious travelogue as if under the spell of the late Dr. Mesmer, or, more probably, one of his less ardent apostles. A dirge may be arousing, almost mirthful, if there is a decent player of the bass-viol, and a pure, untrammelled voice. But this volume is devoid of action or character, consisting only of a river-journey and return, carrying an ivory trader of few words and of miserable mien. His misdemeanours, supposing them to be so, are so many nebulae, and we may conclude that Mr. Conrad, like his trader, is possessed of ‘unsound method’.
Bill Greenwell/Hardy on Heart of Darkness
 

What spiteful Muse it was who rashly urgèd
This undertaking on poor Edmund Spenser
I cannot say. In verse obscure and turgid,
No tale was ever drearier or denser.
The author owneth that his dull intention’s
To wrap ‘in allegorical devices’
A list of cloudy virtues — their declension’s
A prospect that but meagrely entices.
’Tis said Elizabeth was mighty pleased
(But none can name for me the fool who said it),
And Spenser by a pension was much eased,
E’en though Her Majesty hath never read it.

 

Yet do I thank thee, Edmund; while no Orpheus,
Thy song hath brought me to the arms of   Morpheus.
Brian Allgar/Shakespeare on ‘The Faerie Queene’

 

First, full disclosure: Coleridge and I
Once used to tramp around the Quantock Hills
Together, ere he’d thought of getting high
On laudanum for his imagined ills.

And many years ago we two, at times,
Would work together on collaborations,
But now it seems he’s maundering in climes
He manufactures through hallucinations.

His latest has him lost (in several ways)
In Kubla Khan’s outlandish pleasure cavern
Where he deserts his readers in mid-phrase,
Perhaps to find the front door of a tavern.

There was a time I’d fear the sharp retorts
Such words might bring from Samuel at his heights.
Not now; the word on Coleridge reports
He can’t complete a single thing he writes.
Frank Osen/Wordsworth on ‘Kubla Khan’

No. 2810: light touch

You are invited to submit a light-hearted poem on a serious subject (up to 16 lines). Please email entries, wherever possible, to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 7 August.

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