In Competition 2810 you were invited to write a light-hearted poem about a serious subject.
I suggested you take a look at J.B.S. Haldane’s comic poem ‘Cancer is a funny thing’ to get an idea of what I was after. Another source of inspiration might have been my predecessor Jaspistos, the poet James Michie, who treated the big subjects — life, illness, death — with an exquisitely deft, witty touch. Here is ‘Cancer, or the Biter Bit’, written shortly before he died: ‘I used to fancy crabmeat as a treat:/ Now Crab’s the epicure, and I’m the meat.’
It was a large entry but the standard was on the patchy side. Still, some excelled. Commendations go to Katie Mallett, Jean Hayes and Christopher Pearson; and congratulations to the prizewinners, printed below, who take £30 each. The extra fiver is Alan Millard’s.
The act of prostitution is a serious offence,
As witnessed by the jury in this tale of decadence:
His Honour, feeling tetchy, saw before him, in the
A flighty, fallen woman in a flimsy, frilly frock.
‘Soliciting again?’ he barked. ‘You ladies go too
‘It wasn’t me,’ she shouted, ‘It was him what
stopped the car!’
‘Blaming others yet again? So, tell me, where’s
His Honour sneered from high above, all pompous
‘I’ll get Your Honour proof,’ she said, ‘and make
the scoundrel pay!
I’ll grab him where it really hurts before he gets
‘How often’, said His Honour, ‘have you seen
this man about?’
‘Oh, several times,’ she answered. ‘If you like I’ll
point him out.’
‘You’ll point him out?’ His Honour said. ‘And
can you tell me how?’
‘Oh yes, Your Honour,’ she replied. ‘He’s in the
‘No need to point,’ His Honour said, ‘you’re
innocent I see.’
And, much to everyone’s surprise, he let her off
Earth has not anything to show more fain
To waive the chance of laurels, less intent
On doing whatever must be done to gain
Sweet victory in a major sport event
Than British gentlemen, when in a team
Or playing for themselves. When they’re ahead
(As now and then they are) it doesn’t seem
Appropriate: they’re overwhelmed by dread
Of winning. That would spark the urge to crow
As others do, a circumstance they choose
To avoid. They don’t deliberately throw
The match, but somehow find a way to lose.
How well these gracious losers have been taught!
So good at being sports, so bad at sport.
That sonnet once made sense. I wonder how
It strikes Great Britons as they read it now.
The doorbell rang. I caught my breath.
I drew the bolt and it was Death.
He fumbled in his cloak and took
From some recess a little book.
He slid his glasses down his nose.
‘It’s Mr Whitworth, I suppose.’
A frosty smiled played on his lips
That chilled me to my fingertips,
So I replied in breezy tones,
‘No Whitworth here. My name is Jones.’
Whitworth resides at forty-seven,
An ancient shag, and ripe for Heaven,
His mind long gone, his body bent.’
Death nodded, tipped his hat and went.
Jones passed away that very night.
I sent a wreath, as well I might.
One day, I couldn’t find my keys
And went upstairs to look for these
But getting there, forgetting what
I’d come for, found that I could not.
And then, forgetting, to my shame,
What I was upstairs for, my name
And almost all worldly affairs,
I went to look for them downstairs.
On getting there, could not recall
Quite who had come, where, or what for.
To summon back my waning powers
I stood, woolgathering, for hours.
I missed, therefore, by being late,
With Doctor Alzheimer a date
At which he’d say I’d his disease.
I’d better go: where are my keys?
Whenever thoughts of dying bring me low,
I tell myself at least by then I’ll know
Which trauma or disease has killed me by degrees
Or clobbered me with one efficient blow.
While croaking, I won’t fear that UV rays
Or germs on doorknobs, cash, and PDAs,
Or poisons leached from soils, or saturated oils,
Could cause a tragic ending to my days;
Magnetic fields, asbestos, deer ticks, gin,
Mad cow disease, lead paint, and saccharin
Won’t fill me with alarm — for what can do me
If I’ve been irreversibly done in?
Just one last thing will smother me with dread:
The notion of the nothingness ahead.
But that will vanish, too, the moment that I’m
A perk, I must admit, of being dead.
No. 2813: poetic pitch
If poets hoping to be Laureate had been required to apply in verse for the position, we would have an interesting archive of poems. You are invited to provide examples of the poetic pitches that might have been made over the years (16 lines maximum). Please email entries, to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 28 August.
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