Competition

‘This Be The Prequel’ (and other poetic prequels)

21 November 2020

9:00 AM

21 November 2020

9:00 AM

In Competition No. 3175 you were invited to submit a prequel to a well-known poem.

C. Paul Evans’s opening to a prequel to the nation’s favourite poem caught my eye:

My publishers had telephoned to ask
For something inspirational and spiffy:
I told them I would think about the task,
But mentioned I was feeling somewhat iffy…


As did Bill Greenwell’s Stevie Smith:

Nobody saw him, the dry man,
But there he lay frowning:
Life was much much harder than he thought,
Not-bathing but browning.

Other standout performers, in a stellar entry, were Jayne Osborn, Iain Morley, Chris Ray, Nick MacKinnon, Max Gutmann, Robin Helweg-Larsen, G.N. Crockford and M.F. Shardlow. The winners, led by Alex Steelsmith’s ‘This Be The Prequel’, net £25.

They bring you up, your mum and dad,
     To honour them, no matter what.
You learn that you, not they, are bad,
     And ought to keep your cakehole shut.
 
And so I did, and all seemed well,
     Except for ulcers, nervous tics,
Depression, allergies from hell
     And phobias no drug could fix.
 
And then one day a clever shrink
     Convinced me that I’d spent my youth
Repressing what I feared to think,
     Unconscious of the awful truth.
 
I learned to punch a pillow, vent
     My rage in vulgar terms and curse
The predecessors I resent.
     While on the couch, I wrote a verse.
Alex Steelsmith (‘This Be The Verse’)

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said — ‘There’s little for a traveller there,
Mere ruins and a wilderness of sand,
Fragments of statues, scattered everywhere
Like broken toys by giants roughly flung,
As if impatient with their desert state,
Among the pye-dogs and the camel dung,
Long outworn as the names they celebrate.
Such abject remnants, mired in dust and grime,
Can never stir the spirit or evince
Fancies that seek a higher form in rhyme,
Dead as they are, uncounted centuries since.’
So spake my interlocutor, and I,
Half-stifled by his vehement hot breath,
Valued his sentiments but questioned why
My verse should not include decay and death.
Basil Ransome-Davies (‘Ozymandias’)

Go Madam, go! Desire hath long since fled,
Too long it takes to get thee into bed.
’Tis wearying to wait and watch thee wrest
With complex vestments just to get undressed.
A thousand miles or more a man might pace
’Ere thou thy spangled breastplate could unlace
And none, I trow, would be content to stay
While you with all these undergarments play.
‘Disrobe!’ I bade thee, ‘Shed thy girdle first.’
Yet even that request now seemeth cursed,
For that alone, by taking such an age,
Did stir in me a sense of rising rage;
Small wonder that I fidget so and fret
While still thou wearest gown and coronet.
Go madam, go! ’Tis clearly not to be
That thee, uncovered, shall I ever see.
Alan Millard (‘To His Mistress Going to Bed’)

I remember, I remember
Much less, as time goes by,
Increasingly I find that I’m
Forgetting when and why.
Instructions that are given me
I struggle to retain,
The budgie’s in the fridge — I fear
I’ve lost the plot again.
I remember, I remember
Briefly, then it’s flown,
The list of things I have to do —
Yet, strangely, I can own
That, though I seldom can recall
What happened yesterday,
Those childhood memories remain,
They’ll never go away.
Sylvia Fairley (‘I Remember, I Remember’)

While I’m alive, my dearest,
Be with me if thou wilt,
Or shun me if thou wilt not.
In either case, no guilt.
Be the green grass we tread on
And blue sky overhead
Vistas we share together
Or know apart instead.
 
I shall express no preference,
I shall make no demands,
I shall not dictate whether we
Walk solo or link hands.
And as we make our plans to fill
The days until we’re dead,
Haply thou art blasé like me,
Or haply care instead.
Chris O’Carroll (‘When I am dead, my dearest’)

Miss E. Skinner-Gruel, Miss E. Skinner-Gruel,
Angled and bangled by modernist school,
What dull conversation we shared after lunch:
Some fellow called Stringberg, some cove who’s called Munch.
 
Oh grey Bloomsbury evenings and dreary weekends,
The labourers beer, and the sneers of your friends,
I’m Dulwich and Sandhurst and Prince of Wales’ Own,
So why, when I open my mouth, do they groan?
 
Miss Eve Skinner-Gruel, Miss Eve Skinner-Gruel,
My lust for your pallor is starting to cool,
Love is conceptually bourgeois you plead,
But that’s little relief to a soldier in need.
Nick Syrett (‘The Subaltern’s Love Song’)

No. 3178: what the dickens

You are invited to submit an extract from a Dickensian novel based around the name of someone in political life. Please email entries of up to 150 words to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 2 December.

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