Competition

Spectator competition winners: famous poems rewritten as short stories

9 July 2022

9:00 AM

9 July 2022

9:00 AM

In Competition No. 3256, you were invited to take a well-known poem and recast it as a short story.

Ben Hale’s ‘The Cockney Amorist’ sent me back to the delights of John Betjeman’s debut album Banana Blush (dismissed by the poet himself as ‘a vulgar pop song record’ but a favourite of John Peel). An honourable mention also goes to Nick MacKinnon, whose ‘The Rabbit Catcher’ reunited Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.


The winners earn £25 each.

Dear Mother, just letting you know I got engaged to a subaltern after a tennis match. You know, that dreadful sport you consider so unladylike. You’ll never catch a man, Joan, you said, by racing boyishly around a court. Never beat a man in any game, you warned me, in case he takes offence. But he was charmed, Mother, charmed by my beating him outright. He admired my tan (yes, I wore shorts), and Father’s euonymus (never bore a man by talking of plants, Joan). We sipped gin (alcoholic drinks, Mother!) and I drove (a man escorts a lady, Joan) to the Golf Club. We sat unchaperoned in the car – are you having vapours yet, Mother? Yes, Miss J.H. Dunn will be married, and under an archway of tennis rackets. I am sorry to disappoint you, Mother, but I am simply too practical to be any poet’s muse.
Janine Beacham/‘A Subaltern’s Love Song’

Why did Farmer Ledlow turn sky pilot? Attend and I’ll tell. His farm were out Chalk Martin way; arable, mostly. Busy enough most seasons, turn of year would find Ledlow uncommon idle. One year, 1899 he attests, as sick of comparing seed drill specifications as of the kin he hosted every Yuletide, he sallies out, telling his wife he’s checking a coppice gate but in truth merely leaning thereupon thinking black thoughts into the dimming dusk. Of a sudden, he hearkens to this wondrous song issuing miraculous from an ancient thrush of famished demeanour. Him being fanciful well-read yet knowing nothing of how starveling birds, in extremis, do give their futile all shortly afore expiration, this joyous trilling fair overwhelms Ledlow, confounding his Schopenhauerian pessimism and fulfilling God’s promise, or so he feverishly told the Parson upon declaring a vocation. Our cat Jess had the bird New Year’s morn.
Adrian Fry/‘The Darkling Thrush’

My parents were dragging me to some crummy wedding when this crazy old guy stops me and starts jawing on about how he was a sailor and all. I tried not to listen – the guy was a royal pain in the ass if you want to know the truth – but I couldn’t help taking some of it in, how he’d shot some big goddamn seagull or something and that was the start of his troubles. They couldn’t move for weeks – I knew that feeling ferchrissakes – then met a ghost ship, lousy with skeletons and all. Honestly, you never heard such a load of crap in your life. Anyways, what really got me was he’d already been to see this holy roller in the woods and bored the ass off him, so why did he have to bother me? But that’s some people for you – all they think of is themselves.
David Shields/‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’

Jim was a lovely boy but, fatally, he knew too much. He had to be dealt with. ‘I’ll take good care of him,’ promised his new nurse, Kya. ‘How about a trip to the zoo?’ ‘Oh, you angel,’ beamed his mother. ‘What a delightful idea!’ First she took him to the aquatic house, to see the American marsh crawfish. A sentimental journey. Then onto the lions. Ponto, the zoo’s celebrated carnivore, was not, frankly, in the best of moods. Having not eaten for a fortnight, as arranged, and his only stimulation being constant photos and videos of Jim, the scent of Jim’s underclothes, and interminable lessons on opening his cage, Ponto was hangry, to say the least. The court heard that Jim ‘ran away from his nurse’. The judge, however, in his summing-up, struck a cautionary note: ‘Always check references and get an up-to-date CRB check.’
David Silverman/‘Jim, who Ran Away from His Nurse and was Eaten by a Lion’

They threw us out of Eden about noon. Why? Just for eating an edible fruit. Sure, we’d been warned. Raphael made a flying visit to underline the taboo.But figure it out. The Creator was sitting pretty. He’d faced down a revolt by Lucifer and his following. He’d furnished me with Eden, a fantastic garden of my own. Those were the two faces of the Creator’s omnipotence. A perfect paradise if you obeyed Him, eternal screaming agony should you be independent-minded. Except the perfect paradise wasn’t. A man can get lonely being unique. So I prayed for a companion. Well, it took some surgery but I got what I sought. Or so I imagined. She was a hot number. Melting. I didn’t know about the snake thing till too late. But the Creator knew. He always knew, the bastard. Just remember. Be careful what you wish for.
Basil Ransome-Davies/‘Paradise Lost’

The expatriate poète américain subterranean in Paris, polyglot translator, transformer and transcender of poets and poetry idioms both ancient and modern. Translations from Chinese without knowledge of the original language a specialty. Intuitive comprehension of the literary Asian mind a proud aesthetic asset. Nouns and adjectives unencumbered by verbs here on this day in this simultaneously specific and universal moment of public encounter midst all the bustling private business, the ceaseless to and fro of arrival, departure, transit. An evocative intellectual and emotional complex in a new-made instant of time. Faces in this crowded place, each one individually real, yet all together a concatenation of abstraction, naught but an apparition. A moist, fragrant nature poetry tradition the touchstone. Modern, arid steel and combustion the urban reality. The keenly perceptive mind’s search for the startling and appropriate image. Petals, colour nor scent specified, on a bough wet and black. Sheer genius!
Chris O’Carroll/‘In a Station of the Metro’

No. 3259: county lines

You are invited to submit a poem entitled ‘A(n) [insert county of your choice] Lad’. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 20 July.

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