Writer’s block

23 February 2019

9:00 AM

23 February 2019

9:00 AM

In Competition No. 3086 you were invited to submit a poem about the difficulty of writing a poem.
In a far-larger-than-usual entry, A.H. Harker’s punchy couplet caught my eye:

I’m stuck.
Oh ****.

Elsewhere there were nods to Wordsworth, Milton and ‘The Thought Fox’, Ted Hughes’s wonderful poem about poetic inspiration. The winners below earn £25 each for their travails.

I struggled with my verse time after time,
Yet somehow I could never make it work.
It scanned quite well, but there’s no use pretending
My couplets had a satisfactory finish.
The words at their conclusion never matched;
They would not rhyme, however hard I rubbed
My head. The wretched quatrains fell apart,
And I despaired of mastering the skill.
But then, a rhyming dictionary transfigured
My verse; my audience no longer sniggered.
The deftness of my rhymes became astounding,
And critics’ praise unstintedly resounding.
I felt like stout Cortez — I mean, Balboa —
Discovering Mexico — or was it Goa?
A realm of gold, that book, no doubt about it;
I don’t know how I ever did without it.
Brian Allgar
It’s awfully hard to write a villanelle
Because your thoughts are trapped by repetition.
It’s tough to find the rhymes that cast a spell.
It might become an artificial shell,
An empty piece, an uninspired submission.
It’s awfully hard to write a villanelle.
And just when things seem to be going well
Shortage of rhyme will send you to perdition.
It’s tough to find the rhymes that cast a spell.
And where those rhymes will lead to none can tell;
For frequently they hamper your decision.
It’s awfully hard to write a villanelle.
It’s harder when you’ve sixteen lines to sell;
More would debar you from the competition.
It’s awfully hard to write a villanelle.
It’s tough to find the rhymes that cast a spell.
Frank McDonald
Nobody these days gets how hard
It has become to be a bard,
When ‘wandered lonely as a cloud’
Can rhyme online with ‘LOL’,
And everything one used to know
About love poems is rendered faux
By gender multiplicity.
Shall new pronouns compare to ‘thee’?
The language we attempt to use
Might not offend, might not confuse,
But might do both. Our world today
Is no fit place to work or play.
The simile and metaphor
Of yesterday is sadly hors
De combat
. Unequipped to learn
New tricks, we’re doomed to crash and burn.
Chris O’Carroll
When feeling some compulsion to compose,
One wonders which of many forms to choose,
Then tends to favour what one really knows,
Where there is little left to gain or lose.
But one may wait to see how process goes,
Delay deciding on a mode to use,
Let verse reveal itself as more than prose.
(Its very sound and sense provide good clues.)
As language flows from pen or key to page,
Discovery could be one’s s.o.p.
So that surprise engages every stage
Of writing any kind of poetry.
A habit can be difficult to halt:
Here is another sonnet by default.
Jane Blanchard
I thought I’d never reach the end
But when the Devil drives, needs must.
I strove to get that last line penned:
‘The Lord shall raise me up, I trust.’
One struggles writing in the Tower,
Time dwindles with each passing hour,
And thoughts are easily misled
When one’s about to lose one’s head.
I fought for every phrase that night,
Each word wrenched from the depths of Hell
With ever-shortening time to write
My valedictory farewell,
Yet somehow it was done in time
Before I took that last short climb
With seconds left upon the clock
Towards my final writer’s block.
Alan Millard
What form to choose, free verse or rigid rhyme
And who should be the perfect paradigm?
Spenser: The Faerie Queene would fry your mind.
Paradise Lost? Small wonder Milt went blind.
The so-called Greats, sad academic clunkers,
Mere scholiasts, poor prosody-spelunkers.
Avoid Dan Tay’s Malign Cacophony;
Geoff Chaucer? Jack the Lad, believe you me.
Don’t waste your time on such fraternity,
Take inspiration from modernity;
Forget those dreary Drydens, Marvells, Popes —
Think Cooper Clarkes and trendy Wendy Copes.
Betjeman’s user-friendly and a tease,
Home Counties tennis ‘gels’, large G&Ts
But best bet by a mile, to make a splash
Is the fun-filled, pun-filled panache of Ogden Nash.
Mike Morrison


No. 3089: climate change

Some years ago, the King’s Singers livened up the weather forecast by intoning it as though it were an Anglican chant. You are invited to put your own spin on a weather bulletin. Email entries (150 words/16 lines) to by midday on 6 March.

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