Competition

Spectator competition winners: Poems without the letter ‘e’

1 August 2020

9:00 AM

1 August 2020

9:00 AM

In Competition No. 3159 you were invited to supply a poem that does not contain the letter ‘e’. This fiendish challenge was a nod to Georges Perec’s ‘e’-less tour de force La Disparition (protagonist: A. Vowl), which was subsequently translated, also without the letter ‘e’, by the heroic Gilbert Adair. Perec, who once composed a 5,000-letter-long palindrome — beat that — later took all his unused ‘e’s’ and deployed them in Les Revenentes, in which it is the only vowel.

The comp elicited moans and groans but proved wildly popular none the less. Perec’s friend and fellow Oulipian Harry Mathews said in an interview in the Paris Review: ‘What distinguishes Oulipo from other language games is that its methods have to be capable of producing valid literary results.’ Well, they did so on this occasion. Honourable mentions go to Hugh King, George Simmers, Katie Mallett and D.A. Prince, but congratulations all round. The six terrifically witty and well-made winners appear below and earn their authors £25.

If Jill, a bold and bonny girl,
Saw Jack, a strapping boy,
A loving kiss was all it took
To fill two souls with joy.

But Casanova passing by
And catching sight of Jill
Thought: ‘How amusing. What good fun
To do a fair maid ill.’

Poor Jack was dull with him around
This man was bright and gay,
A high-class sort and sharp of wit
So ’twas with him Jill lay.

Now Jack will stay away for good
And Jill cannot stop crying.
So, virgins all, if bad boys call
Look out for artful lying.
Philip Roe

This Lipogram bans it
Which may sound absurd,
But find it you’ll not,
It occurs in no word.
As a grain lost in sand
Or a pin hid in hay,
Spy it you won’t
Though you labour all day;
Look as long as you will
But this you’ll not spot
In hiding it stays,
On display it is not.
So study this stanza
And try as you might,
Your hunt cannot show
What is not within sight.
Alan Millard

My soul sings out if I catch sight
Of rainbow arcs on high
For in my far-off infancy
A rainbow brought a sigh.
Throughout my happy childhood
A rainbow’s stunning sight
Was magical and mystic;
It put my angst to flight.
Now I affirm my boyhood
Still plays its part today,
As though a boy was author
Of all I think and say.
I trust that it will stay so,
That always I’ll maintain
Fond faith in what my childhood got
From colours wrought in rain.
Frank McDonald

Shall I portray you as an autumn day?
For, truth to say, I do not wish withal
To woo you, praising darling buds of May;
Your charm doth grow as blossoms start to fall.

Its first flush past, a bloom that’s had its day
Holds fascination that can stir my passion,
I touch its rich, luxuriant display,
Its classic form surpassing youthful fashion.

As days grow short and autumn turns to gold,
Anticipation mounts, my longing now
To find forthwith a gift that doth unfold
Abundantly, and pluck it from its bough.

Lush fruits maturing slowly, by and by
Bring lasting joy, for youth may swiftly fly.
Sylvia Fairley

This glyph, in British talk, occurs most oft —
most common, too, it’s writ within our books.
Twixt ‘a’ and ‘z’ ’tis fifth, but stands aloft
although it’s unassuming in its looks.
An ‘o’ ajar, in small form, with a rod
slid inwards at a slightly rakish slant;
this symbol is industrial printing’s god,
dug in that no brash upstart can supplant.
In caps, a straight and standing pillar holds
a trio of blunt prongs all pointing right;
within our words this famous icon moulds
its myth of broad ubiquity and might.
Oh tyrant glyph, undo your crafty smirk,
I banish and dismiss you from this work.
Paul Freeman

Aaron Bronsky bought an aardvark, sat it in an aviary,
Put a cockatoo in with it. (Pong was not too savoury.)
Molly Mary bought a moggy, truly was a fractious puss,
It would rub its fur against a window jamb to start a fuss.
Aaron and his Molly Mary thought that both might go away
On a train to Torquay station, for a working holiday,
Taking aardvark, Bronsky’s birdy, Molly Mary’s moggy too.
What was Aaron’s inspiration? Not warm sands, but Paignton Zoo!
G.M. Southgate

No. 3162: double time

You are invited to supply double dactyls on stars of popular or classical music (a maximum of three entries each). Please email entries to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 12 August. NB. We are unable to accept postal entries for the time being.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


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