‘Today we have naming of tiers…’: poems about coronavirus messaging

31 October 2020

9:00 AM

31 October 2020

9:00 AM

In Competition No. 3172 you were invited to submit a poem about the government’s coronavirus messaging.

Many of you, nudged no doubt by the title of the challenge, went for Milne pastiche. Take a bow, Martin Brinkworth: ‘When R was 1/ It had just begun…’; Brian Murdoch: ‘Boris Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, when he became PM…; and Sylvia Fairley: ‘Hush! Hush! Whisper your fears,/ Boris Johnson is planning his tiers…’.

I also liked Emma Teichmann’s natty twist on ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’: ‘Rishi’s in the counting house/ Printing heaps of money,/ BoJo’s in the dog house —/ He’s no longer very funny…’ And Janine Beacham’s villanelle captured well the deadening circularity of it all.

The winners, printed below, are led by W.J. Webster, whose poem finishes with a nice Rumsfeldian flourish. They earn £30.

Behind all the figures that spoke from the stage Lay a wonderful wizardly all-knowing Sage:
‘Beware!’ said its mouthpiece, with eyebrows like thunder,
‘Stay two yards apart or you’ll be six feet under;
And unless you’re prepared for a premature death,
You must wash your hands spotless like Lady Macbeth.’
But the virus, undaunted, rampaged with more vigour,
And the list of its victims grew bigger and bigger.
So, for fear of infernos like something from Dante,
It was high time, the Sage thought, for upping the ante:
This mantra said, ‘Stay home and lock down your quarters
To protect all the doctors and nurses and porters.’
For a while this had worked but there then rose a doubt —
Had a fire been stamped down but not really stamped out?
But the Sage only uttered a sighed, ‘Told you so —
Don’t think that you know what I know I don’t know.’
W.J. Webster

Bashful and Doc had a terrible shock
When the Government’s rules were announced:
With a limit of six they were now in a fix —
One of the team must be bounced.
Grumpy and Happy were humpy and snappy,
And quickly dismissed out of hand
The leader’s insistence — to socially distance
Is tough when there’s seven in your band.
Then Sleepy awoke, saying, ‘It’s a sick joke.’
And Dopey and Sneezy concurred.
(They may well be fiction, but it’s their conviction
The six-only rule is absurd…)
But, when payday came round, after work they were found
At the pub, with their shovels and picks
(In the end it was easy — they jettisoned Sneezy),
Free of germs, at a table for six!
C. Paul Evans

The media report again
On ‘failure and mishap’,
Confusion, worry, rage and pain
Spread right across the map.

The rules are like a cardsharp’s pack
Dealt here and there by chance,
And each of them a one-eyed jack
You’d scrutinise askance.

They almost might be engineered
To foster panic while
Coronavirus strokes its beard
And smiles its toxic smile.

So who’s in charge? Surprise, surprise!
The kind of snooty fellow
Who frankly couldn’t organise
A shag in a bordello.
Basil Ransome-Davies

Today we have naming of tiers. Yesterday
we had groups of six and tomorrow
there is no knowing what they will say.
In March, we were promised a testing system
which would be world-beating. But today
the app has glitches and it is autumn.

Here is a slogan. Hands, Face, Space.
It was Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives
or was it Stay at Home, Protect your Granny.
Then Eat Out? Do not drink after ten. Or travel.
Report your neighbours if they are skipping.
You can hug the trees if they stand alone.

This is a support bubble. The purpose of this
is to stop us feeling lonely. But you may not touch.
Today it is social distancing and work from home.
And then stay there till Christmas. Next year.
Maggie McLean

They’re changing the leader at Westminster Palace
So backbenchers hope as they mutter in malice
All weary of hearing the PM’s preambles
While Covid runs riot and all’s in a shambles.

His half-baked solutions serve only to foment
Dissent as they waver from moment to moment.
In contrast to Sturgeon who, north of the border,
Makes clear-cut decisions by edict and order.

While Trump, plump on steroids, triumphantly cries
That Covid’s a blessing — God’s gift in disguise,
Poor Boris, resorting to Ovid and Horace,
Seeks vainly for guidance, solutions and solace.

If changing the leader would end the confusion
Could rising star Rishi dispel disillusion
Or, like a white knight charging forth in his armour,
Has Starmer’s day come to replace the old charmer?
Alan Millard

No. 3175: a bit previous

You are invited to supply a prequel to a well-known poem (please specify). Please email entries of up to 16 lines to by midday on 11 November. We are returning to paying winners by cheque, unless you state on your entry that you would prefer to be paid by bank transfer.

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