Spectator literary competition No. 2832
This week’s assignment is a nod to Robert Burns and his magnificent ‘Address to the Haggis’, which begins:
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’a grace
As lang’s my arm.
Your task is to compose an address to an item of food of your choice. It is up to you whether or not you write in the style of Burns but poems should be maximum 16 lines and entries emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 22 January.
The recent challenge to imagine what Philip Larkin might have made of the news that Hull has been anointed 2017’s City of Culture was a popular one. Despite its unpromising image, Hull has nurtured a wide range of creative talents: from poets such as Andrew Marvell and Stevie Smith, to the actor Tom Courtenay, the film director Anthony Minghella and folk legends the Watersons. And of course Larkin himself, who sought refuge in the university library from celebrity and the metropolitan literati.
Most of you had the poet conform to his self-perpetuated image of right-wing curmudgeon, but there was a glimpse here and there of a softer side too; that quiet voice of celebration that sits alongside the familiar detached world-weariness.
Brian Lavery, Steve Baldock and D.A. Prince stood out in a strong field. The winners, printed below, are rewarded with £30 each. The extra fiver goes to Melanie Branton.
So Hull’s been named the capital of culture?
Now hordes of gawking tourists will descend.
The council must be pissing in their knickers
At the thought of all the money that they’ll
There’ll be no decent jazz, just mindless pop
With thuggish, thumping basslines (what a
And ‘artists’ building childish installations,
As no one’s ever taught them how to draw.
I have no Truck with gurning, shrieking luvvies
Who gobble public funding for ‘the arts’
And populate their gaudy, blaring freakshows
With a cast of brute Neanderthals and tarts.
In fact, I loathe this ‘culture city’ business —
A vulgar stunt to lure the bored and thick…
But, if they must perpetuate the circus,
There’s places worse than Hull that they could
‘This was Philip Larkin’s room, he wrote
There at that very desk. It’s kept the same.’
She’ll point to books, a pair of specs, and quote
A cliché someone published in my name.
The culture freaks will nod and look impressed.
‘He would have been so pleased for Hull.’ What
I would have seized an opening to protest
At such insensitive theatricals.
This city does not need imported fame:
It has the Ferens showing world class art,
The Truck where Northern drama gains acclaim,
And music and museums at its heart.
So who’ll take charge defining culture’s sweep:
Some oaf who thinks that jazz is not the thing,
One who disdains the secrets of The Deep,
And can’t tune in when local voices sing?
In a spot-prize winner’s unbelieving daze
The city learns that it’s the judges’ choice;
Accustomed to indifference, their praise
Gives reasons to be wary, not rejoice.
What pass is sold for buying into this?
Why take the sudden soft-hand pat on trust,
Not fork two fingers in an upward thrust
To say We’ll keep our sense of how life is.
Far better stay with notions of their own
Than have Artistic Commissars rehearse
That poetry can only be subverse
And jazz long screechings on the cacophone.
Worse still, the city, as my long-time host,
Will feel constrained to fund a walking tour
With guides to try and summon up my ghost
And track the printed fossils of my spoor.
Side by side, uneasy pair,
Hull and Culture, fish and fowl
forced together cheek by jowl
by irony’s unkind decree
to breathe a marriage’s sour air
of mutual disharmony.
Their conjoined miseries will reign
while Beowolf in modern dress
and street-art outside M and S
will show Hull’s fucked up kids that here
could lurk a far more irksome pain
than unemployment, fish and beer.
One year of Art’s pretentious ills
on show in every dismal street
where Hull and Culture failed to meet…
…and all that will survive are bills.
They wind you up, these quango bods,
When choosing cities to promote.
Their final choice defies the odds
And sticks in everybody’s throat.
To wander through the streets of Hull,
Revolted by the fishy smell
Or crapped on by a passing gull,
Means getting a foretaste of hell.
It has a university,
But so does everywhere these days,
So why not Leicester or Dundee,
Or any hole where students laze?
We’ll hear from now till breakfast time
The bollocks about heritage,
The usual bloviating. I’m
For jumping off the bloody bridge.
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