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Martin Sturge, Organiser, Dr Leo Aylen, Chairman of Judges
26 May 2004
Our third Poetry Competition brought in exactly 200 entries, of which 44 Juniors, 90 Seniors (13-18 years) and 60 Veterans. Three Bath schools participated with enthusiasm.
Following our first two competitions, ‘A Dream of Bath’ in 2002, and ‘Through a Window’ in 2003, which both brought some quite visionary contributions, this year’s competition focused on the theme of Time, one man’s great connundra, able to infuriate with urgency, numb with boredom, and much else besides. ‘Time and Rhyme’ produced some rich contributions, not unspiced by pith and ribaldry, as the same theme once was in the ‘Bouts Rhymés’ poetry games played at Lady Miller’s Batheaston receptions in the 18th century, which luckily are preserved in the Institution’s Archives.
With our competitors’ imaginations must also be mentioned the commitment of our judges, without whose energies our Competition could not exist. They were Virginia Ashcroft, Richard Carder, Christine Crossley, Janet Cunliffe-Jones, Patricia Healey, Marie-Louise Luxemburg, Rosemary Marshall, Janie Thomas and Guy Whitmarsh. Their chairman, as in 2003, was Dr Leo Aylen, who with great thoroughness, re-read all the submissions and at our Poetry Evening gave comment and encouragement to 13 commended competitors in addition to the 22 invited to read their works and helped also with a stalwart rendering of Horace’s Latin Ode, submitted in translation.
Our translation section, having started in 2003 with texts by Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé proposed for translation was continued this year and enriched by three submissions, two from Latin, and one from Greek. All three were thought worthy of recitation and all are reproduced below, as are the poems awarded first and second prize in each of the three age groups.
The evening of recitations was as usual held in bistro format with light refreshments provided with the help of David Giles, Michael Mollett…. and certificates to prize-winners were presented by Dr Aylen. General organisation was by Martin Sturge.
Poetry Competition Prize-winners
J000 (Equal First Prize)
A Funny Thing
Time: a funny thing. It seems.
It throws down buildings, ruins dreams.
Marauding elephants, plodding on,
E’er none can halt time’s silent song.
Time destroys, and then creates.
It’s winding rivers, broken slates.
Mild as a lamb, it’s skipping by,
E’er none stops its silent lullaby.
There stands a grave that’s chiselled ‘Ken’,
In eighteen nineteen to nineteen ten.
Most of all you should use your time,
Each tune alters the world’s great rhyme.
J022 (Equal First Prize)
I always remember the time
We watched the dolphins in the bay,
We sat on the edge of the sand
It was the end to a great day.
I went surfing in France with Anne
We swam in the big deep blue sea,
We dried off in the scorching sun
And she bought an ice cream for me.
We looked around the area
And we shopped at French market stalls,
We visited the monasteries
Where Jesus was drawn on the walls.
We then went back to the villa
Where we all sat down and had tea,
Anne’s mum made a nice barbecue
But then she got stung by a bee.
Her finger had started to swell
You could tell she wanted to scream,
So we got out the First Aid Kit
And smothered her finger in cream.
Although it was all quite hectic
The holiday was really fun,
We spent our last evening in Nice
Watching waves and the setting sun.
S077 (First Prize)
He died before his time. Still my eyes
reflect nine proud candle flames, dancing
on waves of tuneless Happy Birthday.
Nine of his kisses, cleanly shaven.
Time was when we would take dreams outside
and run in the woods, out of breath,
then collapse in maple syrup sky-
drown in ravishing toothless giggles
before the walk home, hand in his hand.
"High time for a bath, missy" he would
chirp, then bicker, then enforce before
those pre-bedtime blues. But then mornings
were idyllic since Breakfast in Bed
smelt so good, and she would never weep.
He always had time for her and me.
But when that machine sang its awful
bleep, in his eyes chased no flames – only
hardened wax with a more holy song.
His last weak kiss is one, always, I’m
feeling on my cheek – dressed with stubble.
Then, he died. Before his time. My time.
S081 (Second Prize)
Tiny crystalline slivers hang in the air, reflecting the light in a
multitude of colours, for all the world like a swarm of fireflies.
Glowing points of orange fleck the scene, outshining the stars
in the clear, dark sky.
Metal ribbons and sprays of black plastic curl eloquently around
each other, vagrant twists spiralling off at every angle.
Globes of brilliant scarlet float lazily in the air, even in this frozen
time seeming to bob in the air like a flock of children’s balloons.
And, beneath it all, a budding, sunlike golden glow underlights
the whole scene, orbited by the other pieces of the tableau.
A white flash illuminates the motorway, and the howls of ambulances
in the background are muted by the noise.
They are too late.
V059 (First Prize)
A Brief History of…
Oh bird with but a little way to fly,
Shall speckled vanity fall sick and die?
What was it that the walrus said, of kings
And cabbages; of shoes and other things;
Of frail and mystic ships upon some reef
All wrecked? Oh winged chariot, subtle thief
Of youth, you ought to serve, for such a crime,
A stretch inside before the knell shall chime!
The Great Physician’s falling tide, and slime
Of sea-wrack, waits for no man. Down we climb
through geologic beds, Jurassic grime
to clear away in search of primal rhyme
And reasons; vast big-bang, or quiet tock
And tick to start the supernatural clock.
God said "Let Hawking be!" and all was black.
To fetch again the age of gold, run back
And find a temple half as old as dreams,
Where Dali’s floppy watch runs slow. Extremes
Of super-massive neutron gravitation
Lead to awkward temporal dilation.
Read the book. But just forget the last
Recorded syllable. You won’t get past
Page twenty nine; these mysteries sublime
Of quantum leaps and Einstein’s paradigm
Explained in this "Brief History" of life
The universe and everything. All strife
And universal suffering some day
Must end. But is it turtles all the way
From top to bottom, Hoyle’s cosmology
Of "Steady State" for all eternity,
Or else one final cataclysmic crunch
As if old Cronus swallowed us for lunch?
V060 (Second Prize)
A Slight Problem with Time
Robert W Palmer
Did you hear the story about the physicist who,
unable to sleep for the thunder of parallel universes,
tried to surf a probability wave over the event horizon,
tripped over a light cone into a giant co-incidence
and ended with his atoms distributed over a year
in the fifth dimension?
He returned to work as usual but it was difficult to hear him
and his colleagues could see through his arguments,
Admin. at first refused to pay him on the grounds that he was
not all there, but his co-workers took his side in the dispute,
saying that if he had not known in advance how the experiment
ended, they would not have known where to begin.
A compromise was found. He was paid cash, one day at a time.
Eating was the worst problem because only 1/365th of him
could visit the canteen on any one day, but biochemistry
developed a powder which he could sniff containing the
At the end of a triumphant year he took early retirement.
The usual clock was felt to be in bad taste and when they tried
to pin a medal to his chest it fell straight into his shoe
and nearly killed him. He had become very wealthy by betting
his daily wage packets on horse races whose results he could read
in the next day’s newspaper and made the most of his diminished
presence by having his house completely tiled with mirrors.
The wife of a colleague sued for divorce on the grounds that
her husband was too heavy-handed with her and very happily
became his partner for life. Everyone realised he must have
known this would happen, and had possibly engineered it,
but did not wish to think ill of the dead when, not long after,
a force nine gale blew him away entirely.