14 SEPTEMBER 1996, Page 60


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Fair is foul


IN COMPETITION NO. 1949 you were asked for a Wordsworthian sonnet, begin- ning with the first line of his one written on Westminster Bridge but substituting anoth- er word for 'fair', describing the horrors of any inner cityscape.

'Fair is foul, and foul is fair: hover through the fog and filthy air,' sang the Witches in Macbeth presciently, as if they were in a blasted city rather than on a blasted heath. This week's entries deserve six winners, so I step aside to make room for them, only pausing to commend Bill Turner, who bombed Lincoln, John E. Cunningham, who devastated the New Globe, Bankside, and Chris Tingley, whose urban scene was so dreary that 'Even the dogs have caught the mood somehow, /Looking more glum with every leg they cock.' The prizewinners, printed below, get £20 each, and the bonus bottle of Isle of Jura Single Malt Scotch whisky goes to Paul Griffin.

Composed outside Ipswich Station, February 1996 Earth has not anything to show more chill; Only a new creation could contrive To stand outside this station and survive — Some furry humanoid with penguin bill. Yet there in smelly bedlam down the hill In high black towers the office workers thrive,

Unthinking bees in each gigantic hive, Oxygenated at their masters' will.

Never did wind more pitilessly sweep Here, from the harbour where the tankers sway, The grim marinas where the bosses keep

Grey battered yachts against a better day.

Dear God, can numbness really strike so deep?

Can any town invite one less to stay? (Paul Griffin)

From O'Connell Bridge

Earth has not anything to show more crass: Full must he be of spleen who each day views Swift's city ravaged, savaged by Yahoos. Her classic smile has false teeth now, alas: Once perfect Georgian squares are a morass Of modern tasteless structures which abuse Palladio's laws — he who was Dublin's Muse, Would he have sanctioned walls of brown plate- Around the perfect curve of Gandon's dome Foul belching chimneys spread their murky pall; The Liffy shifts its froth of filth and scum; Along the Quays, druggies and vagrants sprawl. Dear God, is this what Dublin has become? 'The Fault is in Mankind.' Swift says it all.

(Jane Falloon) Earth has not anything to show more grim: As traffic thunders past us in the rain, Mud-splashed, fume-choked, we try to cross in vain — The green man dares us to risk life and limb.

Our heritage is daily growing dim, For ancient buildings cannot take the strain; The Town Hall's under scaffolding again, And demolition suits the Council's whim.

Never did sun invade the shopping mall All artificially warmed up and lit; Diverted underground, the old canal Mimics a mediaeval sewage pit.

And lo! a huge post-modem urinal In City Square. Nothing could be more fit.

(Manna Blake) Earth has not anything to show more foul; Dull would he be of soul who could elect To drag his days out here nor once suspect That hell is such; the very houses scowl At passing strangers; feral children prowl For lethal medicines to disinfect Their leprous lives, while adults, crushed and wrecked, Throw back cheap booze as hungry infants howl. What plots exist grow furniture not flowers, Sodden old chairs sit rotting in the rain; The scribbles on the concrete walls of towers Inform the world all schooling is in vain. Dear God! the windows seem to count the hours Till darkness hides the ghastliness again.

(Frank McDonald) Earth has not anything to show more vile: An urban wasteland that affronts the eye, Looked at with loathing as we hurry by, A sight to cause a surge of civil bile, Haunt of pimp, prostitute and paedophile, Closed shuttered shops where shivering dossers lie, Ramshackle flats that scrape the smoggy sky, With families stacked in pile on ugly pile. Once, slum-free cities we set out to build, Huge tower blocks sprang from bulldozer and crane; Sadly, those drawing-board dreams were unfulfilled, And all too soon the slums came back again. Why did the New Jerusalems we'd willed End up more like the Cities of the Plain?

(Stanley J. Sharpless)

A Farewell to Arms: Lines written in Westgate Street, Cardiff

Earth has not anything to show more naff.

Dull would his senses be who called this pile A noble gem of architectural style.

But once, in every valley bar and caff, This concrete colosseum on the Taff Was vaunted for a long and glorious while.

It housed, for one decade, a national smile, As Wales proved rugby's wheat among the chaff. Ilut now, those glory days are fur behind.

The stadium's had its day, committees say.

The plans are drawn, the building contracts signed, And soon the demolition men will sway Their heavy balls; while in the nation's mind The eyesore goes, but happy memories stay.

(P. Evans)

No. 1952: Not fair!

You are invited to write a letter, from a vain and foolish author, complaining to a literary editor that his or her book has been unfairly, ignorantly, woundingly etc. reviewed. Maximum 150 words. Entries to 'Competition No. 1952' by 26 September.