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31 January 2014

The NS Competition No 4308

By New Statesman

Set by Gavin Ross

We asked for an analysis of any poem explaining its “special” risk to national security, after poetry was banned in Guantanamo Bay.

This week’s winners

Hon menshes to John Kirkaldy for “The Collected Works of Patience Strong” (“The author’s name alone is objectionable and menacing to US security”) and Brian Allgar for Lewis Carroll’s “How Doth the Little Crocodile” from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (“This scumbag, operating under the alias ‘Lewis Carroll’, is clearly part of a conspiracy to overthrow America”). Winners get £25, with the Tesco vouchers going, in addition, to Alison Prince.

“The Happy Wanderer” by Florenz Friedrich Sigismund

This apparently innocent lyric, beloved of Scouts and youth choirs, carries a concealed message that should sound alarms. High in the mountain ranges between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the haji – or “wanderer” – joyfully carries his load (perhaps explosive substances), indicating with the code “val-deri, val-dera” the valley he will pass through.

The chilling chorus of quasi-satanic laughter in the repeated “ha” motif serves only to augment the unsettling mood. An Afghan woollen pakol hat is brandished in another signalling element, an ancient form of semaphore, and the blackbirds undeniably represent the burqa-clad women waiting in the well-camouflaged hideouts with nourishing packs of mantoo.

The pilgrim alludes to the 9/11 martyrs (the “skylarks” who never “rest at home”), encouraging active participation in the jihad worldwide, and concludes with a haunting reminder of the clear blue sky on that fateful day.

Carolyn Thomas-Coxhead

“To a Skylark” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

The linguistic obscurity makes the message comprehensible only to subversives who know the code. Young people are encouraged to rebel, with the singing of “hymns unbidden,/Till the world is wrought/To sympathy with hopes and fears” – and education policy is threatened with “unpremeditated art”.

More serious is the barely disguised call to arms: rioting is urged in the advocacy of a “triumphal chant” and in the open contempt for the useful qualities of hate, pride and fear. Such phrases as “whose race is just begun”, “[the] voice is loud” and “secret hour” indicate an imminent rising among immigrants. We suspect that the message originated with the Green Party, which is far left of Labour and is rapidly becoming dangerous. (The “rose” is here “embower’d in its own green leaves”.) We recommend an immediate increase in the surveillance of Caroline Lucas.

Alison Prince

“Home Thoughts, from Abroad” by Robert Browning

It is obvious that “Oh” is a symbol for Bin Laden and “England” indicates the next terrorist target. “April” is significant: the Aloha Airlines explosion, the Oklahoma bombing and the Boston marathon bombing all took place in the month of April.

Trees can and do explode naturally, masking terrorist activity. The third and fourth lines describe the consequences of an explosion: all that will be left is a “tiny leaf”. Note, too, that in August 2013, there were reports that “an explosion leaves sailors dead” at a naval base. As for the “chaffinch” – code name for a cell leader – that bird is well known for the “explosive” noise at the end of its song. (See the subversive Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book.) The repetition of “England” is a clear signal of the intended target and “now” makes it plain that the attack is imminent.

Bill Thomas

“Night Mail” by W H Auden

This poem forms the soundtrack to a short documentary movie of the same name and the opening lines soon raise questions. Why is all this correspondence being moved around under cover of darkness? How does the train breeze across the border without any security surveillance? What are the Czechs doing on-board? What are the mysterious “postal orders” – maybe guidelines for agents on trade craft? “Wind-bent grasses”, “blank-faced coaches” and “gossip, gossip from all the nations” cause further concern. References to “a glade of cranes”, “fields of apparatus” and “furnaces” reveal an interest in industrial capacity and the line “letters for the rich, letters for the poor” highlights social class divisions. Just what is going on with our intelligence-sharing partners, the Brits?

Derek Morgan

The next challenge

No 4311 By Gavin Ross

“[In 1918] America was thus clearly top nation and history came to a .” So ended “1066 and All That” by W C Sellar and R J Yeatman. We want stories from an updated edition that looks beyond to the 21st century.

Max 150 words by 13 February

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