I never expect anything in the way of thrills or titillation when I scan through my local newspaper, but this week there wasn't even much in the way of interest: a naughty vicar, "Gales damage a school roof", "Doris is 104" and "Builder head-butted off-duty policeman", and that was about it.
Until, with a shock, I encountered an item which left me open-mouthed and which, if TV news and the national papers are on their toes, must surely soon become a hot topic throughout the country. I leave out the names, but here is the piece (honest, no kidding):
Wordsmiths are being invited to compete in a prophylactic poetry competition to win £50 in vouchers. [Our local] Primary Care Trust's chlamydia screening programme and [-]'s Pharmacy have joined forces to run the contest which covers two age groups. Young people aged between 16 and 25 are being asked to pen a poem using the word chlamydia, while over 25s are called upon to write a piece containing the word contraception, or a form of contraception.
There are several things to be said about this. For one thing, the rules are somewhat vague: Do they really mean any sort of poem, or do they want some verses which rhyme and/or scan? Must chlamydia be used in its proper context and refer to the infection or can it be treated as just a word? It would make things much easier if could be used as a proper name, so that you could submit a sentimental ode titled To Chlamydia, with a line similar to the one Ernest Dowson very nearly wrote: I have been true to thee, Chlamydia, in my fashion.
If it must be used as a medical term, on the other hand, then the poems would have to outline the bacteriological background, symptoms and treatment (what else is there to write about on this subject?), and references to C. trachomatis, purulent exudate and Azithromycin would have to be featured; these are very tricky things to work into even the loosest rhyming scheme or metre.
For the older competitors, contraception as a subject offers lots of possibilities, since no particular approach is specified. The poem could be lyrical, romantic, theologically controversial or merely practical. In the latter case, the various methods alone provide plenty to say; references to them in popular song go back to 1930, with Ira Gershwin's lyrics to I Got Rhythm.
This competition seems to me to be much more difficult than one I set before Christmas, and that attracted only five entries. Somehow the sponsors will have to ensure that there are at least two entries in their Prophylactic Poetry Contest, even if they have to write them themselves, for the winning poems are to be displayed at the town's main shopping centre on February 9th to mark National Contraceptive Awareness Week. Anyway, I shall not fail to be there to see how the young poets of the town have risen to the challenge.