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Harmonious Hog Draw Near!,
This review is from: Very Bad Poetry (Paperback)
Great poets have their weak moments, but they tend to produce only the occasional bad line - say, for example, when William Wordsworth, one of England's greatest poets, wrote the unintentionally bawdy "Give me your tool, to him I said."
Very bad poets, however, "are perpetrators of a unique and fascinating kind of writing. Unlike the plainly bad or the merely mediocre, very bad poetry is powerful stuff. Like great literature, it moves us emotionally, but, of course, it often does so in ways the writer never intended: usually we laugh."
This book is dedicated to those writers, mostly from the 19th century, who excelled at very bad poetry with astonishing consistency. Those who were blessed, if that is the word, for their entire career with "a wooden ear for words, a penchant for sinking into a mire of sentimentality, a bullheaded inclination to stuff too many syllables or words into a line or a phrase, and an enviable confidence" that allowed them to write despite absolute appalling incompetence.
Here we find the awful metaphor ("the dew on my heart is undried and unshaken") and the tortured rhyme ("Gooing babies, helpless pygmies,/ Who shall solve your Fate's enigmas?") next to one of the most unappetizing titles for a love poem ever ("I Saw Her in Cabbage Time").
Some of the most hilarious effects are created by the attempt to dramatize the pedestrian, as in the "Ode on the Mammoth Cheese", aptly subtitled "Weighing over 7,000 pounds":
We have seen thee, queen of cheese,
Lying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze,
Thy fair form no flies dare seize. (there are five more delicious stanzas)
Not quite as riotously funny, but interesting as a phenomenon of the 19th century, is the preoccupation of very bad poets with death. It produced tasteless marvels of what the editors labeled "tabloid verse" like:
Oh, Heaven! It was a frightful and pitiful sight to see
Seven bodies charred of the Jarvis family;
And Mrs. Jarvis was found with her child, and both carbonized,
And as the searchers gazed thereon they were surprised.
Another favorite of very bad poets is the use of bizarre words in blissful ignorance of their meaning or the common readers' associations. One of the most talented in this respect was one Amanda McKittrick Ros, "a writer with a gift for (as she puts it) 'disturbing the bowels.'" To her we owe the following lines written on the occasion of her visit of Westminster Abbey:
Holy Moses! Have a look!
Flesh decayed in every nook!
Some rare bits of brain lie here
Mortal loads of beef and beer
Some of whom are turned to dust, [only some?]
Every one bids lost to lust.
The editors' favorite worst poem ever written in the English language bears the title "A Tragedy" - which, indeed, it is. But I don't want to spoil the fun by quoting it here. My own favorite is an excerpt from "A Pindaresque on the Grunting of a Hog." Nothing describes the voice of a very bad poet better than the sounds this animal makes:
Harmonious Hog draw near!
No bloody Butchers here,
Thou need'st not fear.
Harmonious Hog draw near, and from thy beauteous Snowt,
Whilst we attend with Ear
Like thine prik't up devout,
To taste thy sugry Voice, which hear, and there,
With wanton Curls, Vibrates around the Circling Air,
Harmonious Hog! Warble some Anthem out!
Pindar, by the way, was the most famous lyric poet of ancient Greece. He lived in the 5th century BC and saw himself as a poet dedicated to preserving and interpreting great deeds and their divine values.
Another famous ancient Greek author ("Sing, o muse, the wrath of Achilles ...") inspired a very bad poet to what is perhaps the worst line of poetry ever written without satiric intent: "Now, Muse, let's sing of rats." In fact, the poet changed the last word from the original "mice" to "rats" because he found "rats" more dignified.