scholars and rogues

VerseDay: All hail bad poets!

In 1682 or thereabouts the English poet John Dryden’s famous mock-epic, “MacFlecknoe,” was published (perhaps without the author’s consent). In it Dryden butchers his contemporary, the comparatively less talented Thomas Shadwell (who nonetheless became Poet Laureate later on), a man with whom Dryden had a series of disagreements (artistic, religious and political). The premise of the poem is that the poet Richard Flecknoe, characterized as the worst poet in history, is seeking the successor to that ignoble throne.

Guess who emerges as the ultimate candidate?

Whether Flecknoe was the worst poet in history is debatable, and maybe Sh** wasn’t as bad as Dryden would have us believe. In any case, history has nonetheless served up many writers who merited at least some consideration for the title of Worst Poet in the World (William McGonagall is always a popular choice).

I have my own personal nominees, though. There’s Ogden Nash:

My Dream

This is my dream,
It is my own dream,
I dreamt it.
I dreamt that my hair was kempt.
Then I dreamt that my true love unkempt it.

Nash, of course, wasn’t exactly trying to be Yeats.

Then there’s Rod McKuen, who really was trying.

Thoughts on Capital Punishment

There ought to be capital punishment for cars
that run over rabbits and drive into dogs
and commit the unspeakable, unpardonable crime
of killing a kitty cat still in his prime.

It goes on, but you get the idea.

If it weren’t for the fact that I’d start a firestorm I’d add Ginsberg to the list, too.

So here’s a tribute to our bad poets: if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t appreciate the great ones nearly so much.

11 replies »

  1. I’m pretty sure my poems would rank near the top (er…bottom?) of any “worse” list. 🙂 Here’s my favorite.

    So, I’m stupid
    That’s OK
    I should say

  2. Or Miss Teen West Carolina for that matter. I don’t know. But I know of a certain trumpet playing angel who plays the blues. 🙂

  3. In the late sixties, DJ Rosco used to recite Rod McPeculiar’s poetry on pioneering New York progressive rock radio station WNEW.

    “Listen to the wahm-m-m,” he’d say in his African-American New Yorkese.

  4. Are you seriously doubting Ogden Nash? I actually quoted him earlier today in a discussion on how puppies are superior to kittens.


    The problem with a kitten’s that
    Eventually, it becomes a cat.

    Thank you.

  5. A lament for central heating
    (London, 1967)

    Christ! All winter I’ve been froze,
    with ice-block feet and cataleptic nose
    all dripping down my sleeve and vest
    and shivering even though I’m dressed
    for 10 or 20 below zero
    (like some antarctic lunatic… or hero?).

    This feeble gas fire does no good
    except to tantalize my blood
    with flaming pi-r-squared of radiant heat
    radiating half a measured feet.

    Stiff upper lip, the British claim
    their chiefest virtue’s being stolid.
    That’s because in winter
    they’re froze solid!

  6. Just stumbled upon your blog, much to my delight.

    When you happen upon bad poetry as in the examples above it is as if you’d gone to the Opera and Justin Timberlake had replaced the retired Pavarotti.