Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Worst of the Worst

Here's your chance. 35 of William McGonagall's poems are going to be auctioned off! Who the hell is William McGonagall, you ask? Well, he's pretty much known over there in the UK as the World's Worst Poet. Now, the world is a pretty big place, so that's quite the accomplishment...even if his poem's really do suck.

McGonagall died in 1902. He spent the later half of his life being mocked and having food and other objects thrown at him when he would read his poems in Dundee. His poems covered a wide range of topics, including various Scottish battles and Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. (A Jubilee over there is like the anniversary of the monarch's reign. Thus, the Golden Jubilee would be like the Golden Anniversary which is the 50th Anniversary. Why they just can't say "50th" over there, I don't know. They always have to have these complicated phrases for everything. Confusing people, but very likeable chaps, those Brits.) Along with wars and royal anniversaries, the guy took great pleasure in writing about death and catastrophes. (Huh. Diverse.)

One of McGonagall's most famous works that illustrates his writing about something called the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879, when a storm destroyed the Tay Bridge as a train passed over it. (Nice.) Part of it goes like this:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
With your numerous arches and pillars in so grand array
And your central girders, which seem to the eye
To be almost towering to the sky.

The greatest wonder of the day,
And a great beautification to the River Tay,
Most beautiful to be seen,
Near by Dundee and the Magdalen Green.

So the train mov'd slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
Until it was about midway,
Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
And down went the train and passengers into the Tay....

Yeah, that's pretty bad. Accurate, but just horrible. (I'm really glad the voices in his head didn't tell him to write bedtime stories for children. That would not have ended well.) One of the auctioneers at Lyon and Turnbull (the firm doing the auctioning), a one Alex Dove, said that McGonagall didn't even start writing poetry until he was around 47 and the voices in his head that he heard told him that he would be able to write poems. (Yeah, see, that's a pretty good indicator right there of why this all turned out the way that it did.) McGonagall (and the voices) thought that his poems were just great! (Shocking, I know.) In fact, he was so sure that his poems were so great that he thought that he should be the poet laureate! That's the thing about hearing voices in your head. They're not always all that honest with you.

What ended up happening was that the guy developed a reputation for bad poems and also for an inability to recognize that his poems were bad. But he seemed to take great joy in giving readings of these horrible poems (probably because he thought they were good). That's why the townspeople of Dundee would encourage (trick) him into giving a performance just so that they could make fun of him and throw vegetables at him. (They must have had a lot of extra produce lying around back then.) But who are we talking about by name over 100 years later? It's not the produce hurlers, it's McGonagall. What does that tell you? Good for you, Mr. Horrible Poetry Writing Guy. Good for you.

He kind of sounds like a guy who really meant well but just sucked at writing poetry. Another of his "hobbies" was campaigning against alcohol (for his entire life!) and he wrote a poem (another shocker) that was meant to warn people about the dangers of alcohol. However, I have the feeling that this poem might have done just the opposite and driven people to start drinking.

Oh, thou demon Drink, thou fell destroyer;

Thou curse of society, and its greatest annoyer.

What hast thou done to society, let me think?

I answer thou hast caused the most of ills, thou demon Drink."

Um, why, yes! I'd love a drink! Thank you!

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