I have what has sometimes been described
as an unfortunate taste for bad poetry. I relish it the way some people enjoy bad movies
or bad novels
. I'm talking about the sort of stuff where, if you meet a line like Of compost shall the Muse disdain to sing?
the answer will invariably and unfortunately be No
And just as there are qualities of badness that make something a "good bad movie" enjoyable, or as TV Tropes puts it So Bad It's Good
, so for poetry. The best bad verse reaches beyond the creator's abilities. Ye average teen angst verse
has nothing on William McGonagall
— of whom more anon. Mere technical incompetence is not enough, however. There must be more.
Such as bathos — the "art of sinking," as Pope & Co. called it. High-flown imagery soaring into a mundane thump is a wondrous thing.
But ah! when first to breathe man does begin
He then inhales the noxious seeds of sin,
Which every goodly feeling does destroy
And more or less his after-life annoy.
And then there's disjoints between style and substance:
"Lord Byron" was an Englishman
A poet I believe,
His first works in old England
Was poorly received.
Perhaps it was "Lord Byron's" fault
And perhaps it was not.
His life was full of misfortunes,
Ah, strange was his lot.
Victories of sound over sense:
In the music of the morns,
Blown through Conchimarian horns,
Down the dark vistas of the reboantic Norns,
To the Genius of Eternity,
Crying: "Come to me! Come to me!"
When I came to the little rose-colour'd room,
From the curtains out flew a bat.
The window stood open: and in the gloom
My love at the window sat.
And now, kind friends, what I have wrote,
I hope you will pass o'er,
And not to criticise as some have done
"Ne'er will I quit th' undeviating line,
Whose source thou art, and thou the law divine.
The Sun shall be subdued, his system fade,
Ere I forsake the path thy fiat made;
Yet grant one soft regretful tear to flow,
Prompted by pity for a Lover's woe,
O grant without revenge, one bursting sigh,
Ere from his desolating grief I fly—
'Tis past,—Farewell! Another claims my heart;
Then wing thy sinking steps, for here we part,
We part! and listen, for the word is mine,
Anna Matilda never can be thine!"
Would any feather'd maiden of the wood,
Or scaly female of the peopled flood,
When lust and hunger call'd, its force resist?
In abstinence or chastity persist?
Life scums the cream of Beauty with Time's spoon
Still I toil.
How long and steep and cheerless the ascent!
It needs the evidence of close deduction
To know that I shall ever reach the height!
And thundering bores:
Thus, if a Government agrees to give,
Whenever Public Companies are formed,
To each a dividend—say, six percent
Per annum ... 
Before exploring the swamplands for more, be warned: ye average volume of bad poetry has a higher body count than a teen slasher flick, deployed to even less emotional effect. Yes, there are volumes — poeple collect this stuff. The above are all culled
from The Stuffed Owl
ed. by Wyndham Lewis and Lee, which is one of the
essential collections for aspiring poets — as object lessons, if nothing else. I'll compile a bibliography in a later post.
But as for what makes bad poetry so attractive -- that, I'm on less clear ground. I hope to explore the topic later this week.
Does anyone else have a taste for bad poetry? What are your favorites?
---L.Note and Citations
. By me. 2
. James Grainger, The Sugar Cane
. Robert Peter, On Time, Death, and Eternity
. Julia Moore, Lord Byron's Life
. The quotes are original; ditto the grammar. 5
. Thomas Chivers, The Poet's Vocation
. "Owen Meredith" a.k.a. Robert Bulwer-Lytton, Going Back Again
. This is not the Bulwer-Lytton you're thinking of but rather his son. 7
. Julia Moore, The Author's Early Life
. She gets double-duty in this sampling because she comes up a lot
in bad verse lists. 8
. Robert Merry writing as Della Crusca, The Interview
. The supposed speaker was in her mid-forties, and had not yet met the poet in person. 9
. John, Lord Hervy, Epistle to Mr. Fox, from Hampton Court
. The authorship is almost as boggling as the lines themselves — a young poet telling his beloved "the birds and fishes do it, so why can't you?" can be forgiven, where by "forgive" I mean "publicly and thoroughly mocked," but this is a Lord Privy Seal writing to his middle-aged friend. 10
. Margaret Cavendish, A Posset for Nature's Breakfast
. Joseph Cottle, The Malvern Hills
. George Everleigh, Science Revealed
— which, as as you can tell from this extract, is a work of natural theology. 13
. Much like predators cull the weak from the herd.