Monday, November 28, 2005

W.T. McGonagall: The Worst Poet Ever?

If you're the kind that likes fingernails on chalkboards, then you'll relish McGonagall Online, a web site devoted to "the writer of the worst poetry in the English language." It's a fun site and very thorough, suggesting that the proprietor, Chris Hunt, has more than a bit of respect and affection for the Scottish poet he lampoons.

I took a few minutes to stroll through McGonagall's poems yesterday evening and found several I liked -- well, "liked" may not be the best word. Perhaps I should say, "fascinated." For instance, I found impressive McGonagall's boldness in concluding 6 lines (of the 32-line An Address to Shakespeare) with the word "fine." And his defiance of conventional rhyme was also noteworthy. I mean, how many fellows would try and force rhymes out of "navy" and "sea", "rammed" and "calmed", and "uppermost" and ""lost"(The Loss of the Victoria)?

McGonagall also blazed his own trails in the matter of meter. (Hmm. That's a phrase he would like.) Here's the closing quatrain from his Captain Teach alias "Black Beard":

Black Beard derived his name from his long black beard,
Which terrified America more than any comet that had ever appeared;

But, thanks be to God, in this age we need not be afeared,

Of any such pirates as the inhuman Black Beard.

Now, of course, William McGonagall is not really "the writer of the worst poetry in the English language." There are legions that deserve that ignominious title much more, including many who are even hailed by the literati. But McGonagall is certainly bad enough to make him enjoyable to read -- and perhaps to remind us of own meager efforts in the field.

And, by the way, if you only have a couple of minutes to browse through the site, make sure you check out William Tavis McGonagall's best-known poem, The Tay Bridge Disaster. It is a gem.

Important Postscript -- Later in the day of this post, we were finding it impossible to establish a connection to the McGonagall Online site. Perhaps the traffic we generated overwhelmed them :) At any rate, keep trying; it's worth it. In the meantime, though, you can certainly enjoy a second McGonagall site we found. It is titled, I guess, the William McGonagall site and it has among its treasures a Master's Thesis by Gord Bambrick about "the writer of the worst poetry in the English language" and audio versions of McGonagall's poems (read in a wonderful Scottish accent with nifty flash animations as accompaniment). For a much more comprehensive "library", you'll want McGonagall Online. But, for sheer fun for you and your children, you've got to make a visit to Bambrick's delighful web page.