Mark your calendars because the most prominent holiday of the year is quickly approaching. August 18 is National Bad Poetry Day!
Whether you’re reading or writing it, bad poetry is fun. Maybe it’s the pure schadenfreude of watching someone be bad at something. It makes us feel better about ourselves, especially when good poets put out bad poetry. The same poet who penned beautiful lines such as:
“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come”
Also graced us with:
“And to the left, three yards beyond,
You see a little muddy pond
Of water–never dry
I measured it from side to side:
‘Twas four feet long, and three feet wide.”
Thanks, Mr. Wordsworth.
You’d think a poet would want to use the metric system.
Still, I like to think that we enjoy bad poetry because there’s something in us that admires the quixotic spirit of people who proudly practice their passion, regardless of skill (or lack thereof). William McGonagall is widely regarded as one of the worst poets in the world. You can criticize his complete lack of rhythm and imagery, but you cannot deny his commitment to rhyming. Following the Tay Bridge disaster, he wrote the following:
“I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.”
The absence of talent did not prevent McGonagall from prolifically practicing his art. If you’re looking for more bad poetry to mark the occasion, other reviled poets include Theophile Marzials and Amanda McKittrick Ros. You can also read some student submissions to Columbia University’s Alfred Joyce Kilmer Memorial Bad Poetry Contest.
The natural next step to celebrating Bad Poetry Day is to write some bad poetry. There are two ways to write bad poetry. You might emulate the Vogons from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and purposely write poems so bad that listening to a recitation is akin to physical assault. This can definitely be fun. But there’s another way to go about things; you can give yourself permission to try your best, and still be bad. Usually, you have to do things badly for a while before you can do them well. To quote the brilliant Kurt Vonnegut, “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
Sometimes bad poets become good poets. Sometimes they don’t. But a poet’s poet, no matter how good.