Thursday, October 7, 2010

R.I.P. O Awful One

Last week, September 29, was the anniversary of the death of Scottish poet William McGonagall, the worst poet ever. No, really, ever. Such was his terrific awfulness that his is frequently described as being "the worst poetry ever written, in any language, at any time." Already well into middle age when he felt himself seized by a spirit commanding him to "write, write, write", McG spent the next twenty-five years crafting verse so mind-bendingly atrocious that a pelting with rotten fruit at a public reading was about the best reception he could expect. The list of satires of the man on his Wikipedia page is quite lengthy.

I, however, do not go in for this ridicule, even though some of it (particularly that which was perpetrated by the great Spike Milligan) is frequently hilarious. Yes, he wrote terrible, terrible poetry. Really horrendous poetry. Just, ungodly stuff. But this is a writer who kept his pen going, day in day out, who, once the muse was upon him, devoted a solid twenty-five years of his life to literature, even though the only reward he ever received for his trouble was ridicule and contempt. Therein lies a kernel of greatness, akin to that great Orson Welles of awful, Ed Wood. The refusal to surrender to discouragement is perhaps the sina qua non of greatness, and the discouragement arrayed around McGonagall was truly massive. And in that respect I feel a great deal of admiration for him. No bad review or audience booing could make him stop writing.

Even though he was too weak and sickly in the end to peddle them any longer on handbills in the streets, McGonagall wrote up poems until the very end; he died a pauper who was buried in an unmarked grave.

(via Today in Literature)

1 comment:

peter said...

"The Tay Bridge Disaster" may very well be my favorite poem ever.