821: Very Bad Poetry by Kathryn and Ross Petras

by Gerard

821.008: Petras, Kathryn and Ross Petras, eds. Very Bad Poetry. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. 123 pp. ISBN 0-679-77622-2.

Dewey Construction:

  • 800: Literature
  • 820: British literature
  • 821: British poetry
  • 821.008: Collections of British poetry by more than one author.

Almost everyone, at some time or another, has fancied themselves a poet. Millions of teenagers sulk in their bedrooms and call out histrionically to their muse so that they can profess their undying love, their unmitigated hatred, or their unending ennui with the universe. Adjective upon adjective and detail upon detail use up precious ink supplies as worn notebooks are filled with horrible verse.

But eventually those would-be poets grow up and find their real talents. Every once in a while, however, some choose to stick it out as lifelong versifiers. The Petrases, in Very Bad Poetry, have created a wonderful collection of historically bad poets. Selections from William McGonagall (often considered the worst poet of all time) and James McIntyre (the poet laureate of cheese) find company with those from Solyman Brown (writer of dental poetry) and T. Brown (lover of steam engines).

Most of the selections are just convoluted, but a special few are just awful through and through. Consider this nightmare relayed by J. Gordon Coogler:

How strange are dreams! I dreamed the other night
A dream that made me tremble,
Not with fear, but with a kind of strange reality;
My supper, though late, consisted of no cheese.

Or this nugget from James Milligan on geology:

In ages past [animals] lived and died,
And afterwards were petrified
By enclosure in massive rocks,
And thus became fossilized blocks.
The oldest-known rocks contain lime,
Thus proving at that remote time
Animal life did then abound,
Which may fill us with thought profound.

The authors search high and low for prime examples of bad poetry and succeed. This would be a great volume for a fun party, each guest taking turns reading stanza after excruciating stanza. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a laugh.