Friday, December 14, 2007

Bad to Verse

Dennis the Peasant is trying to write bad poetry. He's not doing a great job of it, but it's hardly an insult to him to think so. Writing truly bad poetry is one of the most difficult attainments of a writer. You could spend years honing the craft, and it's possible no one can succeed at it without some natural talent along that line.

You have to start with idiotic ideas. Dennis has got that down -- after all, he's been reading political blogs for years. But when he sits down to write it, his skill gets in the way. His verse -- as verse -- is passable. What's required is a complete lack of humor, a complete lack of grammatical consistency, tone-deafness, the rhythmic sense of Donald Rumsfeld, and an artless innocence about all of it.

This may be unattainable without the proper genes. I have worked with a man who was a tuneless hummer. When he wasn't around, co-workers would try to imitate him. Try it; it's really impossible. Avoiding a tune is infinitely more difficult than carrying one.

Dennis already has dug up a blood ruby of a bad poem, on the Daily Kos site. It starts like this:

Trapped in a machine that only nourishes the rich
Like a glitch in the system that hard to catch
And bombs that drop on kids with legs detached
Women, Children, and Men for Oil!
Is this the "Freedom" you bring to the New World?
Amerikkka Now Hides Behind A New Freedom
The one that gives you death instead of Life
Why Don't you just get up and fight?
Stop Wasting your time in Protest and Strikes
The plight of the poor is at an increasing rate
Why don't you allow yourself to be suicidal and late our economy crash?

By the gods, I'm jealous of the talent that wrote that. If I could write anything half as good as that is bad, I could retire on the royalties.

However, Dennis is well on the way to self-education in this art, because he's been reading Pandagon dutifully. Just throw random line breaks at Amanda's prose, and you've got yourself some bad poeting.

But what I really recommend is a crash course in the all-time champion of bad poetry, the Chaucer of cheese, the Shakespeare of shabby, the Elizabeth Barrett Browning of godfuckingawful, Julia Moore, the "Sweet Singer of Michigan." Here is the opening of her 1876 tribute to a Civil War casualty:

Come all good people, far and near,
Oh, come and see what you can hear,
It's of a young man, true and brave,
Who is now sleeping in his grave.

Now, William Upson was his name --
If it's not that it's all the same --
He did enlist in the cruel strife,
And it caused him to lose his life.

If you can get through the first two lines without blurting out a laugh -- well, Mark Twain couldn't. He counted her as his favorite poet. [It's a tribute to the savvy of the 19th century that this woman published her verse thinking it was good, and that a great many reviewers managed to write about it so artfully that they seemed to be praising it until you saw the alternate meanings in their sentences. The gag was kept up -- almost -- long enough for a national reading tour.]

I'll close as the Sweet Singer closed her ballad of her youth (which describes all manner of hardships and suffering while insisting how happy it all was):

My childhood days have passed and gone,
And it fills my heart with pain
To think that youth will nevermore
Return to me again.
And now kind friends, what I have wrote,
I hope you will pass o'er,
And not criticise as some have done,
Hitherto herebefore