Death! / Plop. / The barges down in the river flop.
October 8, 2007 3:32 PM   Subscribe

New contender for world's worst poem. Yes, the mighty William Topaz McGonagall seemingly unassailable position as writer of the sublime The Tay Bridge Disaster is under serious threat...

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says in a new entry that A Tragedy by Théophile-Jules-Henri Marzials is claimed as the worst poem ever written. A poem so bad it's almost Vogon. Still this man will be pleased. Possibly. (Previously. Previously. Previously.)
posted by fearfulsymmetry (50 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I made it through the first stanza and then I think my ears started bleeding. Deliciously awful. Thanks!
posted by misha at 3:40 PM on October 8, 2007

Somewhere an angry Scot is shouting "You can take our lives, but you'll never take our status as the land which produced the worst poet in the world."
posted by seanyboy at 3:40 PM on October 8, 2007

at least it's not in dialect.
posted by dismas at 3:43 PM on October 8, 2007

Theophile Marzials is doing an album with R. Kelly in 2008, I hear.
posted by blacklite at 3:47 PM on October 8, 2007

Screw you, Oxford Dictionary. I still vote for "Pointy Birds."
posted by Mcable at 3:50 PM on October 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sounds like a depressed Jimmy Buffet.
posted by anomie at 3:50 PM on October 8, 2007

The stanzas down in the poem flop.
Flop, plop,
Above, beneath.
From the slanty rhymings the grey drips drop...
To the oozy meter, all lunge and flop...
And my head shrieks - "Oy"
And my heart shrieks - "Yech."...
Ugh! yet I read - I read

posted by cortex at 3:50 PM on October 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

"Theophile Marzials is doing an album with R. Kelly in 2008, I hear."

I'm plopping in the closet...
posted by Mcable at 3:51 PM on October 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

fizz fizz.
What a
relief it
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:54 PM on October 8, 2007 [3 favorites]

Well, I had never read either, and I think McGonagall still holds the title. I mean, really ...

Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay,
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.

Add to that the last line of other verses: "Which will be remember'd for a very long time," and you have a public service announcement in the form of an ode to a bridge.

O pointy birds, o pointy pointy,
Anoint my head, anointy-nointy.

posted by krinklyfig at 3:58 PM on October 8, 2007 [3 favorites]

Ooo-er, the DNB votes for an Englishman to replace the Scotsman, what a surprise.

How long will those benighted islanders ignore the true contender, the lady broad as America itself, the Sweet Songstress of Saskatchewan, Miss Sarah Binks?
posted by ormondsacker at 4:07 PM on October 8, 2007

Oh, are we dragging these out again?

The dead swans lay in the stagnant pool.
They lay. They rotted. They turned
Around occassionally.
Bits of flesh dropped off them from
Time to time.
And sank into the pool's mire.
They also smelt a great deal.

Nobody beats McGonagall, though.
posted by darksasami at 4:07 PM on October 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm mighty fond of (and by "fond of," I mean "nauseated by") the delightful "Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots" from Huck Finn. Of course, that's purposely hideous poetry, which is a whole different animal.

The thing about Marzials is that you can tell he really slaved over crafting that piece of resistance, the poor benighted man. But Jesus, if you're going to overuse a rhyme, it should really not be "op," one of the least euphonious sounds in English.

Meanwhile, "Pointy Birds" is an excellent poem. It reminds me of another favorite, written by a friend of mine when she was about six:

The thunder boomed
The lightning flashed
A tree fell down
A frog was smashed.

Drama, imagery, scansion, profound themes. What more do you want?
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:19 PM on October 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

Sorry, but Canada wins this one...

Ode on the Mammoth Cheese
Weighing over 7,000 pounds

We have seen thee, queen of cheese,
Lying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.

All gaily dressed soon you'll go
To the great Provincial show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.

posted by Bletch at 4:22 PM on October 8, 2007

There's no chance of anyone beating mcgonagal ever, he is the pele of bad poetry, this other work is merely boring.
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:26 PM on October 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay
That your central girders would not have given way

It has something of a 9/11 Truther feel to it, that bit. I can see "TAY = INSIDE JOB" scrawled in chalk on metropolitan sidewalks...
posted by cortex at 4:30 PM on October 8, 2007

Writing poetry
With sixteen syllables
Is really diffic
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:31 PM on October 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

Lest we stereotype James McIntyre as the Poet of Cheese, he also wrote of women:

When this country it was woody,
Its great champion, Mrs. Moody,
She showed she had both pluck and push,
In her work, roughing in the bush.
posted by lukemeister at 4:36 PM on October 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's summer in the crypt, beneath the trees,
The air is choked with sadness and disease.
While lovers run on beaches,
I gnaw on rancid peaches,
And hammer 3 inches spikes into my knees.

posted by Venadium at 4:44 PM on October 8, 2007

Slate recently ran a contest to find its own successor to Topaz McGonnagall. (The winners are here.) I append my own entry:


or, The Lady Rasputin

Laertes: "That drop of blood that's calm proclaims me bastard..."

O my Ophelia -
how thickly
you thin the blood.

No less than
But a cut
and I shall loose
such plasma on thy parquet.

Then! How your shade falls
- une nuage sanguinaire -
on the lightly pebbled
pleasaunce of my
dry, distorted heart.

I know that I am
Tsarevich no more-
Your Bolshevik love bullets
have seen to that, bitch.
posted by Iridic at 4:44 PM on October 8, 2007

How can we so easily forget the great Scots poer Ewan McTeagle, and his classic:

To Ma Own beloved Lassie.
A poem on her 17th Birthday.
Lend us a couple of bob till Thursday.
I'm absolutely skint.
But I'm expecting a postal order
and I can pay you back as soon as it comes.
Love Ewan

posted by Devils Rancher at 4:52 PM on October 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

This is old Old OLD news. In fact, I blogged about Plip Plop more than two years ago, in response to a near-identical piece.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:57 PM on October 8, 2007

Miss Banks is truly an ode-ious poetess of rare distraction; 'twould be shameful were her literous exploits confined merely to the wheat-baring provinces. What is less renowned are her most unique gifts as linguistic translator: viz. her monumental assault on Hein Rich Heinie's "Lorelei":

Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten,
Daß ich so traurig bin;
Ein Märchen aus alten Zeiten,
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.
Die Luft ist kühl, und es dunkelt,
Und ruhig fließt der Rhein;
Der Gipfel des Berges funkelt
Im Abensonnenschein.

Die schönste Jungfrau sitzet
Dort oben wunderbar,
Ihr goldenes Geschmeide blitzet,
Sie kämmt ihr goldenes Haar.

Sie kämmt es mit goldenem Kamme
Und singt ein Lied dabei,
Das hat eine wundersamme,
Gewaltige Melodei.

Den Schiffer im kleinen Schiffe
Ergreift es mit wildem Weh;
Er schaut nicht die Felsenriffe,
Er schaut nur in die Höh.

Ich glaube, die Wellen verschlingen
Am Ende Schiffer und Kahn;
Und das hat mit ihrem Singen
die Lore-Lei getan.

The Laurel's Egg (Binks)

I know not what shall it betoken
that I so sorrowful seem.
A marklet from out of old, spoken,
that comes me not out of the bean.
The loft is cool and it darkles,
and ruefully floweth the Clean.
The top of the mountain top sparkles
with evening sunshine sheen.

The fairest young woman sitteth
there wonderful up on top.
Her golden-like outfit glitteth,
she combeth her golden mop.

She combs it with golden comb-ful
and sings a song thereto,
that has one wonderful, wonderful,
and powerful toodle-didoo.

The shipper in very small shiplet
begrabs it with very wild cry.
He looks not the rock and the riplet,
he looks but up top on the high.

I believe that the whales will devour
the end of the shipper and ship.
And that in her singing bower
the Laurel's egg done it.

posted by rob511 at 4:59 PM on October 8, 2007

Thank goodness sgt.serenity showed up to defend the honor of William McGonagall. I agree with him: these other contenders are dishwater compared with the strong scotch of the great Scot.
posted by languagehat at 4:59 PM on October 8, 2007

that comes me not out of the bean.

wow, she really overwrought that one!
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:04 PM on October 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I got as far as


I couldn't stop giggling long enough to go any further and had to close the tab.
posted by lekvar at 5:08 PM on October 8, 2007

Ah, the poet McTeagle. Wondrous. My favorite being, of course, the epic What's 300 quid to the bloody Midland Bank?

But then again...

Oh freddled gruntbuggly, thy micturations are to me...
posted by zoogleplex at 5:13 PM on October 8, 2007

I tried reading it out loud. I couldn't finish and reptile started turning up the awful 80s music to drown it out. Pfft, like that's any better.

(on preview) ...As plurdled gabbleblotchits
On a lurgid bee.

Or madlibs your own.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:13 PM on October 8, 2007

Right now I'm wishing a sudden aphasia strike to plop down on me.

The pain. The pain.
posted by Iosephus at 5:14 PM on October 8, 2007

See, these aren't anywhere near the worst poems/poets ever - they're just bad poems that received an unusual amount of exposure. Go to any open mic night and you'll hear vast swathes of breathtakingly, eye-wateringly, mind-ablatingly diabolical poetry.

And why hasn't Andrew Motion's 'rap' tribute to Prince William's 21st birthday had a mention?

Better stand back
Here's an age attack,
But the second in line
Is dealing with it fine.

It's a threshold, a gateway,
A landmark birthday;
It's a turning of the page,
A coming of age.

It's a day to celebrate,
A destiny, a fate;
It's a taking to the wing,
A future thing.

Better stand back
Here's an age attack,
But the second in line
Is dealing with it fine.

It's a sign of what's to come,
A start, and then some;
It's a difference growing,
A younger sort of knowing.

It's a childhood gone,
A step towards the crown;
It's a trigger of change,
A stretching of the range.

Better stand back
Here's an age attack,
But the second in line
Is dealing with it fine.

Surely proof, if any were needed, that God does not exist.
posted by RokkitNite at 5:28 PM on October 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't make any great claims for Theo Marzials, but he's not a terrible poet, and 'A Tragedy' is not a terrible poem:

My thought is running out of my head;
My love is running out of my heart;
My soul runs after, and leaves me as dead,
For my life runs after to catch them -- and fled
They are all every one! -- and I stand, and start,
At the water that oozes up, plop and plop,
On the barges that flop / And dizzy me dead.

(It's a dramatic monologue spoken by a man on the brink of insanity -- and considering it was written in 1873, it's actually quite a remarkable and original poem .. a failure, yes, but an interesting failure, and I would much rather read that than a smooth, polished, lifeless academic exercise.)

Funny, isn't it, how the poets mocked for bad poetry are always the outsider poets -- self-taught working-class poets like McGonagall? There's a strong element of cultural snobbery here, I think.
posted by verstegan at 5:29 PM on October 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Or maybe they just suck.
posted by Ryvar at 5:41 PM on October 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sorry Canadians, but James McIntyre the great cheese poet is another one of ours - born in Forres in Moray about 1827, emigrated from Scotland aged 14. If you add him to McGonagall, we're hard to beat! :-)
posted by Flitcraft at 6:03 PM on October 8, 2007

The Tay Bridge Disaster is still worse. Many thanks for introducing me to McGonagall. I'm hoping to find some romantic ones by him, for future use, but no luck yet. Perhaps those ones didn't go over well.
posted by gsteff at 6:21 PM on October 8, 2007

"Funny, isn't it, how the poets mocked for bad poetry are always the outsider poets -- self-taught working-class poets like McGonagall? There's a strong element of cultural snobbery here, I think."

The poet used to perform in public houses. "The first man who threw peas at me was a publican." He was judged as harshly by the lower classes as by the upper.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:47 PM on October 8, 2007

Pretenders to McGonagall's crown must remember that there was actually a Tay Bridge trilogy. He first wrote a tribute to the original Tay Bridge, than the disaster poem, and finally another tribute to the replacement bridge. Man had a thing for that bridge, I guess.
posted by forrest at 7:06 PM on October 8, 2007

Bad poems
are like horses
that have eaten too many apples--
their prostrate, bloated bellies punctuating
the green, green grass of the orchard
like inappropriate apostrophes.
The diligent poet must get up
in the middle of the night
in his stupid nightgown,
and jump on their
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:07 PM on October 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

No bad poetry thread is complete without a reference to the immortal Jimmy McNulty:


The Whining Wrinkly Bastards
by Jimmy McNulty

When auld men sing a tearfu' sang
o' sweetherts lang syne deid,
I get ma whisky bottle oot
an' smash them oan the heid.

O gie me peace,
ya stupit cunts.
Yer weeping's unco rank.
If ancient love torments yer soul,
then go and huv a wank.



More McNulty genius.
posted by Clave at 7:13 PM on October 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

Because I can't let it alone (and I'm home in front of my bookshelf):

'Tis night on the prairie and night on the plain,
And all is still - no sign of rain -
And all is peace, and deep in his teepee
The red man snores and his squaw is sleepy;
The red man snores with the red man's cunning;
But hark, what's that? 'Tis the sound of running,
'Tis the sound of rushing, of hurrying feet,
And hark, what's that? 'Tis the sound of bleat;
Louder it comes, it rises wild,
Ah, the mother hears it and grabs her child,
Louder still, the frantic mother,
Grabs her child, and another, and another,
And the red man waked by that hurrying tread,
Turns deathly pale beneath his red;
The Indian brave is roused from sleep;
'Run for your life boys, here come sheep!'

posted by ormondsacker at 7:22 PM on October 8, 2007

We've got McGonagall, McIntyre, and also Walter McCorrisken:
The maggot wends its loathsome way
Across some putrid meat
It has to wend its way because
The maggot has no feet
 —The Maggot, by W. McCorrisken
See us, wha's like us?
posted by scruss at 7:23 PM on October 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

verstegan for the win. that is by no means a bad poem.
posted by facetious at 7:39 PM on October 8, 2007

scruss writes " —The Maggot, by W. McCorrisken"

That could almost be Shel Silverstein.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:41 PM on October 8, 2007

Another self-taught Victorian poet with a...problematic...reputation is Eliza Cook, responsible for such sentimental poems as "The Old Arm-Chair."

While dissertating, I suffered through some of the poetry committed by Isaac D'Israeli. I'm especially fond of the couplet "Her dancing furies swim along the gloom;/Their lethal lips respire the azotic room." Don't worry, that has a footnote.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:46 PM on October 8, 2007

Oh, please allow me to advocate for James Whitcomb Riley and "The Happy Little Cripple."

I'm thist a little crippled boy, an' never goin' to grow
An' git a great big man at all!--'cause Aunty told me so.
When I was this a baby onc't I falled out of the bed
An' got "The Curv'ture of the Spine"--'at's what the Doctor said.
I never had no Mother nen--fer my Pa runned away
An' dassn't come back here no more--'cause he was drunk one day
An' stobbed a man in thish-ere town, an' couldn't pay his fine!
An' nen my Ma she died--an' I got "Curv'ture of the Spine"!

I'm nine years old! an' you can't guess how much I weigh, I bet!
Last birthday I weighed thirty three! An' I weigh thirty yet!
I'm awful little for my size--I'm purt' nigh littler 'an
Some babies is!--an' neighbors all calls me "The Little Man!"
An' Doc one time he laughed and said: "I 'spect, first thing you know,
You'll have a spike-tail coat an' travel with a show!"
An' nen I laughed--till I looked round an' Aunty was a-cryin'--
Sometimes she acts like that, 'cause I got "Curv'ture of the Spine!"

And that's just the first two stanzas.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 7:55 PM on October 8, 2007

Reading that Guardian article about Marzials reminded me for some reason of the poets that appeared in the second season of Blackadder:

Shelley: Oh, Love, oh ecstasy that is Mrs. Miggins, wilt thou bring me but one cup of the browned juicings of that naughty bean we call `coffee', ere I die...

Mrs. Miggins: Don't you worry about my poets, Mr. Blackadder. They're not dead, they're just being *intellectual*.

Edmund: Mrs. Miggins, there's nothing intellectual wandering around Italy in a big shirt, trying to get laid.

more Blackadder
posted by spoobnooble at 8:51 PM on October 8, 2007

oh pshaw


Onely with speeches fair
She woos the gentle Air
To hide her guilty front with innocent Snow,
And on her naked shame
Pollute with sinful blame
The Saintly Veil of Maiden white to throw
Confounded that her Makers eyes
Should look so near upon her foul deformities


He feels from Juda's land
The dredded Infants hand
The rays of Bethlehem blind his dusty eyn
Nor all the gods beside
Longer dare abide
Not Typhon huge ending in snaky twine:
Our Babe to shew his Godhead true
Can in his swadling bands controul the damned crew

as often is the case, johnny m sounds great but you really shouldn't THINK about what he's saying cause it ALL falls to pieces when you do

and he sure as shit was right to lose that rhyming stuff for paradise lost
posted by pyramid termite at 9:11 PM on October 8, 2007

while this falls under the category of ficitonal bad poetry: I submit the character Mary-Ann Beavers writing a poem in Peter J Smiths "Make-Believe Ballrooms"


There's times precious as gold
Some of them whispered, some told
By people to eachother
To sail a sea, to make friends with a Cree
Indian. Remember these moments of gold
Till You're really old.

posted by geos at 11:14 PM on October 8, 2007

Bosh! Piffle!

All bad poems are masterpieces in when compared to Charles Williams' Tardfart Manifesto

In a dream brought about by Tennessee methlabs, shwag weed and Loratabs, frat boys and white bitches spill whiskey on their polo shirts and stain their Xanax flab.

I saw the downtown Nashville barroom in full drunken bloom, rednecks zoom in with their 1.3 megapixel cameraphones. Dad left the kids alone at home with Halo-2 and a hole in the ozone layer, they had Spam for dinner and said prayers for the raucous hippie kids who died on the way back from the Widespread Panic concert.

Trippy shit abounds, basketballs bounce like bad checks on televisions in most towns. I lost some of my friends last year, none of them were mexicans, but two of them were queer. Three beers down the hatch and i can't remember which idiot got more votes in the last wrestling match.

That dude at the gas station wants to work at the local communications center, because a true corporate gig will help him ruminate better. He no longer listens to Eddie Vedder, instead he likens his life to a faraway deejay on instant radio replay. On the internet, people he's never met tell him that the President is a robot, and probably knows not what he does.

People like that used to do coke but the twenty-dollar bill they rolled up to snort it actually delivered the better buzz.

Money can get you out of your mire, so now he's dreaming of a Roth IRA, new Honda tires, and making those kids back in 4th grade pay with their lives. That's fine, pale losers have always been hated, but it sucks that school shootings weren't invented until after he graduated.

Thank god the dogs have stopped barking. I remembered Mr. Mackey using the word "skylark," so i had to drop everything and download the World of Warcraft episode of South Park off YouTube. Although we have computers in our homes people are still preoccupied with big boobs and just can't leave well enough alone.

This girl i know poses nude for online publications even though her new boyfriend is a Rolling Stones fan from Texas with cystic fibrosis. I'm jealous, because all i've done lately is coin the term "tardfart" and realize that i'm an artist who jacks off, drunk, to his own art.

I don't know which i want to know more -- did my mom make it to Heaven, or what happens to Harry at the end of Book Seven? One of these days, i'm going to get suicidal or brave and tell that nigga on the corner that Africa is too fucked up to even want to save. How do you manage to fly into a rage when you're riddled with AIDS and haven't eaten in days?

At the workplace, it's all LG Chocolate vs. the Moto K-Razr. Cel phones make me want to take a vacation to a glacier, and lay there and just stay there, until i'm gray-haired.

I'm scared for my brain. I feel like i'm going to live forever in this shitty apartment near Baird Lane, by the corner of Givan and Tate.

Maybe it's my fate – to smoke stolen cigarettes and drink cheap beer here, in the same world that Edward and Alphonse saw when they defied Dante and were flung headlong through the Gate."


That sucks.
posted by ELF Radio at 12:05 AM on October 9, 2007

I have to call a technical foul on that last one. If you are TRYING to write bad poetry, it shouldn't count!

No, it's the poet who writes something truly horrendous, agonizing over every loathsome, labored rhyme, wipes the sweat from his brow and congratulates himself on a job well done that deserves to win this category.
posted by misha at 2:08 PM on October 9, 2007

I'm..... pretty sure he was trying, actually.
posted by ELF Radio at 7:41 PM on October 9, 2007

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