Writers are one of the few species of artists which display aggressive cannibalistic tendencies. We are jealous, often condescending, and incredibly territorial. We will not read your fucking script, and if we do we will focus on what we probably could have done better. The only thing which angers a writer’s blood more than seeing a writer who sucks is seeing one who doesn’t suck *cough* Diablo Derangement Syndrome *cough*. And so when a bold writer sticks his head out of the ground to show the world his work, it had better be worth our time or that writer will be skinned, gutted, and thrown on the fire as an example to the others. In fact, I believe the only thing which actually brings writers together is our collective hatred and mockery of lesser writers. It’s our Woodstock.
Yet I’m amazed at the lasting power of these supposed “awful” writers when compared to their “masterful” contemporaries. Ed Wood is the perfect example. His work was universally dismissed as garbage by writers and directors whose body of films reside in a closet somewhere, forgotten by the world while Wood’s work still entertains a wide audience. And Wood believed in his work. He was passionate about making films, about telling stories and creating. I believe it’s that spirit that makes the films so enjoyable. I can listen to a passionate fool for hours. And I’ve always espoused the view that I’d rather watch a group of motivated six-year-olds with wild imaginations put on a puppet show than sit through CoCo Le’ Bullshit’s two hour work of highly refined, self-indulgent art drivel.
So in that spirit I’d like to honor a man whose legacy is a testament to the spirit of the awful writer; a man renowned as the worst poet in the English language: William Topaz McGonagall.
William McGonagall was a loom weaver who in 1877 discovered poetry and set out to make poetry his life’s work. Having no natural skill with words or poetry, his work was soon criticized and mocked by critics and scholars alike who would often invite McGonagall to perform readings for their own amusement. Printed and reprinted over the last hundred years, McGonagall’s lack of any discernible writing ability has sustained in its ability to entertain. In his most famous awful poem, The Tay Bridge Disaster, McGonagall wrote:
- “Oh! Ill-fated bridge of the silv’ry Tay
- I now must 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 build
- The less chance we have of being killed”
Although there were many poets at the time who regaled McGonagall as a “genius”, his performances and subsequent reactions from audiences became the stuff of legend. From a Dundee Newspaper, October 9th 1880:
“The platform was invaded, and the tragedian, afraid of his spangles, bolted for the anteroom, and hastily prepared to disrobe. He had only got his toilet half completed when the roughs burst into the green room like a torrent, and in their flurry to see the “Poet” they upset a bucket of water all over the properties, and soaked them as thoroughly as if they had been put in the wash-tub. The “Poet” and his son lost their tempers, and the junior threatened to fight all and sundry.”
Yes; the audience actually bum-rushed him in his dressing room and smashed up his theatrical props before dumping water all over them. This, in addition to numerous accounts of audiences jeering, hissing, and even throwing peas at him marked the life of a man whose awful writing gave him more notoriety in Europe than his contemporaries. And to this day there are still numerous books of his poetry published and sold in bookstores, as well as entire societies and websites dedicated to his particular brand of almost satirically terrible talent.
Think about this man’s work, whether as warning or inspiration, because I’d much rather be the guy whose work is enjoyed and entertains than the snooty prick who impresses while putting people to sleep.