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The Worst Poem Ever Published: Theo Marzials’ ‘A Tragedy’

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle pays tribute to a truly remarkable bad Victorian poet

William McGonagall. Julia A. Moore. Alfred Austin. Bad poetry has its own canon, a sort of dark reflection or negative of the other, more salubrious canon comprising Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson. And in its own way, the canon of bad verse is just as difficult to join as the good one: it takes a certain peculiar combination of self-belief, metrical tone-deafness, artistic ambition, and – perhaps most importantly – utter lack of self-awareness to produce a remarkable bad poet. A notably bad one, we might say. One poet who should be in the bad canon, but is often overlooked alongside McGonagall et al, is Theo Marzials (1850-1920).

Marzials was a British composer, singer, and poet who was born Théophile-Jules-Henri Marzials. As well as his musical work, he was also the author of a poetry collection, the wonderfully named The Gallery of Pigeons and Other Poems (1873). It is in The Gallery of Pigeons that we find Marzials’ masterpiece, if that is quite the word: the poem ‘A Tragedy’, which is more of a farce than a tragedy, although undoubtedly its claim to being a tragedy is rather tragic. Here is the poem, reproduced in full:

A Tragedy

Death!
Plop.
The barges down in the river flop.
Flop, plop. Read the rest of this entry

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The Stuffed Owl: Some of the Worst Poems Ever Published

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle pores over some poetry that’s so bad it’s good

A short while ago, I wrote about Nicholas T. Parsons’ very witty and erudite study of poetasters, The Joy of Bad Verse. In that post, I mentioned the book that might be considered the Golden Treasury of doggerel, The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse (Everyman’s Classics). This anthology of bad poetry, which was first published in 1930, is full of examples of poetry that’s ‘so bad it’s good’, so I wanted to share some of my favourite examples.

In his preface to the first edition of The Stuffed Owl, D. B. Wyndham Lewis points out that ‘Bad Verse has its canons, like Good Verse’, and that the selection of the ‘best’ bad verse is a task as onerous and difficult as the challenge of choosing the cream of the crop for inclusion in a ‘traditional’ anthology. Bad verse in itself is not amusing or entertaining, and verse that is bad in such a way as to be distinctive is hard to come by. Indeed, he goes on to argue that ‘good Bad Verse has an eerie, Read the rest of this entry