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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 Poems that the Great and Good Turn to

In this special guest post, Auriol Bishop explores the role of poetry in times of turbulence and trouble

What is it about poetry when it feels as though the world is falling apart?

Pithy, expressive, capturing in a soundbite all you want to say and mean; and in far better words than you could have put it yourself – if you reach for your favourite collection of poems at moments of crisis, you can be sure you’re not alone. Social media is alive with poetry new and old, words of comfort and inspiration being shared between friends and strangers. There are numerous blogs, as well as articles in the mainstream press with poetry reading lists to bring you solace in these troubled times of ours.

And you’re in the company of many a world leader and public figure, too, of course: from Jeremy Corbyn declaiming Shelley to the cheering crowds at Glastonbury to President Putin’s public broadcast of the words of Andrey Dementyev for International Women’s Day, there’s a perennial appeal to the higher authority of a poet’s words that have already stood the test of time. Read the rest of this entry

Four Short Poems by Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell (1879-1944) was an Irish poet who wrote in both English and Gaelic (publishing his latter work under the name Seosamh Mac Cathmhaoil or Seosamh MacCathmhaoil). Like pioneering modernist poet T. E. Hulme, who was four years younger than him, Campbell wrote a small number of short poems in free verse and utilising a pared back and understated style. There is no rhetoric here, no outpouring of emotion (perhaps too little for some readers); but what these poems show is the emergence of a distinctly modern style of poetry that rejects the gushing excesses of the worst Victorian verse. Written towards the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, they are among the first poems written in English which can be confidently labelled ‘modern’. Read the rest of this entry