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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

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F. V. Branford: A Forgotten Poet of WWI

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads the work of a forgotten war poet

The poetry of Wilfred Owen is the most widely-studied writing about the First World War, written by a man who experienced the fighting first-hand. Poets like T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound – who, unlike Owen, were part of modernism as well as being modern – didn’t experience the horrors of the trenches themselves, although they both wrote about the war afterwards. Eliot’s The Waste Land is full of war imagery, while Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberley contains one of the most brilliantly angry and impassioned diatribes about the war’s sheer waste of life to be found anywhere in modern literature.

Owen is loosely associated with the Georgians, a group of poets writing in the years immediately preceding the outbreak of war, whose most famous member was probably Rupert Brooke, another soldier-poet who lost his life in the war. It’s easy to divide ‘war poets’ up into Read the rest of this entry

A Dictionary of Unusual and Preposterous Words

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle revels in the arcane lexicography of Mrs Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous Words

The word deboswellize means ‘to deprecate someone in a biography’. It’s derived from James Boswell, the celebrated biographer of Samuel Johnson. Anaxiphilia means ‘the act of falling in love with someone entirely inappropriate, by someone who should know better’. More emotive, and dripping with unspoken and tragic hopelessness, is the word anacampserote, which refers to ‘something which can bring back a lost love.’

None of these three words is likely to be on the tongues (or in the minds) of the average reader, and they were new to me until I recently encountered them, in Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual Obscure and Preposterous Words: Gathered from Numerous and Diverse Authoritative Sources, which may just be the most endlessly fascinating and entertaining lexicon I’ve yet encountered. (I’ll except the Oxford English Dictionary here, and possibly Johnson’s dictionary, on the grounds that they are beyond question in the fascination stakes for the sheer vastness of their achievement.) Read the rest of this entry