The following is reprinted from Bathroom Readers' Institute's 17th edition Uncle John's Slightly Irregular Bathroom Reader book. William McGonagall (Image Credit: McGonagall 2002 Virtual Gallery)
Great poetry must be considered art - It tickles the brain and stabs the heart. Could there be a worse poet than Uncle John? It's all in the story that follows; read on.
ALL FIRED UP
One afternoon in June 1877, an impoverished Scottish weaver named William McGonagall fell into a funk. McGonagall was depressed because he wanted to escape the gritty industrial city of Dundee for a few days in the countryside, but he couldn't afford a train ticket. He was stuck at home, and to make matters worse, he was starting to feel a little funny. Was it a cold? The flu? Hardly. As McGonagall later wrote in his autobiography, it was something else entirely: Divine Inspiration.
I seemed to feel as it were a strange kind of feeling stealing over me. A flame ... seemed to kindle up my entire frame, along with a strong desire to write poetry. I began to pace backwards and forwards in the room, trying to shake off all thought of writing poetry; but the more I tried, the more strong the sensation became. It was so strong, I imagined that a pen was in my right hand, and a voice crying, "Write! Write!"
So McGonagall wrote. His first poem was a tribute to his friend the Reverend George Gilfillan: The first time I hear him speak, 'Twas in the Kinnaird Hall. Lecturing on the Garibaldi movement, As loud as he could bawl. My blessing on his noble form, And on his lofty head, May all good angels guard him while he's living And hereafter when he's dead.
BARD IS BORN
McGonagall showed the poem to Reverend Grilfillan, who remarked diplomatically, "Shakespeare never wrote anything like this!" Encouraged, McGonagall dropped into the mailbox of the Weekly News, hoping they might print it. They did ... and he was off on a new career. McGonagall already had a reputation for being eccentric: His impromptu performances of Shakespeare's plays at the factory where he worked were so bad they were funny, and his co-workers once rented a theater to watch him make a fool of himself along-side professional actors.
But it was McGonagall's poetry that cemented his fame as a local nut. He sold his poems on the street and gave readings at local pubs. And as with his Shakespeare performances, his readings were so funny that people rented halls and subsidized his performances just so they could laugh at his work. Unfortunately, they also pelted him with pies, wet towels, rotten eggs, and garbage while he read his poems. It got so bad that McGonagall refused to perform unless a clergyman sat next to him onstage to keep people from throwing things.
How did McGonagall cope with the abuse? Though his poetry was awful, he never doubted his own talent and refused to believe that his audiences were there to laugh at him. But it was so unrelenting that, by the early 1890s, McGonagall began threatening (in verse) to leave the city forever. Would he really leave? In 1892 the Scottish Leader speculated that "...when he discovers the full value of the circumstance that Dundee rhymes with 1893, he may be induced to reconsider his decision and stay for yet a year."
McGonagall stayed until 1894, when he moved to Edinburgh. There he continued writing poetry until ill health forced him to lay down his pen forever. McGonagall passed away in 1902, at the age of 77, and was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard. The grave remained unmarked until 1999, when the city of Edinburgh finally erected a plaque at the cemetery. The Oxford Companion to English Literature says he" enjoys a reputation as the world's worst poet," and more than a century after his death, his poems are still in print.
|The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Slightly Irregular Bathroom Reader, a fantastic book by the Bathroom Readers' Institute. The 17th book in this the Bathroom Reader series is filled to the brim with facts, fun, and fascination, including articles about the Origin of Kung Fu, How to Kill a Zombie, Women in Space and more! Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!