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Book Review: Very Bad Poetry

Right up front: I am not a poetry fan. I love Dr. Seuss and I love Shel Silverstein, and they’re probably the only two I can rely on. I’ll occasionally find something moving or beautiful, but it’s not often enough to make it worth the while to sift through books of poetry. “Enlightened” friends scream and moan and recommend this or that at gunpoint, but–I don’t know.

Not all poetry is created equal

Not all poetry is created equal

The good news is, bad poetry is much more enjoyable than good poetry. I’m not talking about mediocre-bad. That’s easy to do. That’s what most poets do. I’m talking about poetry with a terribleness that is timeless. It is just as hard (or harder) to do timelessly bad poetry as it is to do timelessly good poetry. Don’t believe it? You’re going to.

Very Bad Poetry is a compilation of the worst of the worst. The poems span a range from the early 1800s to a century later. The greatest part of the book is that any of the poets featured in this book would be horrified to learn that they are featured.

Partake of this gem from Bertha Moore (1890s):

A Child’s Thought

If I were God, up in the sky,
I’ll tell you all vat I would do,
I would not let the babies cry
because veir tooths was coming froo

This is from the “worst baby talk poems” section of the book.

Or this jewel from the morbid laugh-riot Georgia Bailey Parrington (1907)

An Elegy to a Dissected Puppy



Sweet Dog! now cold and stiff in death,
What cruel hand enticed thee here?
Did toothsome crust of juicy bone
Allure to stretch on they bier?

…ruthless hands of alien race
Are opening up they quiet breast,
With prying eyes they peer within,
Explore the contents of thy chest

HA! Bear in mind that someone who thought they were being very profound churned out this little atrocity and you start to see the charm of the book. People are endlessly fascinating because you can never predict what will make sense to any of us. There are always new highs, there are always new lows.

Not all of the poems in this book are as grim as that poor puppy’s elegy. Most are pretty upbeat, and many are just downright bizarre. Maybe this says something about me that I should be concerned about, but I can’t recommend Very Bad Poetry enough.


PS: Have you entered the Bad Poetry Contest?

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Megan Horton April 15, 2009, 2:46 pm

    Ooooh I love this book. I remember many nights of us reading aloud from this book. “Where’s Ode to the Potato”?

  • Josh Hanagarne April 15, 2009, 8:03 pm

    Ode to the Potato is where it should be….right next to “Wooden Leg!” and “I saw her once in cabbage time.”

  • Kami Lee May 3, 2009, 8:25 pm

    As an English major, I too have read enough bad poetry to make my brain pack a bag and leave. Particularly the poetry of classmates. There was one about a peach that was read aloud in class–ye gods! While there are poems out there that I have enjoyed (a little ditty by Tennyson comes to mind), poetry is right up there with clogging in my book of enchanting pasttimes. I know there are people who love these things, but it’s pretty much lost on me. You start reciting poetry, and I start itching for a hatchet. I have to admit that the some of the titles of Bukowski books (I see them at the library all the time) make me momentarily consider reading a lick of poetry. Maybe your Very Bad Poetry book could ease me into it.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 3, 2009, 8:42 pm

      Yeah, I hear you. If something is beautiful or moving, I want to hear it, read it, feel it, or see it. Those things just happen so rarely with poetry that it isn’t worth the effort to go looking. I feel the same way about country music after George Jones, most techno, and Manga. I need someone else to do all the sifting for me. I do like me some EE Cummings. Don’t know much of Bukowski’s poetry, but I love his novels. Post Office is the greatest book written in 23 days by a drunken lunatic ever.

      Wait, maybe I’m thinking of Burroughs. Have you ever listened to Slack Ass Annie? Burroughs’ spoken word stuff is incredible.

  • Beth L. Gainer August 14, 2009, 4:30 pm

    Hey there, Josh. I happen to teach and love GOOD poetry. Tennyson, Sylvia Plath, etc. are really outstanding because of these poets’ innovative use of language and rhythm. Still, I agree with you, that most people nowadays are hack poets who believe they are geniuses, and poetry readings are often exercises in pompousness. I can’t stand inauthenticity.

    That book you describe sounds really delightful (read sarcasm). You’re so irreverent, I love it!!

    Thanks again for visitiing my site recently and your kind words!

    • Josh Hanagarne August 14, 2009, 4:55 pm

      Beth, you’re welcome. Honestly, even as an English Major, poetry just never grew on me. I wish it had–the pretentious part of me still thinks I “should” like poetry, but other than Shel Silvertstein, Dr. Seuss, and a couple of Dorothy Parker’s sassiest efforts–it just doesn’t. Very Bad Poetry is wonderful, though. If you ever grab it, please let me know what you think of “The Potato.”