And the McGonagall Award Goes To…

I’ve spent pixels in the past discussing the career of William Topaz McGonagall, the 19th-C. Scots poet generally recognized as the worst poet in the history of English-language literature. What makes him interesting, however, is that either he didn’t get that he was awful, or he was an Andy Kaufman-level genius of anti-comedy, as he continued his publishing and reading career despite the industrial-strength opprobrium his work earned. (Incidentally, I spent some time in my creative writing class last term introducing the kids to Mr. McGonagall, along with Julia A. Moore and Theophilus Marzials, in a unit on bad poetry.)

A latter-day aspirant to the role of MacFlecknoe may have come onto the radar in the person of Dale M. Courtney, author of a series of books with the general title of Moon People. At Publisher’s Weekly, Gabe Habash has judged the first, eponymous book in the series to be “The worst book ever“, thanks in part to such cataleptic passages as the book’s opening:

This story begins on a Beautiful sunny day in Daytona Beach Florida With a man by the name of David Braymer. A 45-year-old Single man that works at the local High school as a science teacher and astrology in the 12-grade level. Now he’s been here about 5 years and has become kind of partial to a young lady by the name of Cheral Baskel a local restaurant owner in Daytona Beach. At the moment Cheral’s preparing her restaurant for another Shuttle launch at the cape and everyone always gathers at her place because you can see the launch real good at her place. It’s also on the water and its real close to the cape and she really decks the place out.

along with this description of a moon base:

They are two miles long and one mile in diameter. They also have one very big surprise. All three ships split into three independent working sections. In addition, all three sections have lasers and rockets and their own engine. They also have shields that are a liquid that turns into a solid mass as hard as 4 inches of steel. When exposed to the cold of space. They also have a couple of lounges where everyone goes for fun.

The usual online ironists are doing their thing, “praising” Courtney’s work on Amazon and Goodreads. That’s another parallel to McGonagall, by the way — some pranksters sent him a letter informing him that he was held in high esteem by the king of Siam, and had been knighted in absentia for his efforts; the poet styled himself Sir William thereafter. Courtney has produced a pair of sequels thus far, and this leads me to suspect that at least some folks are buying the work (even if only from morbid curiosity), and he’s probably making more money from his books than I am for mine.

And that, in turn, brings us to a story about another notoriously bad poet, the aforementioned Julia A. Moore (no relation, to my knowledge). Wiki tells us:

Moore gave a second public performance in late 1878 at [a Grand Rapids, MI] opera house. By then she had figured out that the praise directed to her was false and the jeering sincere. She began by admitting her poetry was “partly full of mistakes” and that “literary is a work very hard to do”. After the poetry and the laughter and jeering in response was over, Moore ended the show by telling the audience:

You have come here and paid twenty-five cents to see a fool; I receive seventy-five dollars, and see a whole houseful of fools.

So who is the fool here? Despite his shortcomings, I salute Mr. Courtney. Like all of us, McGonagall, Julia Moore, and your genial host, he’s just trying to tell his stories, trying to leave his mark on the wall. Even if he fails, the effort is honorable.


About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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