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The Worst Poet in the World
Poem: Gift to a Loyal Servant

2003-02-26

ather than slumbering throughout the day, as I should have, I spent yesterday online looking at other Web journals. Now I feel that I must define my terms, as there are poets online whose sheer awfulness makes my claims to being the Worst Poet in the World look rather silly. In fairness, I should point out that simply dividing a semi-coherent rant into twenty lines rather than one sentence does not a poem make. But I suppose if a writer is going to jot down something like this ...

You saw
my eyes
at dusk
and promised
your love
but where are you now
you fucker

... and then claim they have written a poem, I am not going to argue the point. I will, however, argue that I am just as bad a poet as they are, but in a better way. Let me explain:

I don't claim to write bad poetry, precisely. Rather, I write poetry in despised or marginalized styles, such as limericks, bawdy verses, and drinking songs. That way, no matter how good my poetry might accidentally become, it will always be bad.

To put it another way, let us think of the movie Titanic. Now, if we ignore the fact that James Cameron's film has abominable dialogue, a hackneyed plot, and Billy Zane doing everything but curling a Snidely Whiplash moustache and crying out, "Curse you!", the film has qualities that are genuinely excellent. Cameron has a genius for filming action, and I don't throw the term genius around lightly. The last hour of the film, as we watch the ship sink, must rank among the most engrossing and astounding in the history of film. And, you know something, I can say the same thing about the scene in The Poseidon Adventure in which the tidal wave hits the ship, which then capsizes. But however good these cinematic moments may be, and however many Oscars Cameron carried away, he nonetheless made a bad film. Why? Because he made a movie in a despised genre -- the disaster spectacle -- and no matter how much skill he brought to it, there is something inescapably bad about the genre. Seeing one person die onscreen is a tragedy; seeing hundreds, especially in a film that is inarguably meant as entertainment, is simply grotesque. As an audience, our better instincts will eventually get hold of us, and our deep-rooted shame at having thrilled at a catastrophe will cause us to be somewhat uncharitable toward the film. Think about it -- everybody loved Titanic, didn't they? It swept the Oscars, didn't it? And now there is a near-universal sense that it was a terrible film. We forget the thrill of Cameron's vivid camerawork, we even forget the nascent class criticism built into the plot (including that haunting, lovely image of an immigrant family holding each other in bed as the water rises to drown them). And what do we remember instead? Billy Zane sneering at a Picasso.

Well, I write the poetic equivalent of the movie Titanic. And I am not out to rescue my influences -- cradle songs, pop lyrics from Tin Pan Alley, newspaper doggerel from the start of the 20th Century, Victorian parlor poetry, et al -- from critical disreputability and ignorance. I like the fact that these styles of poetry are disreputable. It makes them fun, instead of stuffy and self-obsessed, which, let's face it, most modern poetry is. You should always be a little embarrassed to read one of my poems, and a little more embarrassed if you find yourself enjoying it. My favorite pleasures, after all, are guilty pleasures.

Anyway, I have lobbed my first bomb into the public square, as it were. I am participating in a performance thingy here in Omaha called Whoosh, in which actors, playwrights, and directors were all matched up with each other and encouraged to develop five-minute monologes. Ignorant of the process, I did not bother to talk to my director or actor, and instead simply submitted a monologue about a young drag queen who falls off a bridge while urinating. This apparently terrified my actor and director. I spoke with my friend, playwright Tim Siragusa, who is behind the whole thing. "Do you even know the actor you're working with?" he asked. I didn't. "He's a very nice middle-aged man," Tim said.

"So he wouldn't be very good at playing a twentysomething drag queen with a broken ankle?" I asked.

"No," Tim replied. He suggested I offer up a poem instead, so yesterday I emailed off this one:

Gift to a Loyal Servant

Have been drinking? I haven't!
And it's long overdue I say.
Get me a pint of brandy for breakfast,
A pint then to start off my day.

And I'm hungry, so get me an egg, please,
And break the thing into a beer,--
Oh, and see if I still have some rum cake;
If not, well, just bring some rum here.

I'll take a short bath this morning
And you know that I bathe in champagne
Ordinarily I skip this toilette, as
It's no good to mix the grape with the grain

But I'm feeling quite robust this morning;
I could drink down a barrel full of gin;
In fact, hand me my towel, would you?
It's a grand idea, and I think I'll begin.

Is that my lawyer? Yes, show him in please,
We need to work on my will.
And get two cordials. Oh, one for him too!
Bring three cordials, then, won't you, Bill?

Ah, Mr. Fergus, how grand to see you.
I've sent Bill away, and must say
He's been an awfully grand butler to me,
and I'm going to add him to my will today.

He's served me for twenty-odd years now,
Catering to everything I ask.
He'll run a mile to fetch me some whisky
Even if I've whisky right here in my flask.

And all this time, him, a teetotaler!
Not a sip will pass the man's lips!
I weep for him, honest, Fergus, I do!
Because lips, why, were made to take sips.

I'm an ill man, Fergus, you know that;
My doctors give me less than a year.
But it's a fate that I can face quite bravely,
Because the liquor takes the edge off the fear.

Listen, Fergus, this is what I'm asking,
And it will seem just a trifling odd,
But when I'm dead I want to be cut open
Before I am placed in the sod.

Yes, Fergus, have them take out my liver
And give it to Bill, and here's what you ask.
Tell him to boil it into a stew, please,
And decant it into my flask.

Bill should carry it with him always
And when times look a little bit bleak
Tell him to take just a small sip from it
And he'll be drunk for the rest of the week!

I have yet to hear back about it. But do you see what I mean? Even if the meter were brilliant and the rhyming inspired, a poem such as that one, rooted in a series of bad puns and ending with a joke about cannibalism, can never be anything other than bad.

Cheers!

© Max Sparber. Click for republication information.

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Posted by UkuleleKing at 1:47 p.m.

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