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Introducing the Ukulele King of the Great Northwest, the Worst Poet in the World
2003-03-16

ax Sparber, also known as the Ukulele King of the Great Northwest, is a Minneapolis, Minnesota-born writer and editor who currently resides in Omaha, Nebraska. Sparber was one of The Omaha Reader's many short-lived editor-in-chiefs, and spent three years writing theater reviews for City Pages, an independent newsweekly published in Minneapolis. As a playwright, Sparber authored Minstrel Show; Or, The Lynching of William Brown, which debuted at the Blue Barn Theatre in Omaha and has since enjoyed a variety of additional productions, including one in Manhattan. Sparber is a frequent collaborator with the Blue Barn Theatre, and they host his semi-weekly singing cowboy show, The Ukulele King's Sunday Family Roundup. This hour-long show includes gun spinning tricks, yodeling, cowboy singalongs, storytelling, and poetry reading, all provided by Sparber, despite the fact that he rather dislikes children.

In 2000, Sparber was the editor and most-frequent contributor to Doggerel, a weekly ezine dedicated to bad poetry that published for six months and reached a readership of 6,000.

Ukulele King FAQs:

1. Why do you call yourself "The Worst Poet in the World?"

I do so because I write poetry in marginalized and despised styles, such as limericks and drinking songs. These are types of poems that will always be considered beneath contempt, no matter how well written; they are, essentially, bad jokes put to verse. I wrote about that subject here. Additionally, I make use of some of the techniques of bad poetry, for humorous effect: stilted meter, awkward rhymes, deliberate misspellings. It's a style of poetry I like, because it has existed underneath critical radar for the whole of the history of literature. It's a poor man's sport, writing comical doggerel, and nobody ever thinks well of a poor man's sport.

2. But why the "worst"?

Somebody has got to be. And nobody would care much if I declared myself the "second worst poet in the world" or "a pretty bad poet." No, if you're going to declare yourself to be something, have some ambition!

3. You don't really think your poetry is all that bad, though, do you?

Well, it's not Blake. I'm fond of it, and it makes me laugh, if that answers your question.

4. Why the online diary?

A few reasons, mostly having to do with boredom. Primarily, because the Internet is also a poor man's sport -- I built the entirety of this Web site for free, including my online store. It's a cheap way to have a lot of fun, and I can't imagine anything more fun that selling my own brand of panties.

5. How can I support you?

Buy the panties. Buy anything. Look at my links at Amazon.com. I get a percentage of anything you purchase.

6. Can you name some of your influences?

Well, there's Blake. I don't know -- if it's a despised poetic form, I will probably dabble in it. Graveyard poems, newspaper doggerel from the 1920s, Victorian parlour poetry, schoolyard verses, bawdy songs, epitaphs, rhyming scripts to puppet shows, the lyrics to Music Hall numbers -- I could go on, but if you keep coming back to bawd, sooner or later I am likely to write about all of them.

7. Who is your favorite poet?

That fellow, Anonymous. He's written some smashing poems.

8. If I send you my poems, will you read them?

Maybe. I certainly will read them if they are posted in the bawd forums, which I moderate. I might not respond, though.

9. Are you available to do poetry readings?

Am I! Probably -- I love to travel. Can you put me up? Send me an invite at maxsparber@earthlink.net and we'll hammer out the details.

10. Where can I find out when you are reading next?

Check my calendar.

11. Do you publish other people's work on your Webpage?

Not usually. There might be some exceptions. Contact me.

12. Seriously, what is the deal with the cowboy stuff?

Honestly? I've always loved cowboy movies, and the idea of being a singing cowboy tickles me, but the tipping point was when I read a book by Dan Mannix called Step Right Up (republished by Re/Search as Memoirs of a Sword Swallower). The book contains an astounding series of descriptions of a sideshow cowboy, including one in which a group of rowdies riot at the carnival, prompting the cowboy to emerge from his tent, cracking whips in either hand. I read this and got that queer feeling you get once in a while, you know? This is what want to be! So I set out to teach myself the various cowboy arts, figuring, if I couldn't find work this could always be a backup. And, behold, here in Omaha it has been.

13. When did you begin writing bad poetry?

Deliberately? In my early 20s. I worked at my college radio station (WMMR at the University of Minnesota), and a group of us read in a zine about something called a hideogram, which consisted of two lines of friendly, pastoral verse, and two lines of abominable verse. I composed one, which I have since cannibalized, that went as follows:

Star light, star bright
With the fist star I see tonight
I remove the plug from the kitchen light
Insert my finger, and ignite.

I few days later, I read this, and several similar poems, at an open mic at the University of Minnesota. I was not well received. No boos, but bewilderment. No matter -- I have found that roughly 20 percent of all poems ever read at open mics cause bewilderment. Often because they are so very, very bad, And mine are the worst.

I got such a kick out of this poem that I continued writing that way. In fact, at about that time I read a series of my poems from onstage at the internationally famous First Avenue music venue, where Prince performed in Purple Rain, as part of a special Valentine's day version of a show called Psycheteria. I was upstaged by a morbidly obese man, naked but for diapers, who twittered out onstage like cupid, produced a bow and arrow, shot himself in the chest with it, and then proceeded to tear his own heart out in a very convincing illusion. Once you have participated in something like that, you don't ever want to go back to writing normal poetry.

14. Can I republish your poetry and stories?

Yes. Just read my copyright info -- click on the copyright notice at the bottom of this page. I am happy to have people republish my stuff.

15. What does "bawd" mean, anyway?

According to Dictionary.com, the word means "A person who keeps a house of prostitution, or procures women for a lewd purpose; a procurer or procuress; a lewd person; -- usually applied to a woman."

I do not mean it that way. Instead, "bawd" is often used as an abbreviation of the two-word "bawdy song." This is the usage intended, although I do rather like being thought of as a lewd person.

16. What's the deal with these Tom Hopper stories?

They're stories that I wrote, and continue to write, about a three-pawed cat who lives at the New York Public Library, writes poems, eats other animals, and gets relentlessly threatened by an Irish grasshopper. I first started publishing them with Doggerel Weekly, and they always seem to have gone hand in hand with my efforts at bad poetry. The stories themselves are pretty self-explanatory.

17. Why no "back" or "forward" buttons so that I can easily navigate through your journal?

I post my most recent stories, along with descriptions and links, along the right side of the page. I also have an archive button. But I found with a button that moves you backward chronologically through my entries, all sorts of extraneous stuff was popping up -- you may have noticed that I have a lot of extras on my pages, and they were showing up as entries, when they really aren't part of the chronology of this journal. Besides, it is not necessary to read my entries chronologically. Just pick titles that seem interesting. I do not write in such a way that you need to have read the previous day's post to understand today's. Whenever I make reference to another diary entry, I link to it within the text, so you will always be able to follow my little life narrative.

18. Do you really play the ukulele?

Yes I do. I really really do.

19. What's with all the Easter eggs you have hidden all over your site?

Oh, you found those, did you? Well, I would say they are self-explanatory. Just know that there is a twilight world to the Ukulele King.

20. Yeah, but they make it seem like you are a 1930's-era pulp novel character with hypnotic powers and ...

Self-explanatory, I said!

Cheers!

To read my Diaryland profile, click here.

© Max Sparber. Click for republication information.

Posted by UkuleleKing at 6:33 p.m.

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