Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Petras & Petras, eds.

Very Bad Poetry
ed. by Kathryn Petras and Ross Petras
Recommended Age: 11+

If you are ever tempted to write poetry, you must read this book. Perhaps, if it stops you before you begin, it will do the world a valuable service.

Those aren't exactly the words of encouragement one would hope to hear from a fellow bookworm and sometime writer - particularly one who is guilty of trying to write poetry since at least age 11. In my defense I might mention that I have destroyed every poem I wrote up to a given age, and continue to dispose of more than I keep. Yes, I admit, I started out using a thesaurus to help me find words to fit the metre (Hint: A thesaurus should only be used, like tweezers, to pluck off a word that has gotten caught on the tip of your tongue). And even though I have seen much, much worse poetry than anything I ever wrote, I blush while reading this book because I know how much of my work was truly, truly awful. Nevertheless, it is flattering to see a handwritten note on the flyleaf, from the friend who gave it to me, inscribing the book "to a very good poet." Shucks.

Even more flattering, perhaps, is the way the editors seem to induct you into a small circle of sensible, discerning people who can understand what makes their selections Very Bad Poetry.

The title says it all. So you need only read further if you have a perverse inclination to inflict irritation, embarrassment, and even flat-out suffering on yourself. Or, as I say, if you feel inclined to write poetry. Because honestly, most of the verse one sees these days in literary magazines, church newsletters, and minor newspapers is on a par with the stuff in this book. Famously (or infamously) mediocre poets enjoy one more opportunity to alarm us with their ghoulish shockers, sickeningly sweet idylls, and pompous processions of inappropriate metaphors.

Poor syntax, bizarre imagery, ruthless anticlimaxes, cracked rhyme schemes, and self-indulgent wallowing attend scenarios ranging from the tediously obvious to the flamboyantly improbable. These vile verses range in their effects from making your skin crawl to leaving you perplexed and bemused. Many of them are funny, but quite unintentionally. One of the worst poems is a tribute to a great poet, and another shows that even good poets can have bad days! But in the end, the editors somehow manage to whittle their selection down to one, and only one, "worst poem ever written in the English language" - which you have to read to believe!

The biggest surprise, however, is the editors' claim, in the introduction to the book, that bad poetry is an art form and that not just anybody can write it; it takes real talent! So perhaps I was wrong in saying that you can find "bad poetry" anywhere. It might be more accurate to say that not everything that has a semblance of rhyme, or that is broken into lines in a semblance of verse, is actually poetry. Poetry is a form of literature that employs special language to say something in a special way, above and beyond the means of mere prose.

And so bad poetry is something very special - something that uses advanced literary techniques, though perhaps clumsily, to say something best left unsaid. Bad poetry is just as effective (poor us!) and memorable (oh, no!) as the good stuff. Somebody poured his soul into it once, and it lives on for us to hold our nose and enjoy it as best we can - preferably with a handkerchief to wipe the tears of laughter off our faces.

EDIT: Pictured is another book by Petras Squared.

No comments: