Celebrating Bad Poetry

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the Guide

The Vogons, of course, are a particularly nasty race from Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. “The series tells that, far back in prehistory, when the first primeval Vogons crawled out of the sea, the forces of evolution were so disgusted with them that they never allowed them to evolve again,” says Wikipedia. It makes sense then that these lowly forms favor poetry and use their particularly poor poetic skills (3rd worst in the universe) as torture. As such, the livejournal profile for the Vogon Poet’s Society reads as follows:

The Society is centred upon the desire to write Painful Poesy: Poems so horribly bad that they cause cancer in lab rats, crippling pain and terror, and publication in MLA poetry anthologies…Please do not post mediocre poetry. And please do not post light-hearted poetry. We only want the worst. The absolute bottom-of-the-barrel sludge of modern poetry. Scrape it up, chip it off, and throw it at this community.

The concept is laughable, and truly there are terrible poems. Here’s one entitled “Belgium!

Ah! my smelly jelly!
How fishy of you to have noticed
Your quotas are teminally deficient
It reminded me of summer
I hated it/you/life...

And another, entitled “A Cold Vogon Heart.”

...My car starts up like a horse with TB
and my glasses are so fogged I cannot see
I ponder wearing grandpa wear 
So that I can scoot through the day without a care...

Some of this stuff is actually quite good, though that shouldn’t come as much of a shock. As writers we take the rules we know and we try to undo them in clever ways. And yet the biggest rule we adhere to is that all work must be strong, or true or clear or, dare I say it, good.

And yet sometimes it’s like thumbing at ingrown hairs to get real, solid, productive work down on paper. I recently had a prompt in class: Take something you are truly terrible at and celebrate it. Make it the engine of the poem. Make it, if you will, a Vogon poem. To tell the truth I wasn’t completely taken with the draft but the process revealed two things:

  1. There was a reason I kept wanting to do what I was terrible at. It wasn’t an afflication, I  just liked it and wanted to reproduce it. Isolating the problem area helped me understand it’s workings. *
  2. I wasn’t actually terrible at my ‘thing,’ I just didn’t know when to use it properly. Practice helped. (Practice is so abstract, let me hit you this way:  A work that uses the terrible aspect of writing over and over is like taking foul shots. When a basketball player practices free-throws he does so in rapid succession, he doesn’t play a whole game just so he can concentrate really hard when he gets fouled.)

So here’s something everyone can try at home. Write a terrible something, write until it works. Make it insanely long, unless your weakness is not knowing when to stop. I’ll leave you with this. When we fail to write well, we write poorly, so maybe, just maybe, if we write terribly we might fail into success.


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