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Really bad verse

The Stuffed Owl cover

For Mother’s Day I received a copy of The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse selected and arranged by D. B. Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee, with an introduction by Billy Collins. After unwrapping the gift, my family and I spent some time reading selections out loud to each other, and laughing uproariously.

Will you oftly
Murmur softly?

—Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Compiled in 1930, the book provides delicious samples from some of the most famous, once famous, and truly obscure English poets of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Asked and Answered

—Hast thou then survived—
Mild offspring of infirm humanity,
Meek infant! among all forlonest things
The most forlorn—one life of that bright star,
The second glory of the Heavens?—Thou hast.
        Address to my Infant Daughter

—William Wordsworth

To chose the poems was no small task. As the compilers explained, “There is bad Bad Verse and good Bad Verse.” Fortunately for us, they pulled together some truly cringe-worthy delights.

Earth, crowded, cries: “Too many men!”
My counsel is, kill nine in ten,
And bestow the shares of all
On the remnant decimal.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, from Efficiency

Each author is granted a short biography that skewers self-aggrandizement and highlights some of the more notable elements of the author’s life.

James Grainger, M.D., is yet another of the eighteenth-century practitioners in viscera and verse. . . .

Before the age of twenty-one Joseph Cottle had, it appears, read more than a thousand volumes of “the best English Literature.” He nevertheless became a bookseller at Bristol in 1791 . . .

The subject index alone is worth a read.

Frog, American, a simpler life, 19
. . .
German place-names, the poet does his best with, 54
. . .
Henry II, urged to get a move on, 46
. . .
Lee, Miss R., said to resemble a cucumber, 184

The Stuffed Owl is a book I will dip into often.

“Lord Byron” was an Englishman
      A poet I believe,
His first works in old England
      Was poorly received.

—Julia Moore, from Byron: a Critical Survey

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