THE WORST POETRY YOU WILL READ TODAY.

Dr. Boli makes no claims for yesterday or tomorrow; but this is the worst poetry you will read today, because after it you will have no more appetite for poetry for at least another twenty-four hours.

The Souvenir; or, Satan at Large is an anti-Democratic tirade put into allegorical verse by a resident of Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1885. Although there is no author credited on the title page (which is dated 1887), the copyright page claims an 1885 copyright in the name of George W. Corey, who (from scattered references in books of Western travels, &c.) seems to have been one of the leading citizens of Cheyenne, which nevertheless somehow escaped being known as the Athens of the West for its thriving literary culture.

A look at the “Prelude,” which takes up only two pages, gives us such a wealth of failed rhymes that we are tempted to go no further. “Artful” is rhymed with “startle,” “pelf” with “wealth,” “earth” with “forth,” “mankind” with “whirlwinds,” “plans” with “schemes,” “station” with “politician”—to pass over many other examples.

The fun continues on every page—“hate” rhymes with “spite,” “spears” with “war”, and so on—so that we begin to wonder whether Mr. Corey’s understanding of rhyme came exclusively from political broadsides.

Aside from rhyming, our poet’s greatest difficulty seems to be in getting anywhere from anywhere else. He spends whole pages stuck in the mud, spinning in circles as he tries to reach the next idea.

“In sacred history we must search
For proof of much of Satan’s work;
Where those inspir’d by power divine
Were shown the things from earliest time.
Thus St. John the Revelator
Face to face with his Creator,
Talked of heaven, earth and hell
And the beings that in them dwell;
And saw things earthly and divine
Of past, present and future time.”

Well, it has taken us a while to arrive at the idea that St. John the Divine saw the past, present, and future, hasn’t it? But wait! There’s more! We continue with the next line:

“This old prophet, this great divine,
Who lived way back in ancient time,
While he was on the isle of Patmos
Saw grand views of heaven’s greatness;
In visions strange, weird and sublime
View’d the long vista of all past time.”

For those who gave up several lines ago, the idea our poet struggles mightily to express is that the book of Revelation tells us what happened to Satan in the distant past.

All political satire is doomed to irrelevance when the political map changes. In 1885, the Democratic Party was the party of states’ rights, the Solid South, and the Ku Klux Klan—two out of three of which are now identified with the Republicans. (It would be not only slanderous but also incorrect to identify either current party with the Ku Klux Klan, which, on our usual principle of exposing bigots to derision, can only be identified with the Funny Hats Party.) Nevertheless, some political satires achieve immortality by means of virtues that reach beyond the mere issues of the day to touch on something universal. Jonathan Swift and W. S. Gilbert satirized the politics of their day, but they pulled back the curtain of temporary political alliances to expose the universal human motivations that power politics. And Mr. George W. Corey has also reached beyond the particular to the universal. In The Souvenir; or, Satan at Large, he has given us an encyclopedia of every mistake a poet ought to avoid.

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Comments

  1. Ow, that was indeed awful. But for a completely different form of crappy poetry, I give you, Ern Malley. Mr. Corey was at least trying to write good poetry in the classical style, but he failed. The two Australian gentlemen who wrote all of Mr. Malley’s supposed works were trying to write bad poetry of the pretentious modernist sort, and succeeded. Here’s a complete collection of his works, should you be interested in challenging Mr. Covey’s works for worst poetry you’ve read today.

    • Dr. Boli says:

      If you are courageous, you might use your favorite search engine to look for the Sweet Singer of Michigan, Julia A. Moore. Her poems are so fascinatingly awful that Mark Twain dedicated much of his later literary career to lifting them out of their deserved obscurity. He seldom let a whole book go by without at least mentioning her work, and often quoting from it at length—or, in Huckleberry Finn, writing his own parodies of her style.

      But that is a recreation for another day. If you have any regard for your sanity, you will not read all three of these poets on the same day.

  2. Mr. George W. Corey’s Souvenir; or, Satan at Large, reads like John Milton’s Paradise Lost writ small, with rhyme, and without talent.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  3. markm says:

    I am surprised to find in Wikipedia that Julia A. Moore was born and wrote and publicly performed her poems in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and died in Manton. My wife was born in Manton, and we’ve maintained homes in both towns for 8 years, and yet I never heard of Moore. I’ve never noticed any mention of her in the large Grand Rapids Public Museum, nor in the tiny one in Manton. How could someone who inspired both Mark Twain and Ogden Nash (although not in a good way) be so overlooked?

    I am further surprised to find that there is a “Western Michigan School of Bad Versemakers”. You’d think five nationally notorious poetasters in the area of Grand Rapids would have been worthy of some mention in the museum here.

    That leads to further speculation as to why this area engendered such a concentration of poetasters, as well as our only President under the Constitution who never won a national election, and the founders of Amway. Could water that tastes like chalk cause this? (I have been toting drinking water from our well in Manton to GR on every round trip.) Perhaps it’s the German and Dutch cultural influences, but I thought that most of these immigrants came in the late 19th century for furniture-making jobs, too late to influence Ms. Moore. Also out of those eight people, there are only three last names that appear German or Dutch.

    Or maybe it’s simpler – reading Ms. Moore’s poetry drove the others mad.

    • Dr. Boli says:

      If you read the Wikipedia article, then you know that Julia Moore redeemed all her bad poetry with one line, the most perfect response to a theater full of hecklers ever spoken: “You have come here and paid twenty-five cents to see a fool; I receive seventy-five dollars, and see a whole houseful of fools.”

  4. Really? I thought it was Joyce Kilmer’s poem “The Tree” that was considered the worst poem.

    • Dr. Boli says:

      Joyce Kilmer demonstrates a clear grasp of rhyme and meter; her poem is hated mostly because it was inescapably ubiquitous for a long time. It was set to music, and you might as well hear Fletcher Henderson’s band play the resulting song:

      We believe it is Chu Berry playing the tenor sax, but corrections are invited.

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