Really, Really Bad Poetry


There’s a lot of it about. I’ve written some myself, and I usually keep it to myself.  But I’ve also written some deliberately bad poetry. In fact, I think writing bad poetry might be one of my strengths.

A few years ago, talking to Russ Talbot, one of us said “Have you read any McGonagall?”, and we dragged out McGonagall’s poem about the Tay Bridge disaster.  This is surely the worst poem ever written.  I’ll give you an excerpt (you can find the whole, sorry epic at:

Extract from “The Tay Bridge Disaster” by William Topaz McGonagall

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

‘Twas about seven o’clock at night,
And the wind it blew with all its might,
And the rain came pouring down,
And the dark clouds seem’d to frown,
And the Demon of the air seem’d to say-
“I’ll blow down the Bridge of Tay.”

I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

See what I mean?  Who but McGonagall would ever have thought of rhyming buttresses and confesses.  That’s a special kind of brilliance.

McGonagall was quite a celebrity in the late 19th century. His recitations were very well attended.  Maybe he was the first comic performance poet. But it seems he took himself quite seriously, being unaware of his true awfulness.

Inspired by McGonagall, I offer up a few of my own really, really bad poems in which I imagine McGonagall visiting Adelaide.  The first is about Unley, the council area where I live. (Unley Council refers to the area as a “City of Villages”).  In the second McGonagall buys into the rather petty rivalry between Adelaide and Melbourne.

McGonagall Visits Unley

City of Villages, Unley

I admire your facilities, which funnily

Cost your ratepayers much money

But they are generous people who lovingly

Water their nature strips when it is sunny

Oh Unley you are the fairest council area

In Adelaide.  Your male residents chests are hairier

Your females’ cleavages cause me to stare at ya

Unley is the best place in Australia to reside

Far better than Mitcham or Marion or Burnside.

© Mike Hopkins 2011


McGonagall Visits Adelaide (after visiting Melbourne)

Beautiful City of Adelaide

They say that in heaven you were made

You sit upon the Torrens

And can be viewed from Mount Lofty through a telescopic lens

One million people live on your plains

And mostly are happy, though some do have pains

Your western boundary is the briny water

Your eastern is hills which make my legs falter

Oh Adelaide we praise you, fair city

And look upon Melbourne with nothing but pity

© Mike Hopkins 2011


Got any really bad poetry of your own, or someone else’s you’d like to share?


14 thoughts on “Really, Really Bad Poetry

  1. I* enjoyed your little parodies, Mike but must confess I have a soft spot dfor the man. It all came about when Billy Connoly in one of his ABC specials read the bridge poem out on the bridge itself and he did it with such gusto and feeling that it took your breath away

  2. I just found this — from my jan 2006 notebook: ‘One of the principal requirements of literary permanence is a distict voice, and few are more distinct than McGonagell’s. You will travel a long way to meet someone able to identify lines by Alfred Austin [ appointed poet lareate in 1896 ] or by Dante gabriel Rosetti, another contemporary. But read out some McGonegall …’ This reads like it came from the TLS [ I’ll check ]

    I’m sorry. I can understand how his poetry can be mocked but Billy Connoly’s reading blew me away

    • Oh yes its distinctive. And a skilled comedian such as Connolly, or Spike Milligan (who played McGonagall in a feature length film of his life), can mine the rich vein of material. It makes me smile when I read it. BUT……. it is truly AWFUL poetry, and, by all accounts, McGonagall intended it as serious, not comic work. Very interesting character though.

  3. mayb e that’s the thing, Mike, we’re all searching for: a distinctive enough voice that will mark us out from the rest . And yes he is an interesting character. I did not know therew was a feature film on him

  4. As you know I have been channeling some Victorian poets recently – rewriting Wordsworth and Tennyson in a more modern form.
    By some coincidence I have also managed to channel McGonagall and The Tay Bridge Disaster and have come up with this which I modestly think is at least as good as the original !

    The Tay Bridge Disaster

    The synchronicity

    of storm gust

    and bridge-crossing train.

    Sunday night,

    happily rattling back home

    for Hogmanay.

    The warm stuffy carriage


    the icy river fog.

    A wind howl,

    a lurch,

    a sideways slip.

    The high girder fall

    from which

    there can be no survival.

    Cutting edge technology

    meets the force of Nature

    head on.

    Nature pauses

    then continues


  5. love your work , Mike 🙂 actually I saw Billy Connelly recite the Tay Bridge disaster and I thought he did a pretty good job of it 🙂 as bad poems go, it was pretty good 🙂

    • Thanks John. The feeling is entirely mutual. I saw the Billy Connolly one – reciting it in a blizzard I seem to recall. I have a fondness for McGonagall, which I don’t have for Rinehart.

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