Seamus Cooney
Studies in Verse / The Nature of Poetry

Bad Poetry

There is a huge amount of bad poetry in the world. Although new bad poems are being written by the hundreds every day (many of them in university creative writing classes), most bad poetry is simply weak and ineffectual and lacking in interest and (fortunately) is soon forgotten.

To achieve memorable badness is not so easy. It has to be done innocently, by a poet unaware of his or her defects. The right combination of lofty ambition, humorless self-confidence, and crass incompetence is rare and precious. (There is a famous anthology of bad poetry called The Stuffed Owl, which I recommend to those interested.)

For the student, having a genuine insight into the true badness of some poems is, I think, a necessary corollary of having a grasp of what makes good poems good. So these pages present some classics of badness: supreme achievements of the lame, the naive, the meretricious, the bathetic, and the sentimental.

Note: the canon of bad poetry is as fluid and open to discussion and emendation as any other literary canon. Feel free to suggest additions or to defend one of these specimens. (For a rich source of further examples, consult , edited by D. B. Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee.)

The Great McGonagall

Julia Moore, the Sweet Singer of Michigan

Edgar A. Guest

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle

William Wordsworth

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

  • Theophilus Marzials

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    This page has been visited times since May 5, 1996.
    Last updated June 25, 2000.
    Additions, July 18, 1999.