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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Is That a Poem in Your Pocket…

posted by on April 17 at 11:49 AM

…oh, never mind.

It’s “Poem in Your Pocket Day” in New York City. New Yorkers are encouraged to carry a poem in their pocket and then share their pocketed poems with friends. Yes, really.

This, of course, is part of National Poetry Month, which is something that I’ve been trying desperately to ignore for…oh, about 17 days now. These theme months have all the same appeal as being forced to write five pages on “To Build a Fire” for fifth grade English class.

I’m mostly writing about PIYP Day, as it’s referred to on the website, to let you know that it’s entirely a coincidence that I write about a poet in this week’s Constant Reader. I’m not writing about poetry because it’s National Poetry Month, I’m writing about poetry because a motherfucking amazing poet is coming to town next Tuesday and you should know about it. If anything, I’m less likely to write about poetry during National Poetry Month because it feels cheap, and obligatory, and unimaginative.

But if you want to take part in Poem in Your Pocket Day, I’ll be gracious and provide, after the cut, a poem for you. It’s called “The Tay Bridge Disaster,” it’s by William Topaz McGonagall, and it was written in 1879. It’s widely believed to be the worst poem in the English language not written by a teenager. If you really want to appreciate its badness, I suggest that you read it aloud. Barring a reading of Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” by George W. Bush, or some other unforseeable gorgeous disaster, I promise that this is the only post about National Poetry Month you’ll see from me on Slog.

The Tay Bridge Disaster

William Topaz McGonagall (1879)

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 clods seem’d to frown,
And the Demon of the air seem’d to say —
“I’ll blow down the Bridge of Tay.”

When the train left Edinburgh
The passengers’ hearts were light and felt no sorrow,
But Boreas blew a terrific gale,
Which made their hearts for to quail,
And many of the passengers with fear did say —
“I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay.”

But when the train came near to Wormit Bay,
Boreas he did loud and angry bray,
And shook the central girders of the Bridge of Tay
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

So the train sped on with all its might,
And Bonnie Dundee soon hove in sight,
And the passengers’ hearts felt light,
Thinking they would enjoy themselves on the New Year,
With their friends at home they lov’d most dear,
And wish them all a happy New Year.

So the train mov’d slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
Until it was about midway,
Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
And down went the train and passengers into the Tay!
The Storm Fiend did loudly bray,
Because ninety lives had been taken away,
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

As soon as the catastrophe came to be known
The alarm from mouth to mouth was blown,
And the cry rang out all o’er the town,
Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down,
And a passenger train from Edinburgh,
Which fill’d all the people’s hearts with sorrow,
And made them for to turn pale,
Because none of the passengers were sav’d to tell the tale
How the disaster happen’d on the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv’ry 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.

RSS icon Comments


I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree
Denuded, shredded, turned to pulp
So teenage poets make me throw up

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 17, 2008 12:02 PM

Bril! It reminded me of the great Amanda Kittredge Ros, and her poem "On Visiting Westminster Abbey", which begins

Holy Moses! Have a look!
Flesh decayed in every nook
Some rare bits of brain lie here
Mortal loads of beef and beer ..

Posted by --MC | April 17, 2008 12:46 PM

SLOG poets comment -
hipsters are fair game for them;
ecce homo rants

Posted by COMTE | April 17, 2008 1:35 PM

If I'd known, I'd have tracked Pinsky down, pulled Howl out of my pocket, and forced him to sit down while I read it to him.

Then I'd have left and had forty other people do the same.

Posted by Gitai | April 17, 2008 5:17 PM

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