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Very Bad Poetry lives up to its promise

By kevin dicus
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 4, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Written tradition developed many thousands years ago. The Etruscans, early Italian inhabitants, for example, developed their still-indecipherable script around the seventh century B.C., taking examples from still earlier forms of writing and also influencing later surrounding cultures including the almighty Romans.

With so many millennia of pen on paper (or calamus on papyri) we are heir to brilliant works in both verse and prose that sing of human experience. Shakespeare's sonnets. Virgil's poetry. Wilde's comedies. Fortunately, Very Bad Poetry (Vintage $10.00) contains none of these.

Compiled by brother and sister Kathryn and Ross Petras, this book celebrates the best of the worst. Poems that go beyond the merely bad or mundane and rise to an almost spiritual level of incompetence. Poems "that move us emotionally, but, of course, [often do] so in ways the writer never intended: usually we laugh."

Consider this offering entitled "The Stuttering Lover" from Fred Emmerson Brooks, an early 20th century poet whose penchant for writing in foreign dialects and idiosyncratic speech grants him a proud place between the pages of this book. "I lu-love you very well,/Much mu-more than I can tell,/With a lu-lu-lu-lu-love I cannot utter;/I kn-know just what to say/But my tongue gets in the way,/And af-fe-fe-fe-fe-fection's bound to stutter!"

It's a brilliant piece, dramatically capturing the frustrations of our vocally-challenged brethren. Well, mu-mu-maybe not.

Or perhaps this excerpt from J. Gordon Coogler's "How Strange Are Dreams!" will convince you of the Petras' fine research in literature's darkest pits "How strange are dreams! I dreamed the other night/A dream that made me tremble,/Not with fear, but with a kind of strange reality;/My supper, though late, consisted of no cheese."

Cheese? It's a surprising climax to be sure, but not as surprising as the cheese-fetish of one James McIntyre, who in his career found the inspiration to write "Ode on the Mammoth Cheese," "Oxford Cheese Ode," and "Prophecy of a Ten Ton Cheese."

Other can't-miss gems include "The Dentalogia-A Poem on the Diseases of the Teeth," "An Elegy to a Dissected Puppy," "Two Smothered Children," and the ever useful poem, one in which that can help us in times of identical tragedy, "Lines Written for a Friend on the Death of his Brother, Caused by a Railway Train Running over Him Whilst He Was in a State of Inebriation."

So this tome isn't of the same literary caliber as Shakespeare, but dammit, leave that in class for once. It's meant to be nothing more than mindless fun; paging sporadically through the book choosing verse here and there is a great escape. I promise you nothing more than this, but with the stress of college, isn't this enough?