McGonagall Link in People’s Journal Collection

Filed under: News; in the year 2017, on the 29th day of January at 6:30 pm

The Dundee Courier had a story last week about a new collection of poetry from her former sister publication the People’s Journal. Edited by Professor Kirstie Blair, author of two articles on this website, the book explores the range of working class poets writing in Victorian Scotland, from whose ranks McGonagall is just the most notorious example. According to the article:

The collection also illustrates how the infamous poet William McGonagall, represented by An Address to The Tay Bridge from September 15 1877,  was part of a wider culture of “bad” verse in papers. […] The book includes poems by and about William McGonagall, who has become known as ‘the world’s worst poet’, though I show here that he was actually part of an established culture of deliberately bad newspaper poetry and became a major comic poet through it.

It sounds like a fascinating read, and can be bought from Amazon by clicking the following link:

Poets of the People’s Journal: Newspaper Poetry in Victorian Scotland

McGonagall the Musical

Filed under: Events,Media; in the year 2017, on the 13th day of January at 12:16 pm

The inhabitants of Port Townsend in Washington have a theatrical treat in store over the next couple of weeks: The Disaster in Verse is a musical about the great man written, produced and directed by evidently multi-talented high school senior Ian Coates. You read more about the play and its author in this story from the PT Leader.

McGonagall himself felt that his work was too deep for music. Let’s hope Mr Coates is able to prove him wrong!

McGonagall Supper in Angus

Filed under: Events; in the year 2016, on the 21st day of September at 11:04 am

Liz Gordon writes with news of an upcoming social event in the village of Eassie, about ten miles North of Dundee:

A McGONAGALL SUPPER

There will be a McGONAGALL SUPPER at Eassie Hall (on the Glamis to Newtyle Road at Balkeerie, Angus DD8 1SQ) on Saturday 15 October at 7.30 for 7.00pm. (No, not a mis-print in the start time but just part of the topsy turvy nature of this fun event which includes a reverse-order three course meal to fulfil and fill full!)  All very welcome!

Most folk around here will have heard of William McGonagall – and may groan at what many consider his truly awful poetry – but this event aims to put the best possible spin on a man who could be regarded as the best-known Dundonian (although unfortunately not for the best reasons).

Our guest speakers include two Dundee authors, Eddie Small and Norman Watson, both of whom have wide knowledge of William McGonagall.  There will of course be some memorable poetry (performed by those who can!).  Other entertainment on the night includes a ‘best dressed Bunnet competition’ – so, bring or wear a mad hat if you will!

Tickets for this event cost £15.00 and are for sale at Newtyle Post Office and The Pot and Pantry, Meigle.  For more information about the event and enquiries about tickets, please phone Jane on 01307 840313 or Liz on 01828 640027.

Norman Watson, one of the guest speakers, is the author of Poet McGonagall: The Biography of William McGonagall and a fund of information about our favourite doyen of doggerel. Here’s hoping the evening goes well!

McGonagall Interviewed by Oscar Wilde!

Filed under: Events; in the year 2016, on the 28th day of July at 1:09 pm

The latest theatrical production by Victorian funsters Don’t Go Into the Cellar is a chat show hosted by Oscar Wilde. The Graham Norton of his day talks to such celebrities as Lily Langtry, the Prince of Wales and… William McGonagall!

Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, Johnathan Goodwin, the show’s writer and star, says:

McGonagall has stayed in print ever since he was first published. He took himself very seriously, but his work was comical. He was addicted to rhyme, and his lines went to extraordinary lengths just so he could fit in the rhyme. He was, of course, oblivious to the joke.

He was a handloom weaver in the Highlands until he was 55, when he decided to be a poet. His wife would have been horrified; they had seven children!

These characters are chosen for their comedy potential – the eccentrics are who I like. William McGonagall: you couldn’t make him up. They are all Victorian celebs – even back in the 1890s there were people famous for being famous

There are currently three upcoming performances, in Buxton on August 4th, Sudbury on August 7th and Leyburn on September 17th. You can also read a review of the show from a performance last year.

A Tribute to William Topaz McGonagall

Filed under: Readers’ Gems; in the year 2015, on the 27th day of October at 7:39 pm

Reader Ian Colville sends in this gem which, he tells me, he has “recited at several open mic events and suchlike, including at an alternative to Burns’ Night”. I hope he got a better reception from his audience than William did! As you’ll see, it’s both a tribute and a biography…

A Tribute to William Topaz McGonagall

All hail to William T. McGonagall,
Who shall be remember’d as a poet, above all.
Alas! we should be very sorry to say
That his life was taken when he passed away
On the last but one day of September, 1902,
Poor and forlorn, with a hole in his shoe.

He will be recalled for a very long time
In the land of his birth where poets can still shine,
A man of genius, whose raw poetry
Contained verses and rhymes so silvery.
Two hundred poems from the Jewel of Dundee,
That marvellous man, steeped in gallantry.

A weaver by trade our man of the loom,
He turned to the stage, where his talent he’d groom
When he paid for to play the role of Macbeth
And his strong manly style was a lisping success,
And Grocer’s Hall, down in old Castle Street,
Saw his Richard the Third give Dundee a treat.

He worked as a poet and performing artiste,
Never straying too far from the coast on the east,
Except for a jaunt to visit the Queen,
Whom sadly he never got to have seen,
And a trip to the south, and a ship to New York
In the eighteen eighties, to try and find work.

’Twas on a fine day back in beautiful Dundee
Our Topaz received the spirit of poetry,
As he wrote of his muse in old Paton’s Lane,
When all of a sudden his body was aflame,
A voice in his ears crying, “Write, Topaz, write!”
And he penned an Address to a Reverend’s delight.

In eighteen hundred and seventy-eight,
He got up a volume of verse that was great.
Those ‘Gems’ in its pages would fill your heart with delight
While seated round the fireside on a cold winter’s night.
He wrote about Burns and the Silv’ry Tay,
And the loss of men’s lives on the last Sabbath day.

He found lucrative work in the town’s circus troupe,
You’d think that a sign of how low he would stoop,
Reciting his poems whilst the raucous crowd threw
Stale bread at the stage, and raw eggs and flour, too,
But imagine his horror at the banning decree,
He made so much a night; nigh on a Pound, nearly!

Though born in Auld Reekie, he’s a son of Dundee
Where citizens formed an Appreciation Society
To the cult of McGonagall; to the man and the myth,
To Scotland’s worst poet, its awesome wordsmith
Who died as a pauper, it’s said with such sorrow,
And rests with no headstone, in Greyfriars, Edinburgh.

Though he claimed at the time to have “heretical detractors”
I’m sure you’ll agree, there are mitigating factors.
The most popular ‘worst poet’ who’s so bad he’s good,
Has given so much enjoyment from poetry so crude.
So please, one and all, raise a glass and let’s call
For a toast in remembrance of dear McGonagall!

Another Kind of Bad Poetry

Filed under: Web Links; in the year 2015, on the 3rd day of May at 6:12 pm

An interesting article on the BBC News website on Friday profiled Jessie Pope, a poet today’s schoolchildren (apparently) love to hate.

Ms Pope’s verse is not quite in the McGonagall class – it’s quite competent in fact – but the sentiments she expresses aren’t quite what we’ve come to feel about the first world war:

Who knows it won’t be a picnic – not much-
Yet eagerly shoulders a gun?
Who would much rather come back with a crutch
Than lie low and be out of the fun?

The above being typical of the jingoistic verses she published in the Daily Mail and in three wartime anthologies between 1916 and 1917. Poor Jessie suffers rather by comparison with the likes of  Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, the latter being inspired to pen Dulce et Decorum Est in response to her work.

One shudders to think what a certain poet and tragedian would have made of the Great War had he lived to see it.

A McGonagall Christmas Card

Filed under: Readers’ Gems; in the year 2014, on the 24th day of December at 11:15 am

Reader Eric Sangwine sends in a Christmas card design that he’s used amongst family and friends. Inspired by a certain seasonal work of genius, it should help you get into the festive spirit:

You can see a couple more of Eric’s wonderful illustrations (though not McGoangall-related) here.

My I take this opportunity to wish everybody a wonderful Christmas and a disaster-free new year!

Eck o’ the Cudgel

Filed under: Readers’ Gems; in the year 2014, on the 7th day of October at 1:21 pm

The long campaign for Scottish independence ended last month, either in disaster or with a disaster averted, depending on which side you favour. Either way, it was an event worthy of commemoration in our favoured poetic style, and who better to supply a suitable ode than the talented Mr Midgley? Here’s his latest effort…

Eck o’ the Cudgel

Part I: Scourge o’ the Sassenachs

’Twas in the fair city of Edinburgh, not many years ago
That the hearts of Scots politicians were full of dismay and woe
For despite the Holyrood parliament they were still being ruled from London
Under the cruel regime of the Tory-Lib-Dem coalition.

But a bold wee man stood up, and to his companions he did say,
“I will rid ye of these tyrants from down south without delay.
For I will be your leader, if you will vote for me,
And I will make the English brutes from Scotland for to flee.

For my name is Eck o’ the Cudgel, and I hail from Linlithgow,
As did Mary, Queen of Scots several centuries ago.
And the people will soon see that of Scotland I’m the flower,
But Holyrood’s not strong enough, I must have absolute power.”

And to his compatriots he did boast without dismay,
“With this stout cudgel I will drive these sassenachs away,
And then ye shall have independence and liberty
With nobody else to govern ye or decide your fate but me.”

By the year 2011 he and his party were dancing in their glee,
For in the Scottish parliament they had won a majority.
So wee Eck took up his cudgel, and boldly he did say,
“I will be your saviour, and these English we will flay.

From them we will break free by holding a referendum
And when the deed is done, back home to England we will send ’em,
For ’twill be held in the year 2014, Bannockburn’s centenary,
When King Robert the Bruce did defeat his English adversary.

We will woo Labour voters and they will soon be fooled,
But once I am in charge, they’ll know what ’tis like to be ruled.
We’ll win the votes of the poor and sick by making them many a promise,
Which of course we need not keep, once we are in office.

We’ll even let the teens vote too, and they’ll all vote for me,”
(Although he little knew that in truth ’twas not to be)
“And, to help the voters decide, we’ll put to them this simple question:
‘Do you agree with everyone else that Scotland should be an independent nation?
Just put your cross here in this ‘Yes’ box without hesitation’.”
But the Electoral Commission wouldn’t allow this and so, to Eck’s dismay,
In the end the question had to be phrased in a more neutral way.

Meanwhile, Eck did rule the Scots with growing autocracy,
For he had not grasped too well the true meaning of democracy,
And he did not take kindly to any form of opposition
Such as people writing about him without his permission.

And the great leader’s grin would quickly turn into a scowl
As he suppressed all disagreement by fair means or foul.
Oft did Eck brandish his cudgel to subdue the opposition
And many innocent folk he did beat into submission.

But by now many Scots were saying to one another, “Hoots!
Surely this man Salmond is getting too big for his boots!”
For he was becoming a pocket dictator most fearsome to be seen
Whose favourite world leaders were Gaddafi and Putin.

Part II: Half-baked Home Eckonomics Project

By now the time for the referendum was drawing near
And the hearts of both the yes and no campaigns were filled with fear;
Oh, heaven! how the opposing packs were fiercely biting and snarling,
The Yes Scotland forces led by Eck, and Better Together by Alastair Darling.

“We will win sixty-five per cent of the vote,” the yes campaign did say,
(Yet ’twas but a vain hope that would not be fulfilled on the day)
“And we will have at least five daily papers on our side,”
But they only won backing from the Sunday Herald, which their opponents did deride.

Worldwide support for his campaign Eck did eagerly canvas
And luckily, in order for him not to embarrass,
North Korea declared the support of their great nation
And their mighty leader Kim Jong-Un threatened England with annihilation.
Then Eck received a further massive boost to his campaign
When he won the approval of Russian separatists in the Ukraine,
Who soon did prove their worth by shooting down a passenger plane.

Meanwhile, back in what thus far was still the United Kingdom,
The battle ’twixt the two sides was taking many a form,
Such as love-bombs and celebrity endorsements, which might some voters sway. 
“But we do not hate the English,” many Scots people did say,
“And far rather with them together we would stay.

Some of our best friends are sassenachs, our wives and sweethearts too,
For they are not a foreign race, but our sisters and brothers true,
And most of us have family and friends south of the border,
But needing a passport to visit them would be totally out of order.”

“And what are we to use for money?” they anxiously did cry;
“I’ll let you know about that in due course,” came Eck’s reply,
“Perhaps ’twill be the pound, or maybe the ecku,
Just vote for me in the meantime, and then I will tell you.
We’ll sort out the minor details later, such as currency,
For I am a politician and so you can trust me.”

“This is all about power,” declared Eck’s friend Jim Sillars,
In former times the scourge of many of the establishment’s pillars;
“Our opponents will soon learn the meaning of sillarisation
The day after we’ve been voted in by the entire Scots nation.”
And he did threaten the dissenters with a Day of Reckoning,
Thus revealing that to him cruel dementia was beckoning.

In the final days, northwards did march a mighty band
Of  party leaders Cameron, Clegg and Milliband,
And they did make many promises of further devolution
To persuade the Scots people to stay part of the great British union.

Both sides their flags did wave and their sabres they did rattle,
And upon the very eve of the final battle
An impassioned speech for unity was made by Gordon Brown,
Which did cause wee Eck’s supporters deeply for to frown.

Part III: He Thinks ’Tis All Over

And so ’twas in the year 2014, on the 18th day of September,
Which the people of Scotland and the rest of the UK will long remember,
That at last the referendum was held to take the decision
On whether Bonnie Scotland should be an independent nation.

Most opinion polls were showing that, in spite of all the hype,
The voters off Eck’s face that smug expression soon would wipe
But Eck sat at his command post, looking forward to the fun
As he prepared to celebrate when the counting was all done.

For he thought ’twas all over, and indeed he was half right,
Because ’twould soon be over for him upon that fateful night,
And as dawn broke, the forces of separation were made for to flee
Till finally the vanquished Eck did cry “Alas, woe is me!”

“We was robbed,” he did complain upon the very next day,
“’Twas the fault of the old fogeys,” he sulkily did say,
“For stealing from the young this great opportunity away,
And, by jings, for this treachery most dearly they will pay,
For I will take from them their bus passes away.”
And yet statistics show that his contention held no water
For ’twas the young as well as old had participated in the slaughter.

And so wee Eck resigned, to be replaced by Nicola Sturgeon,
Who to step forthwith into his shoes did need no urging;
For ’twas ever thus, that when the surly tyrant gets his comeuppance,
Apart from him the rest of the world do not give tuppence.

And so ’twas for Eck, although his tactics were ruthless,
In the end his cudgel turned out to be useless,
For the canny Scots saw through Eck’s glib facade
And our hero was hoist with his own petard.

— Stephen Midgley, with acknowledgements to William McGonagall

With additional thanks to: Scottish Review, Herald Scotland, The Times, The Scotsman, The Guardian, The Independent, Private Eye, Uncyclopedia, John Lamb, and the YouTube video No thanks Mr. Salmond

NOTE: For those unfamiliar with Scottish politics and/or the fine poetry purveyed on this site, the title of Stephen’s piece alludes to Alex Salmond’s nickname of “Wee Eck,” and this dubious poetic masterpiece.

McGonagalls in the Washington Post

Filed under: Media,Readers’ Gems; in the year 2014, on the 9th day of August at 4:57 pm

Perhaps taking a lead from The Spectator, they’ve been holding a write-your-own-poetic-gem competition in the Washington Post, inviting their readers to write “bad poems about “a modern tragedy” à la McGonagall.”

The winning effort, from one Thomas Blaine of Virginia, reads rather more like Ogden Nash than the great Poet and Tragedian, but it’s a creditable effort nonetheless:

On Not Being Invited to Kim and Kanye’s Wedding

I knew it was coming, keeping up’s been my passion
That special invite from the family Kardashian.
When it didn’t arrive, as yet another week started,
My heart, it was rent, and my soul near departed.
So I went to my sister’s third wedding in Torrance
Instead of that very special one in the city of Florence.
And the memory of my sister’s party, OMG, how it pales,
With the one where my heart was, in the Chateau de Versailles.

You can read this and many more of the entries on the Post competition’s results page.

One Hundred McGonagall Stories

Filed under: Site News; in the year 2014, on the 19th day of June at 9:54 pm

A lot of new titles have been added to the online British Newspaper Archive since the last time I spent much time there, meaning that I’ve been able to bring the number of press cuttings about the great man on the Life page up to a hundred.

Amongst the new arrivals are a couple from 1901 which cast some light on the “was he real or was he faking it?” debate. The first condemns the Perth Lyric Club for making fun of a deluded old man. The second defends them saying McGonagall is a paid clown. You’ll still have to make up your own mind though.

Another story solves a long standing mystery (to me, anyway). Why was A Tribute to Henry M. Stanley subtitled “The Prize Poem” on broadsheets and some versions of Poetic Gems? The answer is simple: he won a prize for it, “for originality and other peculiar and obvious qualities.” Never was ten shillings better earned.

But, saving the best till last, the search has unearthed a hitherto unknown McGonagall “gem” that appeared in an 1893 newspaper story. Untitled in the original, I have taken the liberty of calling it “Lines in Praise of the Arbroath Oddfellows.” It’s unspectacular stuff, but if you read it you’ll be one of the first people in 120 years to do so.

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