McGonagall Talk in Kirriemuir

Filed under: Events; in the year 2014, on the 27th day of February at 10:20 am

Inhabitants of Kirriemuir are to be treated to a talk on the life and times of William McGonagall next week, given by creative writing teacher Edward Small. The talk is presented by the Kirriemuir Heritage Trust and will take place in the Old Parish Church Hall starting at 7:30pm on Wednesday 5th March.

If anybody is able to attend this event and cares to provide a review, ode, or some other commemoration, I’d be happy to publish it on this site.

Hat tip: Kirriemuir Herald

Lights! Camera! McGonagall!

Filed under: News; in the year 2014, on the 26th day of February at 12:40 am

It’s been over a year since I mentioned the plan to make a McGonagall movie. Well, not only has the project not been forgotten, but I’m going to be in it!

This weekend, Erin and Scott – the creative team behind the venture – made the long drive down from Scotland to McGonagall Online’s headquarters in Leicester to record an interview with yours truly.

The end result will form part of a short film used to pitch the idea of making a full-length documentary to the likes of BBC Scotland. If that doesn’t come off, they’ll look for funding to make the film themselves. You can see some of Scott’s previous films via his website.

We had a great time talking about the Poet & Tragedian, and I look forward to further involvement with the project. I’ll be sure to keep readers of this site up-to-date with any developments. You can also keep an eye on their Facebook page.

Tay Bridge Disaster Remembered

Filed under: News; in the year 2013, on the 29th day of December at 10:32 am

Here’s a good story for the last Sabbath day of 2013 – BBC News reports that yesterday two granite memorials were unveiled to remember the victims of the Tay bridge disaster. The memorials stand close to the bridge on either side of the river, and are inscribed with the names of the 59 people known to have been killed.

Whatever the comic overtones of McGonagall’s poem, it’s important to remember the terrible tragedy that occurred to those people, their friends and relatives. I’m glad something has been done to preserve their memory – probably for a very long tine…

William McGonagall Rapping Masterclass

Filed under: Media,Music,News; in the year 2013, on the 17th day of December at 7:50 pm

At a time of year when we’re generally occupied with wrapping of a different sort, reader Tom Taylor writes with a little history and some exciting news:

What ho! fellow McGonagall fans of high and low degree

On the 3rd of April 1997, a number of journals including The Times and the Scottish Herald picked up a story from Associated Press that claimed “dim-witted” American rappers on the Santaphobia label had a huge hit rapping William McGonagall poems. While there is a grain of truth here, the piece had nevertheless been heavily salted with lazy journalism and urban myth. I can now reveal the naked truth as one of the dim wits who dared to tread on the memory of McGonagall.

The story starts in 1993 at the birth of the All New Lucky Boys, a musical collective that a few friends and I started in Huddersfield (the heart of hand loom weaving in England), bringing together members of several ‘bedroom’ or ‘doss’ bands. During one of the early recording sessions, we were at a loss for lyrical inspiration until salvation presented itself in the form of a semi-randomly chosen book; The Folio Society’s Poetic Gems. In William McGonagall we instantly recognised a fellow ‘unwitting’ genius and rapidly recorded The Tay Bridge Disaster and Oban. Completely untutored in the arts of rap and hip hop, it was a mistake to think that they would be anything other than a dog’s breakfast, but we lived in a throwaway culture and this was reflected in our DIY, ‘do it and ditch it’ ethos.

The notoriety of what became known as The William McGonagall Rapping Masterclass was thanks to the blossoming internet career of one of our number. He created a personal website which told of our bedroom recording projects and the Santaphobia “label” under which we made them available, and offered Rapping Masterclass free to anyone willing to send a blank tape and a return envelope. No one ever did that, but in 1997 the website was used as the basis of the mangled story that Associated Press put on the wires. The Times picked it up and additionally contacted an English professor at Chicago North Park University for comment. Other journalists contacted The WTMcG Appreciation Society who also seemed nonplussed but rather pleased and so the mythmaking continued. What is plain through all of this is that no one, not the AP, the various journalists or academics had ever heard any of the All New Lucky Boys music.

It has always been in the back of my mind to do more McGonagall raps and after 20 years, I’ve found the bottle to try it all again. Radio Bingo vs Mile High Henry presents their new collection “McGonagall: Poeticrap” free to anyone willing to send a return envelope. Poems include Sunlight Soap, A Tale of the Sea, The Famous Tay Whale, Saved by Music and others. Listen and discover the truth for yourselves.

Tom tells me he’s also setting up a more 21st century approach to sharing the fruits of his labours than sending cassette tapes through the mail. When I have more information, I’ll be sure to pass it on.

McGonagall and other Bad Poets

Filed under: Web Links; in the year 2013, on the 4th day of December at 8:09 pm

Professor Kirstie Blair, a contributor of content to this site, has written an article entitled McGonagall, ‘Poute’, and the Bad Poets of Victorian Dundee for the latest edition of The Bottle Imp – a journal published by the Association for Scottish Literary Studies.

In it, she describes the “lively culture of bad poetry” that was fostered by the Dundee newspapers in the years running up to the start of McGonagall’s poetic career, particularly the works of “Poute” who satirised the efforts of working class poets with his deliberately bad efforts. To quote from the article:

Reading through the newspaper poems of these years makes it evident that far from being ‘in a special category’, McGonagall was contributing to a pre-existing poetic culture that hovered between the satirical and the serious, and that caused difficulties for editors faced with deciding which was which.

This throws a new light on the question of whether McGonagall was “for real”, or whether he was writing bad verse on purpose. Personally, I remain in the former camp – but the Professor’s article offers considerable food for thought.

A Gem of the People, by the People, for the People

Filed under: Readers’ Gems; in the year 2013, on the 19th day of November at 8:00 am

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the giving of the Gettysburg Address by President Abraham Lincoln. These few words that Lincoln said “the world will little note, nor long remember” have become perhaps the best-known speech in American history. Is there any more that can be learned about this famous oration? Well, apparently there is!

By an astonishing coincidence, regular contributor Stephen Midgley has unearthed a document that casts the President’s words in a whole new light…

McGonagall at Gettysburg
or
Guidance for Mr. Lincoln, from a Scots Poetic Genius, on how to make a Good Speech

’Twas in the year of 1776, and on July the 4th day
That our people declared independence without dismay,
For on that date a new nation was founded,
Which upon certain noble principles was grounded.

Those principles were liberty and equality;
And oh! how the people did dance in their glee,
For they would no longer pay taxes to far-away kings
And they could buy their goods with dollars instead of shillings.

Now, eighty-seven years later, we are engaged in a war
For to test whether such a nation can long endure,
And because the backs of the slaves in the South are sore,
For of cruel abuse and punishment they can take no more.

Here on this field was fought a great battle,
Of which the world for a very long time will prattle;
Our Union troops were led by General Meade,
And to a man they all fought very bravely indeed.

But alas! I am very sorry to say
That many thousands of lives were lost that day,
And on the two days that preceded it;
But ’twas a victory and, by God, we needed it.

For in the end the rebel hordes were made for to flee,
Even though they were commanded by Robert E. Lee,
And in spite of that general’s undoubted charisma
Our forces defeated him without any stigma.

The world will not for very long remember
What we say here on this 19th day of November,
But ’tis rather those who fought here who’ll be remember’d
Because many of them were killed, or at least dismember’d.

Now ’tis for the rest of us to finish the task they began,
And to gainsay it there’s very few people can.
So let us ensure these men died not in vain,
And that in future no one will have cause for to complain.

Therefore, fellow citizens, be advised by me,
Whether ye be of high or low degree,
That the hearts of the people will be filled with elation
If a new birth of freedom be had by this nation.

And our final resolution is really quite simple:
That government of the people, by the people, for the people,
For which there’s a demand in every clime,
Shall not perish from the earth for a very long time.

Footnote

The above poetic gem, unmistakably the work of William McGonagall, was recently discovered among the Lincoln family’s private papers. In addition to its content, its very existence is interesting for two reasons: firstly, it indicates that McGonagall was already practising the art of poetry some years earlier than had hitherto been supposed; and, secondly, it could shed an entirely new light on the poet’s relationship with other great figures of the age. It is possible that, after Mr. Lincoln had given his Address and it had received widespread international coverage, McGonagall felt convinced that he could improve upon it and, somewhat in the manner of the renaissance parody Mass, decided to fashion an altogether grander and more memorable work based upon the original material. In a spirit of helpfulness, the poet would naturally have sent the President a copy of the resulting lay.

It is equally plausible, however, that the poem may have been the result of Mr. Lincoln’s approaching the Scots poet and tragedian for advice and suggestions in advance of his forthcoming address at Gettysburg. If so, this would explain why the President, having made liberal use of the poet’s ideas in his speech, would have chosen to keep McGonagall’s document private – being understandably reluctant to reveal that most of what became known as “his” Gettysburg Address, and the ideas expressed therein, were in fact largely the work of another.

Either way, admirers of William McGonagall – and indeed of Abraham Lincoln – will wish to compare the two versions and judge their respective merits for themselves.

— Stephen Midgley, with acknowledgments to William McGonagall and Abraham Lincoln

A Tribute from Germany

Filed under: Readers’ Gems; in the year 2013, on the 10th day of November at 1:33 am

Esther D. writes from Germany with this tribute to the bard’s historical output:

W. T. McGonagall – The world’s worst poet or a great local historian

We must ask ourselves: Was he the worst poet, or a great historian?!

His unique ability to give accounts of his days was absolutely remarkable.
Only a few of the so-called Oxbridgian poets give such a well-detailed (and for everyman`s understanding)account of their days without going overboard with negative personal judgements.
Of their accounts I can only say: hardly dependable!
W. T. McGonagall spoke of real events that occurred during his life time giving us, if you will, an eye-witness report and yet he is mocked – just because he did not first consult with Shakespearean scholars.
Well, BOO you! And I mean you, you and Shakespeare, too, not forgetting also you Lars.

It is most funny how apparently intelligent folks read the works of a nation’s (I understand also the world´s) worst poet and yet these very intelligent folks do not understand that what he created were not simply works of poetry but grand historical manuscripts.
So, who is the worst, the poet or the reader?!
Hmm, I wonder!
And I am not even in Scotland standing in my shoes.
But in Deutschland sitting on my couch writing this but with no one to schmooze.

I guess ye much prefer the cock and bull-shit accounts given by imaginative modern-day wanna-be historians.
The great scholars who produce books filled with “what I think happened” AKA fanciful truths.
W. T. McGonagall accounts may be mostly about his local surroundings, but should nonetheless be treated as useful historical accounts just as those from other great historians.
Not even Shakespeare was able to give a poetic account of his day without spicing it up with fiction, and lots of it.
Mr McGonagall´s works should not be compared with Mr Shakespeare´s – no artist should be compared with the other as the creativity, and indeed the beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder.
See splashing a bucket of paint on to a canvas and calling it art…no comment – I leave you to it.

His poems were, in my humble opinion, well written just with weak rhyming – So what?!
Should they not be seen as his own literal creations just as Shakespeare created his own world of writing??!
Has any of you who mock him ever heard of literal creativity??!! It seems NOT!
To me, his idea of literal creativity is much inviting.

Sir W. T. McGonagall was in every way literature is to be understood – a genius!
For someone with little or no education to come up with what he came up with – his writing, his determination to pursue his dreams, his idea of self-marketing…is bloody well impressive!
Even those J.K. Rowling loving twats will agree with this.
It just comes to prove that even in those days no one needed Oxbridge and co to produce a work of genius.
So, aloud I say to all ye naysayers read his works with understanding and stop being repulsive.

Mr W.T. McGonagall was just a poor man trying to make ends meet and darn he did!
He made two contrasting ends called the queen´s gate, and a poor man´s weary legs meet.
Pompous Victoria jealous that this she couldn’t accomplish, she hid.
A good thing England did not make him king as he would have missed the ship to New York´s tea and bread, and bread and meat.

A Scotsgirl I am not– just someone who tries to encourage the different faces of creativity, and one who recognises a good history book.
I endeavoured to change your perception about one of the world’s great historians, this I hope I have archived, and now I must go cook.

Gem Outage Resolved Poetically

Filed under: Readers’ Gems,Site News; in the year 2013, on the 4th day of November at 9:04 am

On Friday, I made a quick change to the site to redirect visitors to the non-existent /gems/ directory to somewhere more useful. I checked it was working, and went off to enjoy my weekend; not (alas) in the “bonnie highlands floral”, but in the not quite so salubrious surroundings of Milton Keynes. Imagine my dismay as I returned to this email from alert reader Simon Levene:

Dear Mr Hunt, I see with no delight
That a celebrated McGonagall ballad has vanished from your site;
When I click on the link to find the “Fall of Coomassie”
I find that your webmaster must have fatally damaged his chassis,
Because although links to this poem are scattered thickly on the ground
A cruel error message says bluntly “Page not Found.”
Unless you can help me, the outcome of this situation will be far from funny -
I shall have to go and buy my own copy of the Great Man’s ballads, with my own money.

In fact, not only had my “fix” blocked access to the Fall of Coomassie, but to all the other gems as well! Fortunately, I immediately realised where I had gone wrong, and was soon able to put things right. A reply was sent to Mr Levene:

It’s worse than that! I know you will be shocked
To learn that access to each of the poetic gems was blocked.
It was due to my own hasty actions that the site was accidentally nixed
But thanks to your tip-off it has now all been fixed.
May your weekend continue happy and serene,
And without having to part with any notes bearing the image of Her Majesty the Queen.

An acknowlegement followed soon after:

Dear Mr Hunt, before you can say “Michael Finnegan”
The works of the Great Tragedian are filling up my screen again,
And this is a matter of great rejoicing down south, as you know
Because we have been having to make do with the works of Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, T.S. Eliot and Co.
So although such laborious work must have interfered with your enjoyment of the Sabbath day
The Great Man’s followers all send you a heartfelt “Hooray!”

So the moral of this story, for me, is not to make major changes to the site on a Friday afternoon without properly testing the results. My thanks to Simon for pointing out the problem so promptly (and wittily). If you spot any issues on the site, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, whether or not you do so in verse!

Topaz – McGonagall on Radio 4

Filed under: Media,News; in the year 2013, on the 30th day of October at 12:25 am

A radio play based on an episode of the poet’s life was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday. Written by Lucy Gannon, and starring Dundee-born actor and film star Brian Cox as the great man, Topaz was a dramatic recreation of the famous trip to Balmoral.

The play is pretty free in mixing up elements of McGonagall’s life, and in inventing entirely new ones, in order to make a more engaging story. Most notably, in this version of events, he actually gets to meet Queen Victoria at the end of his journey! I suppose McGonagall purists (if such people exist) might take umbrage at this, but as evidence suggests that William wasn’t above embellishing his life story for dramatic effect, we can hardly chide Ms Gannon for doing the same.

If you’re quick, you can still listen to the play on the BBC iPlayer – it’s available until Saturday 2nd November. You can also read a review of it in The Stage.

McGonagall in the Lecture Hall

Filed under: Education; in the year 2013, on the 22nd day of October at 11:35 pm

Jason Blake, in an article on the Better Living Though Beowulf blog, describes how he uses McGonagall’s most (in)famous work in his English classes at the University of Ljubljana. Needless to say, he doesn’t present it as an example of high art – the article is entitled The Worst Poem Ever Published – but as “a perfect guide to what a poem should not be.”

Blake’s students are asked to identify the worst lines of the The Tay Bridge Disaster and explain what is wrong with them – a task which elicits “at least a dozen different and creative answers.” It sounds like a great class – no wonder they’re disappointed to hear that he won’t be featuring in the exam.

I would personally take issue with the “worst poem” label though. Whilst it breaks every rule in the poetical book (and more besides), we’re still reading and enjoying this poem 130 years after it was written. How many “good” poems can say that? Give me McGonagall’s inspired incompetence over his worthy-but-dull contemporaries any time!

 

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