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!