Exhibition Marks 200th Anniversary of McGonagall Disaster

Filed under: News; in the year 2013, on the 12th day of April at 12:01 pm

’Twas on the 1st of April, and in the year of Eighteen thirteen,
That the whaler “Oscar” was wrecked not far from Aberdeen;
’Twas all on a sudden the wind arose, and a terrific blast it blew,
And the “Oscar” was lost, and forty-two of a gallant crew.

So begins The Wreck of the Whaler Oscar, a typical McGonagall gem commemorating this maritime disaster. Now, Aberdeen Maritime Museum has opened a new exhibition to mark the 200th anniversary of the event .

The whaling industry was no stranger to casualties at sea, but this particular wreck happened so close inshore as to be visible to many of the unfortunate sailors’ friends and relatives. It had a huge impact locally and led to the construction of a local lighthouse.  And to a rotten poem, of course.

Manuscript For Sale

Filed under: Media,News; in the year 2013, on the 18th day of February at 7:07 pm

Time for all true McGonagall fans to raid their piggy banks – The Guardian reports that an unpublished McGonagall manuscript is coming up for sale.

The poem, Lines in Praise of the Royal Marriage, was written in 1893 to mark the wedding of the Duke of York (later George V) and Princess May of Teck. Though short, it displays many of the great man’s distinguishing touches.

The manuscript comes up for sale at Bonhams on 8th May, where it is expected to fetch £3000 – so start saving those pennies!

McGonagall the Movie

Filed under: News; in the year 2013, on the 15th day of February at 1:19 pm

Moves are afoot to make a documentary film about the great poet & tragedian. It’s early days yet, but this short trailer has already been made:

Find out more about the project by visiting their Facebook page.


Filed under: News; in the year 2012, on the 29th day of October at 12:10 pm

Earlier this year, the Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence published a paper by Messrs Manurung, Ritchie and Thompson entitled Using genetic algorithms to create meaningful poetic text. In it they describe an AI system built to produce computer-generated poetry, which they’ve named “McGONAGALL”. According to the authors:

McGONAGALL, applies the genetic algorithm to construct [poems]. It uses a sophisticated linguistic formalism to represent its genomic information, from which can be computed the phenotypic information of both semantic representations and patterns of stress.

So how does this methodology compare with reading the papers, finding a disaster, and shoehorning in as many “November/remember”, “cried/died” and  “seen/green/Her Majesty the Queen” rhymes as you can? Here’s an example of the bionic bard’s handiwork when seeded with a couple of lines of Hilaire Belloc:

They play. An expense is a waist.
A lion, he dwells in a dish.
He dwells in a skin.
A sensitive child,
he dwells in a child with a fish.

Apparently, like it’s namesake, McGONAGALL is able to generate relatively meaningful poems if the constraints of metre are relaxed, or metrical poems which don’t make much sense, but struggles to combine sense and metre in a single work. Its reaction to railway bridges is unrecorded.

Perhaps predictably, I’m happy to stick with the old flesh-and-blood version of poetic imperfection. Thanks to Improbable Research for bringing this paper to my attention.

Poetry, Whisky, Haggis and Mayhem

Filed under: News; in the year 2012, on the 12th day of January at 4:50 pm

Scots whisky distillers Auchentoshan are suggesting their customers hold “a Burns Night with a difference” later this month, by staging a series of events at bars and restaurants across the UK entitled “Auchentoshan Presents… A William McGonagall Burns Supper”.

Promising an evening of “Poetry, Whisky, Haggis and general Mayhem”, they’ve published a do-it-yourself kit which includes menus, place settings, invites and suggested readings should you want to stage a Burns/McGonagall supper in your own home.

I must say that some of their accompanying notes really put the “tosh” in Auchentoshan:

William McGonagall and Robert Burns were both poets that lived and worked in Scotland in the early 1800s. The pair were famously arch enemies as Burns was a traditionalist yet McGonagall was a renegade. Auchentoshan’s McGonagall Burns Supper is to celebrate McGonagall’s flair for challenging perceptions of poetry.

More than a few factual errors in there! They actually worked at different ends of the 19th century, and McGonagall was a great admirer of Burns’ work. Still, it’s good to see anything which raises the profile of the Poet & Tragedian – even if it’s a pretty thinly disguised attempt to sell more of the demon drink!

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