Say not that you are bad at writing good poetry,
Say instead that you are good at writing bad poetry.
Ah poetry! To some it is the food of love, to others, a way to farewell true love lost. Poets make us laugh, help us cry ,or paint a picture through their use of the written word. Many of us attempt to emulate their genius; however far too often we fall short of our dreams. If you fall into this category, do not despair, for in the very appalling nature of your efforts you may show talent unheard of in the celebrated bards. You could be the quintessential bad poet.
So what are the secrets of writing bad poetry?
Unlike good poetry, the truly awful stuff can be written at lightning speed, and with very little thought. On the other hand you can agonise for hours and still write something truly appalling. Sometimes the longer you agonise over it, the more you will cause others to do so too. However, beginners may find the 'take away' school of poetry the easiest to attempt: fast, nasty, and
guaranteed to clog up the arteries.
Remember the adage of good writing: write what you know. Ignore this rule with impunity. After all, it doesn't apply to you.
Bad poetry should rhyme if at all possible, although some of the best of its aspirants
have ignored this rule with considerable success. Believe me, with enough thought, anything
can rhyme. When it comes to finding those rhymes, the following strategy is recommended:
just add the sound of the word you're trying to rhyme with to successive letters of the alphabet,
until you come up with
- A word that fits;
- A word that doesn't fit (for a very bad poem) or;
- If you're still stuck, just go for something that you can convince your friends is an
actual word (and then keep them away from dictionaries).
Here is an example of how to find a rhyme:
'Oh my love, you led me astray,
You cast me aside as the night does the day!
How I moan and I choke until I hardly speak!'
The dilemma: what to rhyme with 'speak'? A-eek? Beak? Creak? Deek? Eek? Freak? Greek? Geek?
Heek? (And so on... continue until you get to Zeek). Just find the first that
you like. Here's an example:
'I'll love you at least 'til the middle of next week!'
If all that seems like too much work, cheat. The rhyming dictionary has already done the work for you! After all, why go to more effort than you have to?
Now you've gone to all that trouble to find all those rhymes, why waste them? Nothing says 'three minutes thought' more than an endlessly repeated sound. Here's an example:
It shook the room!
The sound of my doom!
Then, I smelt the fume!
And heard the death tune!
Played on a loom!
Everything went… VOOM!'
The above example also demonstrates another old reliable technique: the ‘not quite rhyme’. If you’ve gone through every letter of the alphabet and haven't found a single word you're happy with, and your friends aren’t gullible enough to believe ‘gistansil’ really is a word, near enough is always good enough. So tune rhymes with boom, and if your readers don’t believe it, well, they may be right; on the other hand, maybe they’re just too ignorant to understand your literary genius. You decide.
Never forget the ‘absent rhyme:
So you can’t find a word that rhymes with ‘cactus’? Who cares? There’s no point in letting the flow of your thought ebb for such a minor detail. Ignore the last sound of that line, and just get on with the rest of the poem. The sudden change in your rhyming pattern will make a powerful statement.1
‘It was a dark and stormy day
When you went away!
I cried and I cried and I cried,
(I think I nearly died)
You left me for Suzie Caronabularis,
Which was awfully sad,
I felt so bad,
You broke my heart,
I should have known from the start!'
Advanced Bad Poetry
There are many techniques used by good poets to create imagery through words. These include alliteration2 sibilance3, and cacophony4. Needless to say, these are not in any way necessary in your poetry. However, from time to time, you may find them useful. A good rule of thumb is: while in good poetry a little is good, in bad lots is best. It's impossible to overdo it. So if 'Anna ate eighty apples avidly all around Australia' you're definitely on the right track.
Rhythm: if you haven't completely ignored this aspect of your poem, and you find you must keep it flowing,5 then feel free to contract words as it suits you. After all, don't even good poems have o'er and e'en in them?
Why reinvent the wheel? You could spend hours perfecting the turn of phrase most suited to your muse, but why bother? There’s a cliché for every occasion, and an occasion for every cliché. Season your poetry liberally with them. Once again, you can never have too many.
'Oh warm and fuzzy feline,
With your razor-sharp claws.
To you I'd give anything,
Rest it gently in your paws!
For 'though you tipped your bowl over
And ruined my new blue silk.
My mother always told me
'Never cry over spilt milk!''
The haiku deserves special consideration, not only because it is a short, meaningful type of Japanese poetry, but because it is so easy to do badly. While traditional haiku has all sorts of elements that provide atmosphere, yours need only follow the syllable rule. Your first line should have five syllables, the second seven, and the third five again. As long as you have most of your fingers intact, this should not cause a problem.
'I like bees, they're so
yellow and black, and yellow
and black and yellow'
Once you've mastered the art of bad poetry, the first thing to do is to show off to your friends; and in what better way than immortalising them in verse? The Clerihew is the perfect vehicle for this, allowing you to appease their vanity while using all those rhymes you've so carefully uncovered. And since rhythmic form is completely optional, you can churn these out at a rate that will please even the most exacting public.
Thought he’d had enough
After a loaf of bread and six bowls of stew
A trip to the little boy’s room seemed long overdue!'
Should your poetry, despite your most heroic efforts, be looking suspiciously classy, there's nothing like a bit of gratuitous name-dropping to bring it down a peg or two. Don't be fussy. It doesn't matter whose name you drop, or (if you've managed to slip more than one name in) how incongruently you juxtapose them, their very presence will suffice.
Remember: while you may never aspire to being William McGonagall, just be the worst poet you can be.