Ode to the Worst Poet in the World

Over the years, I’ve been forced to read many a poem, and, while I can appreciate the effort it takes to compose one, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the art form.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a favorite poet.

During my trip to Scotland last year, I came across a plaque dedicated to the supposed worst poet in the world, William Topaz McGonagall. Prior to my visit, I’d never heard of this man and so decided to conduct a more thorough investigation of him once I returned to the states.

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The person from whom Professor McGonagall gets her name. Fanficton prompt: McGonagall tries to write poetry in her off-hours, but HP’s shenanigans keep getting in the way.

McGonagall was a weaver whom, at the age of 52, was suddenly struck by the idea that he should quit his job and make poetry his life’s vocation.

He was very prolific and composed around 215 poems over the course of several years, all of which covered a wide range of topics from the military, to famous people, to current events.

Apparently his poetry was so awful that it was a common practice for the city folk to throw rotten vegetables at him and jeer during his recitals.

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Example of his work:

Welcome! thrice welcome! to the year 1893,
For it is the year I intend to leave Dundee,
Owing to the treatment I receive,
Which does my heart sadly grieve.
Every morning when I go out
The ignorant rabble they do shout
‘There goes Mad McGonagall’
In derisive shouts as loud as they can bawl,
And lifts stones and snowballs, throws them at me;
And such actions are shameful to be heard in the city of Dundee.
And I’m ashamed, kind Christians, to confess
That from the Magistrates I can get no redress.
Therefore I have made up my mind in the year of 1893
To leave the ancient City of Dundee,
Because the citizens and me cannot agree.
The reason why? — because they disrespect me,
Which makes me feel rather discontent.
Therefore to leave them I am bent;
And I will make my arrangements without delay,
And leave Dundee some early day.

McGonagall was so convinced that he was a misunderstood genius that he walked 50 miles to gain the patronage of Queen Victoria, only to be told when he arrived to leave and never come back.

Knowing all of this, I think it’s difficult not to love the guy. Not only did he quit his job to do what he loved at a time when this most assuredly meant starvation, he would not let anyone convince him he shouldn’t write.

Was he an egotist? Oh yeah. In fact he seemed to be so oblivious to how bad of a writer he was that some historians are convinced it was all an act. Me, I’m not so sure.

McGonagall may have died a virtually penniless laughingstock, but there’s a bit of poetic irony to this story.

In spite of all the backlash his poetry received, every single one of McGonagall’s poems has been published. More to the point, his name and his legacy have endured centuries while other more talented poets have died forgotten.

As much as the cliché of following your dreams gets thrown around, it seems to have benefitted McGonagall. He didn’t let anyone persuade him to retire his quill and as a result he has earned himself a place in history.

It’s at the back of the bus with no air conditioning and a five year-old continuously kicking the headrest, but it’s a place nonetheless.

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If someone like McGonagall can make his dreams come true, than by God so can we.

The Hunt For Voldemort’s Grave in Greyfriars Cemetary

According to the tour guide for the Edinburgh Ghost Tunnel Tour, J.K. Rowling came up with Voldemort’s real name after visiting the Greyfriars Graveyard.

So, naturally, a friend and I raced to Greyfriars Kirk on a quest to find the gentleman who would become a legend over a hundred years after his death.

Unfortunately, finding The Dark Lord’s gravestone proved to be more difficult than we were hoping for.

We tagged along on a Harry Potter tour that we probably should have payed for but didn’t *shrugs* to see if the tour guide would give us a hint as to where the tombstone was. However, he seemed more interested in showing us awkward ring tricks than assisting us on our quest, so we decided to venture out on our own.

This must be said: European cemeteries are infinitely cooler than American ones.

It’s unfair to compare them, really.

For one thing, Europe is impossibly old compared to America. Therefore, you will find gravestones and monuments that date back to the 1500s or even the 1300s.

Here are a few that we stumbled across:

And then, finally, we found the man of the hour:

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Turns out his father’s name was Thomas Riddell also.

Even while taking pictures of this, I imagined what this man would think if he knew his name was used for one of the most powerful villains in literary history.

My head cannon is that when J.K. Rowling dies (hopefully at a very old age) she will arrive in Heaven to find a very cheesed-off Scotsman wearing a regiment coat with his arms folded and his foot angrily tapping.

“Who are you?” Rowling will ask.

“You-Know-Who,” he’ll hiss.

Yes, it’s bad enough this man died at such a young age (26), but it would seem that some drunk idiots found it appropriate to tag his plaque.

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Not only did this person think it was acceptable to graffiti a dead man’s plaque, they couldn’t even be bothered to spell Voldemort correctly.

Fortunately, some kind soul left a bouquet of flowers at the foot of the plaque. I did not have any flowers on me, nor did I know of a nearby florist to buy some from, so I picked a wild flower that was growing a few feet away and dropped it on top of the bundle.

So, Mr. Riddell, I’m sorry you’ll forever be known as The Dark Lord.

However, as a writer, I don’t think I would have been able to pass up on such a unique name either. Riddell (or Riddle, as it was in the novels) implies mystery and intrigue. Romance even.

At least you may take solace in the fact that some woman from the 20th century took a look at your name and thought “Huh. Cool.”

May you rest in peace.

Unless you were a dick.

In which case, this scenario would become infinitely more funny.

Bookish Culture On the London Underground

We spent a day in London, which basically means we spent a day in the London Underground.

Our professors told us to dress in layers since it was predicted to rain quite a bit that day….

So there we were, wearing long-sleeve shirts and rain coats in 75 degree weather  (23 degrees celsius) and thick humidity, cramped into glorified tissue boxes that threw us around like loose change in a tin can.

Much to our dismay, the Tube is not equipped with air conditioning. In fact, most places in London aren’t (at least from what I experienced). Consequently, we were made to sweat buckets in the company of strangers who all looked as if they were a Sarah McLachlan song away from shooting themselves in the face.

But it wasn’t all bad. At least from my book-nerd point of view. Because while trapped in the Devil’s Lipstick, I saw something I haven’t seen in quite a while in my neck of the woods: people reading paperback books in public.

I’d seen people with novels on the airplane ride over, but I’m not used to seeing people with anything other than their phones in their hand while frequenting public places.

The reason for this change is likely because there is no cell service underground. Or at least I couldn’t find any with my international plan.

Another thing I noticed as we scuttled about frantically, trying not to lose each other, is that they had advertisements for books everywhere.

They weren’t just self-help books about how to get thin that were written by celebrities either. Many of them were fiction and the effort that went in to each of them was inspiring. They looked like movie trailers, some featuring the image of their respective authors.

I wish I could have taken a few photos, but unfortunately I was trying to save memory on my phone and there wasn’t enough time to get out my other camera to take them.

It was just so uplifting to see books being given the recognition they deserve outside of a bookstore. There seems to be more emphasis on reading over there.

I could get used to that.

London, I don’t miss your Tube all that much. But I do miss seeing an appreciation for the written word in such a public way.

 

A Nerd’s Adventure in Tollymore Forest

As part of our study tour through the British Isles, my class took a bus across Northern Ireland.

This was unquestionably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

Our guide told us Northern Ireland has inspired countless writers like C.S Lewis, the Brontës, etc, and I can easily see why.

While riding in the tour bus from location to location –trying not to think about all the times we nearly hit someone because the roads are roughly the size of Jenna Louise Coleman’s waistline–I saw stone fences, wooly sheep, and rolling hills that seemed to go on forever.

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I loved all the shacks and follies frozen in time. I could just imagine sitting down to write in these areas or around a fire and peering out the window to look at all this.

The locals pointed out that we were visiting on an uncharacteristically sunny day and most of the time it’s freezing, wet, and miserable, but I can dream, can’t I?

My favorite location was Tollymore Forest Park where they filmed several scenes in the first season of Game of Thrones.

Our guide carried with her a book full of blown-up screen shots from the film and pointed out several of the landmarks seen in the episodes.

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This made the experience so much more immersive and the episodes all the more intimate because we now know what it is like to stand where the actors stood.

I enjoyed it as a fan, but I think I enjoyed it even more as a writer.

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Is there anyone that can see anything like this and not be inspired?

I frequently had to run to catch up with my party because I was constantly stopping and taking pictures.

Truth is you could be in one spot for two hours and still not take enough photos.

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It is that beautiful.

If anyone wants to write fantasy, they need to go to this forest. It’s one thing to write “they went into a forest,” it’s another to describe all the intricate workings of such a place. A forest is so much more than trees and rocks.

Although the trees are incredible as well.

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The forest is like a body, each part of it working in tandem to form something spectacular. It’s difficult to get a firm grasp of this unless you see it first hand.

Also, wear a cloak. Nothing is better than strolling about an ancient forest in a cloak.

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