NO SEMI-PRECIOUS STONE, OLD TOPAZ LOVED HIS FOOL'S GOLD
William Topaz McGonagall (1830-1902) - the self-taught weaver from Dundee - is sometimes called "Scotland's Alternative Poet." But more often he is regarded (or celebrated) as the worst poet in the whole world. Like Scotland's bard Robert Burns, McGonagall has arisen from his pauper's grave in Edinburgh's haunted Greyfriar's Churchyard, to be marketed around the Scottish world.
There are McGonagall tee-shirts and mugs, ceremonial plaques and websites, And there are McGonagall societies and infamous McGonagall's Suppers, which are a hoot. At these upside-down suppers, food is served and eaten in backwards order, beginning with the whisky and speeches and pudding, then moving on to main course, to finish with soup. The entertainment at one of these suppers was a stripper who showed up in the buff and put her clothes on as the entertainment!
As far as we know, there are yet no guided tours around Scotland to visit the sites MacGonagle massacred with his awful poems. But with the gobsmacking success of Outlander Tourism in Scotland, anything goes! Gordon and I have joked about forming a company called Topaz Tours, leading tourists around Scotland to visit the sites McGonagall massacred with his awful poems. We’d sell tee-shirts covered with the worst lines of the worst poems, under images of the places they eulogise: Beautiful Aberfoyle, Beautiful Comrie, Beautiful Crieff, Beautiful Edinburgh, Beautiful Newport on the Braes o' the Silvery Tay, and so on.
McGonagall hated alcohol and denounced all publicans for causing sin. Yet most of readings were performed in pubs. When he was broke, he'd go into a bar and ask the publican if he could perform there that night, then knock on doors to get people to come to his show...instead of staying at home and avoiding the evil drink! And people did come to his shows, for the sheer entertainment of making fun of him!
In the town of Perth, a shopkeeper is reported to have said to McGonagall:
Common honesty and a sense of fair play compels me to say that your poems are unique. In Scott, Byron, or Burns, for instance, if you omit a line, ten to one you lose the sense. With you it is totally different. I have read a whole production of yours, omitting each alternate line, and getting quite as much sense and literary power out of it as ever. Nay, more, if you read the fourth line first, and work back, the effect is quite as wonderful.
Of McGonagall's 200 “poetic gems” - described by critics as “poetry of information”- the best known the The Tay Bridge Disaster-- about the tragic collapse of Dundee's brand new River Tay Railway Bridge – as a train was crossing it one stormy night. Even a pre-schooler could recite it. In fact, most of McGonagall's poems do read like nursery rhymes...
And of course McGonagall had to honor Scotland’s National Bard - or at least try!
McGonagall was born three decades after Robert Burn's death, when the cult of The Plowman Poet was in full swing. Any tradesman who could rhyme louse with mouse was publishing, and there were plumber poets, joiner – carpenter - poets and volumes and volumes of Bad Plowman Poetry. Most of these bad poets at least pretended to be humble, but not William McGonagall.
Nay, the Bard of the Tay compared himself with Shakespeare and had an ego as bloated as Burns. Even when people threw rotten fruit and vegetables at him, and mocked him, he didn't flinch. In July of 1878 McGonagall walked all the way from Dundee to Balmoral to propose to Queen Victoria that she make him her Poet Laureate, instead of Alfred Lord Tennyson. And then in 1887 he took the steamer Circassia from Glasgow to New York, expecting to be crowned and wooed there. But wherever he went in Manhattan, all he got was mocking laughter, and more rotten fruit thrown at him. On stage, dressed in outlandish feathery costumes – he sliced the fruit to pieces with his Scottish claymore as it flew at him through the air!
William McGonagall Collected Poems is a collector's item sure to inform and to entertain. "This edition brings together McGonagall's three famous collections—Poetic Gems, More Poetic Gems, and Last Poetic Gems—and contains all the valuable autobiographical material which appeared in the original volumes. It also includes an introduction by Chris Hunt, indexes of poem titles and first lines, and features the first publication of McGonagall's only play, Jack o' the Cudgel, written in 1886 but not performed publicly until 2002."
And McGonagall Online is about everything McGonagall! Start your own local McG society!