Some of you may know Independent “Indy” Clause through her perspicacious comments over at Forest for the Trees, Averil Dean‘s sandbox, and other fine sites or from her own terrific blog, Fangs and Clause, where she’s saving the world, one comma at a time. If you don’t, what are you waiting for?
She was the first to answer my Nanowrimo-fueled pleas for poetry guest posts, and although I’m pretty sure she couldn’t write a bad poem if she tried, I’m sure you’ll agree that fabulous is exactly the right word.
Thanks to Sarah W. for supporting good and bad poetry in all its forms! I’m Indy Clause, known better for ranting and raving about editorial issues, writing, and other things I can manage to connect to myself, editing, and/or writing. In respect to Sarah’s readers, I’m reigning in my usual foul mouth, and taking this as an opportunity to expand my vocabulary and exercising some creativity of expression. I’ve been told this is a character-building exercise.
But enough about me, let’s talk about poems we love to hate. Those of us with any interest in writing and literature have probably learned at least a little bit about what makes a good poem. A good poem is a collection of strong line breaks, an accumulation of powerful images, intense language, and possibly includes deft rhyme and meter, maybe some nice use of imagery and metaphor. Blah, blah blah.
But what is doggerel? My grandmother used to write us silly poems about the presents she gave us for December occasions. My next-oldest sister used to write them back. I don’t doubt that it was wanting to be like my next sister that made me write poems to begin with. (It also explains why purple is my favorite color, but moving on…)
Doggerel takes the conventions of poetry and applies them to subjects usually considered beneath the elevated perspective of poetry. According to the OED (which was the original Wikipedia), doggerel is “Of verse: comic, burlesque, and usually composed in irregular rhythm. Also: (of verse or writing) badly composed or expressed; trivial.” The first instance of the word appeared in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.
How do you make a bad poem good and yet still retain its intrinsic badness? Here are two major principles to keep in mind.
1. Choose a suitably ridiculous topic.
Doggerel is very message-based. All good taste and any remaining shreds of pride are subverted by the overwhelming need to communicate the message. What is the message? It’s whatever [the curse word redacted] you want it to be. Think cliché. Think about making fun of something or someone. Think about occasions that need to be recorded for posterity.
Doggerel is made to be read out loud to great laughter and/or rotten vegetable projectiles. You want people to both groan and secretly applaud your brilliance. Great for friends, bad for job interviews or submissions to Hoity Toity Poetry Journals.
2. Maintain either rhyme or meter at any cost (this includes friendships, marriages, unbroken bones, etc.).
How do we know that doggerel is a poem? Why by its obvious meter and rhyme of course! It is certainly not recognizable as a poem because of its literary merit.
If you loved me,
my dear, you wouldn’t shrink
from my coffee breath.
The sun is rising, dear,
and the day is looking clear.
Like always I get up to make
the caffeinated beverage without which I shake.
You knew what I was like when we vowed
to love each other until we were each wrapped in a shroud,
so why then do you shrink
from ever-loving kisses when my breath smells of that drink?
Let’s see what we’ve learned from the above exercise: Sacrifice meaning, sense, regular meter, and credibility for rhyme.
3. Other hints
3a. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Borrow someone else’s meter and/or rhyme:
Let me not to the marriage of true mates
Admit impediments. Love is not love
which alters when one hates the coffee taste
of morning breath. O, no! it is an
ever-fixed mark, that participates
in kissing, neither shrinking away nor
shaking with disgust. It is the star
of every morning dream, the antidote
to sleepless nights. The opportunity
to shower you with kisses in the morn
is a delight. If this be overcaffeinated and proved
I never writ, nor no woman ever loved.
(Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 never looked so bad.)
3b. When in doubt, add something bawdy.
3c. When in doubt, write something political.
3d. When in doubt, be bawdy about politics, making sure your rhyme is impeccable.
3e. Read out loud to make sure that the poem sounds ridiculous enough.
3f. When reading out loud to your target audience, be sure to present your doggerel in the most pretentious manner possible.
What are your favorite doggerels? Any advice for the masses?