Last rites for the worst-verse prizes

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AN international competition to find the best of the worst new verse has been wound up because poets on both sides of the Atlantic can no longer distinguish between 'good bad' poetry and 'bad good' poetry, writes David Lister.

The International Society for Humour Studies, with outposts at the universities of Arizona and Reading, has decided to end the annual Julia Moore Good Bad Poetry Competition, named after a 19th-century frontier poet.

According to organiser, Don L F Nilsen of Arizona State University English department, today's poets do not sufficiently emulate Ms Moore herself. 'Julia Moore,' he said, 'was not just a bad poet. She was a horrible poet. She was so outstandingly bad that somehow she was good.'

Clad in black, she used to give public readings of her poems about dead children. She was described as a 'cross between Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Chief Sitting Bull'. An indication of her style can be found in a plea to her readers:

And now kind friends, What I have wrote,

I hope you will pass o'er

And not criticize as some have done

Hitherto herebefore.

David Sklar from Julia Moore's home state of Michigan will be the last winner of the competition with his poem entitled Black Verse, a parody of iambic pentameter that begins:

My tenth grade English teacher was impressed

That every single one of Shakespeare's plays

Was written, start to finish, in blank verse.

Of the other entries, Professor Nilsen lamented: 'I get hundreds. But almost all of them are bad poetry. It doesn't scan, not because they have attempted not to scan but because they have attempted to scan and failed. To be a good bad poet you have to take chances. You have to extend the symbolism and extend the figures of speech beyond reason.'

Professor Nilsen has written a paper on how to distinguish bad good verse, good good verse, bad bad verse and finally good bad verse. He cites as the best practitioners of good bad verse James Thurber and Ogden Nash, lauding the latter's criticism of the metaphors of Lord Byron:

What does it mean when we are told

That the Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?

Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and big red

Mouth and big white teeth and did he say woof woof woof?