Who is the worst poet in the world?
Little Nell's bookstore
Little Nell's bookstore
Douglas Adams, writer of the "Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy" identified in his book Vogon poetry as the third worst in the Universe. Not actually lethal, it was used as an instrument of torture by the Vogons as Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent discovered when they were captured on board the Vogon Constructor Fleet. The second worst, in Adam's view was that of the Azgoths of Kria. This was exceptionally dangerous - during a recital by their poet master Grunthas the Flatulent of his poem "Ode to a small lump of green putty found in my armpit one midsummer morning " four of his audience died of internal haemorraging and the President of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived by gnawing one of his own legs off.
However the very worst poetry of all perished along with its creator Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex, England in the destruction of Planet Earth by the Vogons.
Douglas Adams was fond of using friends and acquaintances as a source of names, as in Ford Prefect's retort to Arthur Dent "This is Zaphod Beeblebrox, from Betegeuse 5, not bloody Martin Smith of Croydon" Martin Smith was a contemporary at Cambridge University, though sadly probably Zaphod Beeblebrox is fictitious. Hotblack Desiato (the intergalactic pop star, dead for a year for tax reasons) is the name of an estate agent "Hotblack and Desiato" in Dover, Kent in the UK.
So who might Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings be? The origin appears to be Paul Neil Milne Johnstone, of Redbridge in Essex. He attended Brentwood School with Adams, and both received awards for English in the same year. Paul Johnstone won a scholarship to Cambridge where he studied English, co-ordinating the Cambridge Poetry Festival in 1977. Here is an example of his work:-
The dead swans lay in the stagnant pool
They lay. They rotted. They turned
Bits of flesh dropped off them from
Time to time
And sank into the pool's mire
They also smelt a great deal.
Paul Johnstone died just three years after Douglas Adams of pancreatic failure.
Another poet and novelist who justly deserves the reputation of writing the world's worst prose and poetry is the Irish author Amanda McKittrick Ros. She was born in Drumaness, County Down in 1860 and became a teacher. She was strongly influenced by the novelist Marie Corelli: She wrote:- My chief object of writing is and always has been to write if possible in a strain all my own. This is why my writings are so much sought after"
Her writings were indeed sought after in her day and her admirers included Mark Twain, Lord Beveridge and Aldous Huxley. Huxley wrote of her "in Mrs Ros we see, as we see in the Elizabethan novelists the result of the discovery of art by an unsophisticated mind and its first conscious attempt to produce the artistic"
She achieved much of her fame - or notoriety - through the "Inklings" a literary group in Oxford which included J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S Lewis. This group used to have competitions to read her work, the winner being those who could read furthest without breaking down in laughter. She was a poet as well as novelist publishing "Poems of Puncture" and "Fumes of Formation" From the latter, comes her poem on Westminster Abbey:-
Holy Moses! Have a look!
Flesh decaying in every nook!
Some rare bits of brain lie here
Mortal loads of beef and beer
Some of whom are turned to dust
Every one bids lost to lust
Royal flesh so tinged with "blue"
Undergoes the same as you
Though her work has been long out of print samples can be found in Nick Page's anthology "In search of the World's Worst Writer's" (Harper Collins) Page believed Ros to be the worst of the worst. From the website promoting this book I offer the following excerpts:-
(From Irene Iddesleigh published in 1897 - at Ros's own expense. It was reviewed by humorist Barry Pain who sarcastically termed it the "book of the century" )
"Speak! Irene! Wife! Woman! Do not sit in silence and allow the blood that now boils in my veins to ooze through cavities of unrestrained passion and trickle down to drench me with its crimson hue!"
(From Delina Delaney - her second novel. In her preface to this Ros retorted to Barry Pain by branding him a "clay crab of corruption" and suggesting he was hostile only because he was secretly in love with her. She claimed to have made so much money from Delina Delaney that she was able to build a house which she called "Iddesleigh")
Have you ever visited that portion of Erin's plot that offers its sympathetic soil for the minute survey and scrutinous examination of those in political power, whose decision has wisely been the means before now of converting the stern and prejudiced, and reaching the hand of slight aid to share its strength in augmenting its agricultural richness?
As Nick Page puts it, the sentence is "magnificent in its impenetrable mystery: it is the riddle of the Sphinx, the smile of the Mona Lisa. It sounds wonderful, but remains impervious to comprehension"
History, sadly, does not relate whether any of the Inklings died of internal haemorraging when the immortal words of Amanda McKittrick Ros were declaimed.