Podcast Show Notes — Episode 24 (September 1, 2014)


William McGonagall has been called “the only truly memorable bad poet in our language,” responsible for tin-eared verse that could “give you cauliflower ears just from silent reading”:

Alas! Lord and Lady Dalhousie are dead, and buried at last,
Which causes many people to feel a little downcast;
And both lie side by side in one grave,
But I hope God in His goodness their souls will save.

In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll sample McGonagall’s writings, follow the poor poet’s sadly heroic wanderings, and wonder whether he may have been in on the joke after all. We’ll also consider a South Carolina seventh grader’s plea to Ronald Reagan and puzzle over a man’s outrageous public behavior.

Our segment on William McGonagall, the world’s worst poet, is drawn from Norman Watson’s beautifully researched 2010 book Poet McGonagall: A Biography. The best online source on McGonagall is Chris Hunt’s site McGonagall Online, which contains extensive biographical materials, a map of the poet’s travels, and a complete collection of his poems.

South Carolina seventh grader Andy Irmo’s 1984 letter to Ronald Reagan asking that his room be declared a disaster area appears in Dwight Young’s 2007 book Dear Mr. President: Letters to the Oval Office from the Files of the National Archives. Our post about it ran on Aug. 14, 2006.

Thanks to listener Nick Madrid for this week’s lateral thinking puzzle.

You can listen using the player above, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

2 Responses to “Podcast Show Notes — Episode 24 (September 1, 2014)”

  1. Tony Hart says:

    Hi Greg and Sharon,

    In your last podcast you stated (with respect to William McGonagall): “I’ve often thought this story would make a good movie, but it’s hard to tell if it would play as a comedy or a tragedy”. I’m not sure if you are aware of the 1974 British film “The Great McGonagall” starring Spike Milligan as William McGonagall and Peter Sellers as Queen Victoria. I’ve never seen it myself but it definitely would have been played as a comedy. :-)

    BTW, I enjoy your website and podcasts. Keep up the good work!

    Tony Hart

    • Anton Raath says:

      I’m a big fan of Spike Milligan’s, and I had this movie on VHS for a long time. Milligan was a long-time fan of McGonagall, so this was a bit of a pet project for him. It’s definitely a comedy, but very sympathetic in its portrayal of McGonagall. The poet might have faded into obscurity if the film didn’t reintroduce him to Milligan’s followers in the Seventies, who often tend to really enjoy bad verse.

Leave a Reply