As I posted last week, one of the weird things I like is the poetry of McGonagall. It’s not just that it’s so bad it’s good, it’s his immense sincerity. I learnt last night that McGonagall walked 50 miles to Balmoral to ask Queen Victoria for the post of Poet Laureate after Tennyson died. That is some self-belief.
Just in case you are not familiar with McGonagall – he is probably the second most famous Scottish poet after Burns. He wrote 242 poems. They were bad. They rhyme (although sometimes rather interestingly!): they generally don’t scan. You can read all about him at the marvellous McGonagall Online site, which will also send you a daily poem if you are a glutton for punishment. In particular, if you haven’t read him, go and read his most famous poem on the Tay Bridge Disaster. It’s almost possible to keep a straight face until you get to ‘buttresses’.
Yesterday evening I went on a tour with Colin Brown of Rebus Tours, called McGonagall’s Feat. It started at McGonagall’s grave, or at least grave marker, in Greyfriars Kirkyard (it’s not known exactly where he was buried). I have to confess, I had no idea that he was buried in Edinburgh – he has such a strong association with Dundee. So that’s something else I learned: that he lived in Edinburgh for the last few years of his life, after being stopped from performing in Dundee because it was causing too much public disorder between his fans (students, who else?) and people who were offended by his unique poetic works and performance style.
Wending our way towards the Cowgate, we visited a couple of sites related to Sir Walter Scott (one of McGonagall’s heroes), the Catholic church that McGonagall attended, and the old Royal High. Really some of these were fairly tenuously associated with McGonagall, but the readings were good.
On arriving at the Poetry Library we had one last poem on the steps outside before going in for tea and – what else? – Dundee cake. Then it was on to something we’d been asked to bring along – our ‘Minute McGonagalls’! The challenge had been to write something McGonagall-style.
Up till the day before the talk, I’d been feeling fairly smug about already having written a McGonagall poem for a writing group some time ago. Then I timed it. It was 3.5 minutes. Oops! I had a shot at cutting it down but eventually had to give up and write a new one.
My McGonagall-style poem ‘An Ode to Queen Elizabeth the Second on her Jubilee Year‘ can be viewed at the aforementioned McGonagall site – thanks to Chris Hunt for putting it up and also for running such a great website! It was super-fun to perform in front of such a nice enthusiastic audience. I got my poem out of the way first and then really enjoyed other people’s poems, particularly the one about Princess Di, and one about McGonagall’s rhymes which had a great American twist to it!
I don’t know whether the event will run again, but if it does, I’d recommend it. Even if you don’t think you like McGonagall. Which you should, of course.