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.

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6 Responses to McGonagalling

  1. mwheelaghan says:

    I hate to admit this but I didn’t really know who McGonagall was. Thanks for updating me! Sounds like a great tour. Hope it will continue so I can do it – and write the one minute poem, that’s such a good way to end the tour! I’m now going off to read your Ode :)

    • mwheelaghan says:

      Back again. Just read your Ode -ha ha ha! :) Absolutely loved it. I got a real impression of what McGonagall’s poetry might be like. I love the cheekiness of it. Well done, you! Were all the poems this good? Yikes! Maybe I won’t do the tour after all! ;o)

      • Oh, thank you! It’s scary how much I enjoy writing McGonagall poems. I should be trying to write proper ones!
        There was a variety of poems, my favourite was a fantastic poem about Princess Diana and I also liked a funny wee one about McGonagall’s rhymes. Lots of fun! Do give it a go if it happens again.

  2. Chris Hunt says:

    Thanks for spreading the word about the “poet and tragedian” and about my website. I’m intrigued that he attended a catholic church in Edinburgh, as he was certainly a Protestant (though a pretty tolerant one). Maybe the church has changed denomination since William’s day.

    Oh, and my name isn’t Colin!

    • So sorry I got your name wrong! Fixed now. Very embarrassed as I love your site!

      We were told that the church had changed denomination (Episcopal->Presbyterian->Catholic), but it seems to have done so before McGonagall was there. I wish I’d taken better notes!

      • Actually I’m wondering whether I got the right end of the stick about him attending, or whether it was just ‘this was there when he was’. Will check if and when I go on another tour with the same tour guide!

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