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GUEST COLUMN: Puns are bad enough, truly bad poetry is even verse

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Norma West Linder

The Lawrence House at the corner of Wellington and Christina Streets was built in 1892 by lumber baron William F. Lawrence. It is now a Centre for the Arts, and the Turret Room in its upper floor provides just the right ambience for poetry readings.

Norma West Linder

Bunny Iskov, editor of the bi-annual publication T.O.P.S. (The Ontario Poetry Society) changed the newsletter’s name to Verse Afire quite some time ago because it offers much more than members’ poems. The organization has seen the membership jump from 50 to more than four times that number.

At T.O.P.S. she edits a publication that now includes book reviews, members’ news, contests, the occasional “In Memoriam,” and sometimes a special recipe on the back page. Sarnians have always been well represented. Issues contain work by Debbie Okun Hill, Joseph Farina, Lynn Tait, the late Carmen Ziolkowski, the late Adele Kearns Thomas, the late Peggy Fletcher, and yours truly.

Those of us endeavouring to write good poems are often inordinately amused by bad ones. I suppose it’s something like laughing in church.

When the late Marceil Saddy owned The Sarnia Gazette in the ‘60s, several of us got together and sent him an avalanche of terrible poems. I suspect he was wise to our little joke, for he printed some of them in his paper under the heading: The Worst Poems (So Far) of 1968, adding, “Read them and weep and you’ll know why the Editor has greying hair.”

One of the late Peggy Fletcher’s opuses—Ode to My adopted City—ended with the words: won’t you open your hearts/ to a homesick barefoot boy/from Aberarder/ There is a lost and lonely stranger/among you who has written/with tears from a leaky pen.

My own contribution went something like this: The jewel of Ontario is Arkona/I haven’t left it yet and I’m not gonna/for the skies are bluer there/and the folks wear shorter hair/and there aint no hippies there/in Arkona.

Sometimes it’s necessary to be extremely diplomatic in criticizing poetic works. Louis XIV once asked French satirist and critic Nicolas Boileau (1636-1711) for his opinion of several poems that he had composed. Distinctly unimpressed with the King’s poetry, Boileau, an honest man, was in a tight spot. Finally, he came up with the answer: “Sire, nothing is impossible for Your Majesty. Your Majesty has set out to write bad verses—and has succeeded!”

The Lawrence House, however, may be the setting for some very good poetry when T.O.P.S. members are once again able to read there.

Norma West Linder is an internationally published poet and novelist in Sarnia

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