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The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse (New York Review Books) [Paperback]

D.B. Wyndham Lewis , Charles Lee , Billy Collins
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 2003 New York Review Books
The editors of this legendary and hilarious anthology write: "It would seem at a hasty glance that to make an anthology of Bad Verse is on the whole a simple matter . . . On the contrary . . . Bad Verse has its canons, like Good Verse. There is bad Bad Verse and good Bad Verse. It has been the constant preoccupation of the compilers to include in this book chiefiy good Bad Verse." Here indeed one finds the best of the worst of the greatest poets of the English language, masterpieces of the maladroit by Dryden, Wordsworth, and Keats, among many others, together with an index ("Maiden, feathered, uncontrolled appetites of, 59;. . . Manure, adjudged a fit subject for the Muse, 91") that is itself an inspired work of folly.

Product details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: New York Review of Books (April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590170385
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590170380
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 12.6 x 20.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 419,518 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By DAVID BRYSON TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
This is not just a collection of any old bad verse. McGonagall for one is not represented. Nor are the forgotten poetasters ‘…the semi-literate, the nature-loving contributor to the county newspaper…the hearty but ill-equipped patriot, the pudibond but urgent Sapphos…’ to take a sample of the disregarded from the anthologists’ preface. The main qualifying factor for inclusion in The Stuffed Owl is solemnity. It may be that now and again Wyndham Lewis and Lee deviate slightly from this criterion, and I wonder whether in Boston churches they still sing
‘Ye monsters of the bubbling deep/Your Maker’s praises shout/Up from the sands, ye codlings, leap/And wag your tails about’
but a fairer sample of the ‘target’ style would be e.g. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s
‘Will you oftly/Murmur softly?’ or ‘Our Euripides the human/With his droppings of warm tears’; or Crabbe’s ‘Brother, there dwell, yon northern hill below,/Two favourite maidens, whom ‘tis good to know,/Young, but experienced’.
The very greatest can be found here at their less-than-greatest. The title of the book is itself a quotation from Wordsworth. Toweringly great poet though he was, he lacked, as everyone knows, any sense of the ridiculous whatsoever. He really did cite
‘…the umbrella spread/To weather-fend the Celtic herdsman’s head’ as an instance of spreading decadence. One inclusion that seems to me marginal is from Resolution and Independence, the celebrated question to the old leech-gatherer, betraying that William had not been listening to a word the old fellow said
‘My question eagerly did I renew/How is it that you live, and what is it you do?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars so bad it's good 12 April 2007
Format:Paperback
This is a classic anthology of bad poetry. Some examples are from classic authors like Milton and Tennyson, others are poets in deserved obscurity, specialising in such subjects as the manufacture of cider, dieting, and steam trains. a great bedside book to dip into.
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5.0 out of 5 stars essential reading 10 Jun 2011
By myart
Format:Paperback
superb classic for all discerning bookshelves. I have to admit a family interest in my great uncles work, but it is recognised as perhaps the best anthology of the period by renowned contemporary writers.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly witty treatment of bad verse 22 April 2009
Format:Paperback
A very tongue-in-the-cheek 'Anthology of Bad Verse', compiled, prefaced, hilariously annotated, sub-titled and indexed by D. B. Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee, includes a masterpiece of humorous indexing in its nine-page index. All entries are perfectly valid, some object-lessons in subject-headings for brevity and perception.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Criticise as some have done/Hitherto herebefore' 3 Sep 2003
By DAVID BRYSON - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is not just a collection of any old bad verse. McGonagall for one is not represented. Nor are the forgotten poetasters `...the semi-literate, the nature-loving contributor to the county newspaper...the hearty but ill-equipped patriot, the pudibond but urgent Sapphos...' to take a sample of the disregarded from the anthologists' preface. The main qualifying factor for inclusion in The Stuffed Owl is solemnity. It may be that now and again Wyndham Lewis and Lee deviate slightly from this criterion, and I wonder whether in Boston churches they still sing
`Ye monsters of the bubbling deep/Your Maker's praises shout/Up from the sands, ye codlings, leap/And wag your tails about'
but a fairer sample of the `target' style would be e.g. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's
`Will you oftly/Murmur softly?' or `Our Euripides the human/With his droppings of warm tears'; or Crabbe's `Brother, there dwell, yon northern hill below,/Two favourite maidens, whom `tis good to know,/Young, but experienced'.
The very greatest can be found here at their less-than-greatest. The title of the book is itself a quotation from Wordsworth. Toweringly great poet though he was, he lacked, as everyone knows, any sense of the ridiculous whatsoever. He really did cite
`...the umbrella spread/To weather-fend the Celtic herdsman's head' as an instance of spreading decadence. One inclusion that seems to me marginal is from Resolution and Independence, the celebrated question to the old leech-gatherer, betraying that William had not been listening to a word the old fellow said
`My question eagerly did I renew/How is it that you live, and what is it you do?' Say what you like, I still find nothing absurd in it and I still think this is one of his greatest poems. How this got into The Stuffed Owl is obvious - the whole scenario was more than Lewis Carroll could take, and it inspired him to perhaps the most hilarious parody (along with Housman's Fragment of a Greek Tragedy) I have ever read, the White Knight's tale of the aged aged man a-sitting on a gate.
The funniest things in the book are not so much the poems themselves as the commentaries. These are mainly the work of Wyndham Lewis and Lee, but there is some Olympian demolition by Macaulay of a certain Robert Montgomery (1807-1855) who specialised in obsequious piety. The anthologists themselves contribute a wonderful preface, the captions over the extracts, and, maybe best of all, the index. From this you can easily access, say, `Leeds, poetical aspects of'; or `Oysters, reason why they cannot be crossed in love'; or `Trains, rapture of catching'.
How they must have enjoyed doing it all! It appeals quite inordinately to my sense of humour, and perhaps it will to yours.
23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is indispensable! 24 Aug 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This collection is much more interesting *and* funny than a more recent anthology of bad poetry, because it draws so heavily on great poets--Wordsworth, Byron, Poe et al. Laughing at semiliterate amateurs is a cheap shot. The wonder is the follies of the talented, and Stuffed Owl displays these. The introductory matter and editorial comments are also brilliantly funny, and the index--yes, the index--is a scream. THIS TITLE SHOULD BE READILY AVAILABLE (publisher please note.)
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beef, death dealing 13 Oct 2005
By D. T. Boellstorff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is a gem. It's a little hard to read from cover to cover -- kind of like a box of bitter chocolate, you come back to it again and again. The index is the ultimate scream, though.
5.0 out of 5 stars Only the Best of Bad Verse 12 July 2007
By Libra - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
One of the first to recognize the "bounty of god-awful" verse out there, this anthology was initially published in 1930, on the cusp of poetic modernism. The editors find that bad poetry was merely tiresome before mid-seventeenth century, where the anthology begins. It ends with Tennyson, so as not to offend living poets, and only includes distinguished poets--those who have been rewarded with reverence or royalities by their contemporaries. The editors insist that bad poetry in their anthology be grammatical and innocent of the faults of craftsmanship. Poetasters are out. The inflated, flouncy diction of Victorian poetry is their special target. The title of the work gives a taste of what bathos it contains. Written by William Wordsworth, "The Stuffed Owl" of the title is a sonnet, whose subject is the sole object comforting the ailing Miss Jewsbury. The work is arranged chronologically by author with a subject index.
1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Owl is All Wise Atop the Bust. 10 Oct 2005
By Betty Burks - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
These poems were chosen from American and English Literature to signify the worst in a history of pratfalls as exhibited by some of the big names. "If you glance at History's pags, in all lands and eras known, you will find the buried ages far more wicked than our own; as you scan each word and letter you will realize it more, that the world today is better than it ever was before."

Poe's "Eulalie' was chosen: "I dwelt alone in a world to moan,

And my soul was a stagnant tide,

Till the fair and gentle Eulalie became my blushing bride --

Till the yellow-haired young Eulalie became my smiling bride."

Longfellow's 'Excelsior' goes thusly: "The shades of night were falling fast, as trough an Alpine village passed

A youth, who bore, 'mid snow and ice,

A banner with the strange device, Excelsior!

...

There in the twilight cold and grey, lifeless, but beautiful, he lay, And from the sky, serene and far, A voice fell, like a falling star, Excelsior!"

"Something to love, some tree or flow'r,

Something to nurse in my lonely bow'r,

Some dog to follow, where'er I roam,

Some bird to warble my welcome home,

Some tame gazelle, or some gentle dove:

Something to love, oh, something to love!

Some to love, oh, let me see!

Something that's filled with a love for me;

Beloved by none, it is sad to live,

And 'tis sad to die and leave none to grieve;

And fond and true let the lov'e one prove.

Something to love, oh, something to love!"

'A Lesson for the Proud'

"The scheme is tried; and shall it prosper too?

Yes; what can't steam and gold united do?

Near the commencement of Victoria's reign,

Both sea-chiefs started on th' Atlantic main;

While all the merchantmen they met and pass'd,

Long looks of wonder on the heroes cast;

Their proud, majestic march, their stately air,

Their god-like prowess, and their length of car,

Made gazers all, with great reluctance, see

Their own comparative nonentity."

Wordsworth wrote: "Yet, helped by Genius -- untired Comforter,

The presence even of a stuffed Owl for her can cheat the time." The Capricorn edition has eight cartoons from the works of Max Beerbohm. There is a subject index and an author index. A bit of nonsense, but D. B. Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee must have had fun chosing what they considered the worst of the lot. Of course, everyone has his own opinion and, what's bad for someone may be good to someone else and vice versa. That's what a reviewer if for, to cause another to think differently from what he might otherwise. But, of course, you must have an open mind.
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