Jimcat Channels the Spirit of McGonagall

If William McGonagall had been alive in the 1990's, he might have written something like this…

This poem had its origins in late 1992, on the newsgroups rec.arts.books and rec.arts.poems. Heather Henderson kicked off the discussion by expressing her appreciation for the works of William McGonagall, perhaps the best bad poet in the history of the English language. Several other people, including John McCarthy of Stanford University, responded by speculating as to what made McGonagall's "bad" poetry so good. No one was able to define its quality precisely, but we all agreed that his works transcended mere badness. McCarthy speculated that if the poetry were "purely and simply bad", then one should be able to make up a few stanzas of fake McGonagall that would be indistinguishable from the original.

No one took McCarthy up on his original offer, but a few weeks later, another opportunity presented itself. After Maya Angelou's reading of her poem "On the Pulse of the Morning" at the inauguration of President Clinton, McCarthy offered up a prize. He would give $25.00 to the person who could best write an inaugural poem for Clinton in the style of McGonagall.

This, I felt, was a challenge worthy of being met, and so I composed the poem below. I was one of only two people to submit entries to McCarthy's "contest", and mine was judged the better of the two. McCarthy sent the check to me, with a note saying that the people who judged the poems (actually fellow rec.arts.books participants at a dinner gathering in California) felt that I had done a good job of capturing the spirit of the original author. I spent the money on a sushi dinner with some East Coast rec.arts.books folks, and took some ironic pride in occasionally referring to myself as a "winner of the coveted McCarthy Prize".


All hail! Give a cheer for President Bill, 
Who was elected in November amidst much fanfare and thrill, 
For not only had he to vie with President Bush for the vote, 
But also the independent candidate H. Ross Perot. 
But the plurality did choose this governor named Bill, 
And now he resides in the White House, near Capitol Hill. 

Our new President faces many great challenges ahead, 
Which might fill the heart of a lesser man with dread. 
So let us hope that our President named Bill 
Is gifted with great courage and an iron force of will. 

Our nation's great deficit he must endeavor to reduce, 
And for our military-industrial complex find a new, peaceful use. 
The American people have demanded a plan for health care, 
So that if they fall ill, their pockets shall not be stripped bare. 
He must battle our cities' problems of crime, poverty and disease, 
To avoid further riots like those in Los Angeles. 
With controversial issues such as abortion he must now contend, 
And convincing the military that homosexuals are qualified, this nation to defend. 
Each and every one of these issues, and no doubt more, will 
Prove a test of the mettle of our President Bill. 

And foreign issues as well he must not neglect, 
For the United States' allies he must from aggression protect, 
And assure that the world's new democracies do not fail, 
Lest the evils of Communism once more over them prevail. 
The mad plans of Saddam Hussein he must find a way to stop, 
And bring food to Somalia, which produces nary a crop. 
In Bosnia and Kurdistan he must avert genocide, 
And deal with refugees from Haiti or restore to power Aristide. 
The expectations of the world may prove hard indeed to fulfill, 
Without strength and perseverance on the part of President Bill. 

So let us all give our best wishes to President Bill, 
And wish him luck in the White House and on Capitol Hill, 
For he has been chosen for the next four years, our nation to lead, 
And set an example to all in word and in deed. 
And while he holds the Presidency, let him never forget, 
That we live in a Democracy, which we do not regret, 
For if he fails in these four years, our wishes to fulfill, 
Then in nineteen-ninety-six we shall elect someone other than Bill.

For what it's worth, this is so far the only piece of creative writing for which I've ever received payment.

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