Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Epic (Fail) Poetry


Awhile back there was a thing going around the blogosphere where bloggers challenged each other to post their absolute worst, sappiest, most emotionally overwrought teenage poetry.  I thought:

a) Great idea for a blog entry! Love reading other people’s bad old poems.

b) I should do this myself … but do I really want to unearth the old file of poems from the box in the basement? And can I stand the shame?

So I let the opportunity pass by, until today, when I had occasion to go find that old file of poems (which, after I ripped apart the box in the basement, turned out to be in the file drawer next to my desk). There was horrendously stiff competition for Worst Teenage Poem, but here’s the one I selected for its all-round specialness…

Was there ever a day like this day

With the blue sky all aglow?

Was there ever a song like your song?

Because you’re free, you know.


At least it feels like freedom,

But you never can tell from the start,

For the path that leads to sorrow,

May lead straight from your heart.


But never mind, that’s tomorrow,

And today is here, so live!

With all that the world can give you,

And all that you can give.

(There’s more … if you dare…)

But freedom can never be freedom

Till something takes the place,

Of the master you once bowed to —

‘Tis the fate of the human race.


I can’t say love’s the answer,

And I can’t say it is not

But take what the world can give you,

And give of what you’ve got.


And love can be your master,

And love can set you free,

So hark to the singing about you,

From the other fools, like me.


And don’t look down, look upwards,

It never has to end,

For freedom can be your partner,

And love your dearest friend.

Obviously I selected, not a poem full of sappy teenaged angst (although there were several of those) but something far worse, and typical of my writing style: a poem of Moralizing Uplift.  A scrawled note on the top of the page suggests this was a poem written for a friend who was going through a hard time (probably a bad breakup).  Gotta love the “‘Tis” and the “hark” in there too — the full-on Arcane Poetic Language.

It’s not that I didn’t succumb to angst and despair myself on occasion.  Another particularly horrendous piece in the same spiral-bound exercise book begins: “The days is long/And the nights is cold/And it ain’t easy, none of it.” (Welcome to my Langston Hughes phase).  But I was fatally unable to resist the lure of Learning a Lesson, of tucking a little nugget of moral uplift into every slice of anguish. 

I was a terrible teenaged poet; I must have been an insufferable teenaged human being. To any of my lifelong friends who are still friends enough to be reading this: I apologize.  Sincerely.  Thank you for putting up with me.

Reading through a file of old poems is a hysterically funny and sometimes just hysterical endeavour.  I was looking for something specific, of course, a couple of poems I’d written for a friend of mine (not the one with the bad breakup).  I found those, and several others addressed to the same person which I had completely forgotten ever writing.  I discovered I could chart my way through my biography of bad boyfriends and failed relationships using poems alone.  I noticed that some relationships inspired reams of poetry while others left me speechless.

I was most mystified by a poem whose title bore the notation: (for Stephen).  Reading the content of the poem didn’t enlighten me at all.  I have never dated, liked, had a crush on, or been particularly close friends with a man named Stephen … as far as I know.  I can only hope that “Stephen” was a pseudonym for the true subject of the poem, because I would hate to think there was once someone in my life named Stephen who was important enough for me to write a poem about, yet of whom I have absolutely no recollection.

(It’s important to label poems, and accurately.  In another collection, a notebook my friend Sherry and I used to pass back and forth in high school, I wrote a touching poem about a love I’d never forget.  In the margin, also in my handwriting but written a few years later, is a note to Sherry: “Do you have any idea who this was about???”)

It’s interesting to note that up till about 1991 I seemed to take poetry quite seriously — not only writing and keeping it, but making several efforts to collect, comment upon, and even illustrate what I’d written so far.  And then — it just stops. There’s not one poem in the folder dated later than 1991.  Did I finally realize I was no good at this? Did I simply not need that emotional outlet anymore? It would never occur to me to try to express my feelings in poetic form today, yet prior to 1991 I was churning out sonnets, free verse, all sorts of things.  It’s not that I miss it, or that I think the world needs anymore of my poetry — I’m just curious as to why I suddenly stopped.

Going through old poetry teaches those of us who write and keep such things that heartbreaks that seem eternal at the time are actually fleeting. Time really does heal a lot of wounds.  On the flip side, it also shows that insights which seem profound and meaningful at the time will look trite in hindsight. Nothing remains, except old sheets of loose leaf torn from spiral-bound notebooks.


7 thoughts on “Epic (Fail) Poetry

  1. …I do remember a poem you wrote for me, based on “Till We Have Faces” that I thought was great (of course, I’m not the best judge of greatness in writing, but still…)

    “and the moon burns down on a naked tree
    as it always has before”

    I’m thinking I’m forgetting the last line already…and it was my favourite.

  2. I remember that poem, and I do believe it was for a bad break-up. 🙂 As for Stephen…could it be for Stephen Hobbs??!! hee-hee!

    By the way, Terry K. gave me a picture of Sheldon (be still my teenage heart), Barry, Lori, Penney and yourself.

  3. The Stephen poem…was it dated?

    I think it was a pseudonym for a younger, blond guy, who’s locker you dropped notes in. His first name began with P.

    I believe you used the pseudonym to hide his identity should the notebook, and said poem ever fall into the hands of two unscrupulous classmates. They tried to snatch it a few times. Does that ring a bell?

  4. Ah, old poems. I know the pain so well 😀

  5. FLG, glad you can relate!! Maybe you should post some of yours?? >:)

    Sherry, your Stephen Hobbs theory holds no water, but your second theory may have value. I am sure it was a pseudonym, and yes, I remember the great lengths we had to go to, to protect the notebook from enemy hands. But I think this poem might be from a later era. It’s hard to tell, but no great loss to literature if no-one ever sees it!!

    Jamie, I know the poem you mean. It may have been one of my better efforts, but I think you liked it better than I did! It’s still in the magical file folder of poetry … like everything else …

  6. I still have the epic poem you wrote about me and a fellow classmate. I think you would have been nineteen, so it qualifies for the…over-dramatic teen poetry. Have you ever found anything better to rhyme with lips…besides hips…

  7. Dear Friends, Happy April Fool’s Day!!

    An elderly widow and widower were dating for about five years. The man finally decided to ask her to marry. She immediately said “yes”.
    The next morning when he awoke, he couldn’t remember what her answer was! “Was she happy? I think so, wait, no, she looked at me funny…”
    After about an hour of trying to remember to no avail, he gave her a call. Embarrassed, he admitted that he didn’t remember her answer to the marriage proposal.
    “Oh,” she said, “I’m so glad you called. I remembered saying ‘yes’ to someone, but I couldn’t remember who it was.”

    Happy April Fool’s Day!

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