Saturday, October 07, 2006

More divine inspiration

The Catholic poetry smackdown

It was a long time coming, but at last I have found a real competitor for “Theresa” of Catholic Radio, whose poem The hardest choice seemed sure to reign unchallenged as the worst doggerel of modern times. I am clearly lacking in imagination, because Daniel in the Lion's Lair is more than equal to the task. With an evident tip of the hat to former U.S. attorney general and singing sensation John Ashcroft, Daniel calls his poem Where Eagles Soar. Brace yourselves:
Where Eagles Soar

Where eagles soar 'midst bill'wing cloud,
O'er canyons deep 'neath sheerest cliff,
Though airs be chill, though winds blow stiff,
“Excelsior,” their battle cry, rings proud.

Where eagles soar t'wards cosmic stars,
Not cow'ring from nor doubting life,
Their winged path is fraught with strife
and every freedom earned with scars.

Where eagles soar, blotting orbed sun,
Such brief ordinance do they obey
As blind Justice in scales doth weigh,
“Live free. Seek peace. Fear but The One.”

Where eagles soar to pierce clear skies
On paths no craven e'er can see,
Bright goal of glorious destiny
Not base defeat before them lies.

Where eagles soar 'neath vaults of azure,
Clutching olive's branch, arrow's sheaf,
Tasting naught of guilt nor grief.
To “Life” not “Death” their wings perdure,
Brave cry remains, “Excelsior!”
Daniel's composition bears all of the stigmata of earnestly conceived poetry: a rhyming scheme (ABBA, in this case—at least until the last line—because poetry must rhyme, you know), mysteriously missing letters (marked by a generous sprinkling of apostrophes—you can't go wrong in poetry if you leave out lots of letters), and some obscure vocabulary (tell the truth: Have you ever used “perdure” outside of poetry?). No doubt, this is a poem. It is too bad, however, that Daniel missed a sure bet by forgetting to place the accent mark that turns “winged” and “orbed” into two-syllable words; surely “wingèd” and “orbèd” are the way to go. (Would the extra syllables throw off his painstakingly constructed rhythmic scheme? Oh, please!)

Daniel says it's dedicated to anti-abortion activist Judie Brown (the political lobbyist who heads up the American Life League) and John Paul II. For some reason, Daniel left out Mother Teresa, which is probably a sin of omission.

If Daniel would like some positive strokes for Where Eagles Soar, he should call up Barbara McGuigan on EWTN's Open Line talk show. She will heap unstinting praise on him if he reads it to her (after all, she loved The hardest choice), especially if he mentions it's supposed to be pro-life and anti-abortion. Intention counts for a lot more than talent or execution. He'll be a Catholic Radio star! (Assuming that God doesn't throw Barbara off the air again.)


Anonymous said...


That's really, really, really bad.

Lifewish said...

I confess to having no idea what constitutes good poetry, and hence no way of judging what makes this doggerel. In particular, Paradise Lost (which I'm reading in a vain attempt to sensitise myself) bears two out of three of the hallmarks you mention. What's the context here that I'm lacking?

Zeno said...

I think I can answer part of your question, lifewish, although it should be kept in mind that I'm a mere dilettante here (a math teacher posing as a poetry critic). A rigid rhyme scheme is not incompatible with modern poetry, but it seems that bad poetry always insists on one. The elisions of syllables in this poem are arbitary, with neither rhyme (please forgive me) nor reason. Rather, it's an affectation, just because the writer has seen other poetry where the poet found it necessary to use "o'er" or "e'er" (or something similar) to fit a metric scheme. Here it's mostly being used for the sake of being used. Daniel writes "perdure" (to endure, or last) because it fits his rhyme scheme, but just how do wings "perdure to Life"? It's an awkward and artificial construction. And how did "doth" get in there?

Like Justice Potter Stewart, who said he knew pornography when he saw it, I'm pretty sure I can tell really bad poetry when I see it. A more qualified person may well catch me out, but it won't be for Daniel's well-intentioned mess.

Maybe my English major buddy will check in and give us the benefit of his own observations, provided that Where Eagles Soar doesn't cause him to gouge his eyes out.