The worst poets in print


Jot 101 dentologia

No doubt most Jottists will have their own candidates, some of whom might be a few contemporary ‘poets ‘who have paid to have their own work  published by ‘ vanity presses ‘.However, here are some of the lesser known versifiers out of the ten  chosen by publisher Nicholas Parsons in his Book of Literary Lists. The divine Amanda McKittrick Ros, arguably the worst poet of all, has been dealt with in an earlier Jot, as has Patience Strong.


Julia A. Moore (1847 – 1920).


Not the best-known of bad poets, but a sure candidate nonetheless. Moore was, according to Parsons, ‘ by general consent the worst American poetess and perhaps the worst in English.’ Mark Twain satirised her in Huckleberry Finn as ‘ Emmeline Grangerford. Twain declared that her debut volume , The Sweet Singer of Michigan Salutes the Public  gave him joy for twenty years. One of these little gems was entitled ‘ Byron: A Critical Survey’.


‘Lord Byron;’ was an Englishman

A poet I believe

His first works in old England

Was poorly received.

Perhaps it was ‘Lord Byron’s ‘fault

And perhaps it was not.


Moore seemed to specialise in gruesome deaths. Referring to her debut, one critic, Bill Nye, ‘counted twenty-one killed and nine wounded in the small volume she has given to the public’.

Here is one of them:


While eating dinner this dear little child

Was choked on a piece of beef

Doctors came, tried their skill awhile

But none could give relief…

Her friends and schoolmates will not forget

Little Libbie that is no more;

She is waiting on the shining step

To welcome home friends once more.


Frederick J. Johnston-Smith ( nineteenth century)


A new name for me, but well chosen by Parsons, who called him ‘a master of the inappropriate image and the unfortunate use of colloquialism‘.  He was celebrated in Squire’s essay, ‘ The Beauty of Badness’ . Here is a couplet from ‘The Captain of the Dolphin’.


A balminess the darkened hours had brought him from out the South

Each breaker doffed its cap of white and shut its blatant mouth.


The same ‘poet‘ came up with this:


Reluctant I leave, like a lover who goes

From the side of the maid of his choice

By whom he is held with a cord actuose

Spun out of her beauty and voice.



Solyman Brown (1790-1876 )


In his Dentologia, a Poem on the Diseases of the Teeth(New York 1833) Brown supplies footnotes that turn out to be useful advice on dental hygiene. He also attaches an appendix listing 300 qualified dentists practising in the USA. In his time Brown was one of the most respected figures in dentistry circles and is now regarded as a key figure in the history of the profession. Dentologiacomes up occasionally for sale. Currently on abebooks there are two copies, one at £600 and the other at over £1,000. [Illustration above]


Richard Le Gallienne (1866 – 1947)


Perhaps better known for his prose writings, this fin de sieclewriter, rather cruelly dubbed ‘Wilde-with-water’, wrote over-ripe ‘ aesthetic ‘ verse, such as the following passage from ‘ Beauty Accurst’.


I am so fair that whereso’er I wend

Men yearn with strange desire to kiss my face,

Stretch out their hands to touch me as I pass

And women follow me from place to place.




Lo! when I walk along the woodland way

Strange creatures leer at me with uncouth love,

And from the grass reach upward to my breast,

And to my mouth lean from the boughs above


The sleepy kine move round me in desire

And press their oozy lips upon my hair,

Toads kiss my feet and creatures of the mire

The snails will leave their shells to watch me there.


Reverend Doctor E. E. Bradford ( 1860 – 1944  )


This gay Scottish cleric, who spent much of his life in the Fenland parish of Nordelph, near Downham Market, became a minor cult figure among the cognoscenti of Uranian writings following his debut. In one ‘powerfully didactic‘ poem, according to Parsons, Bradford describes two boys whose naked forms adorn the seashore. The one is ‘bright haired with beryl-coloured eyes’ whose slender naked form’ lies ‘bleak and bare;’ the other is distinctly earthy:


Close by his side a lusty lad lay prone

With brawny back, broad loins and swelling thighs

All dimpled o’er with muscle, thew and bone:

His curly head half-raised was turned slantwise

Propt on one arm, to let his thoughtful eyes

Drinking the radiant beauty of the boy

Who, though his gaze was fixed upon the skies,

Perceived and thrilled with shy and modest joy—

The bliss of friendship pure—a bliss without alloy.


Parsons call Bradford a ‘delightful poet ‘, bit not a good one. Nevertheless, his slim volumes are highly sought after, with some titles priced at over £250.






4 thoughts on “The worst poets in print

  1. Rawdon Crawley

    “If you call le Gallienne a minor poet you might just as well call a street-lamp a minor planet.”

  2. Rawdon Crawley

    Sorry – I missed out the source. It was either A.E. Housman or Sir Edward Marsh who said that.

  3. Tim Garden

    Lemn sissy is the worst published poet in England today. Try ‘invisible kisses’ just for starters. There’s a reason why he’s had NINE books of the stuff out & not one single poetry prize


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