The terrible stress of the holidays — all that expense, all that synthetic cheer, all that strain of pretending to like your relations and co-workers — takes its toll. Let’s relieve a little of the pressure of that relentless jollity with a little contest.
What’s the worst writing you ever read?
Now wait — before you spring at me with extracts from the work of William McGonagall* or Julia A. Moore, the Sweet Singer of Michigan, or from your counsin’s child’s fifth-grade book report or the latest memo on health care benefits from your human resources department, or the latest winners of the Bulwer-Lytton contest, we’re going to set a couple of rules.
(1) It must be published writing.
(2) It must be of some literary standing, not the work of a misguided amateur but rather that of a misguided professional.
(3) It must be limited to a single sentence or, for poetry, verse.
I’ll lead off with two of my own favorites.
From Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Nature”:
“I become a transparent eyeball. …”
From Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude:
At length upon the lone Chorasmian shore
He paused, a wide and melancholy waste
Of putrid marshes.
Have at it.
* Many years ago, I read “The Tay Bridge Disaster” to an unsuspecting radio audience in Upstate New York and since then can only return to the area heavily disguised.