Poems by "World's Worst Poet" Fetch Hefty Sum at Auction

by Staff

Nineteenth-century poet William McGonagall, once dismissed as the world's worst, received posthumous compensation as a collection of thirty-five poems went for £6,600 (approximately thirteen thousand dollars) at auction last Friday in the poet's native Edinburgh, Scotland, BBC News reported. The sum beat out the approximately twelve thousand dollars paid for a set of Harry Potter first editions autographed by J. K. Rowling. (Rowling herself has given a nod to the poet, having named a principle Potter character Minerva McGonagall.) The poems, many of them signed by McGonagall, went to a private collector.

Having worked for most of his life as a handloom weaver at jute mills in Dundee, Scotland, McGonagall did not begin writing poetry until the age of forty-seven. Mocked by his contemporaries for his banal use of language, he wrote mainly on subjects of battles, catastrophes, and death, his most famous poem being an account of the 1879 Tay Bridge disaster. While his readings were known for prompting displays of ridicule and food throwing, the poet, who died in 1902, is now remembered as a comic figure who amused the community with his performances.

The poet is also receiving attention in Dundee, where an exhibition of thirty-six paintings illustrating his life and works is on display until June 9 at the city's Central Library. The paintings depict the poet taking on a variety of roles, including adversary to Adolf Hitler and lover of Marilyn Monroe.

"Dundee as a whole is very supportive of McGonagall now because we see him as the voice of the common man telling history as it was," said David Kett, who helped arrange the exhibit. Kett describes the paintings as a "very personal interpretation of an extraordinary life."