Monday, April 14, 2008

Urban legends and bad poetry

A few summers ago, my son and I were each obsessed with starting an urban legend—we wanted the kind of infamy you can only get when people start forwarding something you have written so many times that you get it once and then again a few months later.

He taped two pie pans together, hung them from the clothesline, then drafted a story about the mysterious appearance of flying saucers over Maryland, which he put on his AOL space. No one seemed to forward it to anyone else, or at least we never got it back, so he mostly forgot about it.

Not wanting to write something that would terrorize gullible people and not wanting to lie outright, I had trouble writing the start of an urban legend. In the meantime, I decided that I could start one of those email questionnaires you’re supposed to bother all your friends with. It included such challenging (and now dated) questions as, “If you could date one of the men on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, who would it be?” A few friends politely (perhaps grudgingly) sent it back and that was the end of it.

Another summer came and suddenly the urge to be Internet legends overtook us. We heard about a contest ( Wergle Flomp ) to write the worst possible poem and submit it to one of the vanity poetry contests, like those perpetually found on

My son became “Joe Abstract” and I, ridiculously in hindsight, did not use a pseudonym. His poem consisted of the words that came out of a malfunctioning MSWord speech recognition program. ( has now, helpfully, added ad-links within his poem, so that if you click to rate his poem, when the poem reappears on a new page, the word “garden” links to an ad for the Biltmore Flower Festival.)

Within days, mail began to arrive for Joe Abstract and for me, congratulating us on our excellent poems, certifying us both as semi-finalists in their International Open Poetry Contest, presenting us each with an “Editor’s Choice Award,” and inviting us each to read at a poetry conference that also featured Ruben Stoddard and Tony Orlando. Another year we were invited to read our poems and party with Florence Henderson.

All this for a poem about flatulence with the hopeful title, “Beautiful Poem.” (If you’d like to read the poem in its awful entirety, see: Beautiful Poem. Be sure to rate it while you’re there.)

Sadly, neither of us was nominated for a Wergle Flomp, the prize we most keenly wanted.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

O. M. G. Beth, that was the WORST poem, I can't believe you didn't win the contest! I will google 'Joe Abstract.'