December 1 – The Birthday of a Poetaster

Posted on December 1, 2018

This is a curious "famous" birthday:

On this date in 1847, Julia Ann Moore was born. Her claim to fame was that she wrote bad poetry.

I mean, a LOT of us write bad poetry. It doesn't seem that special, does it?

But Moore's poetry was published and publicly ridiculed. That doesn't happen to most people who write bad poetry - mine never sees the light of day!

Why was it bad?

Poor Julia Moore had to take over her mother's responsibilities at age 10, because her mother fell ill. She didn't have much education. She lived at a time when many more people die young than we experience today, and she wrote sentimental poems about people she knew who died; once she ran out of personal stories, she would write poetry about disasters and deaths reported in the newspaper!

Sounds awful, right?...Apparently it was pretty bad.

Why was it published?

"Obituary poetry" was popular in the U.S. for a while - although Moore's poems were offered as its popularity was dwindling down. But the main reason it became known was that a publisher decided to publish it and promote it to newspapers across the country with a cover letter that seemed to be full of praise but was actually mocking.
Many reviewers jumped onto this idea and wrote their own gently ridiculing reviews of Moore's poetry.

And the book of poetry became a best seller! I think it's safe to say that most people were curious about this widely-discussed, widely-mocked volume of verse. When Moore's second book of poetry was published, few people bought it.

Jeers, not cheers...

Moore had a reading of her poetry at a Grand Rapids opera house. She apparently sang some of the poems, with an orchestra accompanying her. Pretty grand stuff for a bad poet, right?

There was lots of jeering from the audience. Moore seemed to think that they were complaining about the orchestra. After all, so many people had written praise about her poems.... right?

A laughing audience
in an earlier era.
Laughter can be a good
thing. But not always!
Well, there was a second public reading at the same opera house. And there were even more jeers, louder jeers, and no cheers. Moore got it this time: They were laughing at her. I am not sure, but it may be that she finally realized that all those praise-filled reviews had been ironic.

Did she slink off stage in embarrassment?

No! Instead, she said this at the end of the show: "You have come here and paid twenty-five cents to see a fool; I receive seventy-five dollars, and see a whole houseful of fools."

(The $75 Moore received would be the rough equivalent of $1,400 now.)

But after that in-your-face statement, Moore DID slink away from the public limelight. She and her husband moved away to a smaller town, and he ran an orchard and a sawmill, and she ran a store. (Somewhere in there she also had 10 kids!!!) 

Julia and her husband moved from Grand Rapids, Michigan,
to Manton, Michigan (above).
The people of Manton knew about Moore's bad poetry, but they were respectful and even protective, whenever reporters came to town to write a "whatever happened to..." story. Both of the Moores' businesses were successful.

Now, what's with that poetaster bit?

One of the interesting things I learned while writing about Julia Ann Moore was that there is a word for a writer of bad poetry: a poetaster. I am not sure if that word was a combination of poet and disaster, or what, but it was coined in Latin way back in the early 1500s!

Other words for a not-very-accomplished poet are rhymester and versifier. Good to know!

Bad poetry is celebrated on Bad Poetry Day.

Also on this date:

National Holiday in Romania

(First Saturday of December)

(First Saturday of December)

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