Saturday, May 17, 2008

The William Hung of his time?

You might remember William Hung, who rode one of the worst American Idol auditions to that bizarre sort of fame that the world confers on spectacular failures these days.

Well, today's Wall Street Journal has one of those unexpected good reads that are so fun to find. The tone seems just right for the subject matter, and he makes use of a pretty good quote. Here's the beginning of Alistair Macdonald's story:

EDINBURGH, Scotland -- Like many poets, William Topaz McGonagall struggled for his art. Against all odds, and despite evidence to the contrary, the former weaver spent more than two decades in the late 19th century trying to prove he was a literary genius. His recitals attracted crowds that came to mock, heckle and throw rotten fruit at the man who was known as the world's worst poet.

On Friday, though, at an auction house here in his birthplace, Mr. McGonagall was having the last laugh. In a tangible expression of how his work has come to be valued since his death as a pauper in 1902, an anonymous buyer paid £6,600 (or $13,200) for 35 broadsheets of his original poems -- a large chunk of Mr. McGonagall's oeuvre of about 200 works. The price put him in a league with some of Britain's most famous authors. It was $1,200 more than was bid at the same auction for a collection of Harry Potter first editions signed by J.K. Rowling -- and much more than a set of first editions of Sir Walter Scott, a wildly popular writer during Mr. McGonagall's time.

"Despite his ability to massacre poetic metaphor, his taste for banality, a weak vocabulary and his tortuous rhymes, his popularity has outlived many of his then-respected contemporaries," said Alex Dove, a specialist in books at Lyon & Turnbull, where the auction was held.

The auction reflects the unique brand of celebrity that has fallen upon Mr. McGonagall.

For the rest of the story, Google the poet's name and click on the WSJ story. Otherwise you get caught up in the WSJ's "you must subscribe to get the rest of the story" pitch.