Angels surely must have wept when Shakespeare penned his immortal sonnets. But I wonder if they laughed or shook their celestial curls in disbelief when they read this:
A Juggler named Jake
There was a juggler named Jake,
Who everyone called a fake
He tossed in the air
Plates by the pair .
And down they did come and did break.
He went to a town called “Hoodit.”
And there he learned how to do it.
Not toss up the plates,
that he did break
But take the pieces and glue it.
This immortal piece of poetry was written by a young Amy Tan, who went on to become the bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, and The Bonesetter’s Daughter — and whose work has been translated into 35 languages.
Looking back, here’s what Amy had to say about her youthful doggerel: “Boy was I good at rhyming. It helped that my grammar was bad (“pieces” — “it”) and sometimes archaic (“And down they did come and did break”) and that there happened to be a town named Hoodit. Juggling Jake is still in the slammer in the Hoodit county jail for selling damaged goods on eBay.”
This poem and author’s critique come to us compliments of a book called Drivel: Deliciously Bad Writing by Your Favorite Authors. The back-of-the book pitch proudly proclaims, “The writing in this book is so bad it deserves its own taxonomy of suckitude….Thanks to these courageous but foolhardy writers, the world now knows the real meaning of a work in progress.”
Luckily, I didn’t pay for all this lousy poetry and prose — it was a freebie: I found Drivel tucked in a “goody bag I received at a publishing conference, where it was presumably given to attendees to make them feel better about their own writing. Believe me it did! Scanning its pages and laughing out loud reminded me of some successful author who once said that reading other people’s bad writing early in his career was a huge incentive because he realized that if their dollops of drek could get into print, then he definitely had a shot at getting published.
At one point, I thought of donating Drivel to the College Women’s Book Club, but I’ve decided to keep it. Whenever I’m feeling low, I figure I can pull it out and get a shot of adrenalin from perusing its pages. Or maybe I’ll start a KWD lending library. All of which goes to say that even successful writers have really, really bad days. Heartened and emboldened by this, let’s all write on!