December 1, 2010

Moore: Come all you friends and critics

Later nicknamed the "Sweet Singer of Michigan," Julia Ann Davis was born on December 1, 1847 in Plainfield, Michigan. In the 1870s, a decade at least one historian refers to as the "Dreadful Decade" in the United States, she married and became Julia Moore.

In her years throughout Michigan, she dabbled at writing poems and songs. She collected some of them into a book, The Sentimental Song Book, published as part of the country's centennial in 1876. After its first publication, a Cleveland-based publisher reissued it and sent copies to reviewers, noting that "it may divert the despondent from suicide." Some reviewers called it a masterpiece of American writing — with intended irony — while others ridiculed it. "Shakespeare, could he read it," wrote one, "would be glad that he was dead." Mark Twain was inspired to use the "Sweet Singer of Michigan" as the basis for his character Emmeline Grangerford (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). More recently, a "bad poetry contest" was named in her honor.

Mrs. Moore herself was apparently unaware that she was being mocked, making her bad poetry that much funnier. In an 1878 edition of her poems, she included 74 pages of praise for her previous book. Or, perhaps, the joke was on the reader. In her preface to that edition, she wrote, "although some of the newspapers speak against it, its sale has steadily progressed." One story, possibly apocryphal, is that she led a public reading, and a large audience turned out solely to mock her. Amid jeers, she said to them, "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."

From her poem, "To My Friends and Critics":

Come all you friends and critics,
     And listen to my song,
A word I will say to you,
     It will not take me long,
The people talks about me,
     They've nothing else to do
But to criticise their neighbors,
     And they have me now in view...

Perhaps you've read the papers
     Containing my interview;
I hope you kind good people
     Will not believe it true.
Some Editors of the papers
     They thought it would be wise
To write a column about me,
     So they filled it up with lies.

The papers have ridiculed me
     A year and a half or more.
Such slander as the interview
     I never read before.
Some reporters and editors
     Are versed in telling lies.
Others it seems are willing
     To let industry rise...

Dear Friends, I write for money,
     With a kind heart and hand,
I wish to make no Enemies
     Throughout my native land.
Kind friends, now I close my rhyme,
     And lay my pen aside,
Between me and my critics
     I leave you to decide.

*Some information from this post is from Essays On American Humor: Blair Through The Ages (1993), edited by Walter Blair and Hamlin Hill. You'll also find Julia Moore's poetry in the anthology The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse, edited by D. B. Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee.

1 comment:

  1. Some soar in the literary world because their work is awful; some lie on the bottom of the literary sea, their work a pearl obscure in the oyster.