It’s a tradition - well younger than some, but nevertheless, a tradition - that every October, a modest group of (mostly former) Online Journalists gathers in the unpresumptuous hamlet of Englewood, Tennessee to celebrate the birthday of the gentleman who styles himself Eric SWG.
Within that tradition, there are nested other sub-traditions that are observed to a greater or lesser degree. Boudicca frequently puts together a dish of her irresistible ziti for Friday supper, and Eric will prepare a repast of country-style ribs (along with a few tenderloin beefsteaks) to feed the assembled multitude Saturday night. Saturday breakfast at the Tellico Junction Café is de rigueur (a term you will not hear uttered at the Tellico Junction Café, by the way.) Offerings of gin and single-malt Scotch whisky appear as if by magic. Depending on the roster of attendees, there may be an impromptu concert by the Elderly Brothers - Denny and Jimbo - sometimes with John Cox, Dax, and Eric joining in. There have also been front yard rocket launches and trips to the gun range.
Not all of these sub-traditions are honored in any given year, but there is one that is never neglected... even if it is sometimes delayed until most of the party-goers have departed. That, of course, is the Declamation of Fine Poetry, and Eric is a Past Master of the art.
Eric generally will focus on his personal favorites: Robert W. Service, Ogden Nash, and Robert Burns. But he is a versatile fellow, our Tennessee Renaissance Man, and sometimes he treats us to something extra special. This year did not disappoint, because Eric trotted out the works of a Poetic Artist with whom many Americans are blessèdly unfamiliar. That would be William Topaz McGonagall, a failed poet of the first water. Failed, indeed, for McGonagall’s chief claim to fame was that his poetry was so atrocious, so hilariously piss-poor, that well after his death his work (if it can be called that) continues to attract an audience of incredulous, yet amused, readers. Here’s a taste:
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.
These lines make up the conclusion of “The Tay Bridge Disaster,” a poem that formed a perverse sequel to McGonagall’s earlier celebration of that short-lived bridge’s completion, namely “The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay.” That was the poem our gracious host read to us, the last stragglers at the end of the Hysterics at Eric’s, 2014 edition... and it contained this eerily prescient stanza:
Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
I hope that God will protect all passengers
By night and by day,
And that no accident will befall them while crossing
The Bridge of the Silvery Tay,
For that would be most awful to be seen
Near by Dundee and the Magdalen Green.
Prescient... and laughable, another brick in the McGonagall edifice, one that contributed to his unique stature as possibly “the worst poet in the English language.” Which, by the bye, makes his style almost impossible to parody. But old Mister Elisson, he do love a challenge... so here goes:
Once a year, bloggers gather near Etowah
Some come from nearby places, others far
They ride in the airplane and in the car
To get to Englewood, which is near to Etowah.
Their host is a man who quotes poetry
And who lives near a very large dogwood tree
And who likes his single-malt Scotch whisky
Which puts him in the mood to quote poetry.
He reads the works of Service, McGonagall, and Nash,
And drives a car – Vivienne – which we hope he won’t crash
And his guests fill his kitchen with all kinds of trash
While they listen to him quoting Service and Nash.
His birthday is in the month of October,
And the bloggers who celebrate it rarely are sober
But they’re happy to have been invited over
To hang out together in the month of October.
So here’s to the Renaissance Man of Tennessee
Who next October will turn forty-three
He calls himself Eric the Ess Doubleyou Gee
And he lives near Etowah, Tennessee.
Yes, I know it sucks. It’s supposed to.