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2016 Convention Stories

Good Poetry takes Practice, Bad Poetry takes Effort: How/Why I botched the Bad Poetry Night

Caroline CaoCaroline Cao
Convention Story Contest—3rd Place Winner
Epsilon Phi Chapter
University of Houston, Houston, TX

I arrived as a virgin to the Bad Poetry artform at the Sigma Tau Delta 2016 International Convention in Minneapolis. When I spied "Bad Poetry Night" on the schedule, I wondered how bad poetry existed. For me, there was good poetry and rough drafts of good poetry.

I tried it out that Tuesday night. This was my act: Intro and then "Hi, bye." Nothing else was planned out. Nothing written out, other than intro notes on my iPhone. Thought I could wing it.

I tapped my foot, stared blankly at the audience. My original plan was to prolong the act, let them drink the joke of me standing around in awkward silence. Maybe it was nerves. Despite opportunity to improvise further, I left the podium earlier than planned.

I think I got the least boos (which equals applause in this occasion).Story Picture

It took watching the slew of unorthodox performances to further comprehend the full benefits of Bad Poetry. Poets exploited boundless possibilities for the emancipation of word play, crudeness, and comedic timing to provoke reactive cheers and boos. One poet, with a shrewd combo of Danish and English, ended on this translation: "I'm apologizing for killing your parents" which stimulated ohhhhhhs. Dana Ecklestein sang a song—with her own ukulele—with lyrics that called Sigma Tau Delta by the initials of "S.T.D." (and because of Ecklestein's influence, let me address Sigma Tau Delta as S.T.D. from now on).

A candid hotel roommate divulged to me, as we do in the S.T.D. English-majors circle of constructive criticism, "I liked the direction you were going. But I think your nervousness took over."

Diagnose me with Humility Complex. But I know one thing: I wish I felt like I gave it my best shot. I could have been better. Natural open-mic aftermath reaction.

Yes, I'm being self-depreciating, but that's all in good humor. Point was, S.T.D. taught me. My perceived screw-up is not a tragedy but a step forward.

Those who did S.T.D. Bad Poetry Night, the veteran poetry readers, these Obi-Wan mentors, showed me. I might redeem myself on the podium at the 2017 St. Louis Convention with a shoddier poem (with substance and technique) that transcends "Hi/Bye."

By daring to apply the "bad artform," S.T.D. empowers the unorthodox. Bad Poetry night is all about being both liberated and on target. The teachings of S.T.D. are contagious.