Lecture on Mark Twain’s eager criticism of ‘bad’ poetry kicks off the Trouble Begins Lecture Series

“Guilty Pleasure Editing: Mark Twain’s Marginalia of ‘Bad’ Poetry”

Lisa McGunigal, Hope College

“The exquisitely bad is as satisfying to the soul as the exquisitely good—only the mediocre is unendurable”

Mark Twain, Notebook 39, 1896
“The Last Meeting and Final Parting”
Sketch drawn by Mark Twain in 1890 that accompanied one of his poems

Considered a satirist, travel writer, and lecturer, Twain was rarely presented as a poet or appreciator of poetry to the public during his life—and still today many people assume an antagonistic relationship between Twain and verse. In fact, Twain penned 120 poems (the bulk being of a humorous nature) and was an avid reader and performer of Robert Browning’s works. Additionally, Twain was clearly familiar with the popular poets of his era as he frequently parodied them within his novels. This lecture will discuss how Twain enjoyed not only reading bad poetry but also writing marginalia within his personal poetry collection—often consisting of snarky remarks criticizing the sentimental tone or rhyming structure— illustrating his active investment in altering and questioning the text as an enjoyable activity. In fact, Twain solicited editions of bad poetry from his friends and admirers with the expressed purpose to criticize them, and several of these copies are held today by the Elmira College Mark Twain Archive.

Lisa McGunigal is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Hope College. Her research examines the intersection of performance studies and nineteenth-century American literary realism, focusing on how authors adopted and adapted strategies from performance sites in their novels to interrogate societal attitudes about race, class, and gender. She was a 2019 Quarry Farm Fellow, and her work has appeared in several journals including the Mark Twain Annual and American Literary Realism. Lisa received her B.A. from the University of Rhode Island, M.A. from the University of Virginia, and Ph.D. from the Pennsylvania State University.

Professor McGunigal’s lecture can be found HERE. Lecture images can be found HERE.

Spring Virtual ‘Trouble Begins’ Lecture Begins May 13

The spring portion of the 2019-2020 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, begins on Wednesday, May 13.  All four lectures are free and available to the public on marktwainstudies.org.

“The Last Meeting and Final Parting”
Sketch drawn by Mark Twain in 1890 that accompanied one of his poems

The first lecture, “Guilty Pleasure Editing: Mark Twain’s Marginalia of ‘Bad’ Poetry,” will be presented by Lisa McGunigal of Hope College. Considered a satirist, travel writer, and lecturer, Twain was rarely presented as a poet or appreciator of poetry to the public during his life—and still today many people assume an antagonistic relationship between Twain and verse. In fact, Twain penned 120 poems (the bulk being of a humorous nature) and was an avid reader and performer of Robert Browning’s works. Additionally, Twain was clearly familiar with the popular poets of his era as he frequently parodied them within his novels. This lecture will discuss how Twain enjoyed not only reading bad poetry but also writing marginalia within his personal poetry collection—often consisting of snarky remarks criticizing the sentimental tone or rhyming structure— illustrating his active investment in altering and questioning the text as an enjoyable activity. In fact, Twain solicited editions of bad poetry from his friends and admirers with the expressed purpose to criticize them, and several of these copies are held today by the Elmira College Mark Twain Archive.

McGunigal is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Hope College. Her research examines the intersection of performance studies and nineteenth-century American literary realism, focusing on how authors adopted and adapted strategies from performance sites in their novels to interrogate societal attitudes about race, class, and gender. She was a 2019 Quarry Farm Fellow, and her work has appeared in several journals including the Mark Twain Annual and American Literary Realism. Lisa received her B.A. from the University of Rhode Island, M.A. from the University of Virginia, and Ph.D. from the Pennsylvania State University.

About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series – In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series.  The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public.