In honor of Susan Sontag, who introduced the logic of camp (something so bad that it's good) into the cultural discourse, may I propose a bad line contest? It is remarkable how many bad lines one encounters. Usually I let myself be guided by Frank O'Hara's advice: ignore it, and let it slip into oblivion, rather than call attention to a bad poem.
But sometimes a bad line is bad in a particularly exemplary way, and if that is the case the author of the bad line should not feel insulted, should feel even honored, to have produced sonething worthy of analysis dripped not with contempt but with. . .curiosity. For my first example, let me offer a stanza from a sonnet in the Italian by Louise Labe translated by Richard Sieburth in a recent New York Review of Books. Sieburth is an experienced and usually reliable translator, but this is how he renders the sonnet's second quatrain:
Love, your eyes drove through me like a blade,
Piercing my startled heart in one fell deed,
And there you settle down, there you feed,
But you alone can heal the wound you made.
My candidate for the week's worst line is "Piercing my startled heart in one fell deed." Remove the bogus words from the line and you are left with "My heart." (There is a splendid poem by Frank O'Hara entitled "My Heart," which I recommend instead.) Piercing, startled, one fell deed: Petrarch marries the oratory of Julus Caesar. The language is tired. feels old and literary and out of place. "Sonnet" concludes with the clause "I might as well be dead," and you can hear the cry of anguish as the poem asks to be put out of its misery.
Can you beat that? -- DL