Brand building through storytelling

Brilliantly bad prose: a celebration long overdue

All my life I have laboured to write well.Sometimes my own words make me smile with pride; more often, I know I’ve fallen short. I haven’t said what I meant to say. Or I’ve resorted to the personal cliches that entrap all wordsmiths now and then (even those of us who’d sooner put our dictionaries through the shredder than sully our prose with anything so hackneyed as “yes, Virginia” or “when push comes to shove”).

Perhaps I’ve been trying too hard. I’ve just realized I may never write a sentence as memorable as a whole flight of transcendently bad sentences that appeared in Foster’s Daily Democrat of Dover, N.H. (the local paper of my youth) back in 1972 and have resonated in my mind ever since. A convention of English teachers could have sharpened their red pencils all day on the gaffes committed by one Clem Wyman while reviewing an amateur theatrical production,

I suspect Clem may have written his chef d’oeuvre with a bottle of rye and a thesaurus close at hand. I screamed with delight when I first read the piece—and so have the other discriminating readers with whom I’ve shared the clipping while it yellowed and tore at the edges. But although I didn’t know it back then, I was always laughing with him, not at him, if you’ll excuse the cliche (it’s late and I’m hungry). In a way, I envy the guy. Because to write this badly takes nerve, swagger and a kind of reckless, boundary-pushing brilliance that tends to escape fuss-budgety writers like me.

On every visit home to New Hampshire, I’d check Foster’s to see what Clem was up to. But some killjoy must have sicced the editors on him. As far as I know, he never again produced anything to equal the piece that won my heart, “Hackmatack Playhouse Premieres.”.

I tried to keep his review in the top drawer of my desk, although it sometimes migrated elsewhere as if powered by its own exuberance. When I needed a lift, I’d ask my husband, “Where’s Hackmatack?” I suppose I could have turned to an acknowledged literary treasure like “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” but it seems that every Irishman can recite “Innisfree” after knocking back a few pints, and “Hackmatack” is my own discovery.

During one of our moves, it vanished. I ached for my lost talisman, cursed myself for supposedly tossing it out with the garbage. Last week, to my joy, it reappeared. My husband found it in a box that, ironically, I’d wanted to pitch on our latest move. Out of gratitude to the word gods (and of course to my husband for resisting my urge to de-clutter), I’m sharing an abridged version here. I’ve preserved the original typos, maybe adding a few of my own. Take it away, Clem…


Berwick, Maine – Tin can stage light shades, a vaudeville musical accompaniment, great natural reactions, fine acting, excellent singing and the common denominator of an old barn brought both capacity audience and entertainers into an intrinsic, yet jocose unison to make last night’s premier of the Hackmatack Playhouse a smashing success.

But beyond the exhaustion of the vaudeville, the intimacy, and the supperb amateur talent and vocalization, perhaps Palyhouse Director S. Carlton Guptill deserves a standing ovation in his own right for developing a new style of improvisational theater.

The play that opened the doors and brought down the 183-seat house, “Ten Nights in a Bar-room,” epitomized the total degradation and ultimate demoralization to be wrought from “demon rum,” reviving temperance-era apparitions and bringing a delightful entertainment freshness to an area where such is sparce.

The amateur theater, which cannot and should never be compared with professional summer stock, radiated a closeness and a triteness which might not appeal to the seasoned vacationer anticipating wheting his theatrical solemnity upon a demagogic airs of professionalism.

But to those who enjoy the lighter arts, who like to feel a part of what is going on, who enjoy getting their money’s worth and delight in seeing each and every member of the cast work his heart out, to those who can revel at excellent entertainment; to them the Hackmatack Playhouse will transpire the old barn in which it is situated and aspire to greatness.

From the moment wone walks through the entrance he is given cause to wonder what lies ahead: then what can one expect of a Playhouse where the tin cans direct the stage lights, the stage appears to be built on railroad ties, the actors appear from outdoors on one side and from an old cattle stall on the other and where the plumbing has been completed just minutes before premier night opening?

One can expect to become quickly enthralled in his surroundings; surroundings that congeal and conspire to leave the more sordid world to create a harmonious civilization in juxtaposition to our present-day problematic existence. Enthusiasm, overacting, jocularity, solo-crooning and mass hootenanny-style singalongs, surprise stage effects and some of the most unethical but delightful prop tricks imaginable is what one should expect…

The Hackmatack Playhouse is still around. I hope Clem Wyman is. If you see him, say hello for me. He deserves to know he’s got a fan.

Posted by Rona

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