"What do George Saunders, Margaret Atwood, Miles Corwin, Nick Flynn, Aimee Bender, D.A. Powell, Lee Gutkind, Steve Almond and David Sedaris have in common? They all agree that Vernon Lott's poetry is pretty bad.
Don't worry, Lott asked for it. In his documentary "Bad Writing," Lott presents these well-known authors with a sample of his poetry in an attempt to suss out what, exactly, makes writing bad. He'd found his early —and yes, mostly lousy — poems in a basement, and the older-and-wiser Lott struck out across the country, visiting writers and writing professors asking them what bad writing is, exactly.
Lee Gutkind, an icon in creative nonfiction, tells him gently, "there is a sense of embarrassing sincerity about this piece." Novelist Margaret Atwood is sweetly merciless. "There's no rule that says you get steadily better," she says.
The very independently produced documentary opens at the Sunset 5 in Hollywood on Friday night, where it will show in limited engagement through Thursday. It's a must-see for any writer who's ever wondered, "Am I any good?" or even "Is my writing bad?"
Some of the places Lott goes in the film will be particularly satisfying for writers and writing students. George Saunders' writing is superb and dark, but only those who've met him realize how gentle and kind he can be to students. Watching the faces of some of the writers as they hear Lott's bad poetry is pretty funny, but Nick Flynn's the best: he keeps a neutral expression for a while, then finally breaks into laughter when the poem go from bad to worse."