Getting Kicks from Lim-er-icks!
One of the joys of poetry writing is that you are the boss – you can write your poem any way you like. It might rhyme, but it doesn’t have to. It can be long or short, happy or sad, funny or serious. The only thing that I think all poems should have is rhythm. Even then, it does not need to be a thumping in-your-face metre, it can be quite subtle, so that readers barely notice it until they look closely, or read it aloud and hear and feel the cadence.
One of the challenges of poetry writing is attempting to write in a conventional verse form. I have written sonnets, triolets, pantoums, haiku, villanelles, couplets, quintains … but when I want a bit of light fun, I write limericks. Traditionally, these tend to be funny poems. Their light, insistent rhythm leads easily to a boom-boom pay off in the last line. They are the stuff of comedy.
The five-line verse form became popular in the 1840s with the publication of Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense. The last lines of his limericks were, more often than not, a repeat of the first line. Modern limerick-writers tend to try and avoid repetition so that the last line is less ‘flat’. That said, I cannot talk about writing limericks without quoting one of Lear’s. This one lives up to the ‘nonsense’ title of his book:
There was an Old Man in a pew,
Whose waistcoat was spotted with blue;
He tore it to pieces
To give to his nieces,
That cheerful Old Man in a pew.
(This limerick is beautifully illustrated on page 72 of my anthology, A Time to Speak and A Time to Listen, isbn 978 07217 1225 3.)
Over the past few years I have contributed to a project to define every word in the English language by way of a limerick. Online, writers from all over the world are creating the Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form (www.oedilf.com). So far I have written over 800 limericks. Hmm! It’s an obsessive hobby, but great fun, too. And on the limerick-writing site I’ve met some very clever, witty people from many different countries.
Here’s one of my favourites — the limerick, not the person! —
Grandpa spent all day long in the shed
With the spiders; then later, in bed,
Grandma said, “Oh my gosh!
You’ve forgotten to wash:
Just look at your cobwebby head!”
(This limerick is beautifully illustrated on page 18 of my collection, Star-gazing, isbn 978 0 00 746531 6.)
Why not have a go at writing a limerick? It has five lines, rhyming A-A-B-B-A. Read these two and clap the rhythm. See if you can match your lines so that they are the same metre.