Limericks, Laughter and Lessons – Form Poetry is Fun!

Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing.

Dylan Thomas

Poetry can, but does not always, involve rhyme, rhythm and metre. Poets use words to share experiences, tell a story or express feelings or ideas. Poems are verses that may be spoken or sung. They have many different purposes:  to amuse, to entertain, to reflect, to inform, to educate or to pass on cultural heritage.

Limericks are form poetry with a purpose to amuse. They are five-line poems using rhyme and rhythm to enhance their content.  Usually humorous, they have a twist or surprise in the last line. They are brief and lend themselves to comic effects. Limericks consist of three long and two short lines rhyming pattern: aabba. Rhyme and rhythm are used to enhance the content.

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Lines one, two and five rhyme with each other and normally contain a three beat metre.
 Lines three and four rhyme with each other and contain a two beat meter. Lines three and four are usually shorter than the other lines. This predictable rhyme and syllable pattern contribute to the rhythm and flow of the poetry. I love introducing limericks to my writing classes. -It is a good way to introduce the value of rhyming dictionaries (now available free online). And encourage planning – think of what words you will use to rhyme, then fill in the lines of the poem! Especially if you are going to use people’s names or topical words to create an aa-bb-a rhyming pattern.  (John, Shawn, fawn; Bob, Rob, sob; Ron, Dawn, lawn; Carol, barrel; Cheryl, Beryl feral; Tammy, Sammy, whammy…)

Here are a few of mine –

In Bentleigh a writing class meet
On Tuesdays each other they greet
memories mined
words they find
To produce stories that are such a treat

There once was a writer of tales
who amassed enormous sales
her secret she said
was take to your bed
Explicit stories about sex never fails

Caroline’s a nurse working night shift
who must balance her time with thrift
when patients sleep
a journal she keeps
For writing flash fiction plot twists.

Nurse Caroline’s shifts are at night
Staying awake is a frequent fight
she can’t pop pills
as solutions to ills
So drinks brandy and gets really tight

In Victoria, our Premier Napthine
suddenly wants to be seen as green.
He’s done a deal, he said
to stop possums being dead
but conservationists are not so keen.

There was a Prime Minister called Abbott
whose lying became quite a habit
his policies were trite
delivered in sound bites
broken promises as common as rabbits

Have you heard of global warming?
No longer will bees be swarming
the frogs have croaked
the deserts are soaked
And polar ice caps have stopped forming.

The stereotyped subjects of limericks are usually intended to be humorous or regarded as timely warnings. The origins of the Limerick shrouded in mystery, but researchers suggest it goes back before Christ to the Greek comic poets.  A description of a chariot accident translated as:

An amateur driving too fast,
from his car to the roadway was cast,
and a friend kindly said,
as he banged his head,
‘Mr Cobbler stick to your last.’

The word officially entered the English language via the Oxford Dictionary, in 1898, defined as ‘indecent nonsense verse’. Although, it had been around for centuries and in many other languages – including old Irish. There is still a debate whether ‘limerick’ did come from Limerick!

The light verse has ‘light’ subject matter, parodies other poems, or makes serious topics comical. It doesn’t have to make sense or have a point beyond making a sound and having rhythm. Just like the nursery rhymes or children’s verse you read or learned in childhood – many of which are seriously politically incorrect once they reach the playground and are adapted. Many limericks attack the authority of the church, lampoon politicians and are great outlets for protest. A limerick embraces every topic, territory and temperament. It can be indecent like an off-colour joke, encompassing all the follies, failures, fortunes, fallacies and foibles of humanity.

However, the Limerick has a fixed form and is often bawdy, especially in the hands of a master comic poet like Edward Lear. Part of the charm of the Limerick is the surprise, the sudden swoop and unexpected twist of the last line, but Lear often ignored the whiplash ending to create a variation of the first line. His AABBA rhyme scheme often has the last word in the first and final lines being the same. The metrical scheme is easy to pick up with practice by reading limericks aloud and writing them. First and second and last lines normally 8-9 syllables, third and fourth has 6, but like any poem – it is up to the poet if they want to adopt or adapt as they create!

Above all have fun – I certainly do!

In Mordi a group of writers meet
On Mondays, each other they greet
Memories mined
Words they find
Producing stories that are a treat.

Emily travels to class with Michael
Riding tandem on her new bicycle
Wanting to be posh
She tried a car wash
Emily’s bicycle is now a tricycle

There is a writer called Jane
Who went to Singapore by plane
She jumped on the wing
Like a canary did sing
Flight attendants declared her insane

Amelia nursed new babes for years
Helping mothers conquer their fears
Imperfect mummies
Spitting dummies
And so often collapsing in tears

Each Monday Tori arrives by cab
Her Sikh driver a man never drab
A smiling fellow
In turban yellow
And many other colours so fab

A woman called Jan liked to write
and often woke up in the night
she liked to croon
by the silvery moon
Her stories inspired by dawn light

Doreen’s a top student of writing
and her stories she adores reciting
her computer has Dragon
‘cos her eyesight’s flaggin’
it talks back if the plot’s not exciting

3 thoughts on “Limericks, Laughter and Lessons – Form Poetry is Fun!

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