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Author's Note:
This piece was originally posted in the March 2011 "issue" of Majestic,'s monthly newsletter, as an installment in my ongoing column series What's So Funny? Some of the other authors of recently-posted articles on standard poetic forms encouraged me to also post it here on the main site alongside their offerings. Pen, in particular, engaged in a particularly effective campaign of flattery and creative browbeating to encourage me to do so. How could I refuse? Here 'tis.

I’ve noticed that over the past few weeks, some of Lit.Org’s most proficient poets have begun posting articles explaining the structure of a variety of standard poetic forms. So far (as of the drafting of this column), TheRedCockroach (the apparent ringleader of the group), Pen, and windchime have written about acrostics, tetractys, villanelles, sestinas, and cinquains, and TheRedCockroach has listed several other forms he says he intends to cover in future articles.

I see great value in presenting this information to Lit.Org’s readers and contributors, yet I would be remiss if I did not point out what, to me at least, seems a glaring omission. Perhaps it is not mentioned because it is assumed to be a form already familiar to the average reader (and, arguably, even to the below average reader). I speak of the limerick, of course – that redheaded stepchild (I claim dispensation to use the term, having been AND having had a red-headed stepchild myself!) of the poetry world.

Consider this, though: is any other poetic form more associated with humor than the limerick? As far as I know, no other defined poetic structure is automatically expected to be funny. The writer of the serious, heart-felt, introspective or (heaven forbid) angst-ridden limerick is in for a big surprise when the work is universally greeted by its audience with a collective “Huh???”

So as Lit.Org’s self-appointed commentator on humor in general, I’ll take it upon myself to both extol the virtues (and, when called for, acknowledge the shortcomings) of the limerick. Besides, the limerick is named after a county in Ireland, and March is when Irish Wannabes all over the world celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (providing gainful employment to Celtic bands everywhere, at least in the English- and Irish-speaking world.) We here at What’s So Funny? are nothing if not timely AND not above making strained connections to justify our chosen topic of the month.

You probably consider yourself familiar with the standard structure of the limerick, though you may never have consciously sought to express it using the “technical” terminology associated with poetry. (Like pornography, you just know it when you see it.) The limerick has five lines per stanza (and, more often than not, just one stanza, though a multi-stanza epic limerick is not out of the realm of possibility), with an AABBA rhyme scheme. That means that the first, second, and fifth line all rhyme with each other, and the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other, but usually NOT with the other three. In addition, the two sets of rhyming lines tend to have about the same number of syllables and to follow a standard rhythmic pattern of stresses.

Now we’re getting into Font of Useless Knowledge territory (one of my favorite places to be) where we got to talk about the obscure terms for various poetic “feet” (basic rhythmic units). As usual, the Lazy Researcher (yours truly) falls back on her current BFF, Google (and again tries to remember how she ever got through college without Google, the Internet, her own PC, or even her own typewriter. It’s nothing short of a miracle, and I doubt if I could do it now.)

Most of the following factual information I gleaned from Google, but you will probably recognize as my own the running commentary and frequent asides I’m wont to throw in. According to Google’s entry on the limerick, its basic building blocks are the amphibrach and/or the anapaest. That entry, of course, links to other entries that diagram the rhythmic and stress structures of these units using fancy-schmancy characters I can’t find on my laptop’s keyboard, so I’ll fall back on their alternate method of using ta for unstressed syllables and TUM for stressed syllables. (I seem to be falling back rather a lot. Let’s just say I’m getting in practice for St. Patrick’s Day.) Thus, the amphibrach sounds like ta-TUM-ta, and the anapaest sounds like ta-ta-TUM.

The first, second, and fifth lines of a limerick would thus usually have either three amphibrachs (ta-TUM-ta, ta-TUM-ta, ta-TUM-ta) or three anapaests (ta-ta-TUM, ta-ta-TUM, ta-ta-TUM.) You might also see these lines either start or end with an iamb (ta-TUM.) Lines three and four are shorter, with only two of whichever “feet” the writer may choose, one of which may be an iamb, but not both.

Besides the rhythmic and rhyme structures, other conventions have evolved in limericks over the years. Most commonly, a limerick tells a story in the third person, starting off with “There once was…” (the limerick’s version of “Once upon a time…”) and usually introduces the protagonist either by name or by place of origin. In fact, I marvel at the fact that the form didn’t come to be called a “nantucket” instead of a limerick, given the popularity of so many limericks featuring characters from that New England island.

Now I shall weigh in with my own personal opinion on the most controversial aspect of the limerick. Apparently (and, again, according to Google) there are those who insist that a true limerick is necessarily obscene. While I have certainly heard my share of dirty limericks, which I shall refrain from repeating here, (suffice it to say that there’s probably a reason Nantucket is such a popular theme, given the rhymes it can inspire,) I say that while its form is most conducive to light verse, there is no reason that poetry following this structure must necessarily be in poor taste.

On this matter, I’m reminded of a similar ongoing debate among poets as to whether a true haiku must necessarily adhere to a specific thematic, rather than simply syllabic, structure. Certainly poetic purists are entitled to their opinions, and may have valid arguments for their positions, but I tend to lean toward the side of allowing the poetic framework to accommodate whatever theme the writer can effectively convey within that defined format. (At least now I’m leaning instead of falling. I consider this progress.)

I’m certainly not averse to enjoying a limerick that could be considered risqué. In fact, since I haven’t given any examples yet, I’ll take this opportunity to share one of my favorites. (Alas, as with so many of this genre, this limerick’s true origin is unknown to me. Anyone care to claim it?)

A gay man who lived in Khartoum
Took a Lesbian up to his room.
They argued all night
Over who had the right
To do what and with which and to whom.

Bawdy? Without question. Obscene? I say not. It leaves just enough to the imagination to titillate without getting downright dirty. Politically incorrect? Possibly – but I challenge you to point out to me exactly where it says anything offensive or derogatory about anyone.

This past week I also happened to come across a comment thread within Lit.Org that addressed this very “The Limerick: Dirty or Not Dirty?” debate. The primary discussion had taken place a couple of months back, but it came to my attention thanks to a recent comment/contribution from the aforementioned Pen. She offered up an example about cats from Kilkenny – an appropriately Irish reference – that proved that an effective limerick need not be of a sexual nature at all.

Even so, I will admit that the limerick will probably never be considered a “highbrow” form of literature. Given its “poetry for the common man” reputation, a limerick can get away with, shall we say, colloquial pronunciations. The following is a limerick I heard from my grandfather when I was a child:

There once was a gal from Decatur
Who went to sing at the thee-ay-ter,
But the poor little thing,
When she got up to sing,
She got hit by a rotten tomater.

For no really good reason, this reminds me of an analogy that has come to my mind while considering the “social standing” of the limerick. This particular analogy can probably be blamed on the fact that the American stock car racing season has just begun, and I’m an unabashed fan. (Woo hoo! How ‘bout that Daytona 500?)

Think of the limerick as the NASCAR of the literary world.

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing makes no bones – and, in fact, now downright embraces – its origins in American Appalachian moonshining and the men who tweaked the cars in which they transported their illegal liquor so that they could outrun the “revenuers.” (The government agents charged with cracking down on illegal distilleries worked for America’s beloved – ahem – Internal Revenue Service.)

Thus, NASCAR’s historic roots are associated with “socially unacceptable” behavior, just as the roots of the limerick are associated with topics not considered “family friendly”. However, there is nothing inherently objectionable about the basic form. (In the case of NASCAR, this is commonly summarized as “go fast, turn left.”) A limerick, as long as it adheres reasonably closely to the rhythmic and rhyming structure we’ve come to expect, can transcend it’s “low-brow” origins and provide inoffensive entertainment to people of all ages and social classes.

Now, a limerick will probably never achieve the same literary standing as a sonnet, just as NASCAR will probably never achieve the same elevated social status as, say, polo. Even so, if your poetic muse moves you to express yourself in the form of a limerick, you need not feel compelled to relinquish whatever literary credentials you may have. Allow yourself to have some fun, for however else the limerick may evolve, I believe it’s a long way from leaving behind its inherent lighthearted nature.

At this point, I will take a page from the book of my esteemed colleague at Majestic, jonpenny (Ken Lehnig, recently overheard exclaiming, "Hey! Who took a page from my book??") who, as a part of his regular Ramblings of a Vagabond Poet column, issues to his readers a monthly Song Challenge. I now issue a sort of poetic challenge of my own. To close this tribute to the limerick, I’d wanted to write a terribly clever and original limerick. I am, however, stymied in my efforts by the sad fact that I’ve never been much of a poet. This is evident in the fact that I consider my proudest poetic achievement to have been contributing to a song parody about the sexually-transmitted disease chlamydia, sung to the tune of Lydia the Tattooed Lady. (I’ll spare you the gory details, but it did have its moments, if I do say so myself.)

So here’s my challenge to you. You only have to write one line – how hard can that be? Pretty darn hard, as I discovered to my chagrin. If you can, please help me write the closing line to the following:

There once was a gal from Ohio
Who attempted to write her own bio
In limerick form,
Which wasn’t the norm…

And that’s where I get stuck.

Now I wish I were from Nantucket.

Author's Note:
Numerous hyperlinks included in the original Majestic posting have not been included here, mainly because on my first attempt to plug all of them in here, I accidentally navigated away from the posting page and lost everything I'd done! Profanity ensued. If you wish to see the original posting complete with a plethora of hyperlinks AND delightful reader comments, please view it here.

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. - Groucho Marx


The following comments are for "Poetic Forms - The Limerick"
by LinnieRed

Okay .. I still like my original submission over at Majestic so ... I'll just do a repeat .. and then get on with the other bunch I composed while waiting for this to come through the LitOrg Hopper. Thanks so much Linnie Red! You are a Super Trooper!

There once was a gal from Ohio
Who attempted to write her own bio
In limerick form,
Which wasn’t the norm
It will take her 'till Cinco de Mayo!

( Posted by: Pen [Member] On: March 7, 2011 )

Oh! Canada #1
I don’t fancy that canuck label
but I’m the only one at the table.
So I guess it’s ok
I’m Canadian... ă
but can’t stomach the brewski fable.

( Posted by: Pen [Member] On: March 7, 2011 )

Oh! Canada #2

What’s with that Canadian bird?
Fouling lawns with its greasy turd.
When out on the loose
it’s the Poobah goose.
But diapered?? That’s beyond absurd!

( Posted by: Pen [Member] On: March 7, 2011 )

There once was a gal from Ohio
Who attempted to write her own bio
In limerick form,
Which wasn’t the norm…
But we’re glad she gave it a tryo!

( Posted by: Beatrice Boyle [Member] On: March 7, 2011 )

There was a young poet named Thomas
Whose work showed plenty of promise
But he couldn't spell
He said what the hell
I think my work is pure bliss!

( Posted by: Beatrice Boyle [Member] On: March 7, 2011 )

Do we care? Sometimes not....
Linnie, what a refreshing take on how to write a limerick, a very good article. However, i would like to point out that the limerick is also the most dangerous and potentially insulting form to write in, bear with me as I explain.

I chuckled silently a little, as one of my girlfriends read the Khartoum limerick. I very well knew what was going through her mind as she read it seated next to me. She is a beautiful singer and songwriter, a highly educated lady of the highest class, and was born and raised in Khartoum, the Sudan of Egypt.

Indeed, she was very insulted, and I did not realize how badly, until she pushed her chair violently away from the tavern table, and swore violently both in English and Swahili, two of the 5 languages she speaks and reads fluently in. (She is so beautiful when angry.)

I mentioned she was highly educated, right?

Well, myself, I saw no real infraction on anyone's integrity, and It will take a couple days to cool her down, but she will remember this. The truth is, I have to admit, that it would be an impossibility to find these human elements in Khartoum, something I have to give them credit for and not reflecting on our own social integrity on in any way.

It kind of points out on the honor scale, both in the writing of such a thing, and in publishing it for the world to see, the Muslim world is wayyyyyy ahead of us in many such ways. Something we should reflect on I think.

Otherwise this is a good article, even though the group you named in it is kind of indicitive of how such matters are relevant to how they write and seem to treat society in general.

The limerick, a most difficult form to write, and mastering it is mastering the entire poetry ladder of creativity. And once you do three or four, limerich writing is very adictive, and tons of FUN.

None the less, danger lurks in the least understood places sometimes, and we seldom see it or recognize it until we have insulted someone beyond belief, and certainly not meaning to. Good work anyway.

( Posted by: veebdosa [Member] On: March 7, 2011 )

Bea, a fantastic play on words. I love it.

( Posted by: veebdosa [Member] On: March 7, 2011 )

Challange accepted.
A gay man who lived in Khartoum
Took a Lesbian up to his room.
They argued all night
Over who had the right
To do what and with which and to whom.

Bawdy? Without question. Obscene? I say not. It leaves just enough to the imagination to titillate without getting downright dirty. Politically incorrect? Possibly – but I challenge you to point out to me exactly where it says anything offensive or derogatory about anyone.

AAh, I just noticed you challange, and I accept it. Bawdy Yes. Obscene Yes, most certainly. Politically incorrect -Yes. Offensive ? --absolutely in the worst way. Disgusting and totally unacceptable? Yes yes yes.
and just plain wroing in content and any knowledge or understanding of the FACTS of Khartoum.

( Posted by: veebdosa [Member] On: March 7, 2011 )

An Irish Gimmick

Saint Patrick from England came
started playing the Irish game
Thought it so funny
to do it for money
They worshiped him all the same

( Posted by: Fairplay [Member] On: March 7, 2011 )

Oh! Canada #3

Hockey’s the game at which we don’t suck
and if it’s just luck we won’t run amok.
I’ll bet you a loonie
no, make it a toonie
each well bred Canuck reveres the puck.

( Posted by: Pen [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

Yay Montreal!

Oh! Canada #4

Oh my word! Who’d forget the beaver
is now dolled up as Bieber Fever!!?
Yet, I ought to confess
there’s a link I like less
of that; you’d best be a believer.

( Posted by: Pen [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

Oh! Canada #5

There are some Canucks who take flight
when winter has too much frostbite.
I guess those are the breaks
if you’re scared of snowflakes.
So they flock off to tropic delight.

( Posted by: Pen [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

Oh Puck!
I picked up a girl one night
Between a backcheck and first fight,
Back at the hotel, just my luck
she wanted to sleep, not to -- mess around,
so I beat it back to the next fight.

( Posted by: veebdosa [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

Oh! Canada #7

Most Canadians have this weird way
of ending with ă when having their say
‘eh’ just doesn’t look
like it’s got the right hook
so let’s all shift to what’s ă okay.

( Posted by: Pen [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

Sgt Preston of the U-kon
Sorry Bea I gave up on Canada when I found out Ggt. Preston slept with his dog King.

( Posted by: veebdosa [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

@ Lucie

Gory just ain't that polite
we know that just isn't right.
eh sounds like meh
or even bleh
I won't expect you to be contrite.

( Posted by: Pen [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

No Way

When it comes to what's heard
you can keep 'eh' as the word.
But when we write
'eh' looks a fright
so, for me ă isn't absurd.

Don't bother me with hein because that ain't what I hear. Hein looks like stein as in beer .. another Canadian myth. *chuckle*

( Posted by: Pen [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

trilingual Lucie

Lucie's too upset to use rhyme
to make her point double time.
I can't make you do
what you don't want to.
I know 'eh' don't look sublime.

chill Lucie .. chill .. *chuckle*

( Posted by: Pen [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

Oh! Canada #8

Then of course, I’d never shuck;
forget about; nor pass the buck,
when it comes to Pierre
I was here and not there
so he said fuddle duddle not ****

Author's Note:
Graffiti spotted on a CNR overpass near Prince George B. C. in the 70’s - Kiss Me Pierre!

( Posted by: Pen [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

Oh! Canada #9

When it comes to the two language debate
I can tell that some came too late.
For on the west coast
it’s way past the post
so folks don’t see the need for irate.

( Posted by: Pen [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

roughing, slashing and hooks

Pond Game

Habs long for their Jacque Lemaire
Lapointe and Laperriere
Their "Flower" Guy
On a scoring spree
And Stanley's Cup in the air

( Posted by: Bobby7L [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

China in Your Hand

Come to Canada make it your home
Indian squirrel Froggy or Gnome
Lulu if you please la
Is almost Chinese la
A Chinese Canadian Rome

( Posted by: Fairplay [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

plastic containers

Heard of the BBC and ITV
little bit lost with the CBC
then on Panorama
saw it was Banana
not one you would eat you see

( Posted by: Fairplay [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

Go America Go

If Banana is to Lulu
Who is coconut to who
You know the man
If anyone can
Born in honolulu

( Posted by: Fairplay [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

Fool Britania

He’s just an old Brit
Quite fulla Shhh (wit)
Making it gimmicky
Scribbling limericky
Don’t care for spellin one bit

( Posted by: Fairplay [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

Scuse my French

All soldiers speak French
They learned in the trench
Between me and you
It turns the air blue
Talking nice is a bit or a wrench

( Posted by: Fairplay [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

Gross Britania

Admit it your English is Poor
stole it I dont know what for
twisted it round
mucked up the sound
It's not what you meant I am sure

( Posted by: Fairplay [Member] On: March 8, 2011 )

It's my party! (But no crying!)
I feel rather like a hostess whose guests are having such a good time talking amongst themselves that all I need to do is smile, pass more appetizers, and top off everyone's drink! THAT'S a well-shod extravaganza!

Thanks to all of you for coming to my party! We really must do this again some time! : )

( Posted by: LinnieRed [Member] On: March 9, 2011 )

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