Poetry Wednesday: There once was a Lim’rick Contest . . .

The lim’rick packs laughs anatomical
In space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

When I was in seventh grade, I attended a junior high that was built on an open floor plan—there were no walls separating the classrooms from the hallway, only  whatever furniture the teacher set up for nominal privacy.  This meant we all learned to keep our voices down (call it early librarian training) though anyone passing by could hear what everyone was doing.

One day, about halfway through our poetry module, my English teacher explained limericks— a stanza of five lines following an a-a-b-b-a rhyme scheme, with the third and four lines slightly shorter.  We clapped out the distinctive meter a few times* and started to read some example out loud.

Just as it was my turn, the teacher on hall duty stuck his head around a coat rack, stage-whispered, “There once was a man from Nantucket” and ran off to escape my English teacher’s embarrassed wrath, which none of us understood at the time, though it took us less than twenty-four hours to catch up, which I admit was mostly my fault (more early librarian training).**

I learned many things from that experience, not the least of which was that limericks don’t have to be boring or pedantic.  I mean, I adore Edward Lear, I truly do, and I appreciate that he was the one who established the popularity of the form, but many of his own limericks . . . lack something.

There was an Old Man in a Tree,
Whose Whiskers were lovely to see;
But the Birds of the Air
Pluck’d them perfectly bare
To make themselves Nests in that Tree.

Maybe Mr. Lear’s strict rules—note how he always ended the first and last line with the same word—didn’t leave his great imaginative talent enough room to move, or mabe I’m failing to understand the humor of the time. I don’t know.

But I do know I like wordplay limericks the best:

A wonderful bird is the Pelican
His beak can hold more than his bellican
He takes in his beak
Food enough for a week
But I’m darned if I see how the hellican.
(Dixon Lanier Merritt)

Especially the silly ones:

A tutor who tutored the flute
Tried to tutor two tooters to toot.
Said the two to the tutor,
“Is it harder to toot, or
To tutor two tooters to toot?”

One of the best uses of limericks, in my opinion, was in World War II, by then-Captain A.D. Nicholls of the British Royal Navy, who needed to get a critically damaged Dutch sloop repaired about a month before D-Day,  when shipyards were understandably overwhelmed.  He sent in a request for repairs, headed by this:

A report has come in from the Soemba
that their salvoes go off like a Rhumba
two guns, they sound fine
but the third five point nine
he am bust and refuse to go boomba.

The Director of Plans, R.K. Dickson, responded with a limerick of his own:

This is very grave news from the Soemba,
Whose guns are all needed to go boomba,
On a fast nearing day –
Though we cannot say
When exactly will rise the balloonba.

This continued in kind for the twelve or so limericks (or near misses) in English and in Dutch to get the job done.*** That sort of dedication should be honored.

So . . .

I’m throwing a Lim’rick Contest!^
Please enter—though it should be stressed
That I’ll hold no truck
With men from Nantuck-
et.  Don’t care if you call me repressed.

My challenge to you is to write an original limerick on any topic you like and either share it in the comments or e-mail it to me by midnight next Wednesday, EST.

I’m not judging quality—for obvious reasons—but your limerick does have to follow the traditional (if relaxed) rhyme scheme and scan well with no more than the usual fudging.^^ And if you prefer to use a language other than English, I’d appreciate your use of a Latin-based alphabet and a translation, which does not have to rhyme.^^^

Despite my attempt up there, I actually don’t mind if your limerick is off-color or downright dirty, but I reserve the right to take it out of the comments if the words go too far past wink-wink, nudge-nudge—it will still count for the contest.  If you’re not sure, e-mail it to me and I’ll decide.

If you accept the challenge, your name will go in Janie’s Cincinnati Reds hat for a chance to win the (regular sized)  CafePress mug of your choice.  As CafePress appears to ship to most countries, this contest is open to residents of both hemispheres—if I can’t get the mug to you for some reason, we’ll work something out.

C’mon—it’s only five lines and a couple of rhymes.

You know you want to.


*Limericks generally have anapest metrical feet, which sounds, appropriately enough, like something Edward Lear would use in conjunction with runcible spoons.  And anapest metrical feet is  fun to say—try it!

** I’d asked my Dad, who told me because a) Dad believes that there are no improper questions, only ones too personal to answer, and b) he assumed I’d developed, at the age of thirteen, more discretion and common sense than, in fact, I had.  At the very least, he wasn’t expecting me to cite my source . . .

*** The entire series and the story behind it can be found here, in the words of Rear Admiral A.D. Nicholl, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O. himself.

^More of a challenge than a contest, but I couldn’t figure out more than one rhyme for challenge and that one wasn’t quite right.  Remember, I’ve never claimed to be a poet.

^^I will notice if you slip in a haiku or a couple couplets—please wait for the next contest.

^^^ But if it does, it counts for two entries, because wow.


26 thoughts on “Poetry Wednesday: There once was a Lim’rick Contest . . .

  1. there once was a mom fixin’ dinner
    who got distracted by a contest to enter
    the noodles got burnt
    and her kids did learnt
    should it come to writing or cooking, words would be the winner

  2. Ha! You asked your dad, oh that is fantastic. I love your dad’s thoughts on questions.
    I’ll be back with an entry…good thing I’ll be at work all day to work on it. 🙂

      • Actually, no—it was mostly for my friend Kevin, who told me a great joke about dirty limericks.

        Seems this newspaper held a joke contest for the dirtiest original limerick. One reader decided that he would enter anyway. The paper declared him the winner in an article, though they couldn’t print his entry, and sent him a certificate.

        The next year, people asked about the contest, so the paper held it again. This time, there were several entries, but the same man won. In fact, he won every year for five years, even though more than a hundred people were participating. He decided to enter one more time, and really worked at it, using dictionaries and thesauri, and all sorts of self-help books, and so on, until he had written the dirtiest, filthiest limerick he could.

        But he didn’t hear from the paper. So he called to check and was stunned when the young woman who answered told him that the winner had been notified.

        “Really?” he said, astonished. “Could you send me a copy?”

        “I’m sorry, we can’t do that,” she said. “Newspaper policy.”

        “Then would you mind reading me the winning entry? I wouldn’t ask, but I’ve won the contest for the last five years and I’d like to know what beat my entry.”

        “Oh, no! I couldn’t,” said the young woman. “It’s too . . . ”

        “You can’t shock me,” he said. “I write the things.”

        “Yes, but I’d be too embarrassed.”

        “Why don’t you just dah-dah-dah through the worst of it. I’m sure I can figure it out.”

        “Well, all right,” she said. “I’ll try:

        Dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah
        Dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah
        Dah dah dah dah dah
        Dah dah dah dah dah
        Dah dah dah dah dah dah dah fuck.”

  3. Morn, noon and night, my child can’t sit still
    So, really, that is why I did kill
    I know some may think that’s vicious
    but really I’m just ambitious
    and now list it as one of my skills

  4. Oh Sarah, you’ve created a monster. I could be at this all day.

    There once was a lib-er –ar-i -an
    Who became really quite contrarian
    When her clients’ defiance
    Of computer compliance
    Led them to websites quite barbarian.

  5. The limerick rhythm is such an earworm 🙂

    Rat-a-tat-tat goes the drum
    With a smattering rim shot or some
    Overtly incredible,
    Slightly indelible
    Sound that is tricky to hum.

    In congruence, I think of her line
    Roughly the same size as mine,
    Turned on an angle
    As boundaries tangle,
    The tangent is always a sign.

    • That’s probably how the form has survived all these years, John, considering their dubious content!

      I like the first one, but your second one is standing ovation worthy! 🙂

      So nice to have a resident poet around the blog! 😀

  6. Well, I’ve finally come up with something I like, it may not be a true limerick but I like it…

    Many years in school I spent
    For my Masters I wanted to get
    Now as a librarian I’ve found
    The most answered question around
    is Where can the bathroom be found?

  7. I came across this while Googling to learn whether Dixon Lanier Merritt had ever written any verse other than his pelican limerick (if he has, I couldn’t find it, but it doesn’t read like a first attempt at verse), and was delighted by the Soemba exchange. Thanks so much for including the link to the entire series.

    For what it’s worth, I spend much of my free (as in, both leisure and unpaid) time at the Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form (https://www.oedilf.com) and was, in fact, looking into Merritt as part of workshopping one of the verses there. I don’t know if you’ve happened on it, but suspect you’d enjoy it. 🙂

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