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.