|Cousin Tom, Sister Sue, Cousin Joan|
TOM ISLEIB: Generally, a limerick has five lines with syllable content and rhyme scheme 8a, 8a, 5b, 5b, 8a. If you read a lot of limericks, you will find that there is some variation in the numbers of syllables in lines, usually within one or two of the eight or five. As for the rhyming, I have seen some real stretches, and I think it unsporting when the fifth line simply repeats the last word of the first or second line, e.g., one attributed to Rudyard Kipling:
"There was a small boy of Quebec
Who was buried in snow to his neck.
When they said, "Are you friz?"
He replied, "Yes, I is,
But we don't call THIS cold in Quebec."
I imagine that Kipling would punch me out for calling that "unsporting."
LUCY: When you, Tom, are beginning a poem, how do you start? With the important rhyming words for lines 1, 2, and 5, or somewhere else?
TOM: I usually start with a word that is critical to the particular limerick, say, a name, and try to think of words that rhyme with it that could end lines 1, 2, and 5. Some names are hard to rhyme, for example, "Martha" (my newly married cousin) although the shortened version "Mart" or "Marty" is easier. If a critical word is difficult to rhyme, you can bury it within a line that ends with a more easily rhymed word, e.g.,
"When Martha was going to be wed
She asked, "Will it go to my head?
I caught me a mister
Then gloated to Sister.
Should I have just shacked up instead?"
LUCY: Any other tips for limerick novices?
TOM: A memorable limerick is off-color, some of them downright nasty dirty. We all know the famous dirty one about the man from Nantucket, although I have heard a perfectly clean version of that one. "There once was a man from Nantucket who kept all his cash in a bucket..." If not off-color, a limerick usually has a pun, a joke, or some other cleverness built into it that makes the reader groan. Consider Mark Twain's famous one:
"A man hired by John Smith and Co.
Loudly declared that he’d tho.
Men that he saw
Dumping dirt near his door
The drivers, therefore, didn’t do." **
See how he did that? Jot down your first try, then let it fester in your subconscious mind for a day or two. You may come up with a better variation or rhyme if you do.
LUCY: And ps, in case you think my cuz can’t take a harder name like “Martha” and do something with it, here’s the limerick he dashed off just before the wedding:
“There once was a woman named Martha
Who was hunting a guy like Siddhartha,
And then she met Rich,
A nice sonofabitch,
Now they'll marry and snooze by the heartha.”
And in case (like me) you didn’t get Mark Twain’s cleverness, here’s the key:
Co. = Company
Tho. = Thump any
Do. = Dump any
Now for the contest…come up with your best shot at a limerick and post in the comments. There’ll be prizes, and celebration for your daring, I guarantee you!