Wednesday, 14 September 2011

There Was An Old Writer of Limericks

by Philip Waddell

Humour can and does appear in many forms of poetry but one form of poem that must have been invented for humour and for which I have a very soft spot is the limerick. 

Here is an early example by the 19th century artist and poet Edward Lear who famously helped to popularise the form:

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, 'It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!'

Whilst the form looks easy, writing an even mildly amusing limerick presents a sizeable challenge.

I’ll often start my attempt by picking a name (a person’s or a place’s) with which to end the first line of my limerick. Having thought of one I’ll try to think of as many words that rhyme with it as I can to see if any combination of the name with two of its rhymes suggests anything funny. Picking Hyde, for example, I came up with this:

Mad Hatter

A whacky teenager from Hyde
A hat with a bell on once tried.
‘Does this hat,’ he asked, ‘Mum,
Make me look sort of dumb?’
‘Of course not!’ she said, but she lied.

But as the limerick by Edward Lear shows your first line doesn’t have to end with a name. You can choose any word that has enough rhymes. I make a list of the rhymes as they occur to me and if the list begins to look long I’ll save thinking time – and maybe discover a few words I wouldn’t otherwise have thought of – by getting out my rhyming dictionary. Words ending in ean, een or ine gave a good long list that led me to this:

Fetching Appearance

There’s a shy insect, leggy and lean,
Hides in foliage not to be seen,
It pretends it’s a stick,
So convincing a trick
It’s been fetched by a dog on the green.

Sometimes I’ll think of a pun* that might make a good ending to a limerick:

Unhappy Customer

From Frankenstein’s clinic he barged
And shambled, grotesque and enlarged
Raging, ‘Man, am I mad
At the treatment I’ve had
And worse, now I’ve been overcharged!’

Sometimes I’ll just write something extremely silly:

The Monster Of Sponge

The monster of sponge has been cursed,
By a witch, with a terrible thirst –
Now it drinks and it drinks
And it drinks and it drinks
And it drinks till it thinks it will burst!

I’ll even make up a word to end a limerick:

Creative Writing

A writer of rhyming verse said,
When stuck for a rhyme go to bed,
If still stuck when you wake,
For your sanity’s sake,
Just make up the word that you ned!

Sometimes a limerick that amuses me will just pop into my head but mostly I find the finished poem will only come after lots of rewrites. If I have managed to write a limerick that I like I’ll next try to give it an appropriate and if possible, punning title. But that’s just me and the title of your limerick can be just its first line.

Finally, don’t be surprised if most of your limericks end up in the bin. Most of mine do. But the pleasure you’ll feel when you write one that makes you smile or better still giggle will, I promise, make all the effort worthwhile.

Hmmm… smile and worthwhile… I wonder…

*My dictionary defines a pun as a joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

What We Didn't Do On Our Holiday

When I was at school (when schools were still in black and white), at the beginning of a new term, we would always have to write a poem or an essay entitled What I Did On My Holidays. At the time I quite enjoyed it, but I realised when I became a teacher myself that it wasn’t such an inspiring idea. So, how about writing a poem about what you didn’t do – or wished you had done – on your holiday?

First make a list of all the things you would like to have done. These can be regular activities, like going to the beach, painting, playing tennis, visiting the zoo – or maybe you could use your imagination a little. For example how about water ski-ing in the Mediterranean, white water rafting in Peru, swimming with sharks, having tea with The Queen, winning a million pounds, travelling to Mars, going back in time…

Then use the list to write a poem. (See Jan’s List Poems below for more ideas.)

Here’s a poem I wrote on a similar theme.

Travelling by car is much more fun
Than flying in an aeroplane
Anyway, Mum gets airsick
And there’s nothing to see when you’re up in the clouds

I’m glad we didn’t go to Italy
Because I can’t speak Italian
And Blackpool beach is underrated
When it rains the glistening sands are beautiful

In Italy, Alex says, the sound of the surf
Keeps you awake
But we’re not far from the beach.
It’s only a ten-minute walk, if you run

You don’t see many dolphins from Blackpool beach
But, even better, we swam with the jellyfish.
We much prefer fish and chips
Who wants to eat boring old Spaghetti Bolognese, anyway?

I’m glad we went to Blackpool
Not to Italy, like my best mate Alex
Mum said we mustn’t tell him what a great time we had
He’ll only be jealous

Send your poems to us and we’ll publish them here or on The Poetry Zone.