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Some things are deceptively simple. The limerick seems to be one of them. The confusion about "what is a limerick" is easy to clean up. (Limericks themselves, however...)

A limerick is a poem of five lines in what is called anapestic meter (ta ta DA). Lines 1, 2 and 5 have three beats (three DA's); lines 3 and 4 have two beats. Sometimes a "ta" gets dropped here and there. (And we say "ta ta" to the "ta".)

In other words, more or less:

ta DA ta ta DA ta ta DA
ta DA ta ta DA ta ta DA
ta DA ta ta DA
ta DA ta ta DA
ta DA ta ta DA ta ta DA

Lines 1, 2 and 5 rhyme with each other; lines 3 & 4 rhyme with each other: A, A, B, B, A.


The eminent Mrs. DeVue
Was born in a cage at the zoo,
And the curious rape
Which made her an ape
Is highly fantastic, if true.
(from THE LIMERICK, ed. G. Vue)


There are a few other traditions -- the first line usually introduces a person, the second line sets up some quality about that person, the next two lines describe a situation, and the last line is a punch line. But the pattern is by no means universal.

Another tradition is bawdiness:

The limerick is furtive and mean;
You must keep her in close quarantine,
Or she sneaks to the slums
And promptly becomes
Disorderly, drunk and obscene.
(Prof. Morris Bishop)

Which explains the perennial popularity of the limerick.

Limericks are usually humorous and disrespectful. Sometimes disrespect for its own form can be used for humor. Example:

I got Grist in My Teeth!
or Opus 13, My Life Stinks
© Dr. Wes Browning

I cannot contain my elation:
I have an unplanned vacation!
Sure, my life stinks
(And bosses are dinks)
But: due to the fact that I have worked my ass off for the past six years to earn a living rather than take payment for that permanent mental disability I am now gratefully fortunate (thanks largely to the Great Depression and its attendant Administration - I love you Rosy! I really do! I will vote Democrat forever, just because of you!) that I am going to be able to live like a jolly starving dog for up to half a year by means of jolly unemployment compensation.

Exercise: Limerick

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is: write a limerick.

Guidelines for critique:

Be sure to include in the critique how well the poem fits the form of the limerick; and, if it breaks the form, how well it breaks it.

Write On!