By David Lehman
December 16, 2014
To this bon vivant, the limericks you wrote featured just the right amount of mixology and sexology. There was a photo finish, and the winner by a nose was Rebecca Epstein’s
There once was a man named Abel
Whose thirst was insati-able.
All day he lapped brandy
That tasted like candy,
But at night his hot toddy was Mabel.
The ostentatious cleverness of the initial rhyme gets us right into the spirit of things, and the cocktail named in the final line goes down like a rum grog in a candlelit chamber.
So “Hot Toddy,” as I think of it, gets the win, while this unheralded entry from Someone with a Clue finished strong to take second place:
“I’ll give you a choice,” said Mabel,
(Who’d screw any drunk in a label),
To the smooth-talking dandy,
With fine taste in brandy,
“On top or under the table?”
It may have the best last line. I admired, too, the way “label” in the second line works as shorthand for a certain type of fashion-conscious professional male of the species.
Of James the Lesser’s several impressive entries, the one about able “Andy” finished in the money. It wowed with its closure, which conveys a sense of mighty prowess in beautifully understated rhetoric. A clever feat, it reminded me of what can be done when restraint and repetition are yoked—as in the final stanzas of Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “Miniver Cheevy,” a poem I heartily recommend:
There once was a sweetheart named Andy,
whose ‘tastes’ were exceedingly randy.
Of what he was able,
ask Doris, or Mabel—
or Jessica, Alice, or Brandi.
Reagan Upshaw deserves honorable mention for the sophistication of sensibility and vocabulary here on display:
An overindulgence in brandy
Had Chaplin the Tramp feeling randy.
He called out to Mabel
“I want you in déshabil-
Lé, with a camera handy!”
Though it didn’t use the suggested rhyme scheme, Carlos Alcala’s limerick may be the naughtiest in the old-fashioned sense, and if this were chess, where extraordinary moves get exclamation points (also known as screamers), I’d place one after the second and fifth lines, for the colloquial excellence of the former and the reference to Thelonious Monk’s piano jazz on the other.
At the abbey, the Sisters were drunk
On the sacrament, who woulda thunk?
One nun quit her habit
For an unrighteous abbot,
And played with felonious monk
If you’re wondering, I chose “brandy” and “Mabel” as possible end words for two reasons. One was Ogden Nash’s “Reflections on Ice-Breaking” (“Candy / Is dandy, / But liquor / Is quicker.”). The second is that W. H. Auden in one of his speculative essays postulates that nearly all writers “are either Alices or Mabels.” For example, according to Auden, Virginia Woolf is an Alice, while James Joyce is a Mabel. Figuring out what Auden meant by this classification, which is accompanied by two passages from Lewis Carroll, would itself make for a fine parlor game.
Next week: another contest. Please feel free to share ideas, suggestions, and prompts.
David Lehman is a poet and the general editor of The Best American Poetry series. He teaches at The New School in New York City.
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