By David Lehman
December 9, 2014
Everyone who likes rhymes and jokes has at least one good limerick in him or her. No one has yet figured out a way to put the limerick to anything but lighthearted use. But the British poet Wendy Cope showed great originality in paraphrasing (and parodying) the five sections of T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” as five limericks, which you’ll find if you click here.
The five lines of a limerick amount to a rhyme sandwich, an eminently suitable form for saucy wit. The best limericks are bawdy but too good-natured to seem truly obscene. Their humor keeps offense at bay.
Here’s a famously anonymous example that has made it into several light-verse anthologies:
An Argentine gaucho named Bruno
Said, “Sex is one thing I do know.
Women are fine,
And sheep just divine,
But a llama is numero uno.”
The limerick is an occasion to display wit and cleverness. An internal rhyme adds to the fun, as in the third and fifth lines of the following:
While Titian was mixing rose madder,
His model reclined on a ladder.
Her position to Titian
So he leapt up the ladder and had her.
On the theory that constraints liberate the imagination, I propose that your limerick contain “Mabel” and “brandy” as rhyme words.
Good luck—and remember: the more fun you have composing a limerick, the more fun your readers and listeners will have when you share it with them. Deadline: midnight, Sunday, December 13.
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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