Limerick Workshop, Nov 3 Towne Centre, Alameda

Poets’ Corner

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The First Wednesday November workshop at Borders will be on ” Limericks.”          


Limericks are expected to be witty.  The wittiness derives from the use of various aspects and elements of language which are used by poets to create poetry rather than prose. These are called “poetic devices”
The rhyme pattern consists of end rhymes for lines one, two and five which rhyme with each other.  Different rhymes end on lines three and four, they rhyme with each other as well.

It is a rhyme pattern of a,a,b,b,a.

The rhythm consists of syllable patterns of

soft loud, soft, soft, loud, soft, soft, loud

soft loud, soft, soft, loud, soft, soft, loud

soft loud, soft, soft, loud

soft loud, soft, soft, loud

soft loud, soft, soft, loud, soft, soft, loud.

For those interested in classic metric terminology, the lines are

iamb, anapest, anapest

iamb, anapest, anapest

iamb, anapest

iamb, anapest

iamb, anapest, anapest

A famous example by Edward Lear goes:  “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!” 

Some other “poetic devices” which are used for witty effect are puns, double meanings, metaphors, similes, onomatopoeia, hyperbole and idioms.  Wry comments on people, places and things are examples of wit which may not be”poetic devices”.  Sometimes Limericks are just nonsense, not necessarily funny or witty.  Edward Lear is often credited with originating the Limerick. However, the form existed at least a century before he published “The Book of Nonsense in 1846″. The term “Limerick” was applied a few decades later. Whoever coined the term might have defined the form but whatever was intended is unknown.

Lear’s rhymes started with  “There was a..”  or  “There was an ….”  This is not required.  Lear had a practice of repeating the last word of the first line as the last word of the last line. That seldom is done in modern practice.

As rhythm is key to Limericks, it is worthwhile to comment about “metrics” the term referring to the rhythm patterns of poetry.  The terms and concepts of meter as it has been taught to students of poetry for the past several centuries, was taken from Ancient Greek. As Greek is a different language from English;  Greek speech patterns and cadence are not the same as those in English the usual concept of English verse metrics is incorrect.

The Greek rhythms were based on patterns of long and short syllable sounds. They did not have soft and loud accent patterns of language. At least one of the classic Greek patterns, the “spondee” consists of a foot of two accented syllables which is said not to exist in English.

There are other instances in which the classic taught patterns do not work in English.  The people who know how the language actually works are experts in linguistics called philologists. They base their explanations by actually listening and measuring sound patterns rather than on dreams conjured out of ancient languages.

In poetry and related writing and language arts, it is the fiction which is taught. The science is practically never mentioned.  For students trying to understand poetry and poets trying to write metric form, the conflict between fact and fiction pose a serious problem.

Limericks have a tradition of being bawdy though there are many which are not.   I expect we will be polite in our workshop.

Ken Peterson


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One Response to Limerick Workshop, Nov 3 Towne Centre, Alameda

  1. Pingback: Limerick Poems « welearnhere

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