Tag Archives: poetic form

How to Write Limericks: a Brief Introduction to Poetic Form

“What is a limerick, and why do you write them?”
As my followers have likely noticed, I write more limericks than any self-respecting person should. Some people might wonder why an otherwise normal human being would dedicate so much time and thought to writing absurd poems. The answer is simple: limericks are fun and easy to write, composing them is an enjoyable mental exercise, and sharing them can brighten a person’s day.

Perhaps some of you would like to give writing limericks a try. If so, you might enjoy this guide clarifying the form’s distinguishing features. [Those interested in poetic form, in general, might also benefit from this brief guide’s explanation of essential poetic terms and concepts.]

The form: Limericks are five-line anapestic poems containing three lines of rhyming anapestic trimeter and two lines of rhyming anapestic dimeter. The rhyme scheme is AABBA.

“What is an anapest?”
An anapest is a metrical foot. Before explaining anapests, I will familiarize you with poetic feet. In poetry, a foot is a pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables. The most common foot in English-language poetry is the iamb, which contains an unstressed syllable (usually notated as “u”) followed by a stressed or accented syllable (usually notated as ´); for readers’ benefit, I will use capital letters to indicate stressed syllables and lowercase letters to indicate unstressed ones. Some examples of iambs would be: reCEIVE, beLIEVE, the CAT. Prepositions, articles, and conjunctions tend to be unstressed. To determine which syllables of a polysyllabic word are stressed and which unstressed, divide the word into syllables and pronounce the word while paying attention to the length of each syllable’s sound.

While iambs contain two syllables, anapests contain three that follow a pattern of unstressed, unstressed, stressed: the beLIEF, to deCEIVE, with a BROOM, in the WOODS. Since anapests occur less frequently and naturally in regular speech than iambs, the consecutive anapests in limericks’ lines have a musical and often whimsical quality that distinguishes them clearly as poetry and makes them fun to recite.

“What are dimeter and trimeter?
“Meter” refers to the number and type of poetic feet in a line. Two-part names are used to identify meter: 1. Type of foot [anapest=anapestic, iamb=iambic]; 2. Numerical prefix + “meter” [monometer, dimeter, trimeter, tetrameter, pentameter, etc.]. If the foot is, for example, an iamb, one might refer to the meter as “iambic pentameter.” A line of iambic pentameter—the most common meter in Anglophone poetry—contains five [“penta-“] iambs; for example, “She’d MURD/ered PEOP/le JUST/to WATCH/them DIE” (from my poem “Portrait of a Mass Murder”: https://paulwhitberg.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/portrait-of-a-mass-murderer/ ). Scanning the previous example will reveal that the line contains ten syllables divided into five iambs.

In limericks, anapestic trimeter is the meter of lines one, two, and five. The following limericks, which you might recognize from my blog ( https://paulwhitberg.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/5-limericks-a-day-to-keep-the-dr-away-by-paul-oburgess-day-14/), will serve nicely as examples. For now, please study lines one, two, and five; the slashes divide the lines into anapests.
at the EDGE,/ he said, “JUMP/ now and DIE!”
But the GIRL/ still reFUSED/ to comPLY.
To make her obey,
He yodeled all day,
And she WAS/ thus perSUAD/ed to FLY.

Please note that many limerick writers substitute an iamb for the first foot of some lines; this substitution is especially common in a limerick’s first line:
a MAN/ who had BROK/en some HEARTS
DeCID/ed to SELL/ them at MARTS.
“Though unable to beat,
There’s no tastier meat,”
he’d SAY/when proMOT/ing those PARTS.

Notice how the first foot (“a MAN”) is an iamb, but the following feet (“who had BROK/en some HEARTS”) are anapests. Despite the initial iambic substitution, the line’s meter is still considered to be anapestic trimeter.

The meter of lines three and four is anapestic dimeter: “though unAB/le to BEAT” and “there’s no TAST/i er MEAT”).
“What is an AABBA rhyme scheme?”
“Rhyme scheme” refers to the pattern of ending rhymes, and ending rhymes are simply words concluding a line that rhyme with words concluding other lines. The traditional method for indicating rhyme schemes is to assign different letters to lines that end with different sounds. If two lines contain the same final sound, one should assign the same letter to both lines. Since it is the first line, “A man who had broken some hearts” would be labeled “A,” and since they rhyme with the first line, the following lines would also be labeled “A”: “Decided to sell them at marts” and “He’d say when promoting those parts.” Line three—“Though unable to beat”–is labeled “B” because it does not rhyme with the first two lines.

“Here endeth the guide”
Thank you for reading, and feel free to contact me with any questions about limericks and poetic form. Please let me know if you would like for me to clarify anything in this guide or write explanations of other forms.

by Paul Burgess

 

“Cinquains”

Before beginning to write goofy poetry a few weeks ago, my other period of writing poetry was in 2006 when I took a Poetry Workshop with one of my favorite professors. The first poems we wrote were cinquains. The cinquain is a five-line, syllabic form with the following pattern:

Line 1: 2 syllables
Line 2: 4 syllables
Line 3: 6 syllables
Line 4: 8 syllables
Line 5: 2 syllables

Before sharing the cinquains, which were the first few poems I ever wrote, I would like to invite you all to compose and share cinquains with me. [I hope to eventually figure out a  graceful way to provide prompts and to receive and display entries; I would welcome any advice regarding how to make the prompt/respond process intuitive and interactive.] Please do not laugh…these were my first poems, and I know that some of them are cheesy!

“Blues
Blues is
naked music
stripped of all pretension
Until only raw emotion
remains

“Thorn”
Never
the rose without
the prick to remind us
that, though beautiful, love causes
such pain.

“Photo”
Trapped for
eternity
in polished celluloid,
moments call their cage not “jail,” but
“photo.”

“Stoplight”

Stoplight–
red eye dangling
from a smooth black cable,
swaying solemnly in noon’s soft,
sad wind.

“Acne”
Acne
devours beauty,
consumes clear skin;
once sated, digests, excretes a
blemish.

“King Snake”
King Snake,
royal reptile,
though Lion rules jungles,
when grown weary of throne, he can’t
shed skin.

“Red Sand”
For sand:
Crimson-stained land
ever redder becomes
soaked with blood of zealots on a
mission.

“Kiss”
These lips
will serve to bare
my frenzied soul to you–
not with whispered, honeyed words but
a kiss.

“Traffic”
Sweaty
as summer’s sun
has made my skin, its rays
fail to melt the frozen traffic
I’m in.

“Lost and Found”
Do not
Despair that you’ve
Lost so much weight of late;
For I’ve found it and wish to give
It back.

“Casualties”
Seven
and twenty years
we had Morrison and
Hendrix. So quickly burned out our
Bright Jims.

“Dream 1”
Lincoln
And Attila
play chess and smoke cigars
in a realm beyond time and space
and stars.

“Dream 2”
Jesus,
I saw you there
playing and dancing, a
smile on your face and ribbons in
your hair.

“Sestina” by Paul Burgess

I wrote this, my first sestina, in 2006 just to see if I could do it. The sestina is an exceptionally difficult form, and mine is pretty lame. [The same six words must end the lines of each stanza, and the lines in which the words appear must follow a specific sequence].

Sestina:
As the house band loudly plays,
They finish a frantic dance.
He buys her a fresh, hard drink
And looks confused ‘til she waves,
And then toward her he moves.
His shoes squeak in time with his steps.

He thinks about how lightly she steps,
The way she sweetly teases and plays,
And then how seductively she moves;
He loves how she smiles when they dance,
Same as when she splashes in the waves,
And he watches, holding a drink.

With a kiss she thanks him for the drink.
On the wah, the guitarist steps.
The couples hit the dance floor in waves
And hum along with the riffs he plays;
The building itself seems to dance.
A drunken pair shows off its best moves.

He hopes she’ll go with him when he moves.
He wants to ask, but just sips his drink.
Sadly, he thinks, this could be their last dance.
As back and forth, side to side, he steps,
A mental film of them married plays
And then one in which she cries and waves.

Her wild hair, flowing as untamed waves,
Swishes and sways as her head moves,
And upon it, the light softly plays.
She feels she’s had too much to drink;
Slightly unsteady are her steps,
But she still enjoys the dance.

Worn out, they cease to dance.
In the wind, a flag waves,
While outside, they sit on the steps.
For seconds, neither of them moves.
Gnats land on them and start to drink.
Inside the band still plays.

With her hair she plays
While his eyes restlessly dance.
It seems as if all he’s had to drink
Escapes his pores in sweaty waves,
As he proposes to her on the steps…

“Disease: a Villanelle” by Paul Burgess

This is the first villanelle I have attempted since 2006–the year in which I began an 8 year break from writing poetry. I am not sure if it is any good, but I am certain that it is a villanelle:)

Although his thoughts would make a person freeze,
He often rants about the Justice scales.
…he’s not alone in having this disease.

He’s known to translate “smoke” as “foggy breeze”—
To choose the proper phrase he rarely fails,
Although his thoughts could make a person freeze.

A flashing dollar sign is all he sees
When shown his admen’s stylish faerie tales
He’s not alone in having this disease.

His corporation gives to charities
A nominal percentage of its sales,
Although his thoughts could make a person freeze.

The people whose support’s obtained with ease
By one who speaks of Christ, the Cross, and nails
Are not alone in having this disease.

Though spending Sundays praying on his knees,
His acts would land some poorer men in jails.
This gloomy thought could make a person freeze:
He’s not alone in having this disease.

“Johnny and His Love”–a Traditional Ballad by Paul Burgess

“Johnny and His Love”—a Traditional Ballad by Paul Burgess [I think the ballad would work nicely with the music of Fairport Convention’s rendition of “Mattie Groves” https://search.yahoo.com/search?p=fairport+convention+mattie+groves&ei=UTF-8&fr=moz2-ytff-msgr

“It’s time to carry out our plan.
It’s time to run away.
We’ll meet behind the rotting barn,”
Is what Johnny had to say.

As he helped his Ma to milk the cow,
His face would never show
That he planned no more to work the farm
‘cuz away with his love he’d go.

Before his Ma retired to sleep,
He gently kissed her head.
The roar of snores was Johnny’s cue—
He grabbed his bag and fled.

No tears escaped from Johnny’s eyes
When he left behind his nest.
He only thought of how it’d feel
To stroke his lover’s breast.

In the moon, her eyes like pyrite shined
And overwhelmed him with bliss.
Behind the barn he touched her cheeks
Then began her lips to kiss.

He lost his fight with the burning urge
To touch her nether lips
And was stunned by what his fingers found
Between his lover’s hips.

Meanwhile, Ma discovered Johnny gone
And loaded up her gun
Then whispered to herself, “Lover girl
Has seen her final sun.”

As Ma approached the rotting barn,
Prepared to blow away
The girl who’d stolen Johnny’s heart,
She heard her Johnny say,

“If this had been revealed to me,
I’d not have made this plan.
For never once did I intend
To love another man.”

His love replied, “You promised me
That whatever came to pass…”
But Johnny cut her off and said,
“I thought you were a lass.”

Ma dropped her gun and confronted them,
Her eyes aglow with glee,
And addressed these words to her only son,
“That’s your prize for leaving me.”