Confessions of a Limerick Junkie

I’ve always loved to read good poetry. In college, I read serious stuff, like “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” I mooned over lyrical phrases, like,

“I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”

Later, I saved all the letters from my dear friend, Elizabeth Bolton, because so many of them included her original poetry. Her posthumously published book Lost Farm included a favorite of mine and Barry’s, Fowl Language, with seven hilarious stanzas like this one:

Even a hen doesn’t need much luck
To communicate exactly with a squawk and cluck
Yet if you notice what a hen must endure
You won’t be surprised that her words aren’t pure

And in Dawson City this summer, I reveled in the sing-song poems of Robert Service. In my lifetime, I couldn’t imagine a best-selling author known to everyone in the U.S. writing poetry. Perhaps his success was more akin to today’s country songwriters, with stanzas like,

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge,
And a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice
It was called the “Alice May”.
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit,
And I looked at my frozen chum;
Then “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry,
“Is my cre-ma-tor-eum.”

Still, my own notebooks are full of scribbled prose, not poetry. Wait, wait, you might cry — what about the limericks?

A form of madness

When my mind is quiet, especially in dark hours when I can’t sleep, a line for a limerick comes into my head. Instead of counting sheep, I start going through the alphabet to find words that rhyme. Like popping corn, the words jump around in my head until a couple of pieces match. Suddenly, it all clicks into place, and I have to turn on the light and write it down before it escapes.

This limerick madness that possesses me happened unexpectedly, and it continues to amaze me. Since February 2003, when my first one bopped me on the head, I have written over 100 limericks. The actual milestone slipped by, unnoticed — at last count, I found 106 originals on my website, plus about a dozen inspirational guest submissions.

What keeps me awake at night these days, though, is anapestic meter. Most folks who write limericks follow the basic rhyming structure: AABBA. But a true limerick has proper meter: “dah-DAH-dah-dah-DAH-dah-dah-DAH-dah.” You know it when you hear it, as in:

There once was a girl from Nantucket.

I’ve found, however, that I am not alone. There are other limerick-writers on the Web, and my favorite site is the Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form. Lately, my own site has suffered, as I’ve been sneaking over there to submit my pieces. They actually have editors who will pick apart a limerick with lousy meter. Hence this new preoccupation with anapestic meter.

I sent them last year’s Christmas special that defined agnostic, and it got some good feedback. More recently, I’ve submitted limericks for the words aghast, Andouille, benefice, and black-eyed pea. Just a couple of hours ago, inspiration struck, and I wrote one of my most clever bits yet, a definition of the word anusless. That one’s not visible yet, but I hope it will be soon.

If you’re looking for a good time, be sure to bookmark the OEDILF site. And I promise, when I’m not writing essays, recipes, or food pieces (I started a new feature on, “The Foodie Gazette“), I’ll be writing the old AABBA. In my sleep.

There once was a girl with a pen
Who wrote a few lines now and then
But at night in her bed
She would cower in dread
From that terrible limerick yen.

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