Wednesday 22 August 2012

There once was a comper from Fleet.....

……. who was well known for sponsoring the annual limerick competition in Winn Sommor's Winnin Post Club and setting a limerick comp at the quarterly meetings of the London Competitors Club. 

Most, but not all, people have a rough idea of what a limerick should be, but very few are familiar enough with the form to make them look and sound exactly right.

So here is a quick revision lesson – and take note! Because those of you entering a competition which is shortly to appear on Mellow Mummy may find this advice very useful (I’m saying no more for now, but bribes may be sent to the usual address).

A limerick is a five line verse with a rhyming pattern A, A, B, B, A.

But as well as the rhyme, it has a very specific scansion or rhythm pattern. Without going into technical details, you should be able to read it out to the following rhythm:

dee DID-dle-y DID-dle-y DEE

dee DID-dle-y DID-dle-y DEE

dee DID-dle-y DUM

dee DID-dle-y DUM

dee DID-dle-y DID-dle-y DEE

with the syllables in capitals being stressed and those in lower case being unstressed. Learn that little ditty and your limericks will always work! You can sometimes get away with adding an unstressed syllable, or even two, to the beginning or end of your lines, or inserting one before the final stressed syllable, but you then need to read it out loud to double check that all the beats still fall in the right place.

When you are choosing which words to use, remember that most English words of more than one syllable have a natural stress pattern and sound wrong if you put the stress on a different syllable. So for instance although the words “keynote” and “denote” both end in the same sound, they can’t be used to make a rhyme because keynote has the stress on the first syllable and denote on the second. While you can get away with this to some extent in a simple rhyming couplet, it can make an otherwise well written limerick fall flat.

On top of all this, of course, you need to make sure your limerick actually makes sense – and ideally makes the reader laugh. It is a form of verse almost always used in a humorous context, so it is no surprise that so many limericks are rude, crude or downright dirty!

Here is one that won me a major prize back in 1991, the year that Robert Maxwell drowned. Younger readers may not understand the references but it was very topical at the time!

In lamenting the late “Captain Bob”
The hacks have had quite a tough job
For he fell from his yacht
(Or perhaps he did not)
And the “Mirror” got smacked in the gob!

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