About limericks

Limericks are an irresistible verse form, so accessible, such fun! Irreverent, outrageous, politically incorrect. They spit in the eye of those who take life too seriously.

Limericks, furthermore, celebrate carnality, sex, self indulgence, joie de vivre, life itself! They often, and indeed preferably so, are lewd. They lend themselves to loud recitation on drunken occasions, and are frequently sung, most commonly to the tune of “Cielito Lindo”, with the chorus;

In China they do it for chili!
Now here comes another verse,
Worse than the other verse.
Waltz me around by my willie!

Trivial or absurd as the subject matter may be, the verse form is necessarily strict. Limericks are meant to be recited or sung, sometimes by drunken people with slurred speech. There is no room for sloppy rhythm or imperfect rhyme.

The limerick became popular in or around the town of Limerick, Ireland, in the nineteenth century, though the form was undoubtedly in existence before then. The genius of the Irish, of course, was to associate limericks forever with drunkenness, rowdiness and rebelliousness.

Traditionally, the first line of a limerick ends in a place name or a personal name. The second line fleshes out the character introduced in the first, or sets the scenario. The third and fourth lines, short and pithy, advance the narrative, often wallowing in vulgarity, for the sheer, naked joy of it. The last line, the punchline, ideally introduces an unexpected twist in the tale, preferably with a surprising, clever or punning last rhyme.

It is quite unforgivable for a limerick to lack humour. It should begin by putting a smile on the face of the reader, provoke a chuckle in the middle, and end with a guffaw!

In my own incessant limerick writing, I long ago exhausted my stock of inspirational names, and I tend now, for the most part, to use the first line as a sort of prologue, or a teaser, to draw the reader on into the rest of the verse. I also enjoy writing limerick ballads (for want of a better name), narrative poems with each verse in limerick form, which I see as a natural extension of the medium.

Some of my limericks are clean, mere whimsical musings upon the absurdity of life. Most, however, are unapologetically lewd, and I make frequent, unashamed use of obscene and vulgar language. This, I feel, is only being true to the spirit of the limerick   and its origin among the common, or vulgar folk of the time.

The limerick was, is, and I hope forever will remain the anthem of the common man.

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