Why Limericks?

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Two Original Limericks:

 

There once was a boy with a stick
Who wanted to try a cool trick.
He threw the stick up,
Held his hands like a cup
And grasped the fine point of the stick.

 

There once was a girl who loved rhyme.
She rhymed when she talked all the time.
Her friends grew to hate
This maddening trait
And prompted her interest in mime.

 

Why Limericks?

A few weeks ago I wrote about why I think we could all benefit from spending some time reading and writing haiku. This week I want to advocate for a very different form—the limerick.

Here’s why I think kids, and their grown-ups, should study and write limericks:

1. Limericks are funny.

2. Limericks have a strong, easily identifiable rhyme and meter.

3. Because of #1 and #2, limericks provide a perfect jumping off point for the study of rhyme and meter.

Lately, I feel like I’m reading more warnings against writing in rhyme and meter and even against teaching children to write in rhyme and meter because it’s so hard. It is hard. Often the difference between an excellent poem and a poem that makes you wince is the rhyme and/or meter. Rhyme and meter are basic elements of poetry, music, language, and humor. We can’t give up! We need to study and practice and work. Limericks provide a great opportunity to do that work, while also having fun.

 

For anyone who’s interested, here’s one possible approach to teaching the limerick:

1. Read a limerick out loud and have the kids read it out loud multiple times, until they can nearly sing it by heart.
(Be sure the example follows the rules of the form very closely.)

Here’s a classic by Edward Lear:

There once was a 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!”

2. Work with the kids to rewrite the limerick in nonsense syllables like da and DUM: da for the unstressed syllables, DUM for the stressed syllables. Have them chant this a few times too.
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
da DUM da da DUM
da DUM da da DUM
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM

You could at this point talk about variations in the form, such as:
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
da da DUM da da DUM
da da DUM da da DUM
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM

Or:
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM da
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM da
da DUM da da DUM
da DUM da da DUM
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM da

You could also show them how people typically mark meter—with ˘ and ‘
As in
˘ ˘ ´ ˘ ˘ ´ ˘ ˘ ´
˘ ˘ ´ ˘ ˘ ´ ˘ ˘ ´
˘ ´ ˘ ˘ ´
˘ ´ ˘ ˘ ´
˘ ˘ ´ ˘ ˘ ´ ˘ ˘ ´
(For information about how to make these symbols on a mac go to ChrisWrites.com.)

3. Show the kids a different version of the same limerick that disrupts the rhyme:

For example, with apologies to Mr. Lear:

There once was a man with a beard
Who said, “It is just as I dreaded!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Jay,
Have all built their nests in my hair!”

What’s wrong with this version?

You might want to mention that Lear’s limericks often use the same word at the end of the first line and at the end of the last line. Sometimes contemporary readers don’t seem to feel comfortable with this rhyming of the word with itself.

4. Show the kids another version that disrupts the meter:

For example, again with apologies to Mr. Lear,

Once there was a man with a beard
Who exclaimed, “It is exactly as I feared!
Owls and white Hens,
Twenty-one Larks and Wrens,
Made nests in my long beard!”

What’s wrong with this version?

I think that by comparing this version to Lear’s, kids can see for themselves the importance of getting the meter right.

5. Give the kids another messed up limerick.

Here’s another Lear limerick I’ve taken the liberty of ruining:

Once there was a Young Lady of London,
Whose shoelaces were almost never untied.
She bought some clogs,
And some tiny spotted cats,
And frequently galloped about Ryde.

Can they fix it (alone, in pairs, or as a class)?

Here’s the original:

There was a Young Lady of Ryde,
Whose shoe-strings were seldom untied.
She purchased some clogs,
And some small spotted dogs,
And frequently walked about Ryde.

6. Finally, ask them to write their own limerick. I think it’s important to mention that it’s harder than it sounds. I would also provide opportunities to get help—either from partners or the whole group. And as always, when I ask kids to write, I write. I want them to see that I’m willing to take on all the risks and challenges I ask them to take on. Often I’m the very first to ask for help.

For more Poetry Friday, visit Laura Salas at Writing the World for Kids.

Next week, Poetry Friday will be here!

© Elizabeth Steinglass, 2013, all rights reserved

March Madness–Round 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last weekend I participated in the second round of Ed DeCaria’s March Madness Poetry Tournament. I had 36 hours to write a poem using the word exertion, a truly ugly word in my opinion. The first thing I did was sleep, giving me about 24 hours to actually write. I kept my notebook by my bed, and first thing in the morning I wrote the poem I entered in the tournament:

 

Hitting the Snooze Bar

I lie back down across my bed.
I pull the pillow over my head.
I desperately need these minutes of sleep
After the exertion of stopping that

BEEP!

 

That’s pretty much how it came out. I agonized a little over these minutes of sleep, ten minutes of sleep, more minutes of sleep. I went with these because it seemed to work well with need. I liked the poem, but it felt light to me. It’s a moment, familiar and funny, but not much more.

My next move was to consider possible rhymes. Assertion and coercion leaped to mind.

I also started thinking about sloths because sloths are known for their lack of exertion.

Thus I found myself writing this couplet:

 

Swaying Sloth

The swaying sloth makes no assertion—
Standing up entails too much exertion.

 

The couplet has more going on than the snooze bar poem, but dare I enter a couplet? It’s so minimal! Also, no one I showed it to seemed to get the double meaning of the swaying and the standing up. I felt I needed something more.

So, for hours and hours, between kids’ activities, meals, chores, etc., I worked on this poem:

 

Sloth’s Weekly Exertion

 

Languorous sloth lives a life of ease,
Hanging around in rain forest trees,
Nibbling on leaves between long naps,
Moving so slowly nobody sees.

Yet, once a week the sloth must creep
Down to the ground to find some relief.
Exhausted by her great exertion,
She climbs back up and goes to sleep.

 

I really liked the first stanza, but the second one bothered me. I didn’t like the rhyme, and it didn’t seem to match the first stanza.

I kept at it, and hours later I wrote this draft:

 

Sloth’s Weekly Exertion

 

Languorous sloth lives a life of ease,
Hanging around in rain forest trees,
Nibbling on leaves between long naps,
Moving so slowly nobody sees.

But even a sloth can’t hold it forever,
So down the tree he must endeavor.
Exhausted by his great exertion,
He creeps back up to sleep whenever.

 

I still didn’t like it. It just didn’t seem to polish up nice and shiny the way I wanted it to, so I threw it back in the drawer and went with the snooze bar poem. Though the snooze bar poem doesn’t do as much, it does seem to do it well.

I was trounced by Dave Crawley and his clever poem about clichés. I am out, but the madness continues! There are many more poems to enjoy and votes to cast.

For more Poetry Friday visit Greg at GottaBook.

I’m going on vacation next week and I’m not taking any electronics! See you in April.

(c) 2013, Elizabeth Steinglass, all rights reserved

March Madness

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Ed DeCaria at Think Kid, Think! has once again organized a crazy poetry tournament. Competitors have 36 hours to write kids’ poems using ridiculous words given to them by Ed. Outcomes are determined by those who visit the website and vote. Winners advance to the next round (like the March Madness basketball tournament). The whole tournament takes a few weeks.

 

My first-round word was hubris. (My opponent’s word was chisel.) I wrote two poems. You can find the first at the tournament website.

Here is the second:

 

The Girl in the Hole

There once was a girl with great hubris,
Who exclaimed without shame, “I can do this!”
When she came to a hole,
She leaped (like a mole)
And found that she’d been quite amiss.

(c) Elizabeth Steinglass, 2013

 

When you have a free moment, visit the tournament, read some great poetry, and vote!

For more Poetry Friday, visit Check It Out.

Limericks

 

 

There was an old man with a hat.
The hat had a hole for a bat.
When the bat flew away,
The man cried, “Please stay!”
How I hate to wear a cold hat.”

 

There was an old man with a slug.
He wanted to give it a hug.
The slug cried, “Oh no!
You must let me go!
Your hugs are too snug for a slug.”

 

There once was a boy with a frog.
What he’d wanted to get was a dog.
The boy ordered, “Sit!”
The frog had a fit,
And burped, “First, you must get me a log!”

 

(c) 2013 Elizabeth Steinglass, all rights reserved

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Oh my poor family, for I have dedicated this week to the limerick. Once I started, I found it nearly impossible to stop. I can still hear the anapests galloping in my head. As you probably know, a limerick is a five-line poem in which the first, second, and fifth lines rhyme and use the following pattern of accents—da DUM, da da DUM, da da DUM. Lines three and four also rhyme and follow this pattern of accents—da DUM, da da DUM. (Alternatively, lines three and four can be combined into one line with an internal rhyme, which is how Edward Lear wrote them.) In some limericks the last word of the last line repeats the last word in either line one or line two. Though traditional, this repetition seems to offend some of today’s readers.

 

My favorite limerick is from Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense:

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!”

 

To me this poem seems a perfect example of the kind of innocent silliness kids (and grown-ups) enjoy. But as a poet, what I really admire is Lear’s simple language and what appears to be an effortless use of the form. After a week of writing limericks, I’m guessing that what seems effortless is actually the result of great effort, great talent, and good fortune. Compared to the example above, many limericks act like contortionists, twisting themselves uncomfortably to fit the form. It’s the rare limerick that glides across the tightrope with grace and ease.

For more information about the limerick, visit Poets.org.

For more Poetry Friday, visit Julie Larios at The Drift Record.

(c) 2013, Elizabeth Steinglass

Tailgaters

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Whose woods these are I think I know,
Which is why I think I better go.

 

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
All I can say is you’re hotter than May.

 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Scream and cry and beg for light.

 

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
One for the nights. Two for the days.

 

Because I could not stop for Death—
He sent a snake to steal my breath.

 

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Beastly creatures sat beside me, hissed my verse, and left me teary.

 

I ask them to take a poem,
Ball ‘em up and throw ‘em.

 

The art of losing isn’t hard to master—
All you have to do is race someone faster.

 

Earlier this week J. Patrick Lewis posted a poetry challenge on David Harrison’s blog. The challenge was to write a “tailgater,” a couplet that begins with the first line of a famous poem and ends with an original second line, in the same meter, which puts a quick end to the poem. The form would appear to take its name from the metaphorical slamming of the back gate of the pick-up truck before any more words can get in. A number of us found the challenge both fun and addictive.

For more Poetry Friday, please visit A Teaching Life at http://tmsteach.blogspot.com.

As you can see, I’ve moved to WordPress and reinstated the name my parents gave me. Thanks for following me over here and for bearing with me while I get used to my new home.