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

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

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









Soccer Team Upset

Football Mad
Shoot to Win

Reading the Game
Thinking Outside the Box










How Soccer Explains the World

Striker Boy.
Kick the Balls.
Shoot to Win
Dream On,
Young Blood.
The World is a Ball.


Two of our family obsessions are soccer and books, so I’ve been meaning to try a soccer book spine poem for a while. I think they’re a fun reminder that one can love both sports and books.

For more Poetry Friday visit Irene Latham at Live Your Poem.

(c) Elizabeth Steinglass, 2013, all rights reserved










For the second year running, Irene Latham, of the blog Live Your Poem, has organized a unique celebration of National Poetry Month. Each day a poet contributes one line to a slowly unfolding poem. Today, on the 16th day of the month, I am honored to contribute one more line.


When you listen to your footsteps
the words become music and
the rhythm that you’re rapping gets your fingers tapping, too.
Your pen starts dancing across the page
a private pirouette, a solitary samba until
smiling, you’re beguiling as your love comes shining through.

Pause a moment in your dreaming, hear the whispers
of the words, one dancer to another, saying
Listen, that’s our cue! Mind your meter. Find your rhyme.
Ignore the trepidation while you jitterbug and jive.
Arm in arm, toe to toe, words begin to wiggle and flow
as your heart starts singing let your mind keep swinging

From life’s trapeze, like a clown on the breeze.
Swinging upside down, throw and catch new sounds–
Take a risk, try a trick; break a sweat: safety net?
Don’t check! You’re soaring and exploring


Here’s the month’s calendar so you can follow along:


1  Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

2  Joy Acey

3  Matt Forrest Esenwine

4  Jone MacCulloch

5  Doraine Bennett

6  Gayle Krause

7  Janet Fagal

8  Julie Larios

9  Carrie Finison

10  Linda Baie

11  Margaret Simon

12  Linda Kulp

13  Catherine Johnson

14  Heidi Mordhorst

15  Mary Lee Hahn

16  Liz Steinglass

17  Renee LaTulippe

18  Penny Klostermann

19  Irene Latham

20  Buffy Silverman

21  Tabatha Yeatts

22  Laura Shovan

23  Joanna Marple

24  Katya Czaja

25  Diane Mayr

26  Robyn Hood Black

27  Ruth Hersey

28  Laura Purdie Salas

29  Denise Mortensen

30  April Halprin Wayland



Cherry Blossoms by Tina dela Rosa

Cherry Blossoms by Tina dela Rosa












plank bridge—
clinging for their lives
ivy vines



the harvest moon
I stroll round the pond
till the night is through



race along
the bamboo porch



The more time I spend reading and writing haiku, the more I am convinced of their incredible depth and of their value in today’s world.

Haiku are an ideal form for everyone–especially kids.



1. Haiku focus on a single intense moment in the present. Our current culture pushes us to rush from one thing to the next, while thinking about a multitude of other things. Haiku provide an opportunity to slow down, pay attention to now, and closely observe the world in front of us.

2. Haiku focus on the natural world and on our connections to the natural world. Yesterday we had record-breaking heat in Washington, DC after a strangely cool spring. Each day presents new evidence that we have damaged our planet. Now more than ever, we need to attend to the natural world and our connections to it.

3. Haiku require readers to actively participate in making meaning. Readers use the images from the poems to paint pictures in their heads. These pictures often include sounds, smells, textures, and tastes. Readers must infer the signficance of the images and their connections. Though haiku images are concrete and their words often plain, haiku are complex and their readers cannot be passive.

Unfortunately, I think most of us learn a very simple definition of haiku—a nature poem of 17 syllables in three lines—that misses its essential characteristics. There are many fabulous discussions of haiku written by more experienced students and writers, but instead of sending you away, I will give you my current understanding.


What are the essential characteristics of haiku?

1. Haiku are short. They are one moment, expressed in one breath. The Japanese poets who developed the form believed one breath was best expressed in 17 onji or sound symbols. Some poets who write haiku in English write them in 17 syllables. However onji are not exactly parallel to syllables, and to many 17 syllables feels like more than one breath. For this reason, many poets of haiku in English write poems of fewer syllables.

2. Haiku are traditionally three lines. Typically, one line (the first or third) presents a natural context: a plank bridge, the harvest moon, a storm. The other two lines describe something more: ivy vines clinging, a stroll round a pond, chestnuts racing along a porch. Sometimes the second line of the more includes a turn or surprise, such as a stroll round a pond that lasts the whole night. By connecting the two parts of the haiku, the reader experiences a moment of discovery or aha. Some haiku poets accomplish this in one line or four, using the line breaks as a tool of expression.

3. Haiku provide direct experience. They are written in the present tense. They do not use metaphor, simile, personification, or rhyme because that would interfere with the direct experience.

4. Haiku are about the interrelatedness of humans and nature. Often the human is there only as an attentive observer. Other times the human is represented implicitly by a verb requiring human action, such as lighting the lanterns. The human can also be represented by a pronoun such as I or me or my.

5. Haiku is not just a form of poetry. It is a way of being in the world.


I hope I’ve convinced you to give it a try. As with most things, it’s harder than it looks and worth the effort.


For more information:

The Haiku Society of America has a page of educational resources, which includes an introduction to haiku.

Jane Reichhold’s Bare Bones School of Haiku provides 14 lessons on haiku and how to write them.

Robyn Hood Black has written many beautiful haiku. On her website she provides a list of haiku resources and lesson plans for K-2 and grades 3 and up.

Diane Mayr posts lots of haiku “stickies” and other delectables on her blog Random Noodling.

Finally, this week I typed “haiku” into itunes search and discovered Haiku Chronicles podcasts. What a find! They have over 25 episodes dedicated to all things haiku. They delve into the history of the form in Japan and in the US. Some include old recordings of poets discussing and reading haiku. In the 8th episode Anita Virgil provides her 9 questions for judging haiku. She says most don’t make it past question 2!


For more Poetry Friday, visit, yes, Diane Mayr’s Random Noodling!

Come back on Tuesday, April 16th to see the 2013 Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem progress.


(c) 2013, Elizabeth Steinglass, all rights reserved


















How to Write a Poem

To write a poem
Go out the front door.
Walk around
Your neighborhood,
Following your nose
Down this or that street.
Cross for the latest bloom.
Track the ants to their castle
Of dust. See where the bees
Dance their maps. Crawl
On your belly. Open your mouth
And funnel the dirt through you
Like a worm. Listen to the rhythm
Of your footsteps and the song
Of passing cars. Eat daisies.
Smell asphalt. Rub your elbows
On oak bark. All the while
Compare your trip to a bird
Or to death. But if you want
To write something new,
Go home. Go up to the attic.
Open a window and



I got another rejection this week (Can we please agree to stop calling it this? How about a “pass?” Anyone else have a suggestion?). Getting a “pass” is too common to be noteworthy. What was remarkable was that the editor said I was close and told me which of the poems he preferred. (Because he replied to me like one human being to another, I didn’t actually feel rejected.) As I considered the two poems he mentioned, I realized they had something in common, not in terms of the product, but in the process that had produced them. With both, I had somehow let go. I had stopped writing from my head and wrote from my gut. I had gone up to the roof and jumped and out in the air, I had caught something a little more unusual.

To metaphorically jump, I literally did something like a cross between free writing and brainstorming. I wrote as quickly as possible, without judging or revising, or even developing any one idea. I tried to get out as many different approaches as possible. Only after 20 or 30 or 40 different options did I go back and see if there were a few I wanted to develop. I think that by writing quickly and getting out as many ideas as possible, I was able to get off the well-worn paths and find new associations and connections.

What do you do when you want to get past the usual?

I hope you’re enjoying National Poetry Month.

Jama Rattigan has an extensive list of Kidlitosphere events celebrating our favorite month.

Irene Latham is once again hosting the Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem, which I’ll be contributing to later in the month.

For more Poetry Friday, visit Robyn Hood Black.

(c) Elizabeth Steinglass, 2013, all rights reserved