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













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



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



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


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

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

(c) 2013, Elizabeth Steinglass




You sit by the door
Two old Labradors,
Two rabbits hunched in the grass
To hop after mama,
Happy to welcome
These foul, wandering feet,
Never complaining
You’re not the ones
To go out.
Circled in fur,
Two open sacks folded back,
Two manes without their lion heads,
Without their thoughts,
Without any idea
Where to go
Without me to say
Time for the kitchen,
Time for the office,
Time for bed.
So little do I think of you,
I’ve worn you
Out the door.
It was the feeling of something wrong
That made me notice
You’d gone too far.
I’ve flattened your fur,
Bored a hole in your toe,
But you never complain.
Happily you swish swish across the floor,
Singing a song
Of someone returned



I’ve been preparing to visit a middle school writing/drawing elective. Because some kids are writing and some are drawing, I thought I would bring some odes. My plan is to ask the kids to choose something in the room to draw or write about so they can really examine their chosen subject. I know that when I have my subject directly in front of me I can come up with ideas that would never occur to me if I were simply picturing it in my head. To prepare for my visit I’ve been reading Odes to Common Things by Pablo Neruda and because I’ll be working with kids I’ve also been reading Neighborhood Odes by Gary Soto. I’ve also been inspired by Laura Shovan’s lesson plans for odes.

I love my copy of Neruda’s Odes to Common Things. It has the original poems in Spanish on one side and the English translations by Ken Krabbenhoft on the other. It also has beautiful pencil drawings by Ferris Cook at the top of each page. Even the drawings make interesting pairs—a violin on one page and its case on the opposite, closed scissors on one page and open scissors on the opposite.

Here is the opening of Neruda’s “Ode to a pair of scissors:”


(looking like
birds, or
you are as polished as a knight’s
shining armor.

Two long and treacherous
crossed and bound together
for all time,
tiny rivers
thus was born a creature for cutting,
a fish that swims among billowing linens,
a bird that flies


Gary Soto also uses beautiful and surprising imagery in his odes. Here’s the beginning of his “Ode to Los Chicharrones” (fried pork rinds):


They are shaped
Like trumpets,
The blow of salt
On your lips
When you raise
One to your mouth.
The music is a crunch
On the back molars,
A hard crunch that
Flushes the ears
And tires the jaw.


One thing I hope to discuss with the kids is the language the poets use to describe the objects—how they look, sound, and even taste. I love the images of scissors as fish swimming among billowed linens and of chicharrones as salted trumpets. These images feel new and unfamiliar. One thing we can talk about is how to get past the old and familiar to discover the new.

I also hope we can talk about how odes are about familiar objects and something more. Neruda’s scissors cut fabric and hair, but they also cut happiness, sadness, and poetry. Soto’s chicarrones are so good, ants drop their breadcrumbs in hopes of a salty flake.

I’m looking forward to my visit and to hearing and seeing what the kids come up with.

For more Poetry Friday visit Sheri Doyle.



This isn’t a place
I want to go—
It’s where I’m put
Or sent
Before I’m ready,
When I’m too busy
To stop my game and say good-bye
To the day.
I’m scared when I’m here
With my ears hearing
All around me,
My thoughts thinking
What might be making
Those noises.
I pull my blue blanket,
My old blue blanket,
Up over my head,
Over Armadillo and One-Eyed Gorilla,
Little Blue Ostrich and Theo the Bear,
And there in our tent we tell stories,
Until our whispers

petits fours by Erica


The Sparrow at the Store

I saw a sparrow at the grocery store.
I offered to show him the way to the door.
“Thanks,” he said, “but there’s one thing more.
Do you know where they keep the petits four?”




The Secret of the Cat

What’s the secret
Of the domesticated cat?
She understands you perfectly,
But doesn’t care to chat.

Goodness, I’ve been grumpy. I hope it’s just the weather and the gray skies. I thought I’d use this week’s post to try to improve my mood. I got out my Ogden Nash poems. They always do the trick. Then I decided to write some of my own silly animal poems. I’ve posted yesterday’s work above. I hope it brings a little warmth to your winter.


For more Poetry Friday, go to Teaching Authors.

(c) 2013 Elizabeth Ehrenfest Steinglass, all rights reserved

winter morning
walking to school we see
our words

a sudden accumulation
at the window

winter storm warning:
ninety percent chance
of freedom!

I’ve been drawn to haiku again this week. It’s like standing by the door frame in the kitchen to be measured. Maybe if I go back to the same place, I’ll be able to see how much I’ve grown. This time I’ve been thinking about the challenge of writing haiku that are both surprising and meaningful. Sometimes I come up with interesting images and words, but even I’m not sure what they add up to. Other times, the meaning is too clear and too familiar. The trick is to set up fresh images that give the reader an experience of unfolding understanding. And, as always, there’s the question of audience: will these images, these words, these meanings speak to kids?

For more Poetry Friday go to Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference.

(c) 2013 Elizabeth Ehrenfest Steinglass, all rights reserved

All day long
He hides
From view,
In the darkness
Under beds,
In the corners
Children dread.
Then at night
He skims
The walls,
The shadow
Of a cat
Long gone.

Three of the best things about visiting Grandma are her two large dogs and her cat, Houdini. Unfortunately, Houdini doesn’t seem to enjoy our visits. He hides day and night, so seeing him is a special treat.

For more Poetry Friday visit Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme.

(c) 2013 Elizabeth Ehrenfest Steinglass, all rights reserved