Thursday, September 06, 2007

Concept: Limericks: I Plead the Fifth.

Imagine a writer, unnoticed, unrecognized, pushing thirty without a major publishing credit, but who knows that his offhands pack more finesse than most others' spit-shined epigrams. He sees a dirty limerick contest (a redundancy) with the prize of a T-Shirt, a chance to post on a lit-porn weblog, and publication in a burlesque ezine. He's pretty sure that he can win this contest and double the number of publications on his resume. Of course he enters! Of course he wins! I would never do such a thing, but you better believe that if I did, I wouldn't admit it here.

The prosodic term "limerick" only dates back to the end of the nineteenth century, and may have referred to the frequent use of that Irish town in examples from the time. The poems themselves date from considerably earlier, classically following the metrical form (often with enjambments and other variations):

John Newberry may have provided the single best-known example for a childrens book in the 1770s:

Hickory Dickory Dock.
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one.
The mouse ran down.
Hickory Dickory Dock.

A more recent example that I enjoy is the Beastie Boys song, The Negotiation Limerick File:

We're giving you soul power.
I like it sweet and sour.
When it comes to rhymes
and beat designs,
I'm at the control tower.

Of course, this kind of poetry has always flourished off the written page better than on, and part of the reason has to do with the typical subject matter. I can only guess why the form is so persistantly used for sexual innuendo. The pseudosynchopated cadence and emphatic rhyming is probably involved: limericks are insidiously catchy and easily memorized. Because they are easily memorized, they are perhaps ideal for an illiterate and religious peasantry composing poems they wouldn't necessarily want committed to posterity. For better or worse, everyone from George Bernard Shaw to Gershon Legman has stipulated that a limerick is, by definition, naughty:

A well-endowed seamstress named Robin,
Caught her nipple down under the bobbin.
She tugged and she jerked,
But still nothing worked.
Now she has one boob with no knob in!

To her boyfriend, a girl from New Trier,
Who was living in France for a year,
Sent a photo, quite lewd,
Of herself in the nude.
On the crotch she wrote, "Wish you were here!"

To Dublin, that town on the Liffey,
To Janet, Jim wrote: "I've a stiffy.
I'll just have a shag
In this wee padded bag.
Be there soon. I'll come in a jiffy."

These are all, incidentally, anonymous.

There literally thousands of these at here.

Anyway, here's Nogood Boyo's victorious blog post, and here's the winning limerick. (Yes, it's a dirty limerick). It will be published in the next issue of the Dick Pig Review.

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