Who doesn’t enjoy a limerick? The five-line structure with its AABBA rhyming, guaranteed brevity, metric rhythm and here-it-comes punchline is the only poetic form left in the English language to retain broad appeal in this non-poetic age. It was invented precisely where you would think it probably was: in the beautiful Irish port on the River Shannon. John O’Tuomy (1706-1775), a Gaelic poet who kept a pub in Limerick, concocted the formula over long drinking sessions with his Munster bard pals; their Irish rebel hearts setting the comic jingle’s flippant, scurrilous, satirical and transgressive template. The limerick was then popularised in the mid 19th century by melancholic, epileptic, gay Englishman Edward Lear (1812-1888), a genius wordsmith best known now for The Owl and the Pussycat. Subsequently, rather like the infinite variations that grew from the basic 12-bar blues, the limerick’s very rigidity has allowed practitioners a paradoxical freedom to endlessly play within its tight confines. You can tweak, stretch and contract metre, rhyme, syntax, vocabulary and linguistics all you want, so long as you maintain the relationship between lines 1, 2 and 5 and lines 3 and 4, and do your best to land punches, spring surprises, undercut expectations and be thoroughly rude. With the limerick’s Celtic roots and my Frustrated Poet yearnings, we were made for each other. What’s odd is that I’ve never written any in my life – until now…
A limerick’s just a device
To say something not very nice.
In five lines of verse
You must keep it terse
And, if you can, slag off the Sais!
Beware of the windbag from Gwent
And all his dynasty: they’re bent.
After shafting Cymru
And turning Lab Tory
Judas joined the Establishment.
How I love the sweet limestone hills of Pentyrch!
In the woods I roam, in the quarries I lurk.
There’s just one small hitch:
A hovering snitch
In twill and tweed. The hypocritical berk.
A friend of a friend from round Splott *
Reeks of baccy, stale sweat and pot.
One night on the grog
He fell in Asgog…
The rest? I – ERROR! – he forgot.
* Pronounced ‘Splow’
That stately figure down the Bay
Groped a girl at the Beeb, they say.
Yelling “You’re a disgrace!”
She fair walloped his face –
You can see the scar to this day.
There’s a ghastly accountant in Ely
With a mind that’s small and mouth that’s mealy.
While I write this ditty
He sells off the city
To top up his slush fund (allegedly).
Come to think of it, Twitter’s 140-character limit could just about accommodate a snappy limerick per tweet. If this batch goes down well, I could be tempted to start another Twitter presence to go with https://twitter.com/dicmortimer.
I need more strings to my bow:
Ebook sales are only so-so,
It’s so hard to garden
As arteries harden,
And I can’t live with no dough.