Weekly Poem Project

Week 1: Limericks and other quintains

Here is the limerick I came up with: the first line should ring a bell. I’ll leave the final two words for you to fill in.

There once was a man from Nantucket,
Whose chickens came feathered, not pluckéd,
When faced with the job,
He said with a sob,
“My pluckers are tuckered, so ____  __.”

According to Gershon Legman’s The Limerick (1988), the prevalence of geographical references in limericks is meant to parody primary school geography lessons, in keeping with the verse form’s generally antiauthoritarian nature. In honor of that tradition, here’s a limerick for my home town:

There once was a monk from Des Moines
Who had a bad itch in his groin
He scratched, scratched, and scratched it,
And before he could catch it,
An egg dropped from out of his loins.

In keeping with the limerick’s origins as a ribald, subversive verse form, my friends Charlie Mitchell and Sue Lin Chong offered some excellent examples of their own. Here’s Charlie’s timely politicalimerick:

A business to DC went courting
Where men could do legal recording
Corporations they said
Can live in your bed
If God tells them health care’s disturbing

I love how Charlie was able to incorporate multisyllabic politicospeak into this very short form. And Sue Lin is definitely a master, combining fol-der-ol highfalutin’ French with the requisite references to bodily functions:

A blooper occurs, I daresay.
When deportment goes quickly outré.
An example I’ll offer
To zealot or scoffer:
Shampooing inside a bidet.

Fun, no? In trying to decide what form to do this week, I discovered that the limerick is just one of several 5-line forms of poetry (who knew?). As a group, they are called “quintains.” That old chestnut, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” is written in 5-line stanzas of iambic tetrameter, rhyming ABAAB. I can’t believe I never noticed that before. And here is a poignant poem, “Home Is So Sad” by Philip Larkin, which is written in “Sicilian Quintain,” stanzas of iambic pentameter rhyming ABABA:

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft.

And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.

I think I’ll try a Sicilian quintain for this week. Less challenging than a sonnet, but working up to it >:->. And then next week we can try some lighter verse again … I’m thinking of trying a double dactyl–also known as a “higgledy-piggledy.” I’d love to see what you come up with in either form– or your thoughts about these poems, poetic form, or poetry in general. Versify away!


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