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Serious limerick?

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I recently wrote a semi-serious poem that just happened to write itself in the form of a multi-stanza limerick.  My husband says that you just can't do that, that a limerick can only be of the "There once was a man from Nantucket" variety.  I've tried to rewrite it, but can't seem to shoehorn it into a more normal meter.  If you all agree with hubby, I'll chuck it.  Thanks!
#1 - August 01, 2006, 04:46 PM
Sylvan Dell, July 2008


Hmmm... I think he is right AND wrong. :)

I think you can write a poem however you want to. Once you "know" the rules - you have the right to break them.

However, if the rules you are breaking are well loved and well known - such as the limerick "rule" that your husband stated: must be funny and in line with the "there once was a man from Nantucket" - then you might run into a problem. Your poem would probably run into a bit of resistance and not be well received.

My suggestion is to take your poem and see if you can rearrange it and keep the same impact it has now. If you can't and you keep coming back to the limerick - then take a chance and submit it! Who knows? You just might be the person to break that rule and get away with it! 

Grace and peace,
Donna (who loves trying to break the rules, too)
#2 - August 01, 2006, 05:23 PM


Darn, i just read a "serious" limerick about 4 or 5 months ago, and I cannot for the life of me remember who wrote it.  But let's just say, I've seen it done, and done well.  it was surprising, but fresh, and unusual.
#3 - August 01, 2006, 05:30 PM


I found the followings 

scroll down to number 379. The Guardian collection of Serious Limericks · mostly by unknown poets
Upsetter noticed a letter in The Guardian, and that prompted us to find the rest of their serious limericks; there weren't many.

by Gerda Meyer
#4 - August 01, 2006, 05:44 PM


I would imagine that it is like seeing Jim Carrey in a serious role. You expect to be laughing -- but then you're not, and it's weird. Sure he might be doing a great job with the serious acting but my expectations spoil it for me.

I think the form of a poem says as much about the poem as the words in the poem. So if I broke the 'rules/conventions', I would do it on purpose... like a limerick about the serious side of life, or a free verse about a life of too much structure, so when the expectations of the reader collide with the reality of the piece (i.e. the Jim Carrey effect :)) it would reinforce the message.

#5 - August 02, 2006, 04:59 AM
« Last Edit: August 02, 2006, 05:02 AM by Caroline »

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I notice that the Guardian examples are mostly not actually "serious" so much as sarcastic or ironic or dryly witty.

Furthermore, most of them seriously violate the limerick rhythm scheme, usually more than once.

So I don't know how much of an encouragement they would be to Kittypye.

To my ear (as an occasional writer of lyrics for stage musicals), the limerick meter is inherently lively and glancing--as if it were making you take "a HOP and a SKIP and an UH-oh" on lines 1, 2, and 5; the two shorter lines (3 and 4) sounding like they've caught the poet up short--reduced the poet to short phrases--in a way that lends itself to surprise and humor.

But a poet could take that into account, and find technical ways to slow the rhythm down (so it reads more like a slow waltz), or remove or add syllables that would encourage a more leisurely read. (A good example of that in the Guardian samples is the one about the graveyard that changes the classic limerick meter by removing the final unstressed syllable in all of the 3 longer lines. I don't consider that a "violation" because it's consistent and obviously intentional.)

Go for it!
#6 - August 02, 2006, 06:07 AM


I found the same things to be true in the Guardian examples - but I thought it a good sample of poems simply to answer the question, "Is it doable"?

I did a search and found many websites with serious limericks. They weren't all pretty and many had very strong language and NOT-kid friendly lyrics - thus the reason I didn't post them.  :eek5:

I still think it can be done - but it would have to find the right home. If the poem is important to you, it is worth it!

Grace and peace,
#7 - August 02, 2006, 06:13 AM


I've had a serious limerick accepted by the Bluffton group!  I even have a PB WIP that I'm writing in limerick verse.  (It's taking a LOT of hashing, trust me, but I've been told it's working.  And it's such a fun style to write in!)

All this to say, I never considered that limericks HAD to be funny.  I just looked at it like any other poetry form.  And no one who's ever critted or proofed the various limericks I've done has mentioned an expectation of humor.

Go for it.   ;)
#8 - August 28, 2006, 10:52 AM

Thanks, Aimee! You have inspired me to rescue my limerick from the circular file and send it off to Hopscotch (it happens to fit one of their open themes.) Good luck with your PB!
#9 - August 28, 2006, 05:38 PM
Sylvan Dell, July 2008


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