The Style Invitational ran its first limerick contest almost right at its birth. In Week 12, in 1993, here were the Czar’s instructions: “Write a limerick. That’s the easy part. The hard part: It must contain one of the following names: “Hillary Rodham Clinton,” “Jack Kevorkian,” “George Stephanopoulos” or “Bosnia-Herzegovina.” The names don’t have to be part of the rhyme, and their constituent words can be separated.”
The Czar learned immediately that “the easy part” wasn’t that easy for the large majority of the contest’s entrants back in Year 1. Three weeks later, he made this introduction to the results:
We offered a contest poetic.
The results, they were pretty pathetic.
’Twas the worst of our fears —
You all had tin ears!
And kept trying to stick in extra clunky words and committing rhymes that gave us a headache.
The Czar went on to give ink to one winner, five runners-up, a whopping two honorable mentions, and a “special award of a tin cup for the most pitiful attempt at a rhyme”: “Stephanopoulos” and “rhinoceros.”
But even among these few limericks, the Czar could be only so stringent: While the first runner-up rhymed “Stephanopoulos” and “topple us” — that’s what we call a “perfect rhyme” — the third runner-up matched “Stephanopoulos” with “lot of us.” That’s, uh, not what we call a perfect rhyme.
The Invite has evolved.
For one thing, we’ve learned that you can’t just say “write a limerick” and assume that everyone knows exactly what you mean. This is why I’ve written up a big long list of guidelines called “Get Your ’Rick Rolling,” which patiently and I hope not too confusingly spells out what we mean by limerick meter, and by rhyme. Some of it is lifted directly from the guidelines at OEDILF.com, the indefatigable project of Chris J. Strolin and his band to publish at least one limerick for every meaning of every word in the English language. Just months after Chris set up his site in 2004 (and just months after I started the Empress gig), I ran the first of our Limerixicons, asking for words beginning anywhere from ai- to ar-. “The OEDILF currently contains more than 600 limericks,” I marveled in Week 572, It’s now, as I type this, at 86,363.
Note: There are at least two versions of the Invite’s limerick guidelines floating around the Internet; the most current one is at bit.ly/InviteLim (or wapo.st/InviteLim) and is dated Aug. 10, 2014. It’s no big deal if you come across the one at wapo.st/limrules, which is dated 2012; it’s just that the dates referring to contests are wrong, it lacks a few editorial tweaks, and it’s missing the restatement of our ongoing rule that entries can’t have been published elsewhere before we run them.
The relationship between the Invite and OEDILF has benefited both institutions mightily: Once Chris put the word out to his regular contributors about the Invitational (which he persists in calling “WPSI,” like some Greek radio station), we began to hear from lots of skilled and talented poets, some of who became Invite regulars, like Stephen Gold, Hugh Thirlway, Sheila Blume and I’m sure many more. (There were some ruffled feathers the first year, I recall, before the Oedilfers realized that our main criterion for a Limerixicon limerick was not that it define the word, as OEDILF emphasized at the time, but that it be clever and funny.)
Not only that, but there was a secondary effect: Many of the ’Dilfers are active in the broader light-verse community, and I suspect that it was through their spreading the words on such poetry sites as Eratosphere that the Invite was enriched by such now-regulars as Robert Schechter, Frank Osen and Melissa Balmain, all of whom have shown here that they can be funny beyond just poetry-funny.
But also, some of the Invitational’s finest Loserbards were intrigued by OEDILF, and they started contributing. And contributing. Most notably, the Invite’s all-time top scorer, Chris Doyle, has 792 limericks in the OEDILF archive, and has “workshopped” with many other authors to improve their own submissions. I hope you’ll do so as well with your own limericks — just remember to wait until the Week 1084 results are published Sept. 4 to submit this year’s Limerixicon entries there.
I just this morning showed the Czar that first limerick contest, from Week 12, and he immediately shared with me, from memory, an entry that was rejected that week by the bow-tied Bob Kaiser, who was then The Post’s managing editor.
A lovely young lass from Nantucket
Required help kicking the bucket.
“No problem, my child,”
Doc Kevorkian smiled,
“Wrap your lips round my tailpipe and suck it.”
The Czar doesn’t, however, remember who wrote it. If you did, let me know — nice job!
And that’s another big difference between the Year 1 Invitational and the Year 22 Invitational: We now have the online version where we can share some of the more risque entries — and the under-the-radar Conversational for the really unprintable stuff.
A contest that asks for bad writing runs a certain risk: Isn’t it rather likely that good funny writing will be more entertaining than writing that’s so bad it’s funny?
I do feel bad for those Losers who sent in sparkling light verse for Week 1080. And I concede the possibility that some of today’s inking entries might have been funnier they been written in crisper rhyme and meter. Still, I sensed a distinct difference between them and the hundreds of unintentionally bad entries I receive for every one of the Invite’s dozens of poetry contests. It’s no fluke, I’m sure, that two of this week’s top two winners are widely published poets.
And it was definitely intentional badness — such as rhyming “pales” with “Versailles” (not Versailles, Ind., anyway) — that catapulted First Offender Thomas Blain right over the squalling mass of Loserdom into first place. So he’ll be getting a FirStink for his first ink, along with his Inkin’ Memorial. And I have a hunch that Thomas can be just as good as he is bad, so I hope he won’t be one of those dozens of people over the years whose first-place wins turned out to be their only ink.
Frank Osen probably won’t be including “The Hello Kitty Disposable Travel Mug Mishap” in his next collection — his 2012 book “Virtue Big as Sin” won the Able Muse Poetry Award — but I hope that he’d treasure the pooping-gorilla key chain almost as much as the exceedingly creepy alligator-foot back scratcher he scored in June. Jeff Shirley, a retired dentist, had to pull teeth to rhyme “acreage,” “rage” and “barrage” in his faux-etical old to the beleaguered Tiger Woods; and I’m sure that Mae Scanlan’s own teeth hurt her when the otherwise flawless wordsmith served up a hilariously goofy lamentation on the World Cup results.
Meanwhile, among those too good for ink (despite its ick factor), here are all eight lines of Nan Reiner’s lamentation on her clogged toilet:
The morn, it breaks; my soul awakes, to revel in the maybe
Of hours to spend in pleasure’s end. Oh, joy, what shall this day be!
The robins sing, the doves take wing; not any thing can spoil it!
But all too soon ’twill plunge to ruin. Alighting from my toilet,
I seek the flush, the filling rush, blue waters sanitizing;
Instead I see late parts of me, inexorably rising.
I turn my head and flee in dread: I know, too well, what’s coming.
I’d barter now three years of Law for just one course in Plumbing.