For the purposes of our contest, this is what a limerick is:
■It’s five lines long.
■The rhyme scheme is AABBA — that means Lines 1, 2 and 5 rhyme with one another, and Lines 3 and 4 rhyme with each other. (See “What a rhyme is” below.)
■Limericks traditionally are made up of anapests; an anapest is the three-beat rhythm “da-da-DAH.” As OEDILF puts it:
So the basic form is:
da da DAH / da da DAH / da da BING
da da DAH / da da DAH / da da DING
da da DAH / da da BAM
da da DAH / da da WHAM
da da DAH / da da DAH / da da PING
Here’s an example of an Invitational limerick that’s exactly in the form above, by Loser Stephen Gold of Glasgow, Scotland. I’ll boldface all the strong beats, the ones in all-caps above:
“I’ll be brief,” said the pelican. “We
Are so similar, me and BP;
Tarred and feathered. Those spills
Mean we both have huge bills.
High and dry, we’re completely at sea.”
■But they don’t have to start and finish with anapests! The Empress does not care if all the lines begin with the two weak beats of an anapest, and end with a strong beat. Instead, they can begin with one weak beat, or just come right in on the strong beat. Likewise, at the end of the line, you can add one or more weak beats as part of an extended rhyme (e.g., TALK-ing and WALK-ing; CRED-ible and ED-ible).
■In other words, what you absolutely must have, within each line, are strong beats separated by two weak beats.
In Lines 1, 2 and 5, that sounds like “HICK-or-y DICK-or-y DOCK.”
In Lines 3 and 4, that sounds like “DICK-or-y DOCK.”
But you certainly may have the extra weak beats at the beginning and ends of the lines — in fact, it’s usually better to have at least one weak beat (and even better, two) between the last strong beat of one line and the first strong beat of the next line; having two strong beats in a row is acceptable but sometimes clunky-sounding. Those two weak beats can be on the same line, or at the end of one and the beginning of the next. But Lines 1, 2 and 5 must all end with the same number of weak beats (if any), as must Lines 3 and 4.
Here’s an example from the Week 882 Invitational on the word “draconian,” by the great limerick writer Chris Doyle of Ponder, Tex., who has more than 1,400 blots of Invite ink and also is one of the best and most prolific contributors to OEDILF. Note that Chris’s Line 1 begins not with an anapest, but with just one weak beat (“The”), and that the extended rhyme at the ends of 1, 2 and 5 includes two weak syllables (“ni-an”) — followed by another weak beat at the beginning of the next line. Yet the limerick contains a very strong “hickory-dickory-dock” rhythm at its core (strong beats again are in bold):