Of course the inking limericks posted today in the results of Style Invitational Week 1084 are terrific examples of the form — the Limerixicon contest has served them up in delicious abundance for 11 years straight. But ... well, let’s say that not all the entries were quite as good.
I didn’t expect everyone who entered Week 1084 to look up “Getting Your ’Rick Rolling,” a detailed explanation of what we look for in a limerick — the meter, the rhyme, the content, the humor, the secret communications from our alien overlords. But even in the few lines I had available in the print-edition Invite, I had room for this: “in a nutshell: ‘perfect’ rhyme, and a strong ‘hickory-dickory-dock’ rhythm in Lines 1, 2 and 5; a ‘dickory-dock’ in Lines 3 and 4; plus ‘weak’ syllables on either side.”
This got me, among the 848 limericks I received, entries including:
Finagle’s a term,
That sure makes me squirm...
And this one:
Fire in your loins is good, but fire in your house is not....
And this one:
I just found a limerick for each English word!
I have to read all of these and not be deterred ...
And this one!
Five Finns Found A Fine Brand new Fjord
Flying? No, Driving Fine Finnish Fords
Those were obviously from people who either didn’t look at the nutshell directions or weren’t familiar with “Hickory Dickory Dock.”
Most of the entries did reflect at least a basic grasp of what a limerick is. But even among those, the meter on some of them was distorted beyond anyone’s comprehension, except that of the Ms. Incredible stretchability of the writer’s own mind.
Here’s one first line:
A woman’s mind began to pain her ...
Okay, where would the hickory-dickory-dock go in that one? The only way I could make it work was:
a WOM-an’s mind BE-gan to PAIN her ...
If the writer had asked a friend to read that line, the friend of would have said: “a WOman’s MIND beGAN to PAIN her” — ba-BUM, ba-BUM, ba-BUM, ba-BUM: That’s iambic meter, and iamb hard-pressed to put it in a limerick.
Or this one, which had correct meter in Lines 1, 2, 4 and 5, but this in Line 3:
Tweets, Facebook, YouTube views ....
“Tweets, Face-BOOK ... ”?
Moral: Have someone else read it out loud to you. Be open-minded about how it sounds. If your accent is on “the,” it’s not going to work.
There’s one thing I’ve discovered: You can be a bit more ambiguous about accents once you’re well into the limerick, because your meter is already established. You still can’t put ac-CENTS on the wrong sy-LAB-bles, but a reader can more easily figure out which of two valid stresses is the intended one. For instance, if you read “I jumped up like a shot,” you might say “i JUMPED UP like a SHOT.” Or you might say “i jumped UP like a SHOT.” If a line is this ambiguous at the beginning of a limerick, it’s a problem. But it didn’t give me a problem at all in Line 3 of Brendan Beary’s entry (which was cruelly robbed of ink today):
My philosophy final today
On the Skeptics unfolded this way:
I jumped up like a shot
And yelled, “I don’t know squat!”
On the spot, the prof gave me an A!
I’m not even going to discuss the “rhymes” ... okay, I’ll just list a few.
Flamingo/ Ringo/ stucco
Constant/ it can’t / savant
Moves slowly/ soccer goalie/ pays a fee
But let’s take the positive tack. What makes this week’s inking entries so good?
First off all, they qualify: The rhymes are perfect rhymes; the meter does the HDD/DD thing. But even though a disturbingly large proportion of this week’s entry pool didn’t qualify, several hundred limericks did meet these basic requirements. But also:
— They have natural, readable, lyrical syntax, with the words in normal order, and few or no dropped articles, conjunctions, etc. You don’t have to struggle through them. The words aren’t used incorrectly unless that’s part of the joke.
— They tell some sort of joke, with a strong ending. The humor might be bitter, like Chris Doyle’s limerick about SWAT teams, but it’s not just a definition of a word, or a political screed, in limerick form: there’s clever wordplay, or funny observational humor, or a scene that creates a comical mental image.
— They have an internal logic to the humor; there isn’t some weird name or reference in there just because it rhymes. Why would two polar bears get married? Why would someone’s name happen to be D’Shan? (I hesitated for a moment about Craig Dykstra’s nonsensical mix of “Batman” and floral hedges, but his wordplay punch line was just so amazing that I used it anyway.)
As usual, I judged the limericks without knowing whose were whose. I had some hunches, but those sometimes were disproved. But all four entries “above the fold” turned out to be by longtime Loser Bards, with the Limerick Smackdown Kings hitting the exacta.
It’s Brendan Beary’s 34th Invite win, many of them for various forms of poetry. Brendan’s two blots of ink today give him 939 in all, a position dangerously approaching the Abandon All Hope threshold of the Invite Double Hall of Fame. Making Brendan seem like a slacker, meanwhile, is Chris Doyle, the Losingest Loser Ever, who picks up his 190th ink above the fold. Chris’s signature limerick trick of ending the lim with a clever spoonerism or similar wordplay has surely influenced many writers, both in the Invite and at OEDILF.com, where he’s also a mainstay.
British-born, Netherlands-based World Court honcho Hugh Thirlway, who’s active on OEDILF under a pseudonym, once again drops by at the Limerixicon to pick up his ink. Hugh sent us a slew of clever limericks in this contest, of which two get ink, raising his total to 24, including a win. It’s Hugh’s first chance for a Loser Mug or Grossery Bag, but fourth-place finisher Frank Osen has so many of both that he uses the bags as dishcloths for his mugs; it’s his 18th ink above the fold, all of them from just the past three years.
As it has been since 2004, the Limerixicon is run in conjunction with OEDILF.com, the Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form, founded and supervised by Chris J. Strolin with the assistance of a skilled corps of volunteer contributors and editors. Every August, Chris tells me which sliver of the dictionary he’s working on, and once the Limerixicon results are posted — that’s now — Inviters can submit any of their entries, inking or no, to OEDILF, where they’re assessed and put through a very useful “workshopping” process, in which experienced writers offer constructive criticism and suggestions. If your entry got ink today, please indicate to OEDILF that it’s already been published by The Post. You may also enter limericks showcasing words beginning with anything up to fo-, starting with Aa-. While OEDILF limericks no longer are required to define the word, some Invite entries might not feature the given word prominently enough for the ’dilfers.
Limericks have a long tradition of being risque — in fact, some people say that a limerick, by definition, must be risque, much as purists maintain that a haiku must reflect on nature. We obviously don’t subscribe to that narrow view, but were in no ways surprised to receive numerous limericks even bluer than the Web-only entries near the bottom of today’s list. Here are three of the best:
A fig leaf’s for covering stuff
Like statues of those in the buff.
One leaf hides her quim
And likewise for him
Unless one leaf isn’t enough! (Tom Witte)
The Nats made a deal oh so wise
And young Fister has opened some eyes:
He slips in the strikes
And the hitters yell “Yikes!”
As his K’s seem much more like KYs (Jeff Shirley)
And the Scarlet Letter goes to ...
To the giant, she made a stern face:
“Though you fee, fie and foe at my place,
This portfolio’s new,
So whatever you do,
You’d better not fum on my case!” (Craig Dykstra)