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Short and sweet…and funny by Jenny Jensen

June 19, 2021 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen tagged as , , ,

Courtesy of The New Yorker

Short and sweet…and funny

I love Dickens. I really do; the man could use 400 words to describe something that needs maybe five and never miss a beat, never lose a reader’s interest – like spotting all the little details in a medieval tapestry. Then there are the Russians; I nearly drown in those narratives. All those names! Still, what grand stories. But after Anna’s head meets the track I have to read some Elmore Leonard to clear my palette. So many long narrative styles and each a joy to read.

Sometimes though, we all like something short and sweet and to the point. The limerick fits the bill perfectly. OK, it’s technically narrative verse, but a good limerick can express rich volumes in five simple lines. Mostly they’re funny and that’s a plus. And they’re therapeutic, as every frustrated student can attest. Penning limericks during long obtuse lectures got me through an entire semester of statistics.

Regarding statistics Professor Rum writes
While a perplexed class his piercing eye smites
There are lies and damn lies...
But in this student’s eyes
It’s only statistics that bites

It was Mr. Edward Lear (c. 1840-50) who popularized the form for children and thus introduced it to all and sundry. Anyone can, and everyone should, and most everyone has, unleashed pent up feelings in this deceptively innocent form.  How to tell a truth, share one’s opinions, confess a saucy thought: let it out in a limerick.

I’ve been told an old man had sent emails
To some various dubious females.
He was asked what they said,
But he just shook his head.
I would rather not go into details  
                          (author unknown)

The madness of our current world offers so much fodder for a simple AABBA structure. From celebrity culture to politics to foodie commentary it’s an embarrassment of riches. Just think what you can do with Twitter? Jeff Bezos? Bit Coin?  NFT’s? Of course, the really good limericks are the prurient ones. I won’t share any of those here – no need to risk offense – but I bet you all know at least one. And those limericks from elementary school? Sex Ed 101. A narrative form for all ages.

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical.
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

                        (author unknown)

Penning a good limerick is useful. You can entertain family with a razor sharp limerick about Uncle Arnie, or share one with work mates about the Soup Nazi in the cafeteria – entertaining and therapeutic.  But the best use of all is to prime the pump. When I’m faced with that fog wall of writer’s block I jot down a limerick. I work it until it shines and the word faucet flows.

A writer sat despondent in Rossclurds
She’d lost her facility for words.
She penned a snide limerick,
the lurid content did ‘er the trick,
And words flowed like Miss Muffet’s curds.

Lame? Well, yes. But it works and no one needs to read it. The next time you’re assaulted by the news, bemused by your sister’s latest breakup with yet another unsuitable guy or you’re faced with a blank page and the words just won’t coalesce, get your Limerick on!

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