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Attempting a ‘proper’ limerick definition - Nina Parmenter's Blog

About Nina Parmenter
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Hello, I’m Nina :-) 

I fell in love with poetry again around three years ago, and have become completely promiscuous. I am currently dating every form of poetry from light to deep, from formal to free. I'm not ready to go steady with any of them yet.

in the mean time, I'm having fun reading poetry, writing it, and leaving small poetic deposits wherever I can. My poetry has been published in Lighten up Online, Light, Snakeskin Poetry, Ink, Sweat & Tears and The New Verse News. I also write a poetry blog at www.facebook.com/itallrhymes. 

I live in Wiltshire, UK with my lovely husband and two videogame-obsessed children who I'm assuming will naturally blossom into Byrons one day. 
 

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Attempting a ‘proper’ limerick definition

Blog Posted:12/11/2019 12:04:00 PM

The limerick is for me a form which never grows tired. It is a wonderful place for humour, puns, and the unexpected.

 

It’s therefore no surprise that we see a lot of limericks on Poetry Soup.

 

However, it’s hard to find an accurate set of rules for a limerick. The definition here on a Poetry Soup is inaccurate, for example.

 

So I set myself the challenge of writing a ‘proper’ definition of what is and what isn’t allowed. It was quite challenging, but I think I’ve got it. Here goes...

 

 

A limerick is a metred, rhythmical five line poem written to a specific pattern.

 

Lines 1, 2 and 5 rhyme with each other. Lines 3 and 4 rhyme with each other.

 

The core, minimum pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables is this, where ‘O’ is a stressed syllable and ‘o’ an unstressed syllable. 

 

OooOooO

OooOooO

OooO

OooO

OooOooO

 

In addition, each line can have up to ONE tailing syllable on the end. The number of tailing syllables in lines 1, 2 and 5 must be the same. The number of tailing syllables in lines 3 and 4 must be the same.

 

So, here, for example, here lines 1, 2 and 5 have one tailing syllable. Lines three and four have no tailing syllable.

 

OooOooOx

OooOooOx

OooO

OooO

OooOooOx

 

Each line can also have up to TWO leading syllables at the beginning. The number of these can vary from line to line.

 

Here’s an example:

 

Cooking a rock for one’s dinner

is a cinch - even for a beginner!

Just boil it in stock

and then take out the rock -

you’ll be happier, richer and thinner!

 

Which, rhymically, looks like this:

 

OooOooOx

xxOooOooOx

xOooO

xxOooO

xxOooOooOx

 

Lines 1, 2 and 5 have one tailing syllable

Lines 3 and 4 have no tailing syllable

Each line has zero, one or two leading syllables.

 

 

As another example, here’s my favourite limerick, by Carolyn Wells:

 

A canner exceedingly canny

One morning remarked to his Granny

A canner can can

Anything that he can

But a canner can’t can a can, can he?

 

This is what it looks like, rhythmically:

 

xOooOooOx

xOooOooOx

xOooO

xxOooO

xxOooOooOx

 

Lines 1, 2 and 5 have one tailing syllable

Lines 3 and 4 have no tailing syllable

Each line has one or two leading syllables.

 

 

 

 

...did I forget anything?...



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Date: 12/13/2019 1:53:00 PM
that's gotta be the most complicated game of tic-tac-toe I have ever seen.....x's and o's and nobody knows where the x's went and the odd o's goes.....One of my favorites: A flea and a fly in a flue==were imprisoned so what should they do==said the flee let us fly = said the fly set us flee = so they fled through the flaw in the flue....
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Nina Parmenter
Date: 12/13/2019 2:07:00 PM
The player with the ‘o’s has won by a mile. Thanks for the flea and the fly. I’d forgotten that one. Genius.
Date: 12/12/2019 4:08:00 PM
Certainly one of the best presentations I have read on the subject Nina, well stated. I mostly do not agree with Suzette as it certainly does require a metrical influence to work, which can be mixed per your definitions which make Thomas's assertion of anapestic meter not the end of story, but only a part of it. For example, if you were to start with an iamb and follow with anapest it is mostly anapest but drop the leading syllable and it becomes dactyl in the middle. The way you explain it perfectly simplifies those thoughts and what Andrea states brings it together with the importance of a common rhythm (meter) with no necessary strict adherence to syllable count as you have alluded.
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Nina Parmenter
Date: 12/15/2019 2:26:00 PM
Amphibrach! That’s the one! Thanks Suzette. Always thought that sounded like something that climbed out of the primordial soup ;-)
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Nina Parmenter
Date: 12/13/2019 8:57:00 AM
Iamb also tastes great with mint sauce.
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craig cornish
Date: 12/13/2019 8:03:00 AM
LOL - But that's why your definition is more useful than mine, because it is easier to understand. I will blog about it - kind of fun actually, btw, iamb is simply the noun form of the adjective iambic.
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Nina Parmenter
Date: 12/12/2019 4:59:00 PM
ThanksCraig! I can never remember the difference between dactyls, anapaests, and whatever the other one is, which is why I explained myself with noughts and crosses. And when you have part-feet at the beginnings and ends, working out which syllable belongs to which foot... well, it’s not it even worth it, is it!
Date: 12/12/2019 5:01:00 AM
Nina, a wonderful blog from you, you are right about the syllables and meter. I assume the syllable counts need to match exactly as well on lines 1, 2 and 5 and lines 3 and 4? I do enjoy a great humorous limerick, bawdy or not! :)
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Nina Parmenter
Date: 12/12/2019 5:04:00 AM
Hi Tania! For me, the syllable counts don't need to match. That's what I was trying to explain, and my biggest disagreement with the PS definition - the tailing syllables need to match in number but the leading syllables don't. Did you follow the link I put under Tom's comment - I think you'll enjoy them!
Date: 12/12/2019 2:55:00 AM
Interesting blog Nina, if I'm right there should be 7-10 syllables in lines 1,2 and 5 and 5-7 on lines 3 and 4. I must admit I don't worry too much about stressed or otherwise but you're right they should have a bounce along rhythm and if course contain humour , the bawdier the better lol. But then it a family site. But as with any poetic form the rules are not set in stone and many a new form has been created by poets tweaking here and there. Tom
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Tom Cunningham
Date: 12/12/2019 3:44:00 AM
Lol, heading there now.
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Nina Parmenter
Date: 12/12/2019 3:23:00 AM
Thank you Tom! I think you’ll enjoy these (warning: bawdy lol!) Many of these play with the rules but are nonetheless brilliant. https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/interestingliterature.com/2016/12/28/12-of-the-best-and-funniest-limericks-ever-written/amp/
Date: 12/11/2019 3:37:00 PM
Glad you added the part in about LEADING in syllables and tail end syllables. In my opinion,you do not need number of syllables on the matched rhyming lines , not as long as the entire poem reads with good rhythm.(as you showed with the cooking a rock limerick). I think some people get so bogged down in the "equal number of syllables" rule that they fail to realize this. Meter can sound good and not necessarily be exact for syllable number. but I think rules are made because some people don't get the meter and having to at least do a required number of syllables seems to help them feel more secure when writing for certain contests.
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Andrea Dietrich
Date: 12/12/2019 3:42:00 PM
I agree!
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Nina Parmenter
Date: 12/12/2019 5:10:00 AM
Thank you Andrea, glad you got what I was trying to say! It's quite hard to explain. For me, if it just goes on syllable count and has no metre, or nothing like metre, then it might be a fabulous, fun, five-line poem, and that's wonderful - but it's not a limerick.
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Andrea Dietrich
Date: 12/11/2019 3:39:00 PM
Date: 12/11/2019 1:51:00 PM
Great blog Nina...I attempted all the forms on soup when I first joined some years ago and came to the conclusion that I will not stress about syllable stress in many forms, limericks included. However, it just came to my mind that I should put a disclaimer in front of my form so everyone reading knows I have not kept strictly to the rules...after reading the blog on Bauhaus, I think my disclaimer shall be bow-wow so the next sonnet I write I shall call a bow-wow English/Italian sonnet, bow-wow Sapphic stanza etc..and you'll know what that means. Every now again, my bow-wow form may just happen to be spot on with the rules and then it'll be a happy fluke! What are the odds? :)
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Susan Woodrow
Date: 12/12/2019 11:47:00 AM
when people I read ask for an opinion on something, I give mine if I have one on the matter but I did notice that when I asked about meter, the only advice I got was that it should sound like normal speech - nothing more specific. However, when I asked about haiku, I got plenty...so meter's a really difficult thing for most and they feel haiku is easier. I was puzzled but when I think of how outrageous the rules are in the Eng. lang, I guess it's not too surprising that meter is so problematic.
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Nina Parmenter
Date: 12/12/2019 2:16:00 AM
Haha, not a haiku fan so I’ll leave that to others, but always happy to give advice in my own little way - but only if invited to do so! I’ll point out typos uninvited, but when it comes to the heart of a poem, unsolicited advice puts you on dodgy ground. O, the fragile artistic heart! :-)
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Susan Woodrow
Date: 12/11/2019 4:08:00 PM
haha yea it is but like you said that sometimes you know something but just can't quite explain it...with me it's that way with meter and syllable stress...after breaking down the rules I decided it was easier to read the best examples (in and outside of soup) and the cadence somehow seeps in...I used to ask for help correcting the meter but no one ever said boo! Instead I'd get 'oh great sonnet' and I'm thinking..oh really! lol I did get a lot of advice on haiku though; kinda odd since hardly any here is Japanese :))
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Nina Parmenter
Date: 12/11/2019 3:56:00 PM
Thank you Susan! I think it’s good to understand a form and then mix it up a little. Or a lot. Evolution is a wonderful thing!
Date: 12/11/2019 1:28:00 PM
An I thought a limerick was easy/A poem written short, bright an breezy/But your definition/Has made it a mission/So in future my lims won’t be cheesy. Or will they?
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Andrea Dietrich
Date: 12/11/2019 3:41:00 PM
good one, Richard. change wrote for written. hahaha
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Nina Parmenter
Date: 12/11/2019 1:34:00 PM
Oh. I meant to clarify not complicate lol. But it’s REALLY hard to explain! I think it’s like explaining whether something’s funny... you know whether it is or it isn’t, but to explain why...!

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