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Why we love limericks| Michael Rosen

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There once was a short comic verse whose style was witty and terse. A new book came out, its sales were a rout – our unquenchable limerick thirst!

News that a new book of limericks by the playwright Ranjit Bolt has been a roaring success should come as no surprise. If you sit down to write a limerick, you find yourself straddling two histories: the history of the limerick form itself, which stretches back to at least the 11th century, and your personal history of knowing limericks or poems similar to limericks. Perhaps this second history is more important than the first when it comes to figuring out why you might want to write one, and why people are interested to hear or read it.

The limerick-like poems we’re likely to hear are amongst the classic nursery rhyme collections: Little Miss Muffet, Little Jack Horner and Humpty Dumpty are all what we might call “imperfect” limericks. They have enough of the characteristics though, to set up in our minds the shape and subject matter of the classic limerick: two long lines, two shorter lines and a return to the longer line; a strange or odd character who encounters a mishap; and a neat conclusion which often suggests a continuation of the mishap into dissolution or destruction rather than the classic resolution of children’s literature, the actual or metaphorical homecoming.

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