Epigrams and limericks and rhyming games – oh my!

My second session with the new Creative Writing course group. (Hi guys!)

Today we were looking at the way that rhyme works in modern poetry, so we did the usual theoretical stuff (defining “perfect”, “slant”, “masculine”, “feminine”, “light”, “eye/sight” and “wrenched” rhymes), using Carol Ann Duffy’s Betrothal, Don Paterson’s Imperial and Archibald McLeish’s Ars Poetica as examples.

Then I decided to set them loose on some practical examples, so we had a look at how the classic epigram works – it’s the best way I know of to reinforce that amazing completeness that you get with a rhymed couplet; the way is all thuds into place like commandments on stone tablets. I was really impressed with the results. Mine was probably the weakest of the lot. I promised them that I would post the best three (voted on by the group – hey, why not try democracy occasionally?), so here they are.

Drug company bosses with their poison pills –
let them suffer the side-effect ills
(© Lynn Tara Austin 2008)


My friend, George McKenzie, a boyhood pal
wore a dress extremely well …
(© Bob Fluerty 2008)


The baubles of office, ministerial clout,
now the credibility of Winston peters out …
(© Sean Joyce 2008)

Me, I think they’re brilliant.

We also had fun with Limericks – again, a form that most people dismiss as just being funny (as if “being funny” is that easy!). But they’re actually a really good way of reinforcing things like the effectiveness of setting up a pattern and then breaking away from it; or how different types of rhyme have subtly different effects; or how to use an awareness of underlying metrical pattern (usually iamb, anapest, anapest) to tweak a line that feels rough. Serious learning masquerading as good fun.

I used to do limerick challenges at school – one person provdes the first line, and then you alternate from there. (Trust me, when the person who goes first picks a polysyllabic word, it makes for a very interesting puzzle!) Which is one of the origins of limericks anyway. 

So once again, we did some collaborative limericks on the board together first. Again, I was seriously impressed with the verbal inventiveness. 

There once was a lady called Prudence
who flatted with several male students.
They stayed out too late
and dallied with fate 
now Prue needs two new blokes for romance.

(The initial rhymes we came up with for “Prudence” included such dangers as “new pants”, “lewdness” and “flatulence”. Deary deary me.)

I once had a cousin called Bruce
whose clothing was always quite spruce.
To people who stared
he frankly declared
“Without them, I’d be a recluse”. 

Bless them. Times like this I can see the pleasure in being a teacher.

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