The basement has always depressed us,
On account of it's full of asbestos.
Said Governor Rauner, “I wouldn't go down there
Unless you're all into asbestos."
[We are grateful for permission to publish a brief excerpt from Anthony Madrid’s essay on the limerick, which first appeared at the Poetry Foundation website. To read the entire essay along with more original illustrated limericks by Madrid and Fletcher, click here.]
by Anthony Madrid
Outside the laboratory, there are three types of limerick: the boneheaded ones, the witty ones, and the ones that are neither boneheaded nor witty—the sex stuff. For some reason, no one can like all three. There is an irresistible law of human personality that causes people to enjoy exactly one of the types and to scorn the others.
I am no different. My heart and mind belong to the boneheaded ones. This is not owing to any idea or strategy. I never chose to worship Edward Lear. I do it helplessly. It is one of the things I do helplessly.
“Witty” is a flexible term. Where I come from, we reserved it for delight-provoking speech that included some admirable show of intelligence or knowledge. By this reckoning, a great deal of delight-provoking speech is not witty. The following specimen is delightful to me, but it is not witty:
There was an old man of Toulouse,Who purchased a new pair of shoes.When they asked, “Are they pleasant?” he said, “Not at present!”That turbid old man of Toulouse.—Edward Lear
Someone could say it’s clever. To which I shrug. It is clever; there’s a technical ingenuity involved, OK. But the beauty of the thing has everything to do with the slight incongruities of asking a person if his new shoes are “pleasant,” and of that person’s responding that they currently are not. This is a very choice example of the “right wrong thing.” The wrongness is right.