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Thursday, 15 January 2015

On writing science verse

Sorry for the silence, but I have been playing Writer's Twister, a game that involves simultaneously having my nose to the grindstone, my shoulder to the wheel, my back to the wall and my ear to the ground.  I m doing end-touches on two books and working on the Big New Project, of which I may say something later this month.

On the right, you can see a dead wombat, keeping its ear to the ground.

Like the wombat, I am aware that I am inexorably approaching my use-by date.  Unlike the wombat, there are no intimations of mortality, and indeed, all the signs are good, but  it is simple mathematics.

So I have decided to gather some of my better stuff from around the web and put it in a place that will last. These items will be linked by the tag treasure chest.

This one was written to help young people trying to write verse for the first time.  You can't teach  people how to write verse, but you can teach them a few trade tricks.  In writing verse, there is art, which involves inspiration, and there is craft, which involves work.  This was originally called Literary Lapses, and its URL was (and for now, still is)


George the Third
Ought never to have occurred.
One can only wonder
At so grotesque a blunder.

This is a clerihew. They are amusing "potted biographies" of people, and they were invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. They do not need to have a rhythm (a metre, if you are pedantic), but they must have a rhyme, and they must say something about the person involved who has to be historical.

Limericks have to have a perfect metre and astounding rhymes, here among the clerihews, the aim is to be historically correct in an odd sort of way, and to get a weird rhyme. Relevance rates highly in clerihews, but truth is not required. Here are two more examples:

Sir Christopher Wren
Said: "I am going to dine with some men.
If anybody calls,
Say I'm designing St Paul's."

* * * * * * *

Sir Humphry Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium

Now it is time for you to try your hand. Here are some names to get started on. Most should be accessible to most people, and some are drawn from areas other than science, so feel free to pick and choose. They will all be found, somewhere on the web.

Julius Caesar    
Mary Anning    
Bill Gates    
Robert Koch    
Catherine the Great
James Joyce    
Louis Pasteur    
Richard Nixon    
Burke and Wills    
Marie Curie
Sir Francis Crick    
Sir Isaac Newton    
Sir Joseph Banks    
The young Torricelli    
Annie Jump Cannon
Macfarlane Burnet    
Jakob Bernoulli    
Pablo Picasso    
Kiri Te Kanawa    
Claude van Damme
Gus Nossal    
Dame Nellie Melba    
Arnold Schwarzenegger    
Enrico Fermi    
William Gates


Unlike clerihews, limericks do need metre.  They need to scan.

When you start out, you need some help, so here are some ideas, a few lines to work with. In five lines, the limerick writer mist introduce somebody, explain where they are or what they are doing (second line), explain what happened to the person or thing in line three, what the reaction was in line four, and finish the whole thing off in line five. Read a few sample limericks to get the feel of it first.

Limericks have a special form. There are five lines, with lines 1, 2 and 5 rhyming, and lines 3 and 4 are rhyming. Good limericks use different words at the end of each line. They also need the right rhythm, or metre:

d'DAH-dah d'DAH-dah d'DAH (dah)
d'DAH-dah d'DAH-dah d'DAH (dah)
   d'DAH-dah d'DAH
   d'DAH-dah d'DAH
d'DAH-dah d'DAH-dah d'DAH

Here is a prime example:

There WAS an old MAN from DarJEEling
Who TRAVelled from LONdon to EALing
   It SAID on the DOOR
   Please don't SPIT on the FLOOR
So he CAREfully SPAT on the CEILing

Notice how we can sneak in the odd syllable here and there.
Now you are ready to begin:

First lines:
There was a young man from Palm Beach (reach, beseech, teach, leech, leach, peach, preach)
There was a young man from Dee Why
There was a young fellow called Smith (myth, pith, kith, with (?))

Third lines
As the camels walked in,
As the rainforests fell
For the rest of his life
The Impressionist school
As his feet turned to lead
As the keyboard went green

It is actually better to have a good word play in mind for the fifth line, or a good idea about your third and fourth lines. Here are some lines 3 and 4:

Third and fourth lines
Though he feared they had germs,
He ate all the worms

His large flock of wrens
That he passed off as hens

They found the canary
Was rather too hairy

If the horse had a chance
It would normally dance

He said "Thanks very much,
But I cannot speak Dutch,

Fifth lines with word plays:
And made cider inside her inside. (an old one!!)
A Norse of a different colour

The people cried "Cafe au lait" ( or Olé)

I came up with this line after seeing a car with OLE in its number-plate -- so the moral is: always keep your eyes skinned, as limericks can come from anywhere!

A Spanish soprano called Fay
Always sang in a can belto way
In the Coffee Cantata
When she was a starter
The people cried Café Olé!

(That one basically came to me during a walk of 200 metres, after I passed the car, to when I reached the bus stop I was headed for. Then all I had to do was tweak it.)

Other ideas for limericks:

Dig into a book, and look through the index for some interesting words. Check out your library, and see if you can find a Rhyming Dictionary -- it lists words by their rhymes.

1 comment:

  1. Useful to know these will be available here for some time.