One of the most underdeveloped areas in the education of most children - both in the school and in the home - is the reading and writing of poetry. I don't know whether this is because many teachers and parents grew up under the misguided impression that "real" poetry had to be packed with symbolism and deep meaning, and that "real" poets were strange people who did nothing but commune with nature and die young.
But now is a particularly good time to acquaint your children with the fun of reading poetry - and especially writing their own poems - because next Sunday, May 12, happens to be Limerick Day.The limerick is a verse form that is only a couple of centuries old and was popularized by Edward Lear, whose birthday is celebrated as Limerick Day. Why the verse is called a limerick is rather unclear, although it surely has something to do with Limerick County in Ireland. In any event, Lear wrote hundreds of these five-line poems, most filled with fanciful characters from imaginary places, and many of his rhymes featured words of his own creation - "nonsense" words if you will, but ideally suited to the light-hearted limerick.
And this is the point of the limerick and the reason that it is so useful as a means of demonstrating how everyone's creativity can be channeled into a simple poem: It is never serious or sad, and it rewards those who have active imaginations and a playful attitude toward language.
Here's an example, from David McCord, of how limericks often make a pun from the sound of a name, and then use that sound to create the necessary rhyming words:You won't have to bother with describing for your children how limericks are accented and rhymed; just read aloud a number of examples with them, and I guarantee they'll pick up the meter and the rhyme scheme for themselves. Look in the children's section of your local library for collections of limericks by Lear, McCord, Ogden Nash, Lewis Carroll, John Ciardi and others. (There is even an illustrated collection for very young children that features limericks about pigs and is titled "Pigericks," by Arnold Lobel.)
Some of the most clever limericks of all have come from authors whose names are no longer remembered. Here's one such "anonymous" example:I suppose most people today think of limericks as being rather bawdy, sometimes just suggestive and occasionally downright explicit. But this just demonstrates, I think, how easily the form can be employed as a creative vehicle. And it is the creating of limericks - even more than their reading - that we should ALL see as a goal on this Limerick Day. Yes, I mean children and parents and teachers and grandparents, too. Just take a few minutes and try your hand at one, that's all I ask.
What? Well, really now, by "ALL of us" I didn't mean . . . . Oh, very well then, here it is:- Dr. William F. Russell's books for parents and children include "Classic Myths to Read Aloud." Send your questions and comments about Family Learning to him at P.O. Box 1279, Menlo Park, CA 94026.