Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised by the overwhelming response to the Star Tribune’s limerick contest, held in celebration of National Poetry Month in April.
After all, during a limerick craze in the early 20th century, newspapers in the United States and Great Britain held similar contests and were inundated with millions of poems from readers, as well as complaints that some editors didn’t read all the entries but picked winners at random.
According to British limerick historian Doug Harris, prizes back then were pretty nice, like 2 pounds a week for life, or even a house. We offered only a humble roll of toilet paper as a prize in our contest.
Still, the entries poured in from readers, many of whom were looking for something to do while stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic. We got about 4,000 poems in all. And, yes, we read every one.
That’s how we know that you cracked open your rhyming dictionaries and got poetic about everything from toilet paper shortages to face masks to spending too much time around the house with irritable spouses, bored kids and dogs that really didn’t want to go for another walk.
In choosing the winners (one grand prize and 19 runners-up), we favored those that followed the conventional limerick structure (anapestic meter with an AABBA rhyme scheme, for you English majors). We also favored poems that were funny, witty or at least wry, ideally with a punch line landing in the last line. The limerick is traditionally a humorous poem, and we could all use a laugh.
Of course, taste in limericks is highly subjective. If you think you were robbed, you have a second chance.
The Limerick Writers’ Centre in Limerick, Ireland, also sponsors an annual limerick competition. Finalists have to travel to Limerick in August to recite their poem. But the winner gets €500, which can buy a lot of toilet paper.
Here’s our grand prize winner
For avoiding a premature death,
Hum a birthday tune under your breath.
Get rid of the grime,
Wash your hands, all the time,
Like my role model, Lady Macbeth.
Anne Close Ulmer, a retired Carleton College German professor from Cannon Falls, Minn., wrote about literature’s most diligent hand washer.
The great meals my lady does serve
Are way better than what I deserve.
I eat them all but,
when I look at my gut
I have failed to flatten the curve.
John Annen, a retired air traffic control specialist from Elk River, Minn., described a common problem for many of us stuck on the couch.
While Ole and Lena stayed home,
They called Sven, as he lived alone.
It’s the loudest they’d been,
And all because Sven
Stood six feet away from the phone!
We have a new Ole and Lena joke, thanks to Matthew Choquette a software engineer from Blaine.
If corona threatens your life,
Commandment Ten could save you from strife.
Don’t go out anymore
Or see the lady next door,
Thou shalt not COVID thy neighbor’s wife.
A good pun is always welcome in a limerick, like this one by Steve Cope, a retired journalist from Bloomington.
We’d go shopping and then out to eat.
We’d choose coffee shops where we would meet.
Things were going so strong,
As they had for so long,
But now, with the pandemic, a lot of things are not turning out as expected.
In her poem, Melissa Anderson, a University of Minnesota professor of higher education from Minneapolis, recalls the good old days of February, before everything went kerflooey.
I used up my last roll today.
There seems to be no other way.
Because of the hoarders
And the governor’s orders
My Waterpik’s now my bidet.
Shortages have led Doug Denham, a semiretired production assistant from Minneapolis, to get creative.
In this time of the virus corona
Remember the song “My Sharona”
Sing it loud; sing it long.
Sing it proud; sing it strong.
And people will leave you alona.
Mike Forsberg, a retired teacher from Osseo, has a suggestion on how you can maintain social distancing.
The lack of TP makes me freak out
When I see empty shelves as I seek out
That precious commodity
For my functions bodily
I hope that the trees will soon leaf out!
Clay Gustafson, a substitute teacher from Minneapolis, says his houseplants are in grave danger, for reasons you’ll see below.
Biweekly shopping has been my goal.
But social distancing is taking its toll.
While donning my mask,
“Who are you?” he asked.
“It’s your wife,” I said. “Put down that pole.”
When she’s not writing limericks, Mary Kelly Jaeger is a transportation dispatcher and part-time stand-up comic and yoga teacher from Aitkin, Minn.
We’re told we must shelter at home
In public, we should not roam
But we’re climbing the walls
Though we hate robocalls
We’re starting to answer the phone.
Don Place, a 3M retiree from Woodbury, explains why more people are answering our calls.
Sartre, a thinker of note,
Took back his most famous quote,
That Hell could be found,
Where people abound,
When alone with his TV remote.
Even a French philosopher would get blue after too much time with only his thoughts and Netflix as company, according to William Lee, a retired schoolteacher from Minneapolis.
Store stocks have rarely been leaner.
This virus has changed our demeanor.
My people I miss.
Six feet? We can’t kiss.
But, my household has never been cleaner!
Jeanne McNeal, a retiree from Maple Grove, found a silver lining in our current crisis.
A mosquito with no fear of DEET,
Sought a sip of my blood for a treat.
She claimed, “To alight
On your arm is all right,
For between you and me are six feet.”
Mosquito jokes always work in Minnesota, especially ones that employ some clever wordplay, like this one from Anne Phares, a retired civil engineer from Minneapolis.
An old-fashioned woman has found
If she uses geometry sound
She can avoid getting hurt
If she wears a hoop skirt
That measures 38 feet around.
In this mathematical limerick, Charles Crowley of Minneapolis, who’s semi-retired, predicts how the pandemic might change ladies’ attire.
My wife, with no ifs, ands or buts,
Was quick to make face masks for us
And when C-virus stops
She’ll be quick too to shop
For new bras to replace those she cut.
Ross Plovnick, a retiree from Minnetonka, describes a unique solution to a pandemic shortage.
Said a Black Sabbath fan from Wuhan,
(Who played their CDs dusk ’til dawn)
“If Ozzy did that,
(Bit the head off a bat)
Then I will too. What could go wrong”?
Karen Schott, a retiree from Excelsior, makes a connection between a famous incident in rock ’n’ roll history and our current predicament.
Holding meetings on a computer
Instead of being a commuter
We miss face to face
And long to embrace
For now we just hope to unmute her.
Peggy Soll, a clerk for the Bloomington School District, captured a common headache in virtual work meetings.
The word came down from the bosses:
“GO HOME! We need to be cautious!”
From a house of my own
Who would have known
That I would pine for the office!
Working from the comfort of home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, according to Robert Sotirin, an engineer from Shorewood.
Social distancing keeps us apart,
From even those close to our heart.
Six feet is the rule,
At work or at school.
Now others can’t smell when we fart.
A good limerick is often rude, as we see in this entry by Debbie Surman of Bloomington.