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Serious Limericks

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Ian McMillan Ian McMillan | 10:38 UK Time, Tuesday, 30 June 2009


I'm a morning person, springing out of bed at the crack of dawn with a song in my heart and a poem on my lips, which is a good thing because tomorrow, as part of the BBC's Poetry Season, I'll be making my second appearance on Breakfast with Sara Mohr-Pietsch, following our triumph at the start of the poetry season when we got listeners to text and email lines to build a poem across the three hours of Breakfast; hundreds of people responded, in response to my opening line 'I pull the curtains wide and feel the morning on my face' and the resulting poem was, in the words of Robert McCrum in the Observer, 'not half bad'.

Tomorrow I reckon the challenge will be slightly harder, but I know that listeners will respond to it. During my first appearance on Breakfast, I mentioned in passing my fascination with the idea of the Serious Limerick, or Saderick; I'm interested in the idea of how you can write a limerick about a subject that has more depth than the antics of a young man from Leeds. It's a question of form over content: the form of the limerick makes you laugh, but if the subject was, say, the First World War, it would bring you up short and creative things would happen in your brain.

Listeners can send in complete serious limericks in advance of the programme, some of which I'll read out, but on the day I'll be giving a first line for people to respond to. It feels like a great addition to the BBC's Poetry Season, making poetry an interactive form, a form that belongs to everyone.

And if you want to hear the latest edition of Poetry Lab on The Verb, about describing objects with Paul Farley, the show is still available.

I'll see you on Wednesday morning. Remember: serious limericks!

Ian McMillan is a poet and presenter of Radio 3's The Verb.


  • Comment number 1.

    I recently had a go at a complete course in ancient Greek philosophy using this eminently suitable medium. I got as far as this quintet.


    Pythagoras did more than square triangles
    He shunned butter beans, pokers and bangles
    He had Hippasos run through
    Over the square root of two
    Which incited irrational wrangles


    Xeno, being fast as a cheetah
    Mocked a tortoise that claimed to be fleeter
    But as far as he pranced
    The beast halfway advanced
    To a millionth part of a metre


    Diogenes lived in a barrel
    Liverpudlian friends warned him "Thar'll
    "Make you ten times as cynical
    "Oh and just one more thing an'all
    "Put that thing back inside your apparel"


    Aristotle thought women inferior
    Wombs adrift in their moon-mad interior
    For two thousand years since
    Half the world was convinced
    While the rest thought that Plato was cheerier


    Said Socrates once to a vendor
    My need for your wares is but slender
    Said the vendor, Come, come
    Can't I offer you some
    Leaves of hemlock to put in your blender?

  • Comment number 2.

    Hello Norman,

    I must say that when we read your post in the studio last week we were all very excited/impressed and amazed. Ian McMillan was very complimentary!

    Best wishes

    Interactive Editor, BBC Radio 3.


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