Poetry is a serious art form. Yet, there are kinds of poetry that are light, witty and enjoyable to write. Once the writer learns the rules, then these forms can be used for public, social occasions, handmade greeting cards and other forums for humorous or clever verse. Epigrams, palindromes and limericks all have very different tones and lengths, but they are each forms suitable to less sombre material.
These poems date back to ancient Greece. Their tone is witty, succinct and potent. Usually not more than eight lines and frequently only two, they are designed to define and provide a twist on a concept. The first part states the theme of the epigram: a wedding, a death or a relationship. The second half then introduces a turn that invokes satire or humour to either praise or to condemn.
The epigram is a form that is often engraved on tombstones or included in greeting cards. It is usually rhymed, either aa or abab, but it can also be in free verse as in the Canadian poet Margaret Atwood’s famous epigram: “You fit into me like a hook into an eye/a fish hook/an open eye.”
The word palindrome is from the Greek for “running backward.” While usually thought of as a word or a short phrase, as in “Able was I ere I saw Elba,” the palindrome can also be a verse form. Although the subject matter in a palindrome can be grave and dense, the very fact that it can be read the same forwards and backwards is often amusing. Of course, poets often subtly alter verbs or pronouns to increase the sense of meaning or to provide additional connotations.
Palindromes gain their poetic potency from the variety of interpretations possible when one reads it first forwards, then backwards. In such a manner, perspective shifts, sometimes humorously. This form works well to express the connections between two people, two kinds of objects, two points of view.
The word for this form stems from the Irish town where this type of poetry was first created. The most humorous of these three forms, the limerick is designed to poke fun at someone. The joke contained in a limerick was traditionally sexual or bawdy, though the more contemporary limericks of Edward Lear are usually fit for reading by children. One of his best known runs: “There was an old man with a beard/Who said, “It is just as I feared!/Two owls and a hen/Four larks and a wren/Have all built their nests in my beard!”
Limericks are always five lines. The lines are anapestic in metre with lines 1, 2 and 5 having seven to ten syllables and rhyming, while lines 3 and 4 have five to seven syllables and also rhyme with each other. Limericks are suitable for happy, silly occasions.