Ashley Lister’s monthly exercise at the ERWA Blog is for limericks. I, personally, suck at writing limericks because of the rhyme scheme, but not as bad as I suck at writing sestinas. The sestina depends upon knowing the end before you start, imo. But more on that form later. Writing a limerick, to me, is like patting my head and rubbing my stomach simultaneously. It’s a five line form with strict rhyming and rhythmic structures. There is nothing sadder than a limerick which just goes “da dum da dum da dum da dum” instead of “da dum da da dum da da dum.” Both lines have 8 syllables, however the pattern of light stress, light stress, heavy stress in the first two lines is what gives the limerick its “bounce”. The other line with 8 syllables, the four feet of iambs, is what makes the beginning for ballad meter. It’s much more predictable, less bouncy, than the anapests.
Ashley keeps the form simple with a syllable count, but I’d have to add you need to pay attention to the stresses as well because 8 syllables could easily be a 4 foot iambic line instead of a 3 foot anapestic line. Bob’s Byway has a more technical description of how a limerick is built and I’d strongly suggest because that extra foot makes for a “thump-ish” kind of feel, like a misstep to the piece. Lewis Turco’s, The Book of Forms, adds to the details:
The limerick is a quantitative accentual-syllabic quintet turning on two rhymes: aabba. Lines one, two, and five have an iamb and two anapests, in that order; lines three and four have either an iamb and an anapest , in that order, or two anapests. Line five can be merely a modified repetition of line I (AabbA)…
(p.213, Third Ed. University Press of New England)