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January, 2008

Father Goose

Light Verse: A Surprising Business
Understated, concise, and pithy with the punch of surprise
By  Charles Ghigna

It may not be rock and roll, but light verse is a money maker if you write it well.
hink of Ogden Nash, Dorothy Parker, Richard Armour, Phyllis McGinley. They turned light verse into an art. They also turned it into a lucrative career. I've been writing light verse for more than thirty years now. Not sure you can call what I write "art" or "lucrative," but it sure is fun. Just be careful. Once you start, you may never stop.

I started writing my little light verse poems while waiting in airports, grocery store parking lots, and in the carpool lines while waiting to pick up my son at school. Instead of working on crossword puzzles, I started doodling with word play, turning clever little ideas into rhyme.

After composing several dozen little ditties, I sent a few out to see if they'd stick. They did. My early attempts at light verse began appearing in newspapers and magazines: The Saturday Evening Post, The Wall Street Journal, Good Housekeeping, The New Yorker, and McCall's Magazine.

Tribute Media Services picked them up and I began writing a daily syndicated column of light verse called Snickers. A publisher picked out a hundred of his favourites and published a book of them, The Best of Snickers.

Over the years, I've written thousands of light verse poems and I'm still surprised at what I learn from each new one I write. They never cease to amaze me. It is not surprising then that one of the most important elements of a light verse poem is that it contains a surprise. That surprise usually arrives at the end of the poem.

Because it relies on humour, a light verse poem is more like writing a joke than writing a poem. I often think of the last line first and work backwards. After writing the last line, I then work on the set-up, the first three lines that give the punch line its punch. I often like to take serious subjects and show their lighter side.  

Gun Control

To keep your gun under control
One item should be noted;
Check first to see that you are sure
Its owner isn't loaded.

I write most of my light verse poems in the four-line ballad stanza format with the second and fourth lines rhyming and with iambic rhythm throughout. The first and third lines contain eight syllables (tetrameter) and the second and fourth lines contain six syllables (trimeter).

The Cold Facts

"Virus" is a Latin word
That doctors won't define
Because they know the meaning is
"Your guess is good as mine."

No Sweat

You know you're into middle-age
When first you realize
That caution is the only thing
You care to exercise.

Accident Prone

Most accidents occur at home,
A very simple truth;
But many more also occur
Inside the voting booth.

Chess Nut

There's nothing like a game of chess.
It's patience at its height;
Where else can you just sit and take
All day to move one knight.

Writing light verse is a lot of fun and a great practice for writing others kinds of verse. Light verse contains many of the same elements that any successful poem contains. It is understated, concise, and pithy. It requires that the writer say a lot in a few words.  
Besides the basic ballad stanza, light verse can come in a variety of forms. The clerihew is another popular form of light verse. It pokes fun at a real person, often a historical or literary figure. The clerihew often consists of two sets of rhymed couplets.

T. S. Eliot

Eliot was under the delusion
That everything's an allusion.
Each line from T.S.
Requires a P.S.

Lady Godiva

Lady Godiva wore no dresses
Except her tresses.
No suitor
Could suit her.

Claude Monet

The water lilies of Monet
Drift upon a canvas bay.
A master of his profession,
He made a good Impression.

Some light verse poems make use of longer patterns.

Musery Loves Company

Poets mustn't smile.
It is their job, you know,
To brood about their life and times
Wherever they may go.

So if a solemn poet
Should offer you a rhyme,
Simply smile and say, "No angst,
I haven't got the time."

Probably the most popular of all light verse forms is the limerick, the five-line poem whose rhyme scheme is a-a-b-b-a and whose rhythm is anapestic. Its meter is trimeter, trimeter, dimeter, dimeter, trimeter. Subjects of the limerick can range from the bawdy to the inane. They are often the first light verse poems we hear as kids. Children on the sidewalk and in the schoolyard like to secretly recite them. Endless anthologies of limericks fill the libraries and bookstores. Most of them are written by Anonymous. I will spare you here any examples of mine. Examples by Anonymous will suffice.

The market for light verse is vast and varied. Magazines like Reader's Digest and The Saturday Evening Post regularly publish humorous verse. Book publishers like Meadowbrook Press publish little anthologies full of light verse. For those with a droller, highbrow take on the lighter side of verse, there is the magazine Light: A Quarterly of Light Verse. Submissions are welcomed.

Have fun lighting up the world with your light verse. Remember to include a surprise for me.

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Charles Ghigna is the author of more than thirty award-winning books of poetry from Random House, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Simon & Schuster, Hyperion, Scholastic, and other publishers. Books by Charles Ghigna can be found at

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IN This Issue
The Long Life Of Poetry
Marketplaces For Your Poetry
Haiku: Highest Art
What Am I Doing Wrong?
Lyrically Speaking
Writing Poems
The Mind Of A Poet
A Poem Is A Little Path
Seeing Like A Poet
Speaking In Tongues (Excerpt)

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Bald Ego
Mouse Over To Pause

Writer’s Block
The path to inspiration starts
Upon the trails we’ve known;
Each writer’s block is not a rock,
But just a stepping stone.

Poetry Is Not
Penned to the page
Waiting for us to admire.
It is only a lonely thought
Caught by tears on fire.

Silent Echoes
A quiet rhyme upon a page
Is what a poet gives;
Some gentle words whispered in trust
To see if memory lives.

Bard From Deadlines
What makes a poem finally work
Is not the time it takes;
It’s how the poet used the muse
To prophet from mistakes.

Be Mused
The art and craft of poetry
Are not so far apart;
The craft comes from the cunning,
The rest comes from the heart.

Fine Vintage
Don’t plant your poem on the page
As though you’re hanging drapes;
It’s shape and flow should come and grow
Like wild summer grapes.

Getting It Write
Writers write what they know best,
Their passions, fears, and dreams;
Writers rarely write about
What other call their “themes.”

Double Vision
A writer’s life is paradox,
It’s more than what it seems;
We write of our reality,
The one inside our dreams.

The echo of a promise,
The thunder of a sigh,
The music of a memory,
A child asking why.

Letter Perfect
Twenty six symbols arranged on a page
Can send a soul to heaven or torment it with rage,
Can free a fragile world or hold it in its net--
The power and the magic of the mighty alphabet.

The Write of Passage
The jump from writing just for fun
To getting paid for it
Begins when you first realize
You know you’ll never quit.

It is not the magic of his wings
That sets us free from our bond.
It is the muse within ourselves
That lets our words lift us beyond.

Photo Poet
Consider your mind the darkroom,
Consider your life the lens,
Consider your eye the camera
On whose focus the poem depends.

Rising Moon
A poem is a rising moon
Shining on the sea,
An afterglow of all we know,
Of all we hope to be.

Star Light
Writing a poem,
Reaching a star,
In making good art
We find who we are.

Spider Web
A poem is a spider web
Spun with words of wonder,
Woven lace held in place
By whispers made of thunder.

The final draft upon the screen,
At last my poem’s through;
A verse of only four short lines--
I rewrote twenty-two!

Read All Of Charles Ghigna's Poetry at

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