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Poetry
Light Verse: A Surprising Business
By Charles Ghigna
May, 2006, 10:30

It may not be rock and roll, but light verse is a money maker if you write it well.
T
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 http://www.FatherGoose.com


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