exercises / humour / poetry

Poetical Fun

A couple posts ago, I posted a ditty called “Abbreviations Poetical.” And over the years, I’ve often indulged my odd sense of humour by writing our annual Christmas letter in poetical format, as in “Haida Gwaii Christmas.” And I’ve even celebrated important family events with poetical humour (which perhaps sounded like I’d already been celebrating a bit too much as I wrote) such as with my “Ballad of Bill and Marj” for their anniversary. And occasionally I set aside rhyming style in favour of some prosaic humour as in “What a Day I’s Been.” I think we writers can sometimes get way too serious about our craft and forget to relax and give free rein to some simple, silly humour in our writing.

Recently I led a creative writing workshop for youth which focused on humorous poetry. It was a lot of fun and the young people came up with some really comical and entertaining verse. So today I decided to share some forms of poetical fun that you serious writers might like to experiment with to refresh and invigorate yourselves and your writing 🙂 While some of these forms can be used for serious verse, try to inject humour in these exercises. Here goes, and have fun!

Terse Verse: Terse verse contains two rhyming words that answer a question. The long title is written in question form and capital letters. Example: “WHAT DOES A FOX CALL FIFTEEN RABBITS? A Beast Feast” (Scott Johnson). List pairs of interesting rhyming words. Select a rhyming pair. Think of a question about the rhyming words—this is the title. Create two or three terse verse rhymes!

This is Mine Poetry: names and describes something you own, and ends in a funny or surprising way. It follows an ABCB rhyming pattern and has 3 quatrains (stanzas of 4 lines each).

  • Quatrain 1: line 1: name the thing you own; lines 2,3,4: write phrases to describe the object. Arrange so 2nd and 4th lines rhyme.
  • Quatrain 2: line 1 repeats the 1st line of the 1st quatrain. Lines 2,3,4 continue to describe the object.
  • Quatrain 3: line 1 repeats the 1st line of the 1st quatrain. Lines 2,3,4 provide humor or a surprising idea.

ABC Poems: Begin with “A” and go through the alphabet with one word for each letter. They don’t always make sense but they are fun and challenging. It can be one long poem using the whole alphabet, or a series of shorter poems using part of the alphabet.

Name Poetry: uses the letters of a name to begin each line. The poem may describe the subject or express the writer’s thoughts about the subject. It is written in a nonrhyming acrostic form. It usually expresses appreciation, interesting insights, or humorous thoughts about the person or object. Can you write a humorous piece of Name Poetry?

Tongue Twister Poetry: is a silly statement in which most words begin with the same sound. The silly statement should be as long as possible!

Trouble Poetry: contains two ideas written in couplet form. The first line names the item that is trouble. The second line rhymes with the first and gives a humorous, unusual, or clever explanation or conclusion. Example: “The trouble with soda pop is that / Eventually it becomes flat.”

Seven Poetry: is a rhyme about what happens to seven things in a group. These poems are meant to be humorous and maybe a little crazy! Here’s an example from Kim Hanscom: “There were seven sisters/ Sleeping in a bed./ The first fell off/ And bumped her head./ The second cried all through the night./ … (and so  on through number seven).

Couplets: The simplest rhymed pattern is the couplet, which consists of two rhyming lines. The lines can be of any length, but the rhythm and rhyme should match the thought or mood of the poem. Example: “The cow is of the bovine ilk;/ One end is moo, the other, milk.” (Ogden Nash) Can you create some humorous couplets? How about a series of them, related to one topic?

Clerihew: a four-line poem that makes a brief, humorous statement about a person. Structure:

  • line 1 ends with a person’s name;
  • line 2 rhymes with line 1;
  • lines 3 and 4 rhyme with each other.

Limerick: a humorous five-line poem that follows a definite rhyme pattern and has a particular rhythm. Each “foot” contains one or two unstressed syllables followed by one that is stressed. There must be three of these feet in each of the first two lines, two in each of the second two lines, and three again in the last line. Lines 1, 2, and 5 all rhyme with each other, and lines 3 and 4 rhyme with each other.

Poems about Spelling: Do a lot of word spellings drive you crazy? Write a funny poem which includes words you think are spelled in ridiculous ways!

List Poems: Pick a subject and make a list of ideas, objects, or actions about that subject. Try to make it as clever or funny as possible. Example: “Wasps: Wasps like coffee./ Syrup./ Tea./ Coca-Cola./ Butter./ Me.” (Dorothy Aldis)

Narrative Poems: Turn a funny story or anecdote into a humorous poem.

Making up Words: Sometimes a real word just won’t fit the bill. Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), Dr. Seuss (Sneetches), and A.A. Milnes (Winnie the Pooh songs) were masters of this form. Are you creative enough to write a poem with made-up words?

Figures of Speech Poetry: English idioms and clichés are excellent hunting grounds for humorous poems. Think about what could happen if they were literally true! Then write about the results.

If you’re feeling really “stuck” when it comes to creating these humorous ditties, get together with a couple others (children are especially creative!) and create together. Have fun!

Do you use humour exercises to inspire your writing? Tell us about them in the comments. Thanks.

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