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26 June 2021

Posted by Beth McKeeman

Nursery Rhymes and Limericks

Number - 13

Back to the land of nonsense this week and it was a loud one. The excitement of problem solving opening the door/wall combo at the start of the session - an impromptu group bonding exercise for which we have to thank Eleanor’s brains and Conrad’s height and strength for the solution - had everything amped up. The discussions ranged from birthdays to Christmas, evolution to how smart animals, and that’s barely skimming the surface.
The more on topic matters did involve equal nonsense. To really understand the Lewis Carroll Society competition we went back to the basics of the genre.

Another renowned literary nonsense writer is Edward Lear who authored The Owl and The Pussy Cat. In the midsts of birds marrying cats, turkeys as officiants, and using money to buy a pigs nose ring – not much makes logical sense to our world and in fact some of us found it a little unsettling. But it’s also an entirely linear story, with predominantly English words. There’s nothing hard to grasp beyond the situation and we all pictured the same thing (even without the visual aids).

Contrast this to Carroll’s Jabberwocky. Every other word is made up – though arguably all language is made up. Setting that argument aside, this playing with language exposes and uses sounds and rhythm over meaning leading everyone to have a different take away. Was the Jabberwocky killed as a result of propaganda? Is this a tale told after the fact or as it happens? Was the Jabberwocky a scary, evil creature? Was it just like any other creature doing what it does to survive? Is it misunderstood?

To get us into the frame of nonsense, we tackled another of Lear’s favourite, limericks. The rhyme, the flow, the ability to create a story and make it funny all in five lines are a perfect breeding ground for nonsense. It was a task our young writers rose to and you can see some examples below.
Thinking on Alice once more, it was time to be inspired by Humpty Dumpty, a character she meets in Through the Looking Glass and a well-beloved nursery rhyme character.

It’s amazing how nursery rhymes can lurk at the corner of our minds until we’re asked about them. At first it’s confrontingly hard to think of any but as we started talking, more and more were remembered, often in a completely different light to when we were children. This wasn’t particularly off putting as the darker nature of some of the nursery rhymes appeals to our young writers.

The fun thing about nursery rhymes when it comes to remembering them is that like limericks there are often similar ones. There are a whole heap of Jacks and Toms and nameless girls. Then there are ones which at some point must have stemmed from the same place such as Goosey Gooesey Gander, who Susmita and I could recite throwing a man down the stairs but for which I was convinced was furthered into throwing him back upstairs again. According to one book I have, there are two separate rhymes, one with a bit before our reciting, and another with the throwing upstairs at the end of where we left off.

To remind everyone, the competition is open for all, maximum word count 2000. Minimum word count for under 16s is 500. You have to write a chapter to fit into one of the Alice books, title it, and indicate where it fits in the story. Submissions are by July 3rd at https://lewiscarrollsociety.org.uk/writing-competition/

Other competitors to keep an eye on are the Foyles Young Poet competition (https://www.winchesterpoetryfestival.org/prize) and Winchester Poetry Festival (https://www.winchesterpoetryfestival.org/prize) for our over 16s.

A final rhyme, which we’d forgotten:
There was a little girl,
who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very, very good,
But when she was bad she was horrid.


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