Saturday, 24 May 2014

Clerihew - How Bad Can a Poem Be?

A portrait photo of Edmund Clerihew Bentley
It's his fault. Blame him.


Noun. Early 20th century.
[Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956), English writer who devised the form.]

A short witty, comic, or nonsensical verse,
usually in two rhyming couplets with lines of unequal length.

OK ... prepare yourself for a clerihew bomb:

Barack Obama
Likes to kiss like a llama
But with that all's well
So does Michelle.

How was that? Awful, I know. But with clerihews, that's sort of the point. "The humour of the form," notes the Encylopaedia Brittanica"lies in its purposefully flat-footed inadequacy." With the clerihew, clumsy metre, forced rhymes and nonsensical tomfoolery is the order of the day. I think I'll try another:

Queen Liz (that's Elizabeth II)
Gets quite uppity when improperly beckoned
By Charles and Camill when they send her a text
"Do come, mother, we're about to watch The Factor X."

Awful. Just horribly, horribly atrocious (and yet I still have the feeling I'm not quite writing them badly enough). Although setting rules to clerihews is a bit like setting rules to failure, there are a few conventions to stick to if trying to write a bona fide clerihew. These are:
  • A clerihew is four lines long
  • It has a rhyming structure of AABB
  • The first line is a person's name (the subject of the poem)
  • The clerihew says something about that person
  • You don't need to worry about counting syllables or anything boring like that
  • In fact, try and make it awkward and forced
  • It should be funny, or at least make you smile
And in case you think I'm just not very good at writing these gems of literature, here's one by Mr Bentley himself:

The people of Spain think Cervantes
Equal to half-a-dozen Dantes
An opinion resented most bitterly
By the people of Italy

Oh my giddy aunt - it's an absolute car crash of a literary form. I just don't think I'm a match for that level of ineptitude.

Can you write a clerihew?

Do please leave your worst, most nonsensical verse in the box below.


  1. Just a quickee to get the laughing started...

    The writer of this blog, Ed
    To me he said
    To write a Clerihew
    But I didn't and don't have a clue.

    1. You clearly do have a clue in the way that you do a clerihew ...

  2. When Eddie was little
    He blew bubbles of spittle
    His nose dripped a lot
    Of snot in the cot.

    Does that qualify as good; or bad?

    1. It's badly good.

      They don't all have to be about me, y'know : o )

  3. This is so bad, but you asked!!

    Eddie the Lexicolater,
    Is a very good prater.
    His mind is crammed with so many words,
    That he impresses the dumb and the smart nerds!

    Oh, and yes, they do have to be about you! You're such a good subject! :)

    1. I'm flattered by the sheer terribleness of your clerihew, Jingles - I especially like the way you crowbarred the rhymes "Lexicolater" and "prater" together. Edmund would be proud!

  4. Delayed, but here it is:

    Leonardo Di Caprio is the best
    He's handsome, you know, and all the rest
    His acting is perfect, everyone will say
    But not the Academy who hates him-hey!

    I hope it's bad enough! :)

    1. It's fawning, sickly, and clumsily constructed ...

      A quite brilliant clerihew, Evi - it was well worth the wait : o )