Author Interviews

Bruce Lansky Interview Transcript

  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

On April 27, 2005, Scholastic students joined poet Bruce Lansky to write collaborative limericks. Below is a transcript of the event. You can also get a printable version of the final limericks (PDF).

Hi, I'm Bruce Lansky. I write poetry, and today we're all going to be writing poetry. In particular, we'll be writing limericks, which are a type of poetry. Before we get started, I want to go through the guidelines we'll be using. (If you haven't already, you can also take a look at this page on my Web site: http://www.gigglepoetry.com/poetryclass/limerickcontesthelp.html)

First, there are 5 lines in a limerick. The first one usually sounds like this: There once was a young girl named Sue. The rhyme pattern for all five lines can be described as AABBA. That means that the last words in the first two lines rhyme with each other and with the last word in the last line. Also, the last words in the third and fourth lines rhyme. If that's confusing, let's reread the first line I gave you: There once was a young girl named Sue. Notice that line has three beats. If you're a musician, you'll tap your foot three times as you say the line.

There once (tap) was a young girl (tap) named Sue (tap).
The second line and fifth line have the exact same rhythm: 3 taps.
The third and fourth lines only have 2 beats or taps.
For example: She jumped in the air (2 taps)
And found she was bare (2 taps)

Now, if you can figure out the second line and fifth line, you've got yourself a funny limerick and you've just learned how to write one.

To summarize: the rhyme pattern is AABBA (which describes the sound of the last words in each line).

And the rhythm pattern is 3, 3, 2, 2, 3 (which describes the numbers of beats of taps in each line.)

So, let's get started. Give me a first line. You might want it to be about a person or pet with whose first name has one syllable, like Ted, Joe, or Spot. The first line is the easiest one to write: There once was a (something or someone) named (something or other).

Student: There once was an old man named Bill.

Good start. Now let's make a list of words that rhyme with Bill. Send them in now.

Student: pill
Student: drill
Student: mill
Student: hill
Student: gill
Student: fill
Student: will
Student: Phil

Spill and chill. Good, now let's have a second line ending with one of the rhyming words.
Make up a story. Did he live on the side of the hill? Did his father work in a mill?
Did he die and leave no will?

Student: He lived on the side of the hill.

Now that we've got our two "A" lines, we need to think about our story. Without any concern for rhyme, let's think of a story with two beats or taps. What did Bill do (on the side of the hill)? Did he roll down the hill? Did he have trouble waking up in the morning

Student: He tripped and fell.

OK, now we know what the "B" rhyme and story are about. Let's come up with some new "B" words that rhyme with "fell." For example: bell, well, tell...

Student: Right into a well.

Great! Ok, poor Bill fell down the well. Now what happens? Think about two things: We need an "A" word (that rhymes with Bill) and we need a funny or fun end to this story. So, what happens in the last line? Remember: three taps (like the first two lines). What do we know: his name is Bill, he lives on a hill, he tripped and fell, right into a well.... and now... what? One possible ending isn't great: His doctor made him take a pill. The problem is, when you're down a well, a pill won't help much. I think we need another rhyming word: how about "bill?" Who rescued him? Did he get a bill (did he have to pay) for the rescue? Did the plumber or a fireman rescue him from the well?

Student: He met a guy named Phil.

This last suggestion is pretty good: I'd write it this way: Where he met his best friend Phil (on the theory that they'd both fallen into the same well).

Student: And he got saved by his wife named Lil.

That last suggestion works OK, except, I'd delete "and." /p>

Student: It gave him a big chill.

This last idea gives us another way to end the poem: He got wet and came down with a chill.

Here's our first poem:
There once was an old man named Bill,
Who lived on the side of a hill.
He tripped and he fell,
Right into a well.
He got wet and came down with a chill.

This works pretty well. Notice that we've got a story that makes sense and is amusing, if not funny. Let's start on another one. This time, let's try for a funny one. One idea I didn't use for this poem might have been funny. There once as a fish named Bill. I'm sorry I didn't use it. OK, next limerick. I need some new first lines.

Student: There once was a yellow cat.

Good start. There are lots of words that rhyme with "cat." Please send me some.

Student: mat
Student: who even wore a hat
Student: whose tummy got quite fat
Student: who dreamed of eating a bat
Student: rat
Student: chat
Student: sat
Student: fat

Now that we've got hat, mat, fat, bat, chat, sat, let's write some second lines.

Student: Who chased a very large rat.

That works for me. Anyone got a funnier idea? What kind of hat did the yellow cat wear, for example?

Student: Who wore a polka dot hat.

OK, we've got two good ideas: the polka dot hat and very large rat. Which do you like better?

Let's go with this:

There once was a yellow cat.
Who wore a polka dot hat.

OK, what happens next? Does he lose his hat? Does a rat steal it from him? Let me know what you think.

Student: It blew off in the wind.

This last idea is very cute. But if you can't think of any words that rhyme with wind, we can't use it. What rhymes with wind? Not much that I can think of. So, what else happened to the hat? Did it get squashed? Or stolen?

Student: it blew into the sky
Student: the dog stole his hat
Student: a tornado came by

All these ideas work, however, here's my choice:

A tornado came by,
It blew into the sky.

Notice I'm using your ideas for the third and fourth lines. OK, let's think of an ending. What happened next? But what happens next has to rhyme with cat, bat, sat, fat, etc. So, his hat blew into the sky and what happened next?

Student: Now the hat is worn by a bat!

Bingo! That's adorable. Good going. Now, here's the poem we've just written.

There once was a yellow cat,
Who wore a polka dot hat.
A tornado came by,
Blew it into the sky,
And now it is worn by a bat.

Good going! Want to do one more? To start, we'll need a first line. Be creative. Something different.

Student: There once was a very large moose.

I like that one. Any other fun first lines?

Student: There was a little brown monkey
Student: Once there was a dog named Spot
Student: There once was a very mean pig
Student: I once found a magical gift

I like the last idea, but rhyming with gift will be tough. So, let's choose between a mean pig, a brown monkey, a dog named Spot, and a large Moose. It's a toss up between monkey and moose. I'm going with the monkey, because there are so many fun rhyming words:

Donkey, funky, spunky, gunky, junky. Any others? Skunky, punky...

Student: chunky
Student: hunky

OK, we've got a lot of great ones. Let's take a shot at writing a funny second line. Was the monkey hunky? Chunky? Did he smell funky?

Student: Who liked to dress cool and funky
Student: Whose breath smelled really funky

Two good choices. Which do you like better?

OK, whose breath smelled really funky.
Why did it smell funky? Forget rhymes and think of the story. What was he eating? Did he forget to brush his teeth? Did he never floss?

Student: He ate tuna and cheese
Student: Because he ate some trash

Those are two ideas. I think a monkey who eats tuna and cheese is pretty funny. But would that give him bad breath?

Student: He ate onions
Student: He ate beans

How about combining those two ideas:
He ate onions and beans.

Now we need a fourth line that ends with a word rhyming with beans. Jeans, means...

It could go like this:

Student: And had to undo his jeans
Student: They got all over his jeans

We all like "jeans." I suggest this:

He ate onions and beans,
Which he spilled on his jeans.

OK, now we need a last line that rhymes with monkey.

Student: No one found him hunky
Student: And now he doesn't act spunky
Student: His jeans are now very skunky

If I met a monkey with bad breath and food all over his jeans, I wouldn't think he was hunky, if I were a female monkey or chimp. How about this: And the chimps didn't think he looked hunky.

Here's what we've got:

There once was a little brown monkey,
Whose breath smelled really funky.
He ate onions and beans,
Which he spilled on his jeans,
And the chimps didn't think he looked hunky.

Great job y'all. That's all folks! We've run out of time. Thanks for joining me. Hope you had fun. Now write a limerick of your own based on what you've learned. Send it in to www.gigglepoetry.com. You can enter our contest.

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  • Subjects:
    Poetry Writing
  • Skills:
    Poetry Writing
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