There was an old postcard with dents which its owner threw over the fence; It was drenched by the rain ’til she found it again (I sold it for thirty-nine cents.)
No hope for it. This week has turned out to be a salute to postcards which rhyme, and we must face the 77,557-pound gorilla in the room. Anyway, it’s close to St. Patrick’;s Day, so perhaps it is not a bad time to consider the limerick.
If you have read the blogs of my pre-pandemic life, you may have read the one on May 29, 2020, in which I celebrated the two hundredth anniversary of a small collection of small poems called The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women, the first collection of limericks. It was intended for children, and was one of those rare little books which tried simply to amuse them, without teaching any big lessons (and, um, without a lot of big laughs, either. (There was an old woman in Spain, to be civil went much ‘gainst her grain, Yet she danced a fandango with General Fernando, that whimsical woman of Spain.)
For those who don’t know (and there are plenty, to judge by the listings online), a limerick is a poem with five lines: Two long ones of more or less seven syllables, two short ones around five syllables, and then a capper with seven. The first, second, and fifth lines rhyme with each other, while the third and fourth rhyme to themselves. The fashion of having the last line repeat the first has largely died away, and whether the punch line is REQUIRED to be obscene is still a matter of some debate.
In any case, this made the limerick short enough to fit on a postcard, and it caught on quickly. A very popular series of the early twentieth century, later imitated by Mad Magazine and Playboy, picked out a certain type of person and summed them up in a quick limerick, as with the actress.
This was in the days, you understand, when a person could make herself famous with bleached blonde hair and a fetching wriggle of the body. This was a long time ago, of course. Also easily parodied this way were the mother-in-law, the golfer, the lawyer, or the tenor.
This particular series, with its detailed caricatures, led imitators to take a try, as in this rival firm’s salute to the hatmaker.
Racier poems did proliferate, but companies tended to produce these at first as arcade cards, cards the same size and shape as postcards which were not sold to be sent through the mails, but were available in vending machines at penny arcades. After World War II, postal authorities loosened up a bit, and the Bamforth folks (who are a whole nother blog) were able to tell us of the lady named Sally who stripped for the boys at the Palais, and of course the young Scotsman named Sandy who stopped at the pub for a shandy.
But in the… (Oh, very well. “She drew great applause when she took off her draws for the hair on her head didn’t tally” and “He lifted his kilt to see what he’d spilt and the barmaid said “Ooh, that’s a dandy!” Don’t tell your parents where you learned these.)
Artists of an earlier era had to make do with what could be safely sent through the mails. Which did not prevent them making a killing point from time to time.