The finest form of poetry is five lines of risque rhyme

It wasn't until I started collecting cigarette cards that I encountered verse I wished I had written
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I HAVE not yet met anyone in the whole wide world who has made any concrete plans for celebrating the new millennium, and in the same sort of way I did not meet anyone last week or this week who seemed remotely interested in what the nation's favourite comic poem was. Someone somewhere organised a contest for everyone to nominate their comic poem, and someone counted all the votes and someone said the winner was Spike Milligan, which is fine by me even if he didn't write my favourite comic poem, but I did not meet anyone who had had their interest in poetry quickened either by that or by National Poetry Day.

Except Krusty the clown on The Simpsons. Did you notice that? A remarkable coincidence. On Monday's episode on BBC 2, Homer Simpson sees an ad for a free trampoline, goes to claim it and finds it is being given away by Krusty the clown, the misanthropic laughter merchant with his own kids' TV show.

"What's the deal ?" says Homer suspiciously.

"Oh, I used to do a lot of tumbling in the act," says Krusty airily, "but now I'm phasing it out for more dirty limericks, 'There was a young man called Enis...'"

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, filth on BBC 2 before the watershed. It reminded me of a time when I was a teenager and much addicted to Mad magazine. Elvis Presley was young and bouncy in those days, and one week Mad did a parody of Readers Digest including an article called "My Brother Enis, by Elvis the Pelvis..."

I seem to have lost the point. Oh yes, I wanted to express surprise that The Simpsons provided the only mention of limericks throughout the comic poem season. Shame on everyone, if this is so.

My first introduction to living poetry came through limericks. I had already met Keats and Shelley, but that wasn't real poetry. I had encountered the verse in the Alice books, which was much much better than Keats or Shelley, and I'd still take "The Walrus and the Carpenter" to a desert island. But it wasn't till I started collecting cigarette cards, and discovered a series sporting limericks, that I encountered verse I wished I had written.

There was an old man of Peru

Who dreamt he was eating his


He awoke in the night

In a terrible fright

And found it was perfectly true.

From a cigarette card, bought in Chester many moons ago. Wonderful. Here's another, remembered as well as I can.

A wonderful bird is the pelican,

His mouth can hold more than his

belly can.

He can keep in his beak

Enough food for a week

I don't know how the helican."

Some were a little risque.

A pretty young girl called Bianca

Fell asleep as the ship lay at


But awoke in dismay

When she heard the mate say

'Let's pull up the top sheet and


I didn't fully understand that one till years later I went sailing and found out about sheets and spinnakers. Nor had I heard of a place called Nantucket, yet to this day I can visualise the drawing on the cigarette card that bore this verse:

There was an old man of


Who kept all his cash in a bucket.

His daughter, named Nan,

Ran away with a man,

And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

I could, however, understand the ones that managed to make fun of the very tight format...

There was a young man from


Who was terribly sick in a train

Not once but again

And again and again

And again and again and again

Even that wasn't as sophisticated as the one that made almost surrealist fun of the format:

There was a young man from St


Who was stung on the neck by a


When asked if it hurt,

He said, "No, it doesn't

But it's a jolly good job it wasn't

a hornet

The next stage was to discover Edward Lear's limericks, which were mostly pretty feeble by comparison.

The next stage after that was to try to write my own, and make the horrifying discovery that whereas lyrical poetry is comparatively easy, a good limerick is almost impossible to compose. I have never written a good one, I suppose now I never shall.

Oh, my favourite comic poem. Here it is. It's by Anon and is called "The Moron":

Behold the happy moron,

He doesn't give a damn,

I wish I were a moron,

My God - perhaps I am!