Thyme for a vacation

A vacation with no planning at all and you don't even have to leave town to enjoy it - how about that? It can be a vacation of the mind, for instance, like reading, painting or daydreaming, or it might be physical, like a game of tennis. The object is to free the spirit momentarily, and how you do it is up to you.

If the idea appeals to you and you would like to know more, here's an example that is clearly a vacation of the mind. It's a trip to light verse country, ticket courtesy of Anthony Euwer and ''The Smile'': No matter how grouchy you're feeling You'll find a smile more or less healing,

It grows in a wreath

All around the front teeth Thus preventing the face from congealing.

It isn't the reading of the verse that provides the vacation, however; it's the writing of it. All you need for this trip is a pencil and a piece of paper. The relaxed, frivolous attitude will come along in due course.

Some verse forms are hard to control, which is why beginners should start with the limerick. It has a definite destination, though one can dally along the way, and it is an especially cheerful type of verse; an anonymous versifier explains why: Well, it's partly the shape of the thing That gives the old limerick wing;

These accordion pleats

Full of airy conceits Take it up like a kite on a string.

Actually it's that anapestic foot - two short syllables and a long one - that helps take it aloft, coupled with a wicked intent. The aim is a surprise ending and you are allowed to cheat wildly on spelling, turns of phrase, old sayings gone askew, and whatever else you can devise. Don't take Edward Lear as your model. He usually reused the rhyme of the first line in the last line which is allowed, but . . . The father of limericks named Lear, Penned dull verses because, it is clear,He thought first lines too nice

To be used less than twice Do you think that was wice, Daddy dear?Lear was not the father of the limerick, and that isn't the correct spelling of ''wise,'' either. And does anyone really care?

The first line opens the story, with Lear as the main character. The second line rhymes with the first; there are eight to ten beats in each of these lines.

The second line is the action line. If your story does not ''take off'' here, it probably won't rise at all due to space restrictions. The fifth line should rhyme with the first.

Most scribblers discover too late that the rhyme of their first line does not have a counterpart that will carry the ''message'' of that fifth line. Some truly devious tricks come into play at this point - tsk, tsk. True poets would weep for shame.

Lines 3 and 4 form a couplet, usually with six beats apiece, building suspense toward that surprise in the last line.

Your subject can surprise, too: verses have been written on such astonishing matters as education, mathematics, philosophy and anatomy (''The Smile''). You can choose a subject and write a brand-new story, or you can write a response to , or variation on, an existing limerick. The architectural meditations of Gelett Burgess provide a congenial point of departure: I wish that my room had a floor, I don't care so much for a door;

But this walking around

Without touching the ground Is getting to be quite a bore.

For the writer who has reached the last draft of a book and contemplates previous efforts spread across the floor: I hope that my room has a floor, It's easy to see there's a door;

But from writing two years%TPaper's up to my ears; I can't tell if I'm floored anymore.

From there it is but a short mental lapse to: I wish that my room had a door, I don't care so much for a floor;

But this walking through walls

Just to get to the halls Is getting to be quite a bore. The next step might be to take off from a ''geographical'' first line: There was an old seamstress from Lyme Who committed a terrible crime;

She sewed without looking

While doing the cooking That's how we got stitches in thyme.

As everyone knows, a stitch in thyme saves rhyme. Now don't criticize -- this is a vacation. Even Yeats wrote nonsense lines sometimes when the right words wouldn't come. Of course he went back later with corrections, but that was serious poetry. With limericks, the nonsense becomes part of the story. The only rules in this game are that you can't take it seriously, and you're expected to cheat: There was a young woman from Keating Who refused to write verse without cheating;

She explained, ''I can't bear

To behave fair and square; My principles take such a beating.''

Shocking attitude, really -- but just lovely for limericks.

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