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Poetry Friday.
Slice of Life March Challenge. No.31.

During the March 2017 Slice of Life Challenge I have written nonsense verse on a couple occasions. I didn’t set out to write nonsense verse any one of the times. Perhaps if I had done so intentionally, I would have played more with the rhythm, the rhyme, and polar opposites. When I wrote the introductory paragraph to Slice No. 30, I make an indirect reference to nonsense verse by advising the reader to read with a “jabberwocky eye” because there was such utter nonsense in the poem, The Gossip of SOL17, I composed from 112 Slicers’ blog names.

During the composition process, I had deliberately played with the nouns and verbs (see the elements of nonsense poems below) in the blog names, tying them together with pronouns, prepositions, and conjunctions. I chanced upon using a stem question — Did you know . . .? — in one of my lines and liked the gossipy tone it gave the piece. Perfect for nonsense, right? So, I deliberately developed that tone throughout the poem with repetition. And I used “gossip” in its title.

A very brief summary on nonsense verse

Nonsense verse has been around in English for a long time. Anglo Saxon riddles are a very early form. Many of our nursery rhymes have the characteristics of nonsense verse, that is, if the background of them is not taken into consideration. And limericks are well-known nonsense verse that once written for a nonsensical effect usually include a humorous, sometimes bawdy, effect today.

The elements found in nonsense verse:

1. The syntax (structure, grammar) makes sense, but the semantic (meaning) elements are nonsense.

2. Lines and phrases make sense grammatically, but nonsense words are used. Nonsense words have an unclear meaning or none at all; some say they are invented. These words, however, can be clearly identified in context as a specific part of speech.

3. Nonsense verse may employ jumbled or ambiguous grammar as well as invented (nonsense) words.

4. Nonsense verse may have nonsensical situations as its context.

5. Sometimes contradictory or impossible scenarios are expressed in a matter-of-fact tone.

6. Nonsense verse can contain an incompatibility of words or phrases, accomplished by pairing opposites such as in Two Dead Boys below.

Enjoy some nonsense verse

On March 17, I wrote Blessings and Limericks. In case you missed it, there is a link to free downloadable copy of  Book of Nonsense (1846), the verse and drawings of Edward Lear, could I call him the father of limericks?  Also, there is a link to how to write a limerick, and I shared the limerick that I wrote following the procedures and ideas in the how-to.


We can’t even begin to talk about nonsense literature without thinking of our beloved Dr. Seuss, right? Take his Green Eggs and Ham.

Do you like green eggs and ham?

I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
I do not like green eggs and ham!

Would you like them here or there?

I would not like them here or there.
I would not like them anywhere.

I do so like green eggs and ham!
Thank you! Thank you,

A few years ago, I put my grumblings about time change on paper and in the fashion of Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, I wrote Change the Clock — fun nonsense.


Who doesn’t love Ogden Nash’s dragon? I remember the first time I read The Tale of Custard the Dragon out loud with a class of second graders. They begged me to read it again. In fact, they loved it so much I was compelled to give them my personal copy (something I rarely do).

Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth,
And spikes on top of him and scales underneath,
Mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose,
And realio, trulio, daggers on his toes.

Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs,
Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard cried for a nice safe cage.


Do your remember the jump rope rhymes of our playground days? Many of them were such nonsense. We skipped rope to their rhythm and called out the nonsense with little thought.  Who knows where the following verse began; some say in the school yard over 150 years ago. Like things in oral tradition, it has come down to us in many versions, under many titles.

Two Dead Boys

Ladies and Gentlemen, skinny and stout,
I’ll tell you a tale I know nothing about;
The admission is free, so pay at the door;
Now pull up a chair and sit on the floor.

One bright day in the middle of the night,
Two dead boys got up to fight.
Back-to-back they faced one another;
Drew their swords and shot each other.

A blind man came to see fair play,
A mute man came to shout “Hooray!”
They lived on the corner in the middle of the block,
In a two-story house on a vacant lot.

A paralyzed donkey walking by,
Kicked the mute man in the thigh;
Sent him through a nine inch wall,
Into a dry ditch and drowned them all.

I watched from the corner of a big round table,
The only eyewitness to these facts of this fable;
If you don’t believe this lie is true,
Just ask the blind man, he saw it too!
–compiled from oral tradition


Children love the ridiculousness of nonsense poems, and Spike Milligan’s are usually a big hit. Perhaps this is his best known one.

On the Ning Nang Nong

On the Ning Nang Nong
On the Ning Nang Nong
Where the Cows go Bong!
And the monkeys all say BOO!
There’s a Nong Nang Ning
Where the trees go Ping!
And the tea pots jibber jabber joo.
On the Nong Ning Nang
All the mice go Clang
And you just can’t catch ’em when they do!
So its Ning Nang Nong
Cows go Bong!
Nong Nang Ning
Trees go ping
Nong Ning Nang
The mice go Clang
What a noisy place to belong
Is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!
— from Silly Verse for Kids by Spike Milligan


And what about Shel Silverstein’s Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook ?
My copy has a CD and I laugh so much when I try to read along.

So if you say, “Let’s bead a rook
That’s billy as can se,”
You’re talkin’ Runny Babbit talk,
Just like mim and he.


Ah, Jabberwocky. The very sound of its name stirs so many memories for me. You see I’ve imitated Jabberwocky in sentence writing lessons and teacher workshops for years. But that is another post for another time…


‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! 
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
– from Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll’s Alice had this to say about Jabberwocky

`It seems very pretty,’ she said when she had finished it, `but it’s RATHER hard to understand!’
(You see she didn’t like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn’t make it out at all.)
`Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas — only I don’t exactly know what they are!’

I have to agree with her!

On a personal note: 
One of my most memorable memories of London was seeing Lewis Carroll’s manuscripts under glass.  Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (follow this link to see a digitized copy) is perhaps the most famous of all the British Library’s 19th-century literary manuscripts. It is Lewis Carroll’s first version of  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). And for you music lovers, the score to Handel’s Messiah ranks up there with Lewis Carroll’s manuscript in my treasured memories.


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