. Cantankerous Limericks on Good English Prose I love a complexly wrought sentence With phrases and colons that went thence __To make concise points __With their well-dovetailed joints And gave one no cause for repentance. Your prose should be sharp as a razor And cut through all crap like a laser. __Opponents should fear it __And avoid coming near it As they would a red-hot glowing brazier. A sentence is like a good knife Honed sharp as a battlefield’s strife. __It’s ready for slashing __And stabbing and gashing And putting an end to a life. Your words should be strong as a wrench, Like the genes of a good English wench: __Celtic, Dane, Anglo-Sax, __And fill all the cracks With dollops of good Norman French. And don’t forget Latin and Greek— You need them to write and to speak. __They’ve filled us with treasure __Beyond any measure— Without them we’d be rather weak. Your paragraphs should show strict reason And good syllogistic cohesion. __Don’t spout exclamations __And vague exhalations Or anything else out of season. Think thoughts in advance, not on paper! Your mind—not your pen—is the shaper __That puts words in order __Like a prison house warder. Don’t write while your brain’s in a vapor! Be careful when dealing with clauses; They ought to be linked with your pauses— __If one of them dangles __It utterly mangles Your argument’s structural causes. The pronouns are it, she, and he, And they, them, and their, and then we. __There’s I, me, my, mine, __And thee, thou, and thine, And his, hers, him, ours, and old ye. Use these when you write and you speak— Not nip, shay, or ze (for a geek) __Or something else shitty __Cooked up in committee To placate some transgender freak. The distinction between who and whom Has reached its foreseeable doom. __Few persons recall __The difference at all— It’s as dead as a corpse in the tomb. The same holds for which and for that: Their meanings have fallen down flat. __They’re mixed and confused __Like some mismatched old shoes, And switchable, like lard and fat. You do something once, and then twice— Again after that, and it’s thrice. __It’s one of those crimes __To say “Do it three times,” Said by people as mindless as mice. Pay attention to these little things; You’ll need the rewards that this brings. __Keep all in good order __Like a well-guarded border To make prose that commands as it sings. Don’t EVER misspell any word— Mistakes of that sort are absurd. __It’s low-class and boorish __And quite amateurish And as vile as an unburied turd. Be strict about clear definition. Good prose always takes a position. __Be sharp as a tack __Or a whiplash’s crack For that gets the reader’s submission. Don’t dawdle or daydream or dither, Or twist with a serpentine slither. __A sentence that’s lazy __Is fogged up and hazy And proves that you only can blither. You never should use the subjunctive When making a point that’s injunctive. __For prose that’s uncertain __Will fail at convertin’ And render your reasons defunctive. Subjunctives express what’s unreal. Such tenses are simply ideal. __To be noncommittal __When the truth’s vague and brittle Will never cement any deal. Nevertheless they’re required When subordinate verbs are desired. __You need them with Lest __And they can’t be suppressed When if-clauses come to be sired. Keep in mind when you start to compose: What you write hits the eyes and the nose. __Your ideas must link __Or the whole thing will stink, And the reader will drift off and doze. . Poet’s Note I’ve written this small collection of limericks as an example of what is NOT fictive mimesis. In these small pieces there is no fantasized hyper-reality, but simply information and opinion in didactic-narrative form. The limericks simply give the reader points on writing good prose. Strictly speaking, such a composition is governed by DIEGESIS, which means “explanation, narrative, exposition, teaching.” Diegesis is the logical opposite of mimesis, although every poem uses both approaches in some way, shape, or form. While the great bulk of this poem is diegesis, small parts of it might be deemed fictive, such as the similes that are employed throughout. Fictive mimesis is artificial and constructed; diegesis is explanatory and descriptive. One of the biggest mistakes you can make in poetry is to develop a piece with beautiful mimesis, and then start adding mundane chunks of diegesis to explain things. It would be like baking a perfect soufflé, and then topping it with a ring of fried sausages. Some of the longer poems of Wordsworth suffer from this mistake. Diegesis is usually where the three miseries of meaning, message, and moral afflict good verse. The impulse to explain, describe, point out, and make observations often sucks a good poem down into the vortex of boredom. I have tried, in the above limericks, to avoid this trap by making the rhymes in each limerick perfect, by adding similes in almost every one, and by keeping the syntax and diction lively. You really couldn’t write a poem on the rules of English composition using fictive mimesis exclusively. It would seem strange and awkward. In the hierarchy of literary composition, fictive mimesis is in a much higher place than diegesis, so using it for something plain and ordinary and plebeian is pretentious and unfitting. In fact, the entire modernist project in poetry has been to find deep significance in things that are small and trivial. But the proper style for small, comic, and uncontroversial matters is diegesis. That’s what I’ve used here. I hope this will help explain fictive mimesis, by way of contrast. . . Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide. He is the editor of the literary magazine TRINACRIA and writes for Expansive Poetry On-line. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.