Pardon me, but whenever I see the word “clerihew” I think somebody’s just sneezed. Either that, or I picture a shell-shaped danish pastry or a new fangled brass musical instrument.
But all you poetry aficionados know very well that a clerihew is a cheeky four-line rhyming poem invented back in the late 19th century. Its sole purpose? To make fun of a famous person. In case you’re looking to liven up your President’s Day celebration on February 16, better check out Bob Raczka’s new book, Presidential Misadventures: Poems That Poke Fun at the Man in Charge (Roaring Brook Press, 2015).
Officially released just last week, this smorgasbord of historical and hysterical verse features 43 juicy tidbits about each of our Presidents with clever caricatures by award-winning illustrator and cartoonist Dan E. Burr. All based on fact, some poems point to an important achievement or event (Louisiana Purchase, Monroe Doctrine, Manifest Destiny), but most highlight a quirky personal habit or idiosyncrasy (Harding’s size 14 feet, Pierce’s vanity, Van Buren’s pet tigers, John Quincy Adams’s early morning skinny dipping).
In keeping with the clerihew’s rules, the first lines of these poems end with the person’s name, and I like Raczka’s spot-on descriptions: “Toothache-prone George Washington,” “Fashion-conscious Chester Arthur,” “Electric-shock victim Benjamin Harrison,” “Fresca fanatic LBJ,” “Cover-upper Richard Nixon.” Best zinger of all? “Relaxer-in-chief George W. Bush.” Did you know he took more than 900 days of vacation while in office?😀
This irresistibly saucy collection is like a tray of tasty hors d’oeuvres: a witty bite here, a naughty nosh there. Pick and nibble on these hilarious hijinks in any order, savoring a few at a time, or feast on them all at once. Humor is a great way to humanize our leaders, and Raczka’s comic verses help make our Presidents more accessible to kids. Who doesn’t love reading about Somebody Important misbehaving? As lampooning our Presidents is a
favorite pastime longstanding tradition in this country, it’s nice to show them how it’s done. Chances are good they’ll want to try writing their own clerihews.
It did not escape me (no, it did not), that the fine art of teasing is often described in culinary terms. When we make fun, we ‘rib’, ‘roast’, ‘skewer,’ and ‘pan.’ No surprise that my favorite clerihews (bless you!) in this book are food-related, so today I’m serving up four of those beauties. Put on a red, white, and blue bib and enjoy (unless you’re a stuffed
shrimp shirt). Funny Bone Appétit!🙂
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In addition to a cool Appendix with explanatory notes for each poem, Mr. Raczka has included a short introduction about clerihew inventor Edmund Clerihew Bentley, a 15-year-old English schoolboy who amused himself in science class one day by penning a funny verse about Sir Humphry Davy:
Sir Humphry Davy
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.
Edmund’s classmates loved it (couldn’t resist writing their own), and eventually he published several collections as the form gained popularity. Imagine inventing an entirely new poetic form just by fooling around.🙂
Here are the rules for writing them:
- The clerihew is a four-line poem that pokes fun at a famous person
- The first two lines rhyme, and the last two lines rhyme (AABB)
- The first line contains (and usually ends with) the name of the famous person
- The meter is irregular; in other words, each line can have a different number of beats
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★ A COUPLE OF PRESIDENTIAL SIDES ★
1. Not only did he like to barbecue, Eisenhower was quite the amateur chef, having learned cooking basics at home. Once while his family was quarantined upstairs with scarlet fever, he cooked for them by following orders his mother called down the stairs. Another time, he was out camping with friends and they ran out of food. He and a buddy caught three squirrels and Ike made squirrel stew. Yum?
But alas — Ike’s fondness for squirrels wore off quickly after he installed a putting green on the White House lawn. Those rascals insisted on burying acorns right in the middle of it, so he ordered them banished.
Just in case you run out of food, or happen to have a few ex-golfing squirrel carcasses in your freezer, here’s a recipe. You’ll excuse me, I hope, for not trying to make this myself. We live in the woods and I fear a squirrel rebellion should word get out that we chanced to eat any of our “yard pets.”
SQUIRREL STEW WITH LEFTOVERS
- 3 squirrels, skinned and cleaned
- 2 onions, peeled and chopped
- 3 ribs celery, if available
- few sprigs parsley, if available
- 2 teaspoons salt
- pepper to taste
- 2 gallons water
- leftover potatoes
- leftover beans
Place squirrels, onion, chopped celery, chopped parsley, salt and pepper in a large pot with the water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until water is reduced to about 1-1/2 quarts. Remove squirrels, bone, and cut meat into bite-size pieces. Return meat to pot along with leftover potatoes and beans. Serve with lots of bread and butter.
~ Adapted from Politics and Pot Roast by Sarah Hood Salomon and Glenn Foden (Bright Sky Press, 2006).
Did I just hear an “ewww”?🙂
2. Reagan and his jelly beans deserve a little encore. Enjoy this gallery of jelly bean art. All these sweet masterpieces were created from thousands of jelly beans by California artist Kristen Cummings, with the exception of the Reagan portrait, which was done by the late Texas artist Peter Rocha (it now hangs in the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California).
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PRESIDENTIAL MISADVENTURES: Poems That Poke Fun at the Man in Charge
written by Bob Raczka
art by Dan E. Burr
published by Roaring Brook Press, January 2015
Humorous Poetry for ages 8-12, 48 pp.
*Includes Appendix and References
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✱ PRESIDENTIAL MISADVENTURES GIVEAWAY! ✱
The publisher has generously offered a brand new copy for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. Enter to win by leaving a comment (or a clerihew!) at this post no later than midnight (EST), Wednesday, February 11, 2015. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Winner will be announced next Friday. Good Luck!
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The lovely and talented Liz Steinglass is hosting this week’s Roundup. Do you think she likes squirrel stew? Better take her some jelly beans instead, and while you’re there, check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week.
Hey, what about clerihew stew?
(You really should see someone about that sneeze.)
*Interior images from Presidential Misadventures posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2015 Bob Raczka, illustrations © 2015 Dan E. Burr, published by Roaring Brook Press. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.