April 5, 2018 | By Iain Whitaker

Podium Notes: Lessons from a Global Affairs Limerick Competition

In the lead-up to our "Poets of the Podium: The Art of Speechwriting" program with the Poetry Foundation, the Council hosted a global affairs limerick competition - quite possibly the first ever of its kind. We thank all our entrants - and the voting public - for making it a success. Now, having pored through the prose, here are our five wholly un-academic takeaways.

1. People like limericks.

We received 28 submissions, far exceeding our very modest hopes. Most hearteningly, submissions came from all across the globe: from Bahrain, Switzerland, and the Northern Illinois suburb of Mundelein. Rather implausibly we even received a submission from County Limerick in Ireland. Is there is a limericist so enamored of the art form that they live in the eponymous county out of some kind of homage? Or is this post-truth prose? We have no way of confirming, though we're very curious.

2. Poets draw inspiration from President Trump.

Half of all limericks referenced President Trump in some way, more than any other global figure. The Council’s public opinion experts would likely dissuade me from drawing any statistical conclusions from a competition with 28 entries, but based on the limericks we received, Trump is the figure that global affairs poets draw most inspiration from. He is the leader of the free world, after all, and a controversial one at that. But perhaps there’s also a lyrical explanation, owing to the name “Trump” having such good rhyming potential (dump, rump, stump, lump, you get the idea.) It certainly makes better limerick fodder than most other world leaders' names. As if to underscore this point, we didn’t receive a single limerick about Madagascan President Hery Rajaonarimampianina.

3. The Council’s limerick-composing audience is both very informed and boldly outspoken.

Submissions covered everything from the Cuban Missile Crisis and steel tariffs, to election hacking and Brexit. Presidents Trump, Xi, and Putin – perhaps the world’s three most powerful humans – all suffered the barbs of our poets’ haughty lyricism (two separate entries capitalized on the all-too-convenient rhyming of Putin with Rasputin and disputin’.) A dinner party wishlist of Louis Armstrong, Gary Cohn, Kim Jong-un, Emmanuel Macron, Elon Musk, and Rex Tillerson also made cameos, with varying degrees of compliment. And as evidence of the intellectual depth of our audience, the winning submission made reference to 19th century British classical economist David Ricardo (here’s the Wikipedia link we may have used to verify who this is.)

4. Our poems were strikingly gendered.

There were lots of submissions by women, but only one about women. Is this the patriarchy in global politics refracted through the lens of poetry? Certainly, with all due respect to David Ricardo, it seems hard to imagine that he has a larger bearing on global affairs today than Angela Merkel or Theresa May. But there you have it. If there’s a lyrical equivalent of the “manel” then it is surely the “manerick.”

5. While the global outlook is bleak, there is still hope.

We thank Christina from Chicago for reminding us:

What a beautiful interchange
To have a cultural exchange
We are far better together
Let’s stand unified no matter the weather
Now we must truly arrange

And finally, congratulations to Conor Durkin whose limerick won the competition with a staggering 451 votes.

Said Trump, with a great bit of zeal -
“We must protect our aluminum and steel!”
But he and Navarro
Must not know David Ricardo
For these tariffs are not a good deal.

Watch video of our "Poets of the Podium" program below. (Fast-forward to 1:48 to see our winning limerick read by former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky.)



The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.


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