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Absentee ballads (Annual limericks)

Brevity may be the soul of wit, as Hamlet’s antagonist Polonius says, but this much also is true: Length is no necessary measure of intelligent commentary.

This is particularly relevant when the laugh-lines are cast as limericks.

For 11 years now, The Spokesman-Review has held an annual St. Patrick’s Day limericks contest. And over the years we’ve seen dozens of fine examples of the poetic form that Edward Lear popularized.

This year, during which we explored a current event – “An Inland Northwest voter’s guide to the 2008 presidential campaign” – we saw contest entrants explore the topic from every possible angle.

What may not surprise most readers in this cynical day is that few entries came out in full support of one candidate or another; most were an indictment of the electoral process itself.

What follows is the best of the bunch. (Note: Sorry, but there will be no public reading of the winners this year.)

A number of our 307 entries came in before the contest even began. We’d considered letting the contest lapse, citing the declining number of entries that have occurred in recent years. But we reconsidered, spurred on by the – uh – support of such fans as Spokane reader Bill Burnet:

Your contest dignifies drivel,

But now, “Shall we end it?” you snivel.

If entries are fading,

Find a theme that’s not jading.

The game is too good to let shrivel.

We thought we’d found the best, and most natural topic for the 2008 contest, but entries came in slowly at first. And contest veteran Chris Cook of Spokane gave us his view as to why this might be:

You’ve bollixed it up, Dan, you arse!

Your topic this year is a farce;

Among my objections:

I’m SICK of elections

(No wonder the entries are sparse!)

But, finally, the contest did commence, and entries began to reflect the various emotions that the topic roused in readers. That doesn’t mean, though, that everyone was pleased, as Spokane’s Janet Shaffer demonstrates:

Political themes are so boring,

I’m tired of the ranting and roaring.

The more that they yell,

And give each other hell,

The ratings keep dropping, not soaring.

One e-mail entrant, Everett resident Bill Bug, had less of an issue with either the process or the candidates as he did with the media coverage of non-issues (namely, Barack Obama’s declining to wear an American flag pin):

Reporter, AP, Nedra Pickler,

No news but the news, she’s a stickler:

Barack wears no pin,

It’s a terrible sin.

Republicans all want to kiss her.

Colville resident Terri Charbonneau told a sad little story of sending friends, whom she described as “independent politically,” to the wrong caucus meeting (they wanted Democrat but got Republican).

“When they arrived, too late to make it to their original choice, they decided to stay and view the process,” Charbonneau wrote. “Here’s what happened”:

Primary votes aren’t for all.

Seems the Demos don’t count them at all.

So to the caucus we went,

To the wrong one were sent,

And we’re delegates now for Ron Paul.

History-minded Spokane resident Fred Peterson did make it to his caucus, and the results were far more positive (making Peterson’s voice unique in its optimism):

Our caucuses long were ho-hum,

Most everyone refused to come.

This year each caucus

Was loud with raucous

Convictions no one could keep mum.

We typically don’t include anonymous entries among the finalists. But we’ll make an exception for this limerick about Idaho attitudes from one world-weary Coeur d’Alene reader who goes under the pen name “Jaqueline Guenther”:

The Gem State is red through and through.

What do we attribute this to?

Escaping newcomers,

Who come in their Hummers.

We bet that this year they vote blue.

Spokane resident Marian Anderson points out fairly clearly what, on the surface at least, separates the top three candidates:

O’Clinton, McBama or Cain?

They’re driving the voters insane!

Shall gender, or race,

Or an old aging face

Decide our next president’s reign?

Coeur d’Alene’s Debbie Kitselman feels a natural kind of confusion over the political process, though for her it’s a new experience:

When a new citizen I became,

I didn’t know it would cause me such pain.

But I’m fit to explode

From campaign overload.

Will it be Clinton? Obama? McCain?

Sid Sackmann of Moses Lake wants no part of any of this year’s crop of candidates:

While watching TV with my momma,

I suffered election-year trauma.

Not one candidate

Can make me feel great …

Not Clinton, McCain or Obama.

Contest regular Dennis G. Johnston of Spokane holds the candidate up to standards of honesty:

In the Inland Northwest’s far outreaches,

We hear candidates’ lying, loud screeches.

It’s for sure we’ll be changed

From our despot deranged –

Will that change include truth in their speeches?

Spokane reader George Lathrop, though, has few illusions about what motivates any politician:

Both parties say “change” is their creed.

At last, we will get what we need.

But “change” is for chumps.

Dollars are what pumps

Fuel into politics and greed.

Spokane’s Mildred Scheel was one of the few entrants who addressed an issue other than the war:

The problems of illegal immigration

Are concerns of lengthy duration!

If you doubt this is so,

I encourage you to go

Ask a member of the Indian nation!

Marlene Davis of Rathdrum, Idaho, showed concern over what she considered to be the real issue of this past winter:

Seven bad years – one to go.

The parties are sick, don’t you know,

Of political in-fighting

And sleazy back-biting?

To be truthful, I’m tired of the snow!

Spokane’s Gina Stracchino, grand prize-winner in 2003, either has lower expectations of elected officials, or she’s just tired of pols who try hard to be something to everyone:

In this year’s presidential election

It’s quite hard to make a selection.

Each candidate’s cause

Is littered with flaws –

But whoever expected perfection?

Spokane’s Jan Brandvold offered the obvious commentary that at least one candidate comes in a package deal:

When the pending election is done,

We will finally know who has won.

And if we get Hill,

We also get Bill,

And that’s two for the price of just one!

Rosalia, Wash., poet/farmer Dick Warwick added his own thoughts on the Clinton-Clinton ticket:

Political types go to bed

With odd partners, it’s often been said –

Take the Clintons, with Bill

Bundling sweetly with Hill –

Even stranger, knowing they’re wed.

Alice Peterson of Spokane chided the Republican party for seeming to finally embrace John McCain, the very candidate it once demonized:

When future generations reflected

On election ‘08 they suspected

That the GOP base

Had to finally save face

With a candidate they’d earlier rejected.

Yet as Medical Lake entrant (and contest favorite) Dave Cryan asserts, there might yet be life in the Arizona senator and Vietnam veteran:

John McCain is a bit long in tooth;

He seems tired, he’s old, that’s the truth;

Yet he’s been through the mill,

From Hanoi to the Hill,

Might one old airman trump naïve youth?

When it came to issues, Spokane’s Sue Hille spoke for many when she wrote this:

Last week we attended a caucus,

The crowd, large and loud, was quite raucous.

We shouted, “Elect

The one who’ll effect

A wise plan to soon de-IRAQ us!”

Another entry that’s unmistakably critical of the current administration came from Ted Ketcham of Spokane:

Though our privacy may have been ended

And our habeas corpus suspended,

One greater fright

Is that George claims the right

To pour water on victims up-ended.

Marilyn Hein of Nine Mile Falls was another who’s become sick of the whole process:

It may be Hillary you love;

Or Obama may fit like a glove.

Or old man McCain

Could fire up your brain;

I’ll just vote for “none of the above”

And now for the prize-winners. As there weren’t enough school entries to justify handing out awards in those categories, we decided to stick with the traditional top three.

First we have Darryl Isolato of Spokane Valley, and his questions regarding the only candidate to have actual wartime experience, Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war McCain:

A thought that I truly abhor

(He once was a prisoner of war).

Now, tell me again…

If we choose McCain…

Why would he say he wants more?

For his effort, Isolato wins a $25 gift certificate to Auntie’s Bookstore.

As runner-up, Spokane’s own Sally O’Brien offers up a traditionally Western, maverick view:

Obama keeps many in thrall

While other’s heed Hillary’s call.

But here in the West,

We abandon the rest

And reach out to Nader and Paul!

O’Brien takes home a $50 Auntie’s Bookstore gift certificate.

Speaking of Nader, we arrive finally at Deborah Chan, 2006’s grand prize-winner and another Spokane Valley resident, who leaves us with wittily unkind thoughts about the perpetual outsider showing up late to this 2008 presidential party:

Oh, brother! Again comes Ralph Nader,

That late presidential invader.

This unctuous grandstander

Will to the Greens pander;

Please “swat” this smug gadfly crusader.

Chan’s prize is a $100 Auntie’s gift certificate.

That’s all, folks. Thanks to everyone who contributed, especially those whose work didn’t get chosen.

The contest wouldn’t have worked without you.

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