Tom McDermott, “Five Lines No Waiting: Limericks & Sketches” (Sagging Shorts)

In his work as a composer and pianist, Tom McDermott has held a long fascination with the rag, a song structure popularized in the late 1800s and early 1900s. As he explains in the foreward to his new first book of poetry and drawings, part of what he loves about working within the rag format is the thrill of playing with references from other periods in music history as a way of challenging his listeners’ expectations.

McDermott takes a similar approach to limericks in Five Lines No Waiting, a lighthearted survey of AABBA-structured rhymes he began writing and sharing online in the spring of 2016. Though he trades the bawdiness associated with traditional limericks for his own poignant wit, he offsets the verse with his own pencil sketched mini-comics in a nod to the limerick’s common appearance alongside funny sketches in the mid-to-late 1800s.

The results range from subtle, esoteric humor that deals in the linguistic silliness limericks were once known for, to limerick-formatted jokes about things like booze, animals, art and relationships. “Have you ever come out of a dream / and things aren’t the way they should seem?” McDermott writes in one of multiple odes to alcohol. “You’re in mystery’s thrall / When you slowly recall / the 23 shots of Jim Beam.”

The poem, which precedes a vaguely existential interlude about gout and death, appears across from a shaky-penned sketch of a man cowering beneath his sheets with pinhweels for eyes as martini and highball glasses, a bottle of liquor, a star and a ringed planet circle his head in a thought bubble.

There are some misses here, too—they’re limericks, after all. But McDermott’s low-key humor, along with his devotion to testing the limits of an inherently repetitive structure, make the book a fun read.