The form was invented by and is named after Edmund Clerihew Bentley. As a 16-year-old pupil at St Paul's School in London, Bentley invented the clerihew as a diversion from school work. His first clerihew was created during a science class:
Sir Humphry Davy
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.
The first use of the word in print was in 1928. Clerihew published three volumes of his own clerihews, including Biography for Beginners (1905), which was published under the name "E. Clerihew”.
A Clerihew is four lines long.
The first and second lines rhyme with each other, and the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other.
The first line names a person, and the second line ends with something that rhymes with the name of the person.
A clerihew should be funny.
They are not satirical or abusive, but they target famous individuals and reposition them in an absurd or commonplace setting, often giving them an over-simplified and slightly garbled description.
That's it! You don't have to worry about counting syllables or words, and you don't even have to worry about the rhythm of the poem.
You don't have to limit yourself to writing clerihews about people you know. You can write clerihews about people you have never met. A clerihew will work best, though, if you write it about someone who is well known, or who at least is known to the people who will read it.
Here’s my examples, and I challenge you all to give it a try. It’s lots of fun!
Here’s a nod to Twilight’s Bella
Who knows what works with both her fellas
With Edward and Jacob at her feet
Life for Bella is very sweet!
The writer Edgar Allan Poe
Wrote a lot of poems you know,
And though his work I just adore
He’s dead, so he’ll write nevermore.