Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Life of a Poet~Madeleine Begun Kane

There once was a girl called Madeleine.
In a limerick sea she was paddlin’.
She said, “OMG! What a rich wordy sea!”
as through the waves she went ske-daddlin’.
Or somesuch.  Kids, what a treat we have today. We are visiting the Queen of Limericks, Madeleine Begun Kane, famous bard of Mad Kane’s Humor Blog. Madeleine has several  humor blogs connected to her main site; she covers a great deal of territory with her madcap humor. Bring along every rhyming word you know, in case we’re called upon to speak in verseJ Be ready to giggle and to be amazed!

Poets United:  Wow, Madeleine, looking around your site, there is just SO MUCH SCOPE!!!!!! I am way impressed and scarcely know where to start. A veritable plethora of pithy humor.
Madeleine: Thanks! That’s so nice of you to say.

Poets United: Difficult to articulate as well :) Let’s begin at the beginning. Where did you grow up, Madeleine? Country or city?  What was childhood like?
Madeleine:    I grew up in suburbia --- Massapequa Park, Long Island, New York.  And if Massapequa sounds vaguely familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve heard Jerry Seinfeld describe Massapequa (his hometown) as an “old Indian name that means ‘by the mall.’”
And no, I’ve never met Seinfeld or any of the other famous Massapequans.  By the way, the list of famous Massapequans I’ve never met also includes: the Baldwin Brothers, Steve Guttenberg, Brian Setzer,  Marvin Hamlisch, Dee Snyder (Twisted Sister), Peggy  Noonan, Ron Kovic,  and (for late night joke fodder fans)  Joey Buttafuoco and Jim Bakker-temptress Jessica Hahn.
I’m still trying to figure out what the heck they put in Massapequa’s water.
Poets United: Whoa! No wonder you have so much material! Your childhood neighbours could keep you writing for years.
Madeleine: So, what was the question?  Oh yeah … What was my childhood like?  I spent most of my time studying, reading, taking music lessons, playing in concerts, practicing flute, piano, and oboe, and fantasizing about playing oboe in the New York Philharmonic.
Poets United: Wow. All that music sounds great. What was high school like?
Madeleine: I could repeat all that  stuff about studying, reading, music lessons, practicing sundry musical instruments, and fantasizing about playing oboe in the New York Philharmonic … but that would probably be boring.
Poets United: “Oh, no,” she demurred, politely. Hee hee. When did you begin writing?
Madeleine: I was always good at writing in school, and I have vague childhood memories of writing depressing poetry for “fun.”  But the truth is I was so obsessed with being a professional musician, that the thought of being a writer didn’t cross my mind until my late thirties.

[At the Big Apple Circus in Queens]
Poets United: Tell us about the music, Madeleine.
Madeleine: I majored in music at the Eastman School of Music and Cal Arts, performed at the Aspen Music Festival, and was recruited to play oboe in the Dallas Symphony when I was 19.  (I also taught oboe at SMU, which was pretty weird, because my students were older than I was.)
I also spent many years freelancing as a symphony oboist and chamber group oboe player  in the New York metro area and, because oboe playing pays almost as badly as writing poetry,  I did lots of other jobs at the same time – teaching private oboe students, working for the Nassau County Department of Social Services, etc.
Poets United: Wow. So cool!
Madeleine: At some point in my mid-twenties I realized that I needed a new career.  Aside from financial issues, I’d been battling carpal tunnel syndrome for years and I knew my oboe playing days were numbered.
And no, this isn’t where I had some sort of “I want to be a writer” revelation.  It was more of  a “I’m argumentative – maybe I should go to law school” revelation.
Come to think of it, my “I’m dying to become a lawyer” law school application essay could be considered my earliest “creative” writing.
Poets United: Cackle. I love it. I wish there was room for it hereJ “There once was a lawyer called Mad, who thought the justice system was baaaaaaaad.....”  On your site you say you are a “recovering lawyer". Is there a story about that? (I’m sure there must be).
Madeleine:  I worked as a lawyer full-time for roughly fourteen years.  For most of that period I was also freelancing as an oboist evenings and weekends. So I was crazy/busy.
Being a lawyer certainly enhanced my writing skills … assuming you consider long sentences with lots of pompous words an enhancement.
I didn’t especially like practicing law, although it certainly paid better than playing the oboe.  And speaking of playing the oboe,  a dental surgery nerve injury effectively ended my music career a dozen years or so after I got my first legal job.
Poets United: That is a shame, Madeleine, with music being such a big part of your life.

Madeleine:  At that point, I was starved for an alternative creative outlet.  So I started writing during lunch breaks and while stuck in courtrooms waiting for “hurry up and wait” judges to appear.
 My first creative writing attempt was a really terrible novel. (I abandoned it after 200 torturous pages.)  Next I tried humorous personal essays,  which had the advantage of not requiring a plot.
My essays weren’t bad, so I started submitting them to sundry newspapers and magazines via snail mail, spending a small fortune on stamps. (Yes, this was before email and the Internet.)
After roughly a year, I was excited to make my first humor column sale, even though it was to a tiny local women’s magazine newspaper and my payment was just a subscription and a t-shirt.
My second sale was a bit more promising – I sold a humor column about clothes-shopping to the Sunday New York Times. I still remember hanging out  with my husband Mark Kane at an all-night newsstand waiting for the 4 A.M newspaper delivery. What a thrill it was to see my first by-line in the New York Times!
Poets United: What a fantastic coup, the New York Times right out of the gate!
[Mark and I at the Lewis Black comedy cruise in 2010]

Madeleine: That sale emboldened me to spend even more money on postage stamps.  And after a few more personal essay sales to sundry newspapers and magazines, I was further emboldened to walk away from practicing law.  I was (and am) very lucky that my wonderful husband Mark supported that decision.
Eventually the Internet happened, and I expanded my freelancing to web magazines and writing humor columns for AOL.  In 1999, I launched my website  And no, I still wasn’t writing limericks.  But I was starting to experiment with other writing forms: parody interviews, satirical contracts, song parodies, etc.  And then George W. Bush took office and my writing took a very different direction. 
I’d never been especially political, but the Bush v. Gore campaign, culminating in the outrageous U.S. Supreme Court decision giving the White House away to Bush, politicized my writing. I was very upset, and I remember taking a shower the day Bush took office and getting this sudden inspiration to write a parody White House diary in Bush‘s voice. I jumped out of the shower and, without bothering to dry off,  dashed off my first entry in Dubya’s Dayly Diary and posted it on my web site.
Poets United: Awesome, Madeleine. That election sickened me too. And the eight years after.
Madeleine: I kept writing that online diary for three or four years, trying to get inside Bush’s head, satirizing actual political events, and making up dialogue and plausible scenarios.  I had a great time writing it and certainly enjoyed the reader feedback, press attention, and awards it got me. (The oddest award I got for it has to be Maxim Magazine’s Hot99.)
Poets United: You certainly would have had a ton of satirical material to work with. Sigh. I so love that your political song parodies were popular singalongs at anti-Bush rallies. My kinda gal! What is your take on the present political situation in the States? Are we going to be totally horrified at the next election?
Madeleine:  I’m extremely worried about the upcoming election.  And that’s why I started the new year by writing this limerick:
A Cautionary Election Year Limerick
By Madeleine Begun Kane
At long last, a new year is upon us,
And the fate of our land hinges on us.
Pay attention to news
And beware of skewed views.
Time to stop letting evil pols con us.
Poets United: Good one. I’m very worried too.
Madeleine: Eventually I started looking for other ways to write humorously about U.S. political events.  Probably due to my music background, I wrote dozens of political parody song lyrics.  I also started writing political haiku (technically senryu) in 2004.
After writing dozens of political haiku, I started looking for a humorous poetry form that would allow me to convey a bit more information.  And that’s when I started writing limericks.
Poets United: I am so enjoying this discussion. You are fascinating.
 Madeleine: My early limericks  were all political.  And what a challenge it was (and still is) to convey information and opinion within the strict limerick format and somehow manage to be amusing!  But I think that’s why I fell in love with limericks.  I treat writing political limericks like brain teasers, coaxing info and point of view into its AABBA rhyme scheme and anapestic meter. 
Eventually, I started having fun with non-political limerick topics, as well – limericks about money, health, travel, marriage, technology, and the day to day annoyances that drive us all nuts.  But I found that my readership was seriously split.  My humor column readers enjoyed my non-political limericks, but were often offended by my political stuff.  And my political limerick fans were so obsessed by politics, that my other humor didn’t interest them.
So I ended up adding two blogs to my Mad Kane’s Political Madness Blog for my political limericks and other political humor, and my Mad Kane’s Humor Blog for everything else, including my weekly Limerick-Offs. (As you know, my Limerick-Offs are weekly limerick-writing contests in which I provide the first line and participants do the rest. At the end of each week I review all the entries and  select the Limerick of the Week winner and several Honorable Mentions.)
Poets United: If you were to write a limerick about your life, what would you say?
Madeleine: What Will I Be When I Grow Up? (Limerick)
By Madeleine Begun Kane
Ev’ry decade I change my career.
The first used my musical ear.
I tried lawyering second,
Till humor scribe beckoned.
What’s next? I just can’t wait to hear.
Poets United: I love it! You are the Limerick Queen, and your lines all rhyme between.  I note you have received a couple of significant awards for humor, which is pretty wonderful. Would you like to mention them here? It is so hard for a poet to get publicly recognized these days. And you have done it - in the Big Apple, no less!
[Madeleine at the Harvard Club Robert Benchley Society Award dinner]
Madeleine: My two favorite awards are the “2008 Robert Benchley Society Humor Award 1st prize” (Bob Newhart was the finals judge) and a National Society of Newspaper Columnists award.

[A personal note of congratulations from Bob Newhart on winning
the Robert Benchley humor award]

[Kids - Here is a link to the humor column that won Madeleine the Benchley award, Guide to the Opera Impaired: Check it out. It's really funny.]

Poets United: That is impressive, Madeleine. Truly. Do you still write for magazines or newspapers? Or do you submit your work to any other venues?
[Madeleine in front of the aptly named Le Madeleine restaurant in Manhattan]

Madeleine: My writing credits include many print publications, such as the New York Times, Newsday, Plain Dealer, Philadelphia Inquirer, Miami Herald, Houston Chronicle, and Family Circle, plus many humor anthologies and, oddly enough, three college textbooks.
Poets United: Way to go, kiddo! What does your life look like today? I see that you live in New York, which must be exciting.

Madeleine: Mark and I live in Bayside, Queens, about half an hour out of Manhattan. We see lots of plays in NYC, mostly Off-Broadway, some Broadway.  And we  love just wandering around Manhattan because there’s always something new to discover.

We also enjoy movies, listening to music, discussing politics, reading, long walks, dancing, and spicy ethnic food, especially Indian and Thai. 

[Madeleine and Mark in Vegas]
We’ve been taking group ballroom lessons for a couple of years.  We aren’t very good, but we’re very enthusiastic. This limerick sums it up:
A Couple On The Move
By Madeleine Begun Kane
When my husband and I try to dance,
Some enjoy us and some look askance.
We’re inept, but enthused,
And don’t have to be boozed
To have rumba-like fun — that’s our stance.
 Poets United: I love it! Cool mental image! What makes you the happiest?
Madeleine: Spending time with my husband, Mark. We have fun together, even when we’re doing nothing.  Best of all, we can always make each other laugh. And I’ve even hooked him on writing limericks.
Poets United: Awwww, that is so sweet. You are a lucky twosome! What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
Madeleine: I’m not at all adventurous.  In fact, I’m a devout coward.  But Mark occasionally talks me into doing something that scares me, like river tubing on the Esopus River and mountain hiking in Salt Lake City.  And something invariably goes wrong.  But at least I get to turn these adventures-gone-wrong into humor columns that pay for our vacations.  (See and for our river tubing and mountain hiking adventures.)
Poets United: Those are must-reads, for sure. Do you have any advice for  terrified-of-limericks poets?
Madeleine: If you can write poetry, you can write limericks, especially if you have a good sense of humor. It just takes a little discipline to follow the rhyme and meter rules.  (Here’s a great limerick writing resource: .)
I recommend reading lots of good limericks in order to get a feel for them.  After a while, their rhyme and meter can become instinctive.  (My weekly Limerick of the Week winners posts provide many excellent examples:
But the best way to learn to write limericks is to sit down (or stand up or lie down, for that matter) and write them.  So give my Limerick-Offs a try. And feel free to email me requesting feedback, if you need some help.
**********************THE END****************************
Poets United: That's all she wrote, folks. Thank you, Madeleine, for this most enjoyable and interesting visit. I am newly inspired by your productivity, and your success will help encourage our readers to keep putting their work out there. This was so much fun!
Isn’t it true, kids, that the people behind the pen lead the most interesting lives? Do come back to see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. Madeleine Ma'am,
    A very versatile personality. Switching careers at your whims and enjoying it. Thanks for leading us into limericks.


    1. My pleasure, Hank! Thanks for your kind words and your fun contributions to my Limerick-Offs.

  2. Sherry, another depthful interview. Madeline, nice to learn more about the person behind the limericks.

  3. A great interview Sherry and Madeleine. It is always nice to get to know more about the writers we follow online.

    I have enjoyed participating in Madeleine's Limerick-Off Mondays. Great fun!

  4. Excellent interview! What a fantastic career Madeleine!

  5. look at Bob Newhart's girly handwriting! wow.
    Madeleine, I admire you greatly. I want to be you. *runs off to pen a limerick*

    1. Thanks so much, Marian. I'm looking forward to that limerick. :)

  6. Cool interview, luv the limericks:)

  7. Thanks so much to Sherry Blue Sky and Poets United for interviewing me. Sherry did a wonderful job, and it's an honor to be a part of The Life Of A Poet Interview Series.

  8. Mad, I love your limericks and this interview (thanks Sherry and Mad). I used to live on L.I. in Babylon. I am quite familiar with Massapequa. Thanks for a further look into your life, Mad.


    1. Thanks very much, Pamela. Perhaps one of these days I'll catch you on the "Babylon Line." I met my husband on that LIRR train line, by the way. :)

  9. Sherry - thanks so much for this interview! I totally ♥ MadKane! Being a quirky, humorous poet myself - I have a hero in Madeleine. And this was such a fun joy to read!!!

    1. What a lovely thing to say, Lightverse. I feel the same about you and your quirky, funny poetry!

  10. Loved this fascinating interview and love, what an interesting life!

    1. Thanks so much for your enthusiastic words, Bodhirose!

  11. What a interesting and entertaining interview ... I always enjoy reading Madeleine's gift for limericks!! What a delight ~~ Thank you for sharing!!

    1. Becca, thanks so much for your enthusiastic and kind words!

  12. You are fascinating : ) I am so glad Miss Phyllis put a link to this on facebook so I could come and say hi : ) Wishing you a beautiful day. Love, Becky

  13. Becky, what a lovely thing to say! Thanks!

  14. Such a joyfilled interview! It was great ladies~ I really enjoy how Madeleine blurs the boundaries of the world, with her amazing limericks! Humor can reach the masses and she has proved it! What an amazing journey, you have had, so far ;D Nice to learn more about your view!

    1. Thanks so much, Ella! It's been quite an odd journey, indeed. :)

  15. This interview was great fun to write. Limericks appear to be contagious! It was my pleasure, Madeleine. Thanks for giving us such a generous glimpse of your life.

    1. Sherry, I'm always pleased to spread the limerick-writing disease. :)

      The pleasure was all mine!

  16. I love reading Madeleine's limericks and have even played along for a few Limerick Offs. The interview was well done and fun to read.

    1. Thanks, Jessica! I'm always pleased to have you play along in my Limerick-Offs!

  17. First , a vigorous nod off to Sherry
    For playing the Kane Begun Madeline merry
    Drawn to Mad I have been
    But no idea of all she did win
    'Sides my heart held fast by a poetry pin

    Truly, a prismic interview shining from all facets! I had no idea about MBK's shining history and I
    am thrilled at the obvious validation of my impeccable good taste!

  18. Thanks Dr. Pearl for your lovely and amusingly versified comment!


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