December 14: Welcome to the Playground

I told someone the other day that this blog is my playground. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t take it seriously. After all, as I posted recently on my other blog (which is more like a museum):

Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.

— Heraclitus

I was still thinking about this when I wandered into a used bookstore yesterday and found a copy of Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, written in 1944 by Johan Huizinga. I had never heard of this book before, as far as I know, but the second I picked it up and started looking through it I felt as though it had been one of my favorite books for most of my life. That happens sometimes with books. (And people.)

Huizinga says in his foreword, “For many years the conviction has grown upon me that civilization arises and unfolds in and as play.” And then he goes on to elaborate on this thesis at great and intelligent and delightful length. I haven’t read the whole book yet, which is extremely fortunate for you because I would probably feel compelled to dissect the entire thing at mind-numbing length.

But I will quote for you from the chapter on “Play and Poetry,” which, despite the fact that it is chapter 7, was the first one I read. I don’t think I’ll offer any commentary, because Huizinga is a way better writer than I am and this speaks for itself.


Let us enumerate once more the characteristics we deemed proper to play. It is an activity which proceeds within certain limits of time and space, in a visible order, according to rules freely accepted, and outside the sphere of necessity or material utility. The play-mood is one of rapture and enthusiasm, and is sacred or festive in accordance with the occasion. A feeling of exaltation and tension accompanies the action, mirth and relaxation follow.

Now it can hardly be denied that these qualities are also proper to poetic creation. In fact, the definition we have just given of play might serve as a definition of poetry. The rhythmical or symmetrical arrangement of language, the hitting of the mark by rhyme or assonance, the deliberate disguising of the sense, the artificial and artful construction of phrases — all might be so many utterances of the play spirit. To call poetry, as Paul Valery has done, a playing with words and language is no metaphor: it is the precise and literal truth.

The affinity between poetry and play is not external only; it is also apparent in the structure of creative imagination itself. In the turning of a poetic phrase, the development of a motif, the expression of a mood, there is always a play-element at work.

… What poetic language does with images is to play with them. It disposes them in style, it instils mystery into them so that every image contains the answer to an enigma.

— Johan Huizinga, “Play and Poetry” from Homo Ludens


A lot of the playing I do with the haiku form never sees the light of day, and probably properly so. But quite a bit of the playing ends up on this blog. If I post something here, it is almost never because I am sure it is a wonderful haiku, but because I think it is … something … and I’m not quite sure what. Maybe wonderful, maybe terrible, maybe just mediocre. Maybe incomprehensible. Maybe unfinished.

I don’t just put any old combinations of words here — that wouldn’t be very respectful of your time — but I do tend to use this space to get some sense of how people respond to various experiments I have made. I guess I do usually have to have some feeling that at least some readers will enjoy what I’ve done. It isn’t a game of solitaire, after all. But really, it is a game. I won’t always win, and I can accept that. I’m just trying to have fun, and ensure that my fellow players do too.

Okay. Laugh if you must. Here are some of the sillier games I’ve played lately.



inevitably dandelions
invariably willows
ineradicably moonlight




in conversation with carrots a jaundiced point of view




6 thoughts on “December 14: Welcome to the Playground

  1. bwahahahahahahahahaha. that book is after my own beliefs. wait. my beliefs are after that book?? – heck, yeah! exactly – play. one of the most serious, powerful, life changing, ultimate things i can very humanly do. which is why a lot of my work/art is the way it is. that is a very cool book Melissa – and no, i’ve never heard of it either. …not surprising for me tho. i’m just playing. okay, i like playing in books too tho. play on!

    the last two of your playful seriousness works above – yeah! for me.

    i mentioned a book a few hours ago – as one of my favorites on Angie’s Feathers blog – pointing out that i dont often have favorites of anything because almost anything can become that special by creating the right relationships around it… yet this book, reaches that favorite category for me because it is special anywhere – it is the book by Yoko Ono called Grapefruit. when i read it originally – when if first came out – it turned my world inside out and for me, that had a lot to do with the value and importance of play.

    in conversation – carrots! – Jaundice – bwahahahaha. i used to play Simon Says with kids a lot. i’d get them going with things like wiggle your nose like a bunny. now hop like a bunny etc. all with S. Says of course. then i’d throw in S. Says: make a noise like a carrot. the reactions and creativity were great. sometimes… of course… silence also worked. okay, oops. that had nothing to do with your one liner… bwahahahaaha. just me off connecting up with playing.

    and shift is way way fun. a happening haiku. hard to get much more NOW than that! beautiful play. and fun too. and of course… i like an element of mystery as well – We! bwahahahaha.

    even the stones
    at play

  2. Great post. I haven’t been playing enough lately. I hadn’t even thought of it that way. But it is freeing, isn’t it, when you think of it as playing? Anything can happen while at play.

  3. Pingback: long… | Red Dragonfly

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