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.

 

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inevitably dandelions
invariably willows
ineradicably moonlight

 

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in conversation with carrots a jaundiced point of view

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shift
capitalizing
We

June 18: 3-5: The Technique of Verb/Noun Exchange

(See this post for an explanation of what’s going on here.)

Jane:

“This is a very gentle way of doing word play and getting double duty out of words. In English we have many words which function as both verbs and nouns. By constructing the poem carefully, one can utilize both aspects of such words as leaves, spots, flowers, blossoms, sprouts, greens, fall, spring, circles and hundreds more. …  This is one of those cases where the reader has to decide which permissible stance the ku has taken.

spring rain

the willow strings

raindrops

– Jane Reichhold, Haiku Techniques

*

Me:
sunset
on the beach
red burns

the rain spells
come and go on
our bare backs

barefoot
sand spits
water on our toes

May 26: 2-5: The Technique of Contrast

(See this post for an explanation of what’s going on here.)

Jane:

“…most of the surprises of life are the contrasts, and therefore this technique is a major one for haiku.

“long hard rain
hanging in the willows
tender new leaves”

— Jane Reichhold, Haiku Techniques

Me:

warning cries of birds
hot clearing in the grass
we lie unspeaking

smell of cut grass —
on the flowerbed
dogshit

before the storm
white sky turns black
flight of cardinal

rain in the night
waking alone
skin dry