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Per Diem Archive: J. Hambrick April 2018, Play

The humorist Leo Rosten once characterized the curmudgeonly comedian W.C. Fields with the now famous quip that any man who hates dogs and babies can’t be all bad.  In a whimsically analogous way, any poetic genre that seeks to encapsulate in 17 or fewer syllables all the depth and richness of a moment in one’s experience of the world must have a sense of humor.  And so, in its own swift and gentle way, haiku does.
Extending from the poems of the classical Japanese haikuists to those of present-day poets, a playful strand in the haiku tradition includes some stunning examples of contemporary English-language haiku which manifest ‘play’ on multiple levels of poetic structure and meaning: in overt humor, either upbeat or dark; in wordplay – puns and jokes, the frisky use of words and images, the suave multivalence of a well-crafted double entendre; and in themes involving games, sports, music, picnicking, bar hopping, party-going, trick-or-treating, and other frolicsome activities, to name just a few examples. 

Take, for instance, Michele Root-Bernstein’s poem “touching tank,” in which an aquarium sea anemone gets more than it bargained for.  Or Roman Lyakhovetsky’s “spring cleaning,” in which housework turns into a jazz set.  Or the goofy guy in Tom Clausen’s “apple festival.”  Everyone can’t be the class clown, of course, and some of the poems in this collection, like Jay Friedenberg’s “empty playground,” make playful first impressions that, on further reflection, open up on far more serious concerns. 

While a haiku that embodies the spirit of play to give voice to life’s joys can have the feel of the proverbial breath of fresh air, a haiku that effectively embodies the language and spirit of play to speak deeper, darker truths takes the reader on a journey across the emotional spectrum, creating in just 17 (or fewer) syllables a drama that has the richness and power to transform one’s inner landscape forever.

These playful poems invite you to set down your lofty pretentions, your heartaches, and your attitude and, if only for a moment or two, have some fun.  

Go on.  You know you want to.

Jennifer Hambrick.


Note: The haiku “snowstorm” was translated from the French by Jennifer Hambrick.

Author: Ben Moeller-Gaa
spring wind 
spinning the barstool 
the kid in me
Author: Bruce H. Feingold
fire hydrant
barefooted boys drenched 
with laughter
Author: Carole MacRury
winter solitaire – 
again and again 
I draw the joker
Author: Cherie Hunter Day
that one kid
with the plastic whistle—
evening heat
Author: Debbi Antebi
summer breeze 
up on the swing
I escape my shadow
Author: Alan Summers
Valentine’s Day
my wife reads up
on Henry VIII
Author: Debbie Strange
porch swing
songs where we least
expect them
Author: Dietmar Tauchner
man-made lake
swimming in
our own imaginations
Author: Elliot Nicely
death takes two
pieces of candy
Author: frances angela
long summer holidays
a doll on the pavement 
missing hair
Author: Jay Friedenberg
empty playground
a candy wrapper
goes down the slide
Author: Jeff Hoagland
summer picnic
the ants start
with dessert
Author: Kala Ramesh
garden party
father talks to his plants
before guests arrive
Author: Kyle Sullivan
autumn afternoon 
my thoughts get off the train
with a group of girls
Author: Maria Laura Valente
rainy day –
red bikini on a chair
green tea in a cup
Author: Marta Chocilowska
end of summer …
in the pocket a seashell 
and phone number
Author: Martha Magenta
rabbit tracks:
a snowman
with no nose
Author: Michael Dylan Welch
first date —
        letting her
put snow down my neck
Author: Michele Root-Bernstein
touching tank 
the anemone gets a feel 
for the real me
Author: Minh-Triêt Pham
snowstorm – 
a car accident 
on PlayStation
Author: Neal Whitman
old chestnuts
X-mas song fest
at the Senior Center
Author: Rachel Sutcliffe
spring showers
racing each other
to the stream
Author: Robert Kania
heavy rain
end of the war
with cardboard swords
Author: Roman Lyakhovetsky
spring cleaning
jazz drum brushes
fade in
Author: Shrikaanth Krishnamurthy
tossing the ball
back and forth, a child
and the sea
Author: Sondra J. Byrnes
soul searching
I punch all the buttons
in my new car
Author: Stewart C. Baker
spring cleaning 
dad throws out
his back
Author: Tim Gardiner
the depth of our love
still uncertain
Author: Tom Clausen
apple festival
the space around the guy
offering free hugs
Author: Tom Sacramona
children dragging
their shadows home
bright plastic sleds
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