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Enjoy a biweekly test of verbal tomfoolery. WWW fame is at stake! Confused? Read all about Word Games in this brief introduction. Brought to you by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, the creators of The Atlantic Puzzler.

Senryu Contest

This contest is now closed. But enjoy!

(Click here to go directly to the winning entries.)

This contest is inspired by WelchM (Michael Dylan Welch), a poet and haiku scholar whom your word-game hosts met in the Writers' Club on AOL. He is the editor of Woodnotes, a quarterly haiku and senryu magazine. In return for his inspiration, The Atlantic Monthly hereby offers WelchM the book of his choice from the Atlantic's online store.

Senryu, as WelchM has explained to us, is a form of poetry very like haiku but with a dash of humorous irony. (Samples follow below.) Such a poem typically has three lines and a total of about 10 to 14 syllables in no fixed arrangement. Rhymes and titles are not necessary and in fact are likely to be counterproductive. The purpose is to convey an image, one with a wryly ironic twist. Here are some examples written by WelchM displaying the great range of possibilities for humor in this little verse form:

after the verdict
the arsonist
lights up

Mexican cantina --
the waiter says
bon appetite

bending for a dime
two businessmen
bump heads

hazy summer afternoon --
the smog-check mechanic
puffs a cigar

her swollen head...
the astrologer
seeing stars

billboard lady
in a bikini --
three-car pileup

first confession --
his parking meter

grocery shopping --
pushing my cart faster
through feminine protection

express checkout --
the fat woman counts
the thin man's items

visiting mother --
again she finds
my first grey hair

the understudy
steps out from rehearsal
to view the eclipse

afternoon mail --
the stamp from Australia
upside down

kindergarten Christmas pageant --
a wise man
loses his beard

after divorce
the plant she left
grows on me

clicking off the late movie ...
the couch cushion

his favourite deli --
the bald man finds a hair
in his soup

That should be enough to give you the idea! To enter our senryu bash, mail your entry to CoxRathvon (for non-AOL players, that's puzzles@theatlantic.com). Multiple entries are welcome, but for our convenience pack your poems into one piece of e-mail whenever possible (and please don't use attached files). We will send the collected entries to MWelch, who will act as Guest Host and select his three favorite entries. Senders of those three poems will each receive 5 free AOL hours (where applicable, and while they last!) and a free book from The Atlantic Monthly.

"Senryu Contest" will remain open through Friday, November 15. Winners and full results will be posted on the Atlantic's site on Friday, November 21.

--EC and HR

P.S. If you like cryptic crosswords, visit our "Puzzles and Word Games" folder on the Atlantic's America Online message board (keyword ATLANTIC) and join the handful of rather crazed clue-writers who are already at play there! Post clues of your own and see if the gang can solve 'em!

Results of Senryu

We turned the judging of this contest over to WelchM (Michael Dylan Welch), a poet and haiku scholar who introduced us to senryu several months ago. As the entries came in, we saw that a lot of our regular game-players had taken this innocent, virtuous verse form and unleashed shameless wordplay upon it. This was undoubtedly an aberration from tradition, but it may have resulted in an altogether new poem: the "punryu."

Without further ado, we turn the proceedings over to WelchM. After having read all the poems submitted in this contest, our guest-host e-mailed the following report.

From Michael Dylan Welch:

A good senryu is not merely a knee-slapper, though it can be that. It's not just a showcase for puns or wit, although a good senryu can include cleverness or humour as part of a more resonant purpose. Rather, a senryu is a poem that wakes us up in a small way with its distilled, one-breath moment of heightened awareness focusing on human nature. It's a window into the human condition, freshly squeegeed. Senryu are, ultimately, poems of human self-awareness. They don't have to be funny, but often it is good to laugh at ourselves through senryu.

I'm pleased, then, to have read so many fine and amusing entries. While I might define a few of the entries as haiku rather than senryu, and others as aphorisms or only light wordplay, many poems had much to recommend them -- especially if they are first attempts at the form. Here are the top three selections:

***The Winners***

Night watchman's
sweatshirt proclaims
"Carpe diem"

after the show
the ventriloquist
loses his voice

Wedding photos late.
Oh well, someday
my prints will come.

Congratulations to the above winners. Meanwhile, it's hard to stop with just the preceding three, though, so here are ten Runners-Up:

therapy session --
the gambler
bets it won't help

the budget speech
he shaves carefully

Students watch the clock
as the professor lectures
on immortality.

cold spring day...
sexy blonde next door
calls me "sir"

in street clothes --
obviously not
a real cyclist

sneezing, says
"Pardon me"

The pregnant teen
watches the sex-ed film
without taking notes.

the big dent
in the "please drive carefully"
bumper sticker

Penthouse reader,
spying nursing mother,
blushes deeply

In the gated community
a welcome mat
on the porch.

And, just for fun, here are five Punners-Up:

disturbed priest
has a bad habit
of dressing like a nun

Emily Post
driving down a country road
takes the wrong fork

At the florist
I spotted a cop...
he was a plant.

Busy autumn --
open-air bakery
rakes in the dough

make good golfers --
always have a good lie.

Thanks to everyone who entered this senryu contest for having some fun (sometimes seriously), and congratulations to the preceding winners. For more information on the Haiku Society of America and other groups and publications that promote and publish haiku, senryu, and related forms, please feel free to contact Michael Dylan Welch at WelchM@aol.com. To subscribe to the Shiki-L online haiku (and senryu) discussion list, send the message "subscribe" to shiki-request@cc.matsuyama-u.ac.jp. And happy senryu-writing to all.


***Other Favorites From the Senryu Contest***

first kiss--

aftertaste lingers

sixty years



which tie to wear

judge cannot decide


diatribe belabored--

the blind man says

I see, I SEE.


second ticket this week--

angry driver

speeds away


encounter at the ball

eyes dancing everywhere

avoiding ex


close shave--

nicking quickly past

the town gossip


one-way street--

but officer, I was only

going one way


final exam--

studious & nonchalant

wiping sweaty palms


watching horror film

eyes squeezed

tightly shut


prom date--first shave

white tie and tux

and styptic


Illicit night games--

shoes in hand

player steals home


church choir--

only the homeless man

sings on key


afternoon seance--

the medium

pulls the shade


kissing bandit's

getaway sports car

hugs the road


ambulance call--

steadfast wife

stuck by her man


guru shares wisdom

with wealthy woman

rapt in ermine


roller rink--

my loose change skates

across the floor


strutting along

the paisley shirted tourist

sees another peacock


at halftime

a bumblebee drinks from

the soda fountain


the zookeeper

near the baboon cage

scratching his head


school cafeteria--

a stack of plates crashes and

the crowd applauds


Pediatric office--

high school linebacker

cries over shot


Long line at Macy's--

where Master Origamist

waits for gift-wrapping


Pompous musician

in percussion section

plays wind chimes


smudged glasses--

the window washer

misses the scaffold's edge


dead battery...

the electrician calls

the auto club


waving his check--

salesman fails to flag

passing waitress


our dog licks

my reflection

in the cold puddle


hot summer night

an empty beer bottle

sweats on my counter


cold winter street

heavy snow blankets a sculpture

of mother holding child


sitting in doughnut shop


blowing smoke rings


the atheist

stares quizzically

at a praying mantis


a fifty-page report

of detailed plans

for saving trees


electrocution on the rails

trainman survived--

a poor conductor


she's not good enough

the harpist is turned away

by Saint Peter


cowboy rides horse


gets sunburned


clumsy vegetarian

walks into his garden

and harvests only squash



huge fan of

hard boiled eggs.

(Simba eec)

Drive-in projectionist

loses license

in high-speed chase.

(Simba eec)

Ballet class--

bellying up

to the bar.

(Simba eec)

Asked why she

didn't do the homework,

she has no answer.


The teacher says "Learn

from life," and the students ask

"Will it be on the test?"


The class yawns

through the lecture

on apathy.


Grading papers,

the teacher's red pen

runs out of ink.


The student unwrinkles

his test paper and looks

at the grade again.


A student complains

her grade doesn't reflect

her potential.


On safari...

A lion! Shoot!

Click went the camera.


Shopping for luggage...

Became weary,

Left with sleeping bag.


At hardware store...

On Halloween night,

"Witch broom?"


At ballgame

After a home run

He shouted "Hot dog!"


quick kiss that

just misses my cheek--

"break a leg"


curtain call--

faultless evening clothes

reek of sweat


cold cream takes

off the eyeliner...

leaves the bags


dreams of applause...

pillow smeared with rouge

this morning


office at night:

solitaire left on

every screen


drowsy crows...

we huddle by the squawking

speaker phone


cooing pigeons:

heads together, the guys

in the back row


craning my neck

to see the doodles in

my friend's notebook


heads swing

from clock to watch to clock...

hands are still



to voice after voice...

a loose button!


"You've got to

get the big picture"

... his runny nose


one beeper--

eighty pairs of eyes

leave the speaker




to the snowstorm


in the lobby

breaking ice

from my moustache


hand in hand

with Mom in Time Square,

he peeks at hookers


in tight, flowered pants

she saws hard on her bushes--

the flowers shudder


men on a park bench--

the in-line skater passes,

then they watch her go


the rapid walker

chewing gum in time

with the song she hums


the bicyclist,

his radio on,

in his cloud of noise


in the garbage can

teeming lines of ants



down on her belly

photographing some flowers,

crunching others


on the barber sign

a pointing hand--forefinger

clipped off short


hand with a hangnail

holding the plate

with the chipped rim


a homeless man

wearing a cigar band

as a ring


she chairs the meeting--

he watching, thinking about

her slender ankles


Dental exam,

still no cavities.

"Here, have a sucker."


Blind date.

He buys a bad toupee.

She adores Yul Brynner.


Hospital stay.

Nurse wakes you up,

time for your sleeping pill.


Three Stooges rerun.

Wiping a tear,

you poke your own eye.


NewYork cab driver,

off duty,

waiting for the subway.


pie-eating contest

winner declared

fat lady sings


Sequestered jury;

At breakfast

No one orders OJ.


Leaning for the goodnight kiss

As the porch light

Flickers on


Camcorder, ball & bat


Man clutching groin


Sleeping man with cat

Smoke detector

Flesh trickles blood


Unlikely to be tasted

Atop flimsy table

The wedding cake


As at Gettysburg

Bodies everywhere

Unstable trampoline


Ill-fitting dress

Grandmother dancing

Without it


Deep fly ball

Veering foul

New windshield planned


Not for long

Astride boat and land

Pushing off from the dock


Enjoying rare solitude

in ladies room,

on exit, read "MEN"


Wondering where

a Cruise Director



Greeted at fancy salon

by woman

with purple hair


Can't help correcting

spelling on son's note

from teacher


Love hurts--

The valentine she sent me

Cut my finger.


a call

about a police raid...

replacing the receiver



at her in-laws'

then scrubs up the soap


coffee break

a legal secretary files

her fingernails


night on the town--

trying a credit card

in the door lock


the Scrabble champ

held her trophy,



A mare and a stallion

In the pasture

Horsing around


The party host

Offering a toast

To Melba


Blood bank employee

Tells the donor

"You're not our type"


As the tide goes out

The ocean seems

To wave goodbye


A master clockmaker

Turning out his craft

Time and time again


Frantic search through


finds no peas.


Toto lost--Alaska.

Thought Dorothy said,

"... no place like Nome".


I'm not a slob--

I'm Martha Stewart,




can't get that therapist

outta my mind.


finally hers

after twenty years

he lost his charm


my father

corrects my table manners

then belches


harvesting hawthorn berries

for health--

the fingers bleed.


he gloved a wounded hand

then sobbed out

his life story.



cats on the lookout

for the culprit


toddler tries

to discover the world

in one afternoon

(Karen Ariz)


buys expensive toy--

child plays with the box

(Karen Ariz)

man with two cars

a wife and teen--


(Karen Ariz)

I've trained my dog well--

he scoots his bowl

I go fill it

(Karen Ariz)

bug in my eye--

walking through brittle leaves

a dogpile


painting green trim

the fat man's pants

fall below his crack


on the fast train

a little boy closes his eyes

and eats corn chips


exhaling smoke through her nose

the old lady

winks at me


perfectly dressed--

a spot of unshaven hair

on the businessman's face


inside the casino

Mr. Chips

craps out


romantic picnic...

sandwiching kisses

between bites


God, just in time,

my co-pilot

takes control


after elections


get out votes


Monday morning --

sharpen pencils

erase memories


roaring bulldozer

gently moves aside

the toddler's trike


he's riding a horse,

but feels like

an ass


State Street Santa

stamps sticky snow

from raggedy Reeboks


soup du jour

alphabet lite

only twenty-five letters


The trapeze artist

Flies fearlessly

Tugging at suspenders.


animal activists

protesting in the park

raining cats and dogs


heavy housewife

sweatin' to the oldies

eating day old doughnuts


Medusa was stoned

As her victims threw

Themselves at her



Autumn leaves,

White winter arrives


my ophthalmologist

is slowly

going blind


anti-government agent

voted for Dole

on Election Day


the fat lady

warbles like a



her carefully applied

hundred-dollar perfume

just reeks


Homer-hitting player

strikes out

in labor talks


Overweight painter

switches to



In Christo's Christmas stocking:

beautifully wrapped



Lass despairs flaws

Crone embraces beauty

In mirror


Falling chestnut

flushes bird

from stalking cat


heavy groceries -

the checkout lady asks again

are you pregnant?


watching dad eating sweets

she asks

why don't your teeth go black?


The neighbor's leaves

in the fall

always become ours


Eating nectarines

paper napkins

stick on your chin


A fly on my plate

this can not be

I am vegetarian


the little boy

finds the dirt

in the hospital

(Ms Emlet)

I bought a book

on self-motivation

but didn't need it after all.


Bank merger--

shark eats minnow

and throws up.


My web page

is about how much I hate



the weatherman

said "no rain"

he was struck by lightning.


Las Vegas line-up:

victim IDs

one-armed bandit


Squeegee man

Holds the cleansing rag

in grubby palm



Celebration of love

through retail sales


snow blankets

the homeless man

wrapped up in himself


the willowy girl

pines away

for the lumberjack


The surf waves

to the sandy haired child

drowning in sorrow


The Black Knight

falls in eleven

The King smiles


Close order drill

at Aberdeen

--what's your sign, Private?


Leaving Rwanda

on midnight train

Hutu, Tutsi goodbye


her shirt read

"walk like a poem"

and then she fell


golf lesson

new grip, new stance, new swing

same old game


Paper boy

in checkout line

chooses plastic


Between bites

the waiter persists--

How is everything?


The black widow's mate

comes courting--

fatal attraction.


At the hint of a melody

the rapmaster



The Spanish Inquisitor

kneels and prays

like a mantis.


Sweet young things

in mall fitting rooms--

gender Gap.


Hobbling, bobbling,

arthritic seniors

surf the net.


Genteel London--

trash is collected

by dustbin men.



by cubic zirconia

home shoppers dial.


Holiday sign painters

put the "X"

back in Xmas.


To prudes

the miniskirt

hit a new low.


The agoraphpobe's mailbox--


with catalogs.


White zinfandel--

the oenophile

wrinkles his nose.



and dusty rose--

poor colors for cars.


At fifty-eight

he restores

a fifty-eight Merc.


A stumped


At a loss for words.


Two months in

Space Station MIR...

A dieter's dream.


Summer leaves

When autumn falls

Memories of a winter frieze


Dispensing good cheer,

the bartender

calls the shots.


Fog and rain

Can't see at all--




speed bumps

for the internet


I like to hike. You

climb high, your eye curious,

till feet point at sky.


Remembering her promises

as she begged for a pet

while I am cleaning the cage


I, who can't carry a tune,

sing out loud

in the shower.


When the square peg

is forced into the round hole,

a few chips may fly.


Winter whiteness,

my path a jagged canyon,

I reek of BenGay.

(JC Rose)

All alone




winter afternoon--

as you undress I look up

another word


The Atlantic Puzzler

turning a quiet time

into quite a time


Amish fertilize

fields organically

air pungently


her new bathing suit

very sexy but too small

to reach her tan


a fortune teller

on the road

she didn't see the signs

(Emily Capelle)

Underwear manufacturers

let employees test products

time for a change

(Travis Anderson)

the bell sounds

my scholars go

I have no class


home school studies

parent and child

classless society


sorry about your boots

but my dog thought

you were a tree

(T iscold)


pollute skies

to proclaim Valdez' sins


ironic artform:

captures simply

complex ideas.


He saves hard copies

of all his



Kids grow up and leave

come back

Revolving door?


Whistler's mother

was really

off her rocker


How we loathe

trash TV

hour after hour


Tobacco executives

sell their souls

and we buy


Mother lecturing daughter

Who is pregnant

While having 6th child


Homecoming queen

her date is not the king,

but the joker


A robin cries

a final flutter of wings,

death in Gotham City.


A King is a king

But once a Knight

is enough.


With cigarette in hand

The scarecrow

Lights a match


With one week to go

The valedictorian

Drops out of school


At days end

the boa

winds down


Clinton re-elected

just deserts

pineapple upside-down cake

(Laur D 3)

On the verge of cracking

the Almond knew

he was nuts.


The weekend begins

He snores by the tv

She connects in cyberspace


The english teacher

made the mime answer--

in his own words.





I came

I saw

I dieted


a mouse has

a tail and

two buttons


computer crash--

when two modems connect

head on


up-grade today--

it takes little cash to

increase your cache


smell of burning leaves.

the frog caught

in my throat


changing table fart.

"mommy, I sneezed

from my bottom"


Faucet stream

wildly pulses--

out of sync


Army dentist

ranks as

drill sergeant



measured by tailor

for new suit


aboard the *Titanic*

a bartender

runs out of ice


engrossed in his tabloid

the 7-11 clerk

misses Elvis


what is the sound

of one hand clapping?



e e cummings

fires his typist

for being shiftless


Examples of "cleryu" (a crossbreed between the clerihew and the senryu):

Shirley Maclaine

is abducted

by illegal aliens


Ogden Nash

has a bash

at writing a senryu

for this contest, but can't for the life of him remember the

name of the people running the thing and has to ask "Emily and

Henry who?"


E. C. Bentley

did not go gently

or was that Dylan's father? Bother!


And the "limeryu":

Lit. Crit. Ph.D.

asks me

"Want fries with it?"


***And Three More Senryu from Michael Dylan Welch***

daylight saving time--

clock shop owner

in to work early

Sunday lunch--

the sixth grader eats his soup


before the guests arrive

I straighten

the straight cushions

Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.