One-Minute Book Reviews

October 29, 2007

‘Baseball Haiku': World-Class Poems About the Seasons of a Sport

Poems that speak to the emotions of Red Sox and Rockies fans today

Baseball Haiku: American and Japanese Haiku and Senryu on Baseball. Edited and With Translations by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura. Norton, 214 pp., $19.95.

By Janice Harayda

“Haiku and baseball were made for each other: While haiku give us moments in which nature is linked to human nature, baseball is played in the midst of the natural elements — on a field under an open sky; and as haiku happen in a timeless now, so does baseball, for there is no clock ticking in a baseball game — the game’s not over until the last out.”

With those words, Cor van den Heuvel sets the tone for this exemplary anthology of more than 200 of the finest haiku about baseball written by American and Japanese poets. Most Americans think of haiku as poems of 17 syllables, typically arranged in a 5-7-5 pattern on three stepped or flush-left lines.

But van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura show how much more flexible the form can be than the traditional pattern might suggest. Van den Heuvel notes, for example, that the best American practitioners of the art typically write free-verse haiku that have fewer than 17 syllables.

Consider the work of the Kansas-born Michael Fessler, who shows how nature can affect baseball in a poem that portrays the game as few of us see it played today: “dust storm trick: / infielders / face the outfield.” Fessler’s haiku suggests the layers of meaning that gifted poets can find in as few as 15 syllables: The word “trick” refers both the players’ shift of position and to a trick of nature, the dust storm. And the poem quietly conveys the passions aroused by baseball, a sport people will play in blinding storms.

Each author in Baseball Haiku gets an intelligent, one-page introduction that mentions a team that influenced him or her. But even without that material you might guess that the Maine-born van den Heuvel is “a lifelong fan of the Boston Red Sox” from one of his own poems that appears in the book, an homage to Ted Williams: “Ted hits another homer / a seagull high over right field / gets out of the way.”

Like all good poetry, the best haiku in this book transcend fandom and evoke deep and, if not universal, at least transoceanic emotions. One comes from the Japanese poet Yotsuya Ryu, known for his ability to capture fleeting moments in nature. He wrote its words years ago. But this one’s for you, Rockies fans: “until raised to Heaven / I’ll go to fields of green / carrying my glove.”

Published: June 2007 www.wwnorton.co

Furthermore: All the Japanese poems in Baseball Haiku include their original text and an English translation. More haiku appear at www.simplyhaiku.com. Van den Heuvel nows lives in New York City and Tamura in Japan.

You may also enjoy: The June 18, 2008, post on this site “Basketball Poems for Celtics Fans and Others” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/06/18/.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

3 Comments »

  1. Nature Motion Passion and Function
    all together captured here and for ever
    in a field of words

    Pure Haikuism!
    Seriously: what an excellent and original idea this book! IF it were about golf, I would definitively buy it… but before I would try to convince the authors to illustrate it with my golf paintings!

    Comment by Miki — October 29, 2007 @ 1:11 pm | Reply

  2. Golf WOULD be a great subject for haiku. I wonder if it’s played in Japan as much as baseball? (The editors might not have had enough good material for this book if they hadn’t been able to draw on the work of both American and Japanese poets.)

    “Baseball Haiku” would be a great teaching aid for teachers who want to get adolescents interested in poetry, because the poems are so short that even children who feel intimidated by longer poems could get through and appreciate these.

    Thanks so much for your comment … Hope you find a poet and publisher someday who can help you put together a great book of annotated golf paintings.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — October 29, 2007 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

  3. Interesting your commetn about using haikus to get adolescents interested in poetry and about the intimidation caused by long poems… I am no more an adolescent (still very childish though…), but I really don´t´like long poems, for me they are the contrary from what poetry should be: an instantaneous impression of life in words…
    I don´t know if I´ll find a poet and a piublisher for my golf paintigs -I doubt I´ll make the effort…-, but a publisher just found me and my bullfight paintings, and I´ll get a wonderful calendar published in 2008 and 2009.. bullfight, wonderful haiku theme, too, from life to death within 17 words! But you see, you gave me an idea with your entry… i might write short poems to each of my bullfight paintings and have them published in the calendar… thanks!
    Your blog is definitively very good, congratulations! The only problem I have is that I am commenting “blind”, most of the time I don´t know any of the people, events, etc you are referring too. Perhaps it is good, giving my comments a touch of obejctivity…

    Comment by Miki — October 30, 2007 @ 2:59 am | Reply


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