Saturday, June 28, 2014

Baseball Haiku

summer afternoon
the long fly ball to center field
takes its time

changing pitchers
the runner on first looks up
at a passing cloud

after the grand slam
the umpire busy
with his whisk broom
—Cor van den Heuvel (b. 1931) 

Van den Heuvel “discovered haiku in San Francisco in 1958 when he heard Gary Snyder talking about short poems at a Sunday gathering of the Robert Duncan/Jack Spicer poetry group in North Beach.” He “was known as ‘Dutchy’ when he played catcher in the late 1940s for the Comets, a sandlot team in Dover, New Hampshire.” From a volume of baseball haiku edited by Van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura (W.W. Norton & Co., 2007). 

I could not resist drawing attention to poetry that so skillfully joins a fondness for both baseball and haiku. And it seems this might be considered serendipitous, as haiku is a combination of two words: haikai (literally, ‘comic,’ ‘unorthodox’) and hokku, the latter a three line stanza and the former meaning “sportive” or “playful.” Bashō, a haikai master, sought to exemplify in his poetry both comic playfulness and spiritual depth, an uncommon blend of the vita contemplativa, which he practiced on his own terms, with the vita activa, evidenced in his willingness to take seriously “the ordinary, everyday lives of commoners,” portraying such figures as the beggar, the traveler and the farmer. 

The first “baseball haiku” (1890) issues from the brush of the first modern haiku poet, Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), whose “writings on baseball later helped to popularize the game throughout Japan.”

spring breeze
this grassy field makes me
want to play catch
—Masaoka Shiki
On the origins of haiku, see “A Note on Haikai, Hokku, and Haiku,” appended to Robert Hass, ed., The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, and Issa (Hopewell, NJ: The Ecco Press, 1994). 

Images: Painting by Kadir Nelson found here. Picture of Shiki found here


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