Mandahla: Baseball Haiku Reviewed

Baseball Haiku: The Best Haiku Ever Written About the Game edited by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura (Norton, $19.95, 9780393062199/0393062198, April 1, 2007)

Baseball is uniquely American, haiku uniquely Japanese, and they fit together like a perfect catch on a flawless summer's day. "While haiku gives us moments in which nature is linked to human nature, baseball is played in the midst of natural elements . . . as haiku happens in a timeless now, so does baseball, for there is no clock ticking." In this literary form, nature must be invoked by a prescribed season word, or kigo. American haiku poets are less strict, but still evoke the tradition, as in this gem by Helen Shaffer, who masterfully combines nature, a hint of a season, and baseball strategy in only eight words:

drooping flag . . .
the visitors' manager
moves a fielder

One of the great pleasures of baseball is listening to it on the radio; in fact, it's the only way I can iron with any equanimity. Ed Markowski and Mathew V. Span capture the magic and even poignancy of airwave baseball:

rainy night
a hole in the radio
where a ballgame should be
radio static
somewhere in the muggy night
a ballgame

A more definite season, mixed with childhood dreams, is evoked by Cor van den Heuvel:

baseball cards
spread out on the bed
April rain

And Edward J. Reilly writes of childhood's dashed hopes:

the boy not chosen
steps over home plate,
picks up his books

Masaoka Shiki is known as the first modern haiku poet, and in 1890 created the first baseball haiku. When he played, his favorite position was catcher, even though he was left-handed. He was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002.

spring breeze
this grassy field makes me
want to play catch

Yotsuya Ryu, echoing David Carkeet, speaks of the eternal with a poem that would be a fitting epitaph for a baseball fan:

until raised to Heaven
I'll go to fields of green
carrying my glove
--Marilyn Dahl

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