August 2, 2007

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Baseball Haiku: The Best Haiku Ever Written About the Game, Edited by Cor Van Den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura, Norton, 2007, 195 pages)
Reviewed by Dan Szczesny news@hippopress.com

Baseball Haiku is undoubtedly the finest compilation of baseball haiku ever compiled. Let’s start there. Where you go with this book after that depends so wildly on personal taste that it seems impossible even to have an opinion.

Let’s recap your English 101 before proceeding. In general, a haiku has approximately 17 syllables and is connected to nature, usually the seasons. There are many, many exceptions, but keeping those rules in mind, the editors of this book have brought together more than 200 haiku, spanning the last 100 years and covering poets from America and Japan, where the great American pastime is every bit as popular as it is here.

Ultimately, an appreciation of this book depends more on loving baseball than on loving haiku, because regardless of how you feel about the haiku form, this collection offers the cream of the crop as far as haiku poets go. Here’s a lovely example: “bottom of the 8th / eight determined drunks / get the wave going...” The haiku, written in 1951 by American Tom Clausen, is nearly perfectly structured, funny and hints at a natural connection. No need to question these poets’ deep attachment to and skill in this short and sweet art form.

But, if you could care less about baseball, or even worse, are actively tired of your seemingly normal friends obsessing about the Boston Red Sox, this collection will grind on you. A haiku’s connection to its subject matter is immediate and crucial, and these poems are deeply, and thickly, about baseball.

Love the game, love this collection. But “prefer Brady / to Hideki / this book a bore.” CDan Szczesny