Spring Signals the Return of Baseball (Haiku) Japan's love for baseball has translated into an art form: baseball haiku. Cor Van den Heuvel has edited a new anthology called Baseball Haiku, including a poem by Jack Kerouac.
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Spring Signals the Return of Baseball (Haiku)

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Spring Signals the Return of Baseball (Haiku)

Spring Signals the Return of Baseball (Haiku)

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

For a baseball fan, spring did not begin back on March 20th. It begins tomorrow, opening day. Many eyes this season will be on the Boston Red Sox's new pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka. Fans from his Pacific League days in Japan know him as The Monster for his ferocious fastballs, curveballs, sliders and splitters.

America's favorite pastime became Japan's well over a century ago. A new book celebrates the two nations' love of the game. It's a collection of American and Japanese haiku called appropriately "Baseball Haiku." The American co-editor of the book, poet Cor van den Heuvel, is with us from NPR's New York bureau. Hello there.

Mr. COR VAN DEN HEUVEL (Co-editor, "Baseball Haiku"): Hello, Debbie. How are you?

ELLIOTT: I'm good. Now, you say baseball and haiku were made for each other. How so?

Mr. VAN DEN HEUVEL: Well, the connection between them is - haiku is a poem about nature and baseball is very closely related to nature. It started out on a field. It's played under the open sky. There's dirt. There's grass. It goes through the seasons. It opens in the spring. It plays all through the summer. The World Series is in the fall. And we have the Hot Stove League in the winter where we reminisce about the baseball that took place in the other seasons. And all of this is captured in haiku. Another thing that relates haiku to baseball is time, or the lack of time. In baseball there is no clock. It's played now, in the present, and haiku is also always in the present tense.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Tell us, who was it that penned the first baseball haiku?

Mr. HEUVEL: It was one of the great - they're called the four pillars of haiku in Japan. It was Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki. Shiki was the most recent one. He was born in Matsuyama on the island of Skikoku. In 1884 he went to Tokyo to a prep school. And there he discovered baseball. He became so enamored of it, he went out for the team. He played catcher. And he wrote haiku about the game. He is now in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

ELLIOTT: Would you read for us his first haiku about baseball?

Mr. HEUVEL: Sure.

Spring breeze. This grassy field makes me want to play catch. Spring breeze. This grassy field makes me want to play catch.

Most haiku poets usually read their haiku twice.

ELLIOTT: Why?

Mr. HEUVEL: Because haiku bis(ph) is basically a suggestive poem. It depends on perception, awareness and suggestiveness. Each word is so important. If you miss one word you're going to probably miss the whole import of the haiku itself.

ELLIOTT: Okay, let's talk a little bit now about some of these American poets. I was surprised to see that the Beat poet Jack Kerouac was the first American to write a baseball haiku. And we actually have found a recording of Jack Kerouac reciting one of his poems. Let's listen.

Mr. JACK KEROUAC (Poet): Empty baseball field. A robin hops along the bench. Empty baseball field. A robin hops along the bench.

ELLIOTT: Now, this haiku gives you a very strong image. What does it evoke for you when you hear it?

Mr. HEUVEL: Well, the important thing to me is that although it's an empty baseball field, the robin tells you that this field is going to be filled with ball players in a very short time, because it's spring.

ELLIOTT: You've included a few of your own baseball haiku in this collection. Now you played baseball in high school?

Mr. HEUVEL: I did, but not for the high school team. I never made the high school team. I was a catcher and I wore glasses. And that - I became manager of the team.

ELLIOTT: Will you read for us?

Mr. HEUVEL: Sure.

Mr. HEUVEL: A spring breeze flutters the notice for baseball tryouts. A spring breeze flutters the notice for baseball tryouts.

ELLIOTT: Do you get that sense of excitement that maybe I'll make the team.

Mr. HEUVEL: Right. And here's one about somebody who couldn't afford a new baseball. When I was a kid, if you couldn't afford a new ball you made do with your old ball and you wrapped the black tape around it.

Through the blue sky the tape-wrapped baseball trails a black streamer.

ELLIOTT: You mentioned that you've got 30 American poets here who have written baseball haiku. Are any of these baseball haiku funny?

Mr. HEUVEL: Well, sure, a lot of them are. One of the poets in the book "Baseball Haiku" is Bud Goodrich, and he's from the Chicago area. You know what a rhubarb is in baseball, right?

ELLIOTT: No.

Mr. HEUVEL: It's when some - there's an argument, usually between an umpire and a manager, or an umpire and one of the players.

ELLIOTT: Okay.

Mr. HEUVEL: Just when the rhubarb begins, TV commercial. Just when the rhubarb begins, TV commercial.

ELLIOTT: So just when it's getting exciting they cut it off.

Mr. HEUVEL: Right. It's like most haiku, they're slightly ambiguous so you can produce different scenarios. Different readers bring a different imagination to it.

ELLIOTT: Well, thank you for sharing these poems with us today.

Mr. HEUVEL: You're very welcome.

ELLIOTT: Cor Van den Heuvel is a haiku poet and co-editor of the book "Baseball Haiku: The Best Haiku Written About the Game."

Mr. HEUVEL: Happy baseball season.

ELLIOTT: Thanks. Enjoy it.

Mr. HEUVEL: Thank you.

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