Monday, June 10, 2013

Haiku for Sports Fans: A Review of "Five Seven Five Sports"

Haiku for Sports Fans

I have touched before on how Haiku has become part of English language poetry and that one of the ways that we can see this is through popular Haiku.  There is a lot of popular Haiku published these days on every conceivable topic.  And this demonstrates, I think, how the 5-7-5 rhythm has become a part of English language poetry.

One of the topics that popular Haiku focuses on is sports.  Sports are a major concern for a high percentage of people and so it makes sense that the intersection of sports and Haiku would generate Haiku on this topic.  A recent example of this is Five Seven Five Sports: 2012 in Haiku – Language of the Games, by Andrew Hanson.

I found this collection to be intriguing.  It is distinctive in that the Haiku in this volume all consist of syllabic, 5-7-5, Haiku stanzas: that is to say that each entry has 5-7-5 stanzas, of various lengths, ranging from 1 to 14 stanzas. The emergence of the Haiku stanza is yet a further indication of how deeply Haiku has sunk roots into English poetic culture.

In the past I have been aware of Haiku stanzas only by famous practitioners of poetry such as Richard Wilbur.  So I was pleasantly surprised to find the Haiku stanza form in popular Haiku as well.  I take this as evidence that the 5-7-5 rhythm of Haiku is strong enough to create its own variations.

Hanson’s book is a major undertaking.  It is done as a calendar of sports events for the year 2012.  Each day of the year there is an entry for some sporting event that occurred on that day.  Thus there are 366 Haiku stanzas (2012 was a leap year), one for each day of the year.  The stanzas are of actual sporting events that were held on that particular day.  So for sports fans who also happen to like Haiku, this is a fantastic volume.  It is a record in Haiku stanzas of an entire year of specific sporting events. 

As mentioned above, the stanzas range from 1 to 14 verses.  The sports events that are covered consist of both college and professional competitions.  In addition a wide range of types of sports are touched on including baseball, basketball, golf, hockey, tennis, etc.  It is an amazingly complete record of the 2012 sports season.

Hanson’s Haiku are all in the 5-7-5 traditional syllabic format.  For the most part, Hanson’s lineation is based on grammar; each line is a grammatical unit.  Here is the entry for August 5:

Human lightning bolt
Running for independence
Usain in London;

41st long stride,
With head leaning for the gold –
Olympic record;

Unstoppable force
Strikes across the stadium –
Black, gold, and green cape.

At times, Hanson uses poetic devices such as alliteration.  Here is an example from March 31:

Kansas moves forward,
Inbound to the title game,
Foes failing to foul.

Line 3 is nicely alliterative. 

And here are the stanzas for October 30:

Checking into game,
Allen taps KG’s shoulder –
No-look pass on bench . . .

On broken-down play,
A drift behind Celtic’s back –
Ray buries big 3 . . .

Shot clock running down,
Ray squares in replacement’s face –
Soft Miami bank . . .

Ringing D-Wade’s neck,
Rondo, too far behind, fouls –
A heated finish.

The non-sports fan, like myself, will miss much of the action.  Even the more casual sports fan, I suspect, may have to look up some of the names.  Hanson names players and strategies with the assumption that the reader will understand whom or what he is referring to.  But for the dedicated sports fan, like my older brother, I think these stanzas will be readily accessible.  So these are specialized Haiku stanzas written for a particular audience.

And I have found that this is often the case with popular Haiku.  The Haiku by Ryan Mecum, whose Haiku are focused on the horror film genre, assume that the reader knows the specifics of werewolves, vampires, and zombies.  In other words, Mecum’s popular Haiku are written for a knowledgeable audience in a specific field.  Likewise, Hanson’s sports Haiku are written for people who are already soaked in sports; the kind of person who readily recites sports statistics, knows famous games and players, and is familiar with the rules governing various sports in detail.

But even if you are not a sports fan, this collection is worth looking at.  It is a good example of the Haiku Stanza and how the form of the stanza can tell a brief story.  All of these entries tell a story, a story about a game won or lost.  In other words, these are narratives, condensed narratives, but nonetheless narratives, often with the main characters named.  As a Haiku poet, the tendency is to avoid narrative and instead focus on bare description.  So Hanson’s Haiku stanzas are a good teaching, or guide, on how to use the Haiku form in a narrative context.  Even a single stanza entry has a narrative context.  Here is the one for April 7:

Sergio beckons
Birdie brother on the twelfth –
Two roaring Amens.

The integration of story-telling into Haiku has not been undertaken in a significant way by the English Language Haiku community.  It is here, I feel, that Hanson’s work significantly expands the range of Haiku topics.  So even if sports is not of significant interest to you, if you are interested in Haiku, its scope, its range of subject matter, I think this collection has a lot to offer.  In closing, here is one I particularly enjoyed, it is for April 26:

Patented headband –
Cloned this night by Wolves teammates –
Absorbs one more blow;

A charge drawn and called,
One final substitution,
A bench full of hugs;

Head tap from the coach
Prompts removal of symbol,
Towel over head;

Fourteen years of work
Coming out Brad Miller’s eyes –
Bittersweet liquid.

Five Seven Five Sports: 2012 in Haiku –
Language of the Games
By Andrew Hanson

ISBN: 9781481714419


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