Select Page

Poetry + Baseball = Haiku

Home » Campus News Latest » Lines of Thinking » Poetry + Baseball = Haiku

by | Apr 8, 2021

(in memory of Michael Woodcock)

April is a month of double celebration for me and not because I welcome the reappearance of forsythia, which I definitely do. Beyond the surging signs of spring, however, April is also national poetry month AND the beginning of baseball season. It’s a double header of the best sort.

Related to all of this, one of my favorite paintings is by the late artist Michael Woodcock. It’s of a baseball flying through a night sky in the glow of stadium lights. I can date the scene for you: October 15, 1988; and I also can tell you the vantage point of the painter: the parking at Chavez Ravine in LA. It was a most famous walk-off home run by Kirk Gibson in the first game of the World Series between the Dodgers and the Oakland A’s.

Gibson was suffering from injuries in both legs, making it difficult for him to put weight on either foot. He was facing Dennis Eckersley, one of the toughest closing relievers of the time. There was a runner on second base. The Dodgers were behind 4 to 3 and, of course, it was the bottom of the ninth with a 3-2 pitch count when Gibson, using the strength of his arms, drove a fast ball high into the night, landing it in right field stands.

Michael and his brother Scott were at the game, but as it would happen the painting he would create later swung on their fateful decision to make their way through the crowded parking lot to beat the traffic for a long drive home and work the next day. Those details are vague; I do remember that they were well outside the stadium when the ebbing and flowing of crowd buzz suddenly vanished, and when he turned back to look at the lit stadium, Michael swears he saw that baseball vaulting through the sky. Fortunately for us, he used his artist’s imagination to suspend the moment in memory and on a meticulously constructed wooden panel, transforming at least some of its worse-decision-ever misery into a wistfully poetic piece of art, one with all the summative power of a haiku.

Some years later, I received a package from Michael. It was a book completely devoted to haiku about baseball. (Baseball Haiku: The Best Haiku Ever Written About the Game, edited by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura, 2007). It really is the best baseball haiku I’ve read and maybe one of the best books on haiku altogether. More than half of its pieces are written by Americans and the remainder, not surprisingly, by Japanese, for whom baseball is also a national pastime. Do look for a copy.

I seem to recall including haiku from time to time in previous Lines of Thinking. If so, I might have reminded you of the 17-syllable requirement of the haiku form and that as a strict rule each poem use a season reference word (kigo, in Japanese) to alert the reader to the presence of changing nature. Thus, for example, snow denoting winter, red leaves indicating autumn, cherry blossoms standing for spring, and in the modern era, baseball referring to summer. While evoking a season in a baseball haiku may seem straightforward, as you will see, it is no less central to the success of the poem. On the other hand, writing in languages other than Japanese (or perhaps Chinese) the 17-beat syllable count becomes somewhat mechanistic. That’s why many of the American baseball haiku do not adhere strictly to that rule.

And now for the haiku.

First batter up is the writer Jack Kerouac. (Only appropriate since last month’s LoT was about his friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti). Cor van der Heuvel writes that the young Kerouac was a great athlete who won a scholarship to Columbia University to play football. An even more tantalizing tidbit for the Antiochians tuning in is perhaps the fact that Kerouac was an outfielder on the Horace Mann school baseball team in high school!

Jack Kerouac

How cold! –- late
September baseball—
the crickets


Empty baseball field
–A robin,
Hops along the bench

The remaining “hitters” are from a mix of American and Japanese baseball haiku all stars. All selections are from the aforementioned book.

Cor van der Heuvel

geese flying north
the pitcher stops his windup
to watch


a spring breeze
flutters the notice
for baseball tryouts


dispute at second base
the catcher lets some dirt
run through his fingers

Tom Painting

bases loaded
a full moon clears
the right field fence


the foul ball lands
in an empty seat
summer’s end

Tom Clausen

bottom of the 8th
eight determined drunks
get the wave going . . .

Ed Murkowski

sides chosen
the boy not chosen
lends me his glove


spring snow …
in the empty garage
a boy works on his swing

Helen Shafer

drooping flag …
the visitor’s manager
moves a fielder

Kadokawa Kenyoshi

lights out siren
the night game continues
by moonlight

Imai Sei

From the classroom
One can see the baseball field
Spring clouds


walking home
with his glove on his head
cicadas shrieking


a ground-rule double
any ball that’s hit into
the green onion field

Brenda Gannan

slow, high fly
somewhere down the line
the whistle of a train

Edward J. Rielly

spring melt—
a baseball rises
beneath the forsythia

Matthew V. Spano

the dark stadium
moths and fans disperse
into the night

Mike Dillon

the last kid picked
running his fastest
to right field

Raffael de Gruttola

lost in the lights
the high fly ball that
never comes down.

(Thank you, Michael Woodcock.)

About Lines of Thinking

Lines of Thinking is a monthly feature from College President Emeritus Tom Manley. Each installment features a poem selected for its powers to transport us to some higher, lower or common ground, and, possibly in the process, provide fresh perspective and insight on the ground we occupy daily.