On a haiku by Chad Lee Robinson

rustle of corn leaves—
fitting my son
for a new ball glove

This haiku features among the August selections on this year’s Haiku Calendar, and is one I like very much. Chad Lee Robinson is one of the very best of the younger generation of American haiku poets. His excellent 2015 collection The Deep End of the Sky (Turtle Light Press) and 2012 e-chapbook Rope Marks (Snapshot Press) both conjure the vast space of the prairie of South Dakota, in whose state capital, Pierre, Robinson was born, raised and still lives.

With its sense of timelessness, implying multi-generational tradition, this example fits perfectly with the genre of American and Japanese baseball poems that Cor Van Den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura collected in their seminal 2007 Baseball Haiku anthology, to which Robinson was the youngest contributor. I’ve never watched, let alone played, baseball, but my lifelong obsessions with cricket and football mean that I can easily relate to the scenes in the individual poems of that wonderful book – and, as any sports obsessive will tell you (think Bill Shankly), the sport in question is about more than just the game itself.

I wonder how much Robinson worked on that first line, because the reader (well, this one anyway) would naturally presume that the ‘action’ in the second part of the haiku is taking place indoors, within a sportswear shop of some kind, so the exterior scene of the first line initially seems at odds with that; though maybe baseball gloves are available in general stores and so here the door of the shop is open, allowing the sound of the wind ruffling the endless cornfields to be heard. Perhaps that’s exactly how it happened and the haiku fell into Robinson’s lap, as often they do to experienced haiku poets who are deeply in touch with their senses. (Robinson’s day job as a store-owner influences that reading.)

Whatever the truth of the matter, it’s irrelevant really, because what we have here is a haiku where the disjunction between the two parts is powerful and lovely, and, as I say, evokes the traditions and hugeness of the American Midwest in a beautifully worded way. It’s worth noting that Robinson’s eschewal of a definite article before ‘rustle’ endows the appearance of the word, and the start of the poem, with extra impact. It should also be noted that this haiku’s form is contrary to the orthodox pattern of a three-line haiku, in that it is long/short/long rather than the far more common short/long/short, but the rhymes in the poem, corn/son and leaves/glove, and the alliteration of ‘fitting’ and ‘for’, give the poem a balance which enables Robinson to transcend the limitations of this apparent heterodoxy.

Above all, it’s a touching moment, full of love and pride, between parent and son – between father and son if we assume, and there is no real cause to think otherwise, that the parent and the author are one and the same. It’s made additionally touching by the implicit sense that the father in the poem was in the son’s shoes a generation before, and so on back in time. The overall impression, then, is one of continuity, in a place where agriculture has dominated for several centuries. Robinson’s artistry magically transforms a small-town, Corn Belt ‘Nowheresville’ into a place with immediate resonance for the reader.

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I know it’s still only August, but all of this reminds me that I must pre-order the 2020 Haiku Calendar – I heartily recommend that you do likewise. In its 20 iterations over the years, the calendar has consistently been the best annual English-language haiku anthology bar none (albeit that the poems within it weren’t necessarily written or published in the previous year). For that reason, it’s very much worth buying past years’ calendars too.

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