- Hockey Haiku: the Essential Collection
The poetry anthology as a genre continues to thrive in strange and unexpected ways, as editors find new slants on old topics and invent imaginative ways of offering them to the public. Recent examples include Sweet Jesus, which presents sixty-three poets' funny, lyrical perspectives on "the ultimate icon" and The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse, which lives wonderfully—awfully—up to its name. But the latest anthology masterminds are definitely John Poch and Chad Davidson.
Hockey Haiku: the Essential Collection might be the first anthology to satirize the anthology form, at least in recent history. Everything within the covers, from the list of the authors' other titles on the first page—A Million Little Hockey Haikus, Mid-Evil or Medieval? A History of the Center Line—is invented, making for just over a hundred pages of deep fun that satirize, beatify, and render hilariously immortal both the hockey haiku form and the sport that gave it life. This book will find its way into the stockings of many hockey fans on many a Christmas to come. But it will also find its way into the collections of any who love poetry, anthologies, or brilliant satire that eschews sarcasm in favor of delightful, slapstick, very smart humor.
The introduction alone makes the book worth buying. It presents a majestic made-up history of the hockey haiku, situating it among other, "prehockey," haiku. In this type of poem, Poch and Davidson see the passions and indeterminacies of the game itself—"the form does not merely test our very notions of objective truth, it shatters them like so much Plexiglas under the force of an Al MacInnis slap shot." This ersatz passion fuels fiery, fabulously bogus debates over the proper writing and theoretical framing of hockey haiku. The editors repeatedly condemn "[t]he Winnipeg School and their cattywampus methodologies." The introduction will be funny to any reader, and unforgettable to the readers of poetry immersed in and weary of post-truth, post-reality rhetoric.
The haiku that follow the introduction are broken up into six sections, e.g. Pindaric Haiku: From Acne to Acme; or Heroic Homeric Hockey [End Page 183] Haiku, Including Invocation of the Muses. Following the pattern set by Robert Hass in his anthology, The Essential Haiku, they're presented as the work of three hockey haiku masters. Those who know the "editors'" own work will recognize their craft in the lines: Davidson's wit and profundity, and Poch's ability to run with a form to the limit of its possibilities. Coupled with an agile use of the hockey lexicon, these gifts make for kinetic gems:
Gretzky, hockey stick
preslap shot: a goalie's grim
reaper, scythe held high.
The combined references and allusions bring the poetic, the hockey, the haiku, and other worlds into repeated collision, with funny results; and the twists of lyricism hit just right, too:
Stiff cross-check—you fall
face down—Narcissus on ice.
These and the dozens of other haiku show much more than two poets' ability to use a funny form. They sustain the anthology's overall approach as an innovation in satire that never breaks its deadpan pose but also avoids using irony to elevate writer above the subject. The haiku, individually and as a collection, kid because they love.
The anthology works as much more than a gift for the one hockey fan in the family. Its unique kind of satire shows us a new way to laugh at ourselves as readers, writers, or just members of the general public. Davidson's and Poch's humor doesn't shy away from critique, but its basic message is one of fun, in which writer can connect with reader, reminding us of our shared space as (in the words of the introduction) "pucks—so to speak—in an infinite net."