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Regular readers of The Japan Times will probably be familiar with the author of the “Backstreet Stories” column, but Kit Pancoast Nagamura is also an award-winning haiku poet. This bilingual collection features haiku honoring the sports and the athletes of the Summer Olympics. Each discipline is represented by several of Nagamura’s haiku, along with a couple by a guest poet, with every poem offered in both English and Japanese.

Grit, Grace, and Gold, by Kit Pancoast Nagamura.
148 pages
KODANSHA USA, Poetry.

On the surface, sports and haiku are an incongruous mix but, as Nagamura notes in the introduction, “Writing good haiku involves the same attention to grace, balance, strength, bravery, restraint and observation that propels athletes to their peak.”

Fresh, insightful and often surprisingly humorous, Nagamura’s haiku skillfully capture the essence of each sport. One of my personal favorites is from “Rowing”: “vernal equinox, trying for balance, either/or.”

It was an inspired move to invite a selection of international haiku masters to contribute to the book, as this allows the reader to experience a wide range of styles and approaches to the art of haiku writing. The finer points of some of the sports are explained in footnotes where this is crucial for understanding the nuance of a particular haiku, but these are used sparingly.

Not only will this volume please Japanese poetry aficionados, but the contemporary subject matter is likely to appeal to youngsters, making it ideal material for use in a classroom setting. Although the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has now been postponed, this collection of sports haiku remains a winner.

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