Friday, January 21, 2011

Review: Pirate Haiku

Spradlin, Michael.  Pirate Haiku.  Avon, MA: Adams, 2010.  186pp.

Our review of Michael Spradlin's Pirate Haiku is long overdue!  No, seriously, it's like a month late, and then another week late.  But let no one suggest that has anything to do with the quality of the book.  It's actually a pretty clever little romp around the Caribbean and across the Pacific Ocean to a strange place called... Japan.

Pirates are simple.
We like rum, guns, wenches.  And
women like bad boys.

If there were one poem that best summarized this book, that's probably it.  Fans of any of the previously-mentioned vices will probably get a snicker as they leaf through this book.  It occasionally gets a little blue, though, so if you're considering getting the book for a young scalliwag, you might want to wait until after the Bar Mitzvah.  Or you may just be dealing with a particularly mannish boy.  Decide for yourself:

In Jamaica I
spent nearly all my time with
a wench name of Belle.

Oft' I watched her dance.
A dark-haired beauty, my Belle
shivered me timber.

Admittedly, the rum/guns/wenches combo does start to fall a little flat on rereading, but there's more to the book than simply a jumble of references to pirate-y things.  Though the following is perhaps one of the best g-ddamned pirate puns I have ever heard:

My ears have no holes.
I find earrings expensive--
at a buck an ear.

Get it?  Buck an... right.  It's awesome.  'Nuff said.

As opposed to another haiku book we reviewed by the same publisher, Pirate Haiku isn't simply a compilation.  It tracks the voyages, exploits, ninja attacks, maroonings, battles, hand-and-leg amputations, and general mayhem associated with the fearsome One-Leg Sterling in a sort of journal form.  What I like best about the work is the prose introduction explaining the "history" behind the pirate himself: "What we know of One-Leg Sterling is this: he was probably Richard Sterling, who as a young boy was stolen by pirates from his family's home near Cape Fear, North Carolina."  And further explanation takes place in the journal itself:

I want to tell my 
story in the haiku form
I learned here last time.

But it is very
hard to count syllables when
you have just one hand.

The history (or "pirateology," as the field is named) really makes the book work, in my opinion.  It's a lot like Rohan Kriwaczek's An Incomplete History of the Art of Funerary Violin or Peter Schickele's The Definitive Biography of P.D.Q. Bach.  

(Is it worth noting that it also makes the work like the editor of this journal's still-to-be-published master's project?  Not at all.)

Anyway, the frame-story makes the book a winner.  I think Spradlin could have gone a little further to make the individual haiku a little more punny, but the overall narrative, combined with an explanation for the reason why it's all in haiku involving a lengthy island stay near Japan, causes the book to flow really well.  It's delightfully absurd.  And besides, pirates beat ninjas any day of the week. 



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