I discovered cricket in 1969. At the time, we lived in Otatara, south of Invercargill. The only access I had to test cricket (for the uninitiated, this means five-day games between nations) was via radio: 4YC out of Dunedin were broadcasting commentaries on that summer’s tests between New Zealand and the West Indies. It wasn’t a powerful station, and the only way I could get reception in our house was to put my radio on top of the metal toilet cistern, which amplified the signal. (It’s possible this was inconvenient to other occupants of the house.)
Cricket is an old game which has developed a massive literature: not just the primary literature of statistics and match reports, but a secondary literature of fiction, poetry and plays. Mark Pirie has recently made a welcome addition to this literature with Slips, which is No. 21 in the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop’s excellent mini-series of poem booklets. Slips is dedicated to Harry Ricketts, another cricketing poet (and biographer), thus acknowledging its place in this literary tradition.
Mark knows whereof he speaks. My cricketing days are well past me, but my son played junior cricket up to the 2006/07 season, and several times, just as his team were packing up for the day, Mark would turn up with his senior team. The cover of Slips shows Mark poised to take a slips catch (again, for US readers, the slips are like extra shortstops who stand behind the batter and take catches off what in baseball would be fouls).
All the poems inside are about, or at least allude to, cricket. These allusions range from the glancing to the highly statistical: “Legacies and Cold Stats” and “Fiery Fred” would delight any cricket historian, while the longest poem, “11 Ways of Being Dismissed”, is based on a Cricinfo article about eleven unusual dismissals.
My two favourite poems in the book aren’t so stats-heavy. “Brown’s Bay” is a beautiful love lyric, while “The Pavilion”, following a long literary tradition, uses cricket as a metaphor for life.
This book displays many of the virtues of Mark Pirie’s poetry: humour, moving writing about grief and loss, and some classic last lines. I particularly like the final line of “Joe”, about a gentleman who starts distracting the scorer:
I watch his words aeroplane up and down his breath.
Whether or not you know your doosra from your googly, Slips is worth catching.