First Person Singular Review (7) The Yakult Swallows Poetry CollectionMay 5, 2021
*This article includes possible spoiler
The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection is different from the other stories in the book. Some readers may think it is a kind of filler, but there is more to it than that. It begins by explaining how the protagonist became a fan of the Swallows: from its foundation in 1950 until 2020, the Swallows have been a weak team, winning 4,280 of their 9,513 games (45%) and finishing an average of 4.2 out of six teams in the league.
What sort of galaxy did I cross to make that fleeting, dim star—the one that’s the hardest to locate in the night sky—my own lucky star?
Murakami is known to be a big fan of the Yakult Swallows, so the reader might think that this is a monologue about his favourite team. When you think about it, you are already in the author’s story.
In the following text, Murakami writes about his journey to becoming a Swallows fan up to 1977, introduces his first poem, ‘RIGHT FIELDER’, and then moves on to talk about his poetry collection.
And I gathered my poems into a book called The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection and published it. If poets want to get all bent out of shape over it, then be my guest. This was in 1982. A little before I finished writing my novel A Wild Sheep Chase, three years after I’d debuted as a novelist (if you could call it that)…Simple binding, five hundred numbered copies, each and everyone signed by yours truly. Haruki Murakami, Haruki Murakami, Haruki Murakami…
BUT NOBODY HAVE EVER SEEN THE POETRY COLLECTION
Since 1981 Murakami has mentioned the Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection several times, but no one has seen it. Perhaps the poetry collection is a metaphorical catalyst for extending his imagination, like Derek Heartfield in Hear the Wind Sing. In this sense, at this point, the reader is already in the fiction without knowing it. The protagonist recalls the memory of the St. Louis Cardinals, just as Toru Okada did at the bottom of the well.
When I was nine, in the fall, the St. Louis Cardinals played a goodwill game against an All-Star Japanese team.
I thought about the baseball games I had seen over the years. The Saint Louis Cardinals had come to Japan once, when I was little, for a friendship game. (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Book2, Ch.11)
The protagonist continued to salvage his memory by presenting three poems. Unlike Murakami’s favourite novel, The Great American Novel, written by Philip Roth about a fictional baseball league, Murakami delicately traced the edges of reality without straying from realism, and the reader wandered unwittingly between reality and fiction.
And so the protagonist returns to the Jingu Stadium.
At any rate, of all the baseball stadiums in the world, I like being in Jingu Stadium the best of all. In an infield seat behind first base, or in the right-field bleachers.
In this story, the protagonist moves back and forth between time periods. However, his thoughts are always around the baseball field, which acted as a catalyst for aligning his fragmented memories, as described below.
We need to deftly reconcile ourselves with time, and leave behind as many precious memories as we can—that’s what’s the most valuable.
Then the protagonist met a young skinny boy and ordered a stout. The boy apologised, saying that he only had black beer. The protagonist thanked him and said:
“I mean, I’ve been waiting a long time for someone selling dark beer to come by.”
The protagonist empathised with him and reflected on his work himself.
When I write novels, I often experience the same feeling as that young man. I want to face people in the world and apologize to each and every one. “I’m sorry, but all I have is dark beer.”
It is the author’s twisted declaration that “I write what is inside me”.
Note: How beer is sold in the baseball stadiums in Japan.
In the past, when only bottled beer was available, many beer sellers were boys because the boxes were too heavy. But now, thanks to technological developments, draft beer is available and can be filled in small kegs on the back of the seller. This has led to the emergence of so-called beer girls, who walk around the stadium before and during games, selling draft beer from kegs on their backs and boosting sales.
In Jingu Stadium, about 100 people sell 10,000 pints (550cc each) on average during a game (2-3hours). The spectators buy beer from any vendor they like, and some “idol” vendors sell 400 pints per night. Traditionally, the majority of the beer consumer in the stadium was heterosexual male, however, these days, due to the increasing number of a female drinker and respecting the diversified direction of the spectators, the beer boys also sell beer, although the majority of the beer vendors are young girls.
In this context, as Murakami stated, stout beers are very rare, especially those sold by a boy.