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Volume 37.3
Autumn 2006

book review:

In Borrowed Shoes
by Fay Aoyagi

Reviewed by Rich Youmans

In Borrowed Shoes, by Fay Aoyagi (San Francisco, Calif.: Blue Willow Press, 2006). 112 pages, 4.125? x 5.375?, perfectbound. No ISBN. $12 postpaid from the author at 930 Pine Street #105, San Francisco, CA 94108 or online at <www.bluewillowhaiku.com>.

In the preface to her previous book, Chrysanthemum Love, Fay Aoyagi wrote that “there is a lot of ‘me’ in my haiku,” adding a little later, “I write to tell my stories.” In her second volume, In Borrowed Shoes, she echoes those words, closing the book with this statement: “For me, haiku is the most suitable poetry format to express who I am, how I live, how I see and how I feel.”

By then the reader has had the good fortune of reading 94 of Aoyagi’s haiku, along with viewing a handful of her photographs (color on the cover, black and white inside). Throughout In Borrowed Shoes, Aoyagi shares her sensibilities and perceptions, and (if we are to believe the statement above) offers a glimpse into the world of one of today’s finest poets.

At her best Aoyagi creates haiku that surprise, give pause, and reward repeated readings. Take the opening haiku:

first dandelions—
a boy insists
he is invisible

The first explosion of dandelions commonly conjures spring’s outbreak, and with it an inherent sense of anticipation and possibility — especially among the young, who naturally desire to abandon their limitations and leap into newfound freedom. Aoyagi takes that leap a bit further and introduces us to a boy who imagines the ultimate freedom: to run unseen by adults’ eyes — any eyes — in the green and yellow spring fields. In eight words she captures the essence of high-blown youth and springtime.

Throughout the book, Aoyagi shows her command of juxtaposing unexpected details and images, of choosing an unexpected phrasing or word (occasionally calling on rarely visited literary and cultural references). The result: haiku that convey humor, longing, hurt, melancholy, anticipation, whimsy, and, always, a personal voice and vision. A few favorites:

these stones
with a story inside —
autumn deepens

a dinosaur egg
at the top of the stairs
Easter dawn

his latest lies
eye to eye
with a praying mantis

lacy gloves
will I metamorphose
into Vivien Leigh?

In the last of these haiku there is also the hint of a larger theme that seems to be at work throughout this collection: the pursuit (or settling) of identity. Born in Tokyo, Aoyagi immigrated to the United States in the 1980s, and a number of the haiku here seemingly describe the two cultures that still reside inside of her:

I always count
in my native tongue—
Buddha’s birthday

a stone bridge
my old name whispered
in the north wind

cutting lemons
how many nursery songs
do I know in English?

I dress as the self
I left somewhere

Even the title poem could be read in this light:

morning stroll
in borrowed shoes—
split-open chestnut burr

To “walk in another’s shoes” commonly expresses that desire to experience and better understand others’ circumstances. It could also be a way not only to understand other people but also better to understand one’s self — to unlock the true self within in the same way as the sweet, soft kernel emerges from the opened chestnut burr.

In another haiku Aoyagi makes a bold statement:

horizon —
the belief I can be
one of these sunflowers

As it stands Fay Aoyagi is definitely among the brightest of the haiku poets blossoming today.




©2006 Modern Haiku • PO Box 68 • Lincoln, IL 62656