An Unknown Road: A Collection of Haiku, by Adelaide B. Shaw (Baltimore, Md.: Modern English Tanka Press, 2008). 64 pages; 6 x 9. Glossy color card covers; perfectbound. ISBN 978-0-9817-6910-3. $11.95 from the publisher at PO Box 43717, Baltimore MD 21236.
Reviewed by Edward Zuk
An Unknown Road collects thirty years of haiku from Adelaide B. Shaw, and it reveals its author to be a poet concerned with changes in nature. Many of these two hundred haiku treat the vibrancy of autumn leaves or the arrival of spring flowers, the settling of darkness over a landscape or the transformation wrought by a dusting of snow. For the most part, these changes are portrayed with great sensitivity. The following haiku, for instance, provides an interesting play between light and darkness:
with a crow’s call
and the following finds a novel way of appreciating the autumn leaves:
tinting the spaces
It took a great amount of skill to produce poems this revealing of their subjects. What is even more surprising is that Shaw seems to have staked out her stylistic territory early and stayed there. I cannot tell if the haiku of An Unknown Road were arranged chronologically or by subject since they are all written in a similar style and at the same generally high level.
Very little is or happens in these haiku. Rather, everything is in the process of becoming or happening. Perhaps to accent the theme of change, Shaw cheerily tosses out the rules of English grammar. She avoids referring to herself with an “I” and uses a participle instead. As a result, there are more dangling and misplaced modifiers in this collection than a semester’s worth of 8th grade essays:
searching the stars
in a blue-black sky
The confusion here is caused by the fact that, according to the rules of grammar, it is the Christmas Eve that is searching the stars, not the poet. In this or any number of her haiku, I can guess at the author’s intention, but the fastidious critic in me was dissatisfied.
What saved An Unknown Road for me was Shaw’s ability to write in a mode that I wish appeared in more haiku. Goethe once wrote that a poet should try to see the universal through the particular and that a poem’s symbols should “transform the phenomenon into an idea, the idea into an image.” In a handful of poems Shaw approaches something like Goethe’s ideal:
beyond the lights
of the amusement park
rhythm of the sea
This haiku is not really about an amusement park and the sea. Rather, it is about all the noisy entertainments that we use to distract ourselves from the rhythms of nature, and all that such a distraction implies. Or take the following haiku:
a break in the storm—
thunder clouds connected
by a rainbow
I am willing to assume that Shaw actually viewed this scene though I never have. Regardless, the images of conflict and reconciliation are universal and powerful.
These haiku cause me to recommend An Unknown Road highly. I wish that more of her haiku achieved the depth of those I quoted above, but I remain very grateful for those that do.