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Autumn 2008, vol 6 no 3

An Unknown Road
by Adelaide B. Shaw
A Review by Robert D. Wilson


tilted gravestones---
    the weight
        of a butterfly

Adelaide Shaw's book An Unknown Road is a memorable read, the haiku in it varied in style, fresh, intelligent, and, at times, deliciously subtle. Many of Shaw's haiku are shasei (copies of life), the poetic style popularized by Shiki, though more akin to the style of Shiki's student, Saito Mokichi, who developed a theory of shasei advocating a symbiosis between external nature and the internal self, whereas Shiki's conceptualization of shasei dealt primarily with the external. Take for instance, Shaw's haiku:

the warmth of May---
a pregnant woman
smiles to herself

Shaw's poem accomplishes this symbiosis, successfully combining the external nature and the internal self, which are more alike than different. The month of May can be quite warm at times, depending, of course, on where you live in the world. Likewise, being pregnant for some women is considered a great blessing and brings satisfaction and joy to the person whose womb brings another life to this world. Combining the warmth of one (external nature) with another (internal self) provides a deeper understanding of what the poet felt and thought without the need to resort to a lot of words and detailed description, which is one of the beauties of haiku.

Another example:

poppies in the field---
the old soldier picks one
for his buttonhole

Again Shaw accomplishes this symbiosis with the juxtaposition of "poppies" and "the old soldier" picking "one for his buttonhole." A poignant picture that draws a reader into the haiku's heart, feeling and visualizing the said and the unsaid.

In the next haiku, Shaw follows Shiki's concept of shasei, opting for the external, subtly painting a mood by the setting she experienced in the outdoors. Her haiku here exemplifies the effectiveness of less versus more, and how less can paint a vivid picture with the right choice of words and setting:

rolling fog---
    now and then
        a gull's screech

The last line, "a gull's screech," is a powerful line, effectively infusing an evocative image, using less to tell more. It ties together the previous two lines, making one question why the gull is screeching, and enhancing an already stark mood of loneliness.

Shaw's haiku vary in style and theme. In the following poem she utilized yugen (depth and mystery), ma (interval in time and space), and juxtaposition to create a moment inviting the readers to explore her world through their own frame of reference, becoming participants in the most important part of a haiku, by finishing what the poet started in sculpting her own conceptualization of the poem.

spring equinox---
taking the first step
down an unknown road

After the first "spring equinox," there is a pause brought about by the em dash and the accompanying juxtaposition of images, where two different scenes interconnect, creating a deeper vision of what the author is writing about.

Pauses are important in poetry. The Japanese call this ma. Ma is an interval in time and space, yet more than mere space. Onstage in a play, it is a dramatic pause, the look and timing after a line to emphasize feeling, humor, etc. In poetry, ma calls attention to a haiku's focus. It is the omission of extraneous words, the writer reaching for pure essence. According to Lizzy Van Lysebeth in her book Transforming Traditions: Japanese Design and Philosophy, ma "is a sort of untouched moment or space which can be completed by every individual observer differently, a moment or space in which one's fantasy can move freely. In this way the artist gets the observers actively involved in his work."

A spring equinox is an event in nature, but when juxtaposed with "taking the first step down an icy road," Shaw's haiku is ripe for interpretation. It is the unsaid, the feeling the juxtaposition when coupled with ma paints in a reader's mind, that allows three short lines to say what many free verse and prose poets take several lines to say, and in some ways, less effectively. Adelaide Shaw utilized the same approach with:

an icy wind
sweeps off the lake---
daffodils bending

Juxtaposition, yugen, ma, and shasei are some of the tools the Japanese have utilized for centuries to enhance their haiku. Taking her craft seriously, Shaw knows the value of using a full toolbox. Her poetic voice is unique. She is not a "one style" poet.

morning fog---
the dank odor of wet leaves
stronger with each step


An Unknown Road
by Adelaide B. Shaw
Modern English Tanka Press
ISBN 978-0-9817-6910-3