Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Fire Like Hers: Sonia Sanchez’s morning haiku

[By Cindy Lyles]

Many people may be used to the fiery, uncensored, mind-speaking representation of Sonia Sanchez that made her a well-known, instrumental poet during the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s. That Sonia approached topics of love, race, gender, sexuality, faith, and life with a unique edge that classified her as strong-willed. However, her most recent collection of poetry, morning haiku, illuminates a silent yet watchful, gentle kind of strength worth exploring.

In morning haiku, Sanchez takes time to praise or share in the pain of the honorees of each haiku, including Emmitt Till, Eugene B. Redmond, Sarah Vaughn, and Oprah Winfrey. Each haiku demonstrates solidarity and support between the poet and her honorees that moves readers to also respect and revere those to whom she dedicates her haiku.

Sanchez opens the book by quoting jazz legend and actress Abbey Lincoln. “The best thing you can do is be a woman and stand before the world and speak your heart.” Even though Sanchez writes in this collection with a peaceful passion, readers will see that she is nonetheless sharing a heart that burns with admiration, reverence, and celebration revealing that her fire is still ablaze only in a new way.

A few points to consider when reading Sanchez’s morning haiku:

1) Don’t expect the traditional English language adaptation of the haiku with its 3-line break down into a 5-7-5 syllabic arrangement. In haiku adaptations that honor the form in its original Japanese context, Sanchez boldly and creatively offers versions of the haiku that challenge our traditional concept of what it should be.

2) Sanchez urges readers to recite a haiku with a single breath in the book's opening. After reading so many of the haiku aloud in her suggested manner, readers will find themselves getting into a certain unique cadence and pace sustained by that one breath. This “one breath rule” moves readers from the tricky and sometimes confusing conventions of whether they should stop at line breaks or punctuation when reading poetry and instead encourages an organic, free-flowing way to recite haiku.

3) The foundation of a haiku’s beauty is found in the simplicity of the form. This very beauty of Sanchez's haiku are delicately juxtaposed with the pain and sorrow found in some of the poems’ content, specifically “14 haiku (for Emmitt Till)” and “haiku poem: 1 year after 9/11.” Sanchez’s balancing act of pain with beauty, as well as simplistic beauty with praise, is a notable feature of the collection.

Cindy Lyles is a poet, graduate student in literature, and program coordinator for Black Studies @ SIUE. In addition to producing verse, she writes about black women and urban space, African American poetry, and her hometown East St. Louis. This past summer, Cindy participated in a Sonia Sanchez Seminar sponsored by the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison.

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