Morning Haiku, by Sonia Sanchez
There are at least a few quibbles that someone could have about this book. As is frequently the case, the book is easier to appreciate if you come to this book sharing some of the ideological commitments that the author has. I did not find this to be the case personally and so the author’s rather strident political tone was personally alienating. That is not to say that these are horrible poems; one could read a lot worse in this vein, as I have, but at the same time these are works which are not particularly deep or enjoyable when you come to them with very different worldview commitments than the author has. The author writes these poems as a militantly political and not particularly patriotic black woman with ties to the Nation of Islam, and those do not happen to be commitments that I view with all that much favor. The author seems to equate herself as a survivor of violence, whether that violence is the racism of American during her youth or the violence of the wars that America has fought against militant Islam since 2001, or hints of rape and the violence of slavery and its continuing repercussions in the author’s own psyche.
This book consists of just over 100 pages of mediocre poetry with a sharp political angle that are divided into various topics and themes. There are haiku here for Oprah, others for Philadelphia murals (which makes sense given that the poet has been the poet laureate for that city), others for Emmett Till (a victim of racism for allegedly flirting with a white woman), others for St. Augustine, still others written on the first anniversary of 9/11, and still others written for poet Maya Angelou. The highest praise I can give to these poems is that they are readily understood and the author is not obscure. Indeed, she could have stood to be a bit more subtle than she was, and it would have been quite alright by me at least. At any rate, over and over again the author hits the reader over the head with her preferences and her commentaries on various matters. Typically, she finds it hard to relate to St. Augustine, insulting him for being a mama’s boy and a playboy, even as she revels in the supposed insights of Maya Angelou, a far more questionable source of wisdom and insight than even Augustine of Hippo. Oh well.
It appears that like many people the author views haiku not as something requiring a particular syllable scheme of five-seven-five syllables, but rather a three line poem of fragmentary and allusive content in general. I tend to be a bit more strict in terms of defining such poems personally, but the author writes with her own agendas and following such rules is clearly not her interest or intent. Indeed, the author herself makes her agendas extremely common, failing to condemn Islamic extremism for 9/11 even as she writes a set of short poems a year after 9/11, as that would require something more than her attempts at blandly declaring various religious to be equal. The author’s lack of firmness against the violence of 9/11 and other acts of terrorism is starkly contrasted with the author’s frequent writings about the acts of terrorism that were suffered by blacks in the south or the horrors of the Middle Passage. Apparently she does not view 9/11 as being an attack on her personally in the same fashion as she views the slave trade (strangely, she only condemns that Atlantic Slave Trade and not that run by Muslims, another sign of her bias). This is lamentable and greatly hinders the emotional power of her writing.