In her introduction, Sanchez—a member of the “Broadside Quartet” who published her first volume of poetry in 1969 and is most often associated with the Black Arts Movement—recalls her discovery of haiku at the 8th Street Bookshop in New York at the age of twenty-one. “I slid down onto the floor and cried and was changed. I had found me.” It may seem hard to sum up a person in three lines and seventeen syllables; Sanchez solves the problem by writing poems composed of groups of haiku.
These poems certainly feel like personal reflections on people and places that have impacted the poet. We hear the joy she experiences when listening to Max Roach and the deep respect and reverence for female African American politicians and reformers in “9 haiku (for Freedom’s Sisters).” One of the hardest-hitting pieces is “sister haiku (for Pat),” a bare bones account of her sister’s rape and subsequent pregnancy:
his touch wore
you down to a
Her language can evoke sorrow and reflection, or playfulness and fierceness, as in this excerpt from “4 haiku (for Eugene Redmond)”:
words waterfalling in
you have taken down
the morning turned it into
a roar of blackness
Of the thirty poetry groupings in this slender volume, twenty-two are dedicated to people or things. Among the notable dedicatees are jazz drummer Max Roach, murdered black teenager Emmett Louis Till, jazz singer Sarah Vaughan, philosopher and Christian saint St. Augustine, and the murals of Philadelphia. Luckily for the curious reader, a brief description of these and lesser-known dedicatees is included at the end of the volume.
The collection ends with “haiku poem: 1 year after 9/11,” which is not a haiku but twenty-eight couplets using the spare images and syntax of haiku. Sanchez channels her grief and confusion over the cataclysmic attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and wonders how the world will change. It’s a somber note but somehow fits it with her short reflections on forces that have impacted her life. Like the best haiku, these poems will also impact the reader in subtle, often untraceable ways.