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Tangled Shadows: Senryu & Haiku by Elliot Nicely

Tangled Shadows: Senryu & Haiku by Elliot Nicely

Reviews, Vol. 7.4, Dec. 2013
Rosenberry Books, 2013
Hand-bound, 24 pp., $8.95
Review by Cynthia Reeser

Tangled Shadows: Senryu & Haiku is a brief collection by newcomer Elliot Nicely. Where haiku are more traditionally about nature (and, if you’ll recall, use the 5-7-5 syllable format, at least according to the common Western syllabic interpretation), senryu typically provide commentary on the human condition and use cynicism. Nicely’s choice of combining these traditionally disparate forms is an interesting one, and the result is a sort of yin-yang balance.

Some of the poems are humorous, such as this:

first date
no fortune cookies
with the bill

which both attempts cleverness and intimates a sense of disappointment (on a superficial level). Some of the poems are more traditional, and deal with nature, but others are undeniably contemporary:

newly shaven legs
steam rises from
the wet asphalt

The poems are most effective when they convey more than what is immediately obvious:

asking about
past lovers—
closed morning glories

or when they create worlds that stay with us beyond the reading of the book:

the promise
it won’t happen again
black-eyed susans

To his credit, Nicely takes traditional forms and modernizes them, making them relatable. Some of the poems are playful and quirky, but many of them hint at deeper nuances of a relationship, or of something fragile, or of possibilities beyond the world that is being immediately conveyed within the poem. Nicely seems to have mastered these forms, and this brief, handcrafted book (Japanese stab binding laced with linen cord) is a pleasure to read and behold.

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