Haiku: This Other World

Haiku: This Other World

by Richard Wright, Y. Hakutani
     
 

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A dazzling collection of 810 haiku, the rigorous 17-syllable Japanese poem, by the famed author of Native Sonand Black Boy.

Burning out its time,/ And timing its own burning/ One lonely candle.

Richard Wright, one of the early forceful and eloquent spokesmen for black Americans, author of Native Son and Black Boy, was also, it turns out, a major poet. During the

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Overview

A dazzling collection of 810 haiku, the rigorous 17-syllable Japanese poem, by the famed author of Native Sonand Black Boy.

Burning out its time,/ And timing its own burning/ One lonely candle.

Richard Wright, one of the early forceful and eloquent spokesmen for black Americans, author of Native Son and Black Boy, was also, it turns out, a major poet. During the last eighteen months of his life, he discovered and became enamored of haiku, the strict seventeen-syllable Japanese form. Wright became so excited about the discovery that he began writing his own haiku, in which he attempted to capture, through his sensibility as an African American, the same Zen discipline and beauty in depicting man's relationship, not to his fellow man as he had in his fiction, but to nature and the natural world.

In all, he wrote over 4,000 haiku, from which he chose, before he died, the 817 he preferred. Rather than a deviation from his self-appointed role as spokesman for black Americans of his time, Richard Wright's haiku, disciplined and steeped in beauty, are a culmination: not only do they give a added scope to his work but they bring to it a universality that transcends both race and color without ever denying them.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Author of 20th-century classics Native Son and Black Boy, Wright, while exiled in France, wrote over 4000 haiku in the 18 months before his death in 1960. Based on a manuscript at Yale's Beineke library, this volume reproduces Wright's own selection of 817 of these short, imagistic poems, most previously unpublished. In snapshots and brushstrokes, they largely adhere to the seasonal and descriptive conventions of the form, ranging from tranquil to winsome to bitter and plaintive. Wright can play rewardingly with consonance: "A soft wing at dawn/ Lifts one dry leaf and lays it/ Upon another." He can also, simply, observe: "Only where sunlight/ Spots the tablecloth with gold/ Do the flies cluster." Wright's tableaux encompass fields and forests, country villages and "wet tenements." A few seem specifically African American: "The green cockleburs/ Caught in the thick wooly hair/ Of the black boy's head." Some of the most effective follow an inverted--or parody--haiku form called senryu, cultivating incongruities, and ending up grotesque or funny: "While mounting a cow,/ A bull ejaculates sperm/ On apple blossoms." Clear themes and recurring images--exile, futility, illness, recovery, scarecrows, farm animals, rain and snow--compensate for the lack of overarching sequence. Copious notes elucidate single poems; a 61-page afterword explains the haiku tradition in Japanese and English, and ties Wright's earlier prose and verse to the Japanese form. The preface, by Wright's only daughter, gives ample biographical context to the many poems of mourning and grief. If not quite a major literary event, these poems nonetheless testify to the fruitful East-West confluences of the period, and to the respite they offered one of our all-time great writers. (Sept.)
Library Journal - Library Journal
Historian John Henrik Clarke once described Wright as "writing with a sledgehammer," and the powerful early works Native Son (1940) and Black Boy (1945) bear that out. But in the last creations of his life, he wrote as if with a gentle quill pen. During his final illness in France in 1960, Wright happened upon an English translation of Japanese haiku. Fascinated by the form, he began writing in it himself, producing over 4000 poems. Before his death, he selected 810 for publication, and now nearly 40 years later they are newly in print. Wright adheres strictly to the formal structure (three lines, five-seven-five syllables per line) and to the notion that the season of the year must be stated or implied. The poems are simple, Zenlike treasures: "As my delegate,/ The spring wind has its fingers/ In a young girl's hair." "For seven seconds/ The steam from the train whistle/ Blew out the spring moon." The collection has a melancholy air, perhaps a reflection of Wright's failing health and expatriate status. Highly recommended.--Judy Clarence, California State Univ. Lib., Hayward

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385720243
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/28/2000
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
5.22(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Richard Wright was born in rural Mississippi in 1908 and died in Paris in 1960. His Native Son, published in 1940, established him as one of America’s major literary voices. His other books include The Outsider, Black Boy, Black Power, and White Man, Listen!

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
September 4, 1908
Date of Death:
November 28, 1960
Place of Birth:
Near Natchez, Mississippi
Place of Death:
Paris, France
Education:
Smith-Robertson Junior High in Jackson, Mississippi (1925)

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