Haiku: This Other World – by Richard Wright

Posted: under Reviews.
Tags: June 21st, 2009

There is something about the haiku of Richard Wright.

Yes, Richard Wright, the famous author of Black Boy and Native Son, also wrote thousands of haiku of which he composed during the last 18 months of his life.

Haiku: This Other World is a wonderful collection of selected haiku chosen by Wright himself.  And I keep returning to this book when I want to be inspired by another’s haiku moments. Wright’s haiku are diverse – some are personal and dark while others are funny or tranquil. Yet they are always grounded in nature and a 5.7.5 syllable count. I could not help but wonder who Wright was and what he was going through as he wrote this body of haiku.

Why did Wright suddenly take up haiku during his last years? And what was his attraction to this ancient and structured Japanese poetic tradition?

These questions are answered In a touching forward by Wright’s daughter, Julia Wright. In this loving homage to her father’s last years, she vividly describes her father’s relationship with haiku during difficult times. Self-exiled in Normandy and suffering from chronic health problems and personal loss, she believes her father found a steadying refuge in haiku. She paints a picture of Wright’s cottage with haiku hanging on wire rods all around the tiny rooms. And she describes her father trying to convince her to write haiku herself:

“Julia, you can write them too. It’s always five, and seven and five – like math. So you can’t go wrong.”

And it is haiku like these that pull me in:

My cigarette glows

Without my lips touching it, –

A steady spring breeze.

.

In this rented room

One more winter stands outside

My dirty window pane.

.

Just enough moon

To make the smell of apples

Light up the orchards.

.

Is Richard Wright a master of haiku like Basho and Issa? Perhaps not but I don’t think this matters. What is so compelling about Wright’s work in haiku is how very apparent it is in the work itself that he needed to write these poems. Little poems that contain the pulse of life even when that pulse can be rough – and yet so beautiful.

Find it on Amazon: Haiku: This Other World



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10 Comments »

  • 1

    I enjoyed reading his haiku, too. Glad to see you post about it!

    Comment by Kelly — June 21, 2009 @ 5:05 pm

  • 2

    I purchased that very book four or five years ago and it has been a treasured possession ever since. Richard had a real sense for the haiku moment while keeping to the sometimes too-long 5-7-5 pattern in english. I think it’s amazing he was able to write so many quality haiku in 18-months and I’ve struggled to emulate him for a number of years in that accomplishment. I can speak from personal experience – it ain’t easy. I only wish he’d survived much longer to gift us with more of his art and to perhaps experiment more with the form. Thanks for sharing this and Richard’s fascinating story. I wonder what he’d say to find out how this very brief output mentored so many to do the same.

    Comment by Naumadd — June 22, 2009 @ 4:08 am

  • 3

    i am a big fan of modern american literature; have never heard of wright’s haiku,
    but they are extraordinary….
    i will definitely read the book. vty, johanna

    Comment by johanna — June 22, 2009 @ 9:29 am

  • 4

    Naumadd,

    Thanks for stopping by! I think Wright’s haiku are amongst my favorite now in the 5.7.5 category. And I think it’s interesting that he pretty much stuck to this Americanized interpretation of haiku, which I use myself. I wonder if the counting was helpful as a focus to him since he was struggling through so much? And I wonder how other Americans interpreted haiku at this time.

    And yes, it is very hard! I read some of his haiku to my husband, not saying who wrote them and his response was “Wow”. When I finally told him they were by Richard
    Wright he said it made sense that such a great writer could find himself in haiku.

    Comment by Alison — June 23, 2009 @ 7:14 am

  • 5

    Thanks for the post. I am going to go buy that book. I love the image of pieces of paper with haiku hanging around his cottage.

    Comment by Cynthia — June 27, 2009 @ 8:07 am

  • 6

    […] face of Richard Wright — who Alison wrote about several weeks back — was on a 61-cent postage stamp and stuck to a large […]

    Pingback by Richard Wright Postage Stamp — August 3, 2009 @ 6:46 am

  • 7

    I translated Richard Wright book “Haiku, This Other World” to Farsi (Persian, Dari) and the book is being published in a few days in Tehran. I would like to share a few sentences of the introduction I wrote for the Farsi translation:
    Wright’s familiarity with Haiku was through a friend and was quite incidental. However, it happened at a time that …he was susceptible to accept a new way of looking at life… And he found it in Haiku which is one of the means of looking at the world as a united whole…And it was through such an outlook that the revolutionary Wright, in the process of his inner movementT reached the final dialectics of mind, the holistic thinking that in some other way our mystics (like Rumi), had reached… At that time Wright was struggling with a deadly disease… and who knows that involvement with these Haikus was not making the process of dying easier for him?…

    Comment by Ahmad Mohit — May 9, 2011 @ 4:34 am

  • 8

    […] staffs the place with people who know that they should buy a trade paperback copy of Richard Wright’s Haiku, and know how much they should pay for it (about $3 if you want to make a few bucks). If you want […]

    Pingback by Smith Family Bookstore rocks | Upstream in Oregon — July 21, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

  • 9

    “I wonder what he’d say to find out how this very brief output mentored so many to do the same.” – Naumadd

    Richard wrote 4,000 haiku in 18 months! This is one of my favourites . . .

    Whitecaps on the bay:
    A broken signboard banging
    In the April wind.

    by Richard Wright

    Comment by John Potts — May 5, 2012 @ 12:25 am

  • 10

    They taught us Richard Wright’s Native Son and Civil Rights stuff but never about this! So one sided. He so obviously had a broader view of life. I will have to read about his life and last days. Didn’t even know he had a daughter. I am trying to “catch up”. At times, reading about the African Americans can be painful. It is good to know that we have a global perspective, which was just as important then (MLK-Ghandi) as it is now. Great reading about this. Keep it coming!

    Comment by Arna G. Smith — November 19, 2015 @ 8:12 am

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