Haiku: This Other World

Richard Wright, Author, Yodhinobu Hakatuni, Author, Yoshinobu Hakatuni, Editor Arcade Publishing $23.5 (320p) ISBN 978-1-55970-445-8
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Beineke library, this volume reproduces Wright's own selection of 817 of these short, imagistic poems, most previously unpublished.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.)
Reviewed on: 08/31/1998
Release date: 09/01/1998
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