Saturday, June 13, 2009

Richard Wright's haiku . . . (he's a master of the form)

A few years ago I was blown away -- not because I am fragile, although I have my moments, but because the intensity of discovery had strength, velocity, daring and the coveted element of surprise (not yet in the Table of Elements).

I saw that the novelist Richard Wright had written haiku. No. I saw that Richard Wright was a master of haiku, the Japanese poetic form. Richard Wright, as you recall, is what is often called a "black" novelist because he was black, and his novels Black Boy and Native Son describe, among many things, what it is to be black in America.

So, yes, I suppose I am describing myself catching myself in a somewhat white attitude, i.e., surprised a "black" novelist wrote haiku. Can't deny it. I had to read this book I found at St. Mark's Bookstore. And I saw that Wright turned the haiku artform upside down. Inside out. Mastered it and made it his own. Made haiku urban, specific and universal.

Wright wrote many of his over 4,000 haiku when he lived in Paris. Of those about 800 are in This Other World (Arcade Publishing). Here are some:


I am nobody:
A red sinking autumn sun
Took my name away.


Keep straight down this block,
Then turn right where you will find
A peach tree blooming.


Make up you mind, Snail!
You are half inside your house,
And halfway out!


You moths must leave now;
I am turning out the light
And going to sleep.


Little boys tossing
Stones at a guilty scarecrow
In a snowy field.


Tossing all day long,
The cold sea now sleeps deeply
On a bed of stars.


A silent spring wood:
A crow opens its sharp beak
And creates a sky.


So cold it is now
That the moon is frozen fast
To a pine tree limb.


The big light in the fog
Was but a little lantern
When we came to it.


In this tiny pond
The great big lake in which
I swam as a boy?


Amid the daisies
Even the idiot boy
Has a dignity.


My cold and damp feet
Feel as distant as the moon
On this autumn night.


A flood of spring rain
Searching into drying grasses
Finds a lost doll.


On my trouser leg
Are still a few strands of fur
From my long dead cat.


I cannot find it,
That very first violet
Seen from my window.

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