Today is the anniversay of Richard Wright's passing. He died on November 28, 1960, fifty years ago. Wright is famous for works such as 'Black Boy' and 'Native Son.' His autobiographical writing, his novels, and essays vividly chronicled the effects of racism on the black community.
During the last years of Wright's life he was living in Paris. He became enamored of Haiku. According to his estate, Wright composed over 4,000 Haiku in less than two years. That's an incredible pace. Before Wright died he selected 817 Haiku for publication. But publication didn't happen until after he died.
The publication of Wright's Haiku collection, 'Haiku: This Other World', took everyone by surprise. Wright was well known as a novelist and passionate advocate for minorities, but only a few people were aware of Wright's interest in poetry and Haiku specifically.
Wright wrote syllabic Haiku. In my opinion 'Haiku: This Other World' is the finest collection of English language Haiku yet written. It is a collection I frequently refer to, learn from, and model my own Haiku writing on.
I remember when I first encountered Wright's collection of Haiku. My immediate reaction was "At last! Haiku that are in English. I mean by this that there are no 'Japanisms' in Wright's Haiku. I also mean that Wright's Haiku sound like vernacular English, natural English. Wright's Haiku are so good that one feels that Haiku is actually an English form of poetry, rather than a transplant from another culture. All the articles are there, the normal English syntax is present, yet it is all crafted and shaped into the syllabic structure of 5-7-5 syllables.
Here's something intriguing about Wright that I only recently discovered. Both Wright and Basho share the same death day anniversary. According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, Basho died on November 28, 1694. What a wonderful coincidence! Because Wikipedia is not always reliable, I checked with Gabi Greve, who lives in Japan and has practiced traditional Haiku there for years. She said that actually there are several dates used. This is because when Japan switched from the lunar based calendar to the western solar based calendar, sometimes people had different ideas as to how to do this. So in some cases you get alternative datings. But one of the dates used for Basho's anniversary is November 28. This kind of coincidence is just so cool -- Basho and Wright, two giants of the Haiku form.
I wanted to post a long essay on Wright, with samples from his Haiku and other observations. But right now I am very busy, so an extended essay will have to wait for another time. My suggestion for people interested in English language Haiku in general, and in syllabic Haiku in particular, is to take some time today to read some of Wright's Haiku or to purchase a copy for your own library. It can be found here:
This is a collection of Haiku that you will return to over and over.
With deep appreciation for Wright's Haiku, I dedicate this day.