Today is Richard Wright Day and this year I don’t have a long post or analysis of his work. I’ve just been too busy. Nevertheless I wanted to take a moment to pay my yearly tribute to Wright and to his contributions to English Language Haiku and syllabic verse in general. It’s a good day to read Wright’s collection of superb haiku poetry, or maybe to compose a haiku tribute to Wright.
I spend time studying Wright’s work; there is a lot to learn from his approach to haiku and syllabics. I am in the process of building a concordance of Wright’s published haiku. I am almost finished with the concordance and several things emerge from this project. First, the vocabulary is accessible by ordinary readers. There are no high abstractions or obscure words, no made-up words. The concordance appears to be dominated by nouns that name objects in the world that anyone can relate to.
Second, the vocabulary is mostly short-count words. Rarely you will find a word that has 4 counts or higher. An exception is found in haiku 653:
You can see the wind
With apple blossoms
The word ‘absentmindedly’ is a rare 5 count word; but it works. It’s an ordinary word, a word one hears in conversation. So it fits the overall vocabulary.
Haiku 87 is another example that uses a 5 count word:
The cat licks dew-wet cobwebs
From between his toes.
Here the 5 count word holds an entire line.
Again, such words are extremely rare, but when Wright does use them they don’t cause the reader to stumble. They read smoothly and fit in with the overall sense of the haiku he is writing.
Another aspect of Wright’s haiku that comes through in the concordance is the ordinary syntax that Wright uses. Articles appear in almost every haiku, as do prepositions. Unlike many ELH haijin that have been influenced by the cerebral construction of an artificial syntax that is pushed by official haiku (what I refer to as 'Haiku Hybrid English'), Wright’s haiku accept the English language as it is. From my perspective that is one of the chief virtues of his haiku and it is an ideal that I would like to see many more ELH poets adopt.
I will have more to say about what the concordance shows. But for now this is enough. Let’s take a moment of appreciation for Richard Wright and the haiku he has bequeathed us.