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Haiku: This Other World Hardcover – September 30, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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Beineke library, this volume reproduces Wright's own selection of 817 of these short, imagistic poems, most previously unpublished.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.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Historian John Henrik Clarke once described Wright as "writing with a sledgehammer," and the powerful early works Native Son (1940) and Black Boy (1945) bear that out. But in the last creations of his life, he wrote as if with a gentle quill pen. During his final illness in France in 1960, Wright happened upon an English translation of Japanese haiku. Fascinated by the form, he began writing in it himself, producing over 4000 poems. Before his death, he selected 810 for publication, and now nearly 40 years later they are newly in print. Wright adheres strictly to the formal structure (three lines, five-seven-five syllables per line) and to the notion that the season of the year must be stated or implied. The poems are simple, Zenlike treasures: "As my delegate,/ The spring wind has its fingers/ In a young girl's hair." "For seven seconds/ The steam from the train whistle/ Blew out the spring moon." The collection has a melancholy air, perhaps a reflection of Wright's failing health and expatriate status. Highly recommended.?Judy Clarence, California State Univ. Lib., Hayward
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing; 1st edition (September 30, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559704454
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559704458
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #141,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By matthewslaughter on January 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
While it might be unfair to compare the haiku Richard Wright wrote in the last years of his life with those written by masters such as Basho or Issa, it is a stunning surprise to read such beautiful entries like 686 ("A darting sparrow / Startles a skinny scarecrow / Back to watchfulness.") from the writer of such brutal stories like "Big Boy Leaves Home" and "Down by the Riverside" (from "Uncle Tom's Children") and novels like "Native Son," "The Outsider" and "Savage Holiday." These haiku were written in exile (in France) while Wright's finances were dwindling, while he was becoming increasingly paranoid about governmental surveillance of his actions and while he was in what many critics consider to be a literary decline. These haiku provided tremendous therapeutical comfort to him in his last years. While some of these haiku harken back to the more violent moments in his oeuvre (like #486: "Two flies locked in love / Were hit by a newspaper / And died together."), most of them are ruminations on nature or social relations. It is ashamed that these haiku are probably viewed as a novelty because they were produced by a writer, in his years of artistic decline, who specialized in the precise detailing of the oppression of "Twelve Million Black Voices" in the United States, and these haiku seem, for the most part, to be largely devoid of cunning observations in the arena that was considered to be his area of expertise. Instead, these haiku should be (re-)considered because of their beauty (amidst the chaos of Wright's prematurely shortened life) and their contribution to Wright's overall literary output.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on December 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A distinguished African-American writer goes to France and adopts a traditional Japanese literary genre as his own. That, in a sentence, is the story behind "Haiku: This Other World," a collection of 817 haiku by Richard Wright. But this book is more than just an extraordinary cross-cultural tour-de-force; it is the incandescent testament of a truly visionary artist.
The haiku genre sounds like a simple poetic format: three lines, the first and third containing five syllables, the second containing seven. Wright used this format to create poetic gems of great power and variety. Many of his haiku employ an anthropomorphizing technique in which various phenomena are endowed with awareness and emotion: " The sudden thunder / Startles the magnolias / To a deeper white" (#228).
His language is often startling in its raw earthiness, and often the haiku are touched with humor or gentle tragedy: "Two flies locked in love / Were hit by a newspaper / And died together" (#486). Wright often uses memorable poetic imagery, and many of his poems invite the reader to partake of a sort of altered state of consciousness: "Standing in the field / I hear the whispering of / Snowflake to snowflake" (#489).
The tone of the book is often melancholy. This collection reminded me of the work of two other great American poets: Emily Dickinson and Stephen Crane. Like those two, Wright is a sort of secular prophet whose visions of the world point to deeper, and often unsettling, truths. This book is an artistic triumph, and its posthumous publication is an enduring tribute to this great writer.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Judah Adashi on August 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
I came to this book as a fan of Richard Wright, and as a poetry buff, but not as an avid reader of haiku. I was intrigued to discover that a literary figure who had distinguished himself primarily through his fiction, particularly his novels, had explored this Eastern poetic form in the final year-and-a-half of his life. My expectations were admittedly high, and, accordingly, my reaction was mixed.
I found the 817 haiku (selected by the author from roughly 4000 that he had composed) alternately engaging and self-conscious. Wright often riffs at length on a particular theme, linguistic turn, or device somewhat incessantly, suggesting that he did not make his editorial choices based solely on variety. However, while the repetition can become heavy-handed and tiresome, it is at times incantatory, and, as such, quite compelling. In general, there is a homogenous quality to the collection, mitigated by occasional forays into less idiomatic haiku, which ultimately prove to be the most interesting in the series.
The foreword by Wright's daughter Julia is eloquent and concise, the afterword and notes by the editors somewhat less so. I am not familiar enough with this art form to take issue with their discussion, only with their laborious and academic style, which I found to be less-than-ideally suited to the subject matter.
In the final analysis, while the book was not quite the revelation I had hoped it would be, it is unquestionably a valuable addition to Wright's catalogue and legacy, offering some valuable insight into his earlier works. It is also, simply put, a fine collection of poetry, one that bears reading if only to see a great writer stretch his literary muscles in a new medium.
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