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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Haiku of an Outsider
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...
Published on January 12, 2002 by matthewslaughter

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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a mixed blessing
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,...
Published on August 21, 2000 by Judah Adashi


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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Haiku of an Outsider, January 12, 2002
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
5.0 out of 5 stars A luminous cross-cultural masterpiece, December 22, 2000
This review is from: Haiku: This Other World (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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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a mixed blessing, August 21, 2000
By 
Judah Adashi (Baltimore, MD USA) - See all my reviews
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. Wright acquits himself admirably, and contributes uniquely to a genre rarely practiced (or at least published) by an American, much less African-American, writers of fiction. While I maintain that his results are mixed, his discipline and thoughtfulness are evident throughout.
Perhaps most importantly, and most enjoyably, the book offers an intimate encounter with a contemplative Richard Wright near the end of his life. These heartfelt reflections serve as a distinctive testament to Wright's intelligent, graceful, and enduring voice.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HAIKU IS MY 'SOUL FOOD', March 9, 2005
By 
mcHaiku "nmi" (Brown County INDIANA) - See all my reviews
Julia Wright lauded her father's "tender, unassuming and gentle lines" of haiku. I think she felt the writing of these poems gave Richard Wright balance (in the last two years of his life) while fighting illness and suffering the death of his mother. Miss Wright has written beautiful, perceptive and loving words in her Introduction to the collection of haiku; I also am grateful to (Mrs.) Ellen Wright for the cover photograph (clik to hardcover edition):

"Native Son, seeing
from Mississippi clear to
Paris in spring-time.

Black Boy, self-aware,
your portrait holds me, stirring
these sad reveries." (mcH)

It is my feeling that the "counting of syllables" CAN be an exercise for healing. I promise, you will be delving into this book countless times. Haiku & senryu . . . each brings delight because inevitably the reader's imagination will be triggered by just one word, or phrase, or aroused feelings. Some believe the 'Haiku moment' comes from using words that "do not depend on metaphors & symbols." The INTENT is to EXPRESS the 'AH-NESS.'

However it happens, read through this legacy from Richard Wright and you will experience sheer pleasure.

"The low of a cow
Answers a train's long whistle
In the summer dusk."

817 haiku were chosen for publication by Wright from the 4000 he wrote during his illness while exiled in France. I may not follow the 'correct' study method but readers who also write haiku will recognize certain stages of progression, and repetition of certain subjects. Wright wrote often about sparrows, crows, snow, loneliness, magnolias, death, scarecrows, the moon. The following is an amusing favorite that is considered "senryu":

"It is so hot that
The scarecrow has taken off
All his underwear!"

REVIEWER mcHAIKU rarely indicates that you should avoid reading something BUT in a positive spirit, I feel qiuite free to urge you to MAKE THIS BOOK A PART OF YOUR LIFE.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Unforgettable Book of Poetry, December 15, 2006
By 
A collection of 817 poems selected from about 4000 that Richard Wright wrote in his last years, This Other World marks a moment of peace in his life of struggle. The three-line poems display, but are not limited to, his attempt at absorbing haiku, a form of classic Japanese poetry.

Haiku is written in 3 rhythmical parts of 5-7-5 BEATS ("moras/morae" in linguistic terms, not "syllables") respectively, and typically consists of 2 syntactical parts. 5-7-5 English "syllables" often lead to padding and wordiness, and seldom make a good haiku. This was made clear in 1964, when R. H. Blyth suggested an English-language template in his History of Haiku, Vol. 2.

Wright, like Kenneth Yasuda, employed 5-7-5 English syllables for his composition. If you look at his lines from a haiku-ist point view, you'll find a devastating number of unnecessary prepositions (mostly "in") pushing rivers, woods, seas, etc., to the background. And often there are too many items in one poem, contributing to a sort of richness but blurring the focus. These come from the slackness of the misinterpreted version of the form.

Above said, I'd rather emphasize that Wright's poems don't need to be called haiku. Though partial knowledge was common among those who wrote haiku outside Japan in his time, the quality of his work is uncommon. There are many images that are definitely unforgettable: a cigarette glowing in the spring breeze, without lips touching it; a washerwoman dyeing a tub of water blue, again in the spring wind...

A railroad station:
A crowd of summer children
Laughing in the rain. (p. 115)

Wright's nostalgic vision actually reminds us of Buson, and his sympathies of Issa--beyond the boundaries of haiku.

* * *
The editors' commentary and afterword are unsuitable for and inharmonious with the book. They seem to forcibly confine Wright's poems in haiku's range, and the frequent reference to Zen Buddhism is neither relevant nor accurate most of the time.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Sense, September 9, 2001
By 
david comeaux (Lafayette, LA USA) - See all my reviews
Haiku, by nature, must be concise. There is no room for clutter, no place to fumble around in the sludge of wordiness and ineffective structure. For those who appreciate haiku not only for its simple beauty but for its Zen-inspired origins, this book is providing me with countless hours of enlightened experience and expanded imagination. These haiku were selected from many more written during the author's "French exile." Although Wright's tone and style is directed to an extent by the editor who selected these specific haiku, the book taken as a whole can be seen as having a certain unity.
Repetition is one feature of the haiku that I found interesting throughout the book. It helped to unify the various tones that are exhibited in the haiku. Haiku, as explained in the afterword, uses nature as a method of conveying the author's enlightenment. The use of nature in this book is obvious, yet so integrated that I could read it and explore the mood. The motif of loneliness or aloneness is possibly the single most unifying device in the collection which also channels Wright's style. This could be a reflection of Wright's disposition during the exile.
When reading this book for the first time, I read it like I would do a book: taking in the words, the flow, the subtle tones and exploring in a linear manner, from front to back. I appreciated these haiku's surface texture: the diction, the poignant images depicted, the beauty exercised in brevity. However, as I discovered, haiku offers much more than that. After I had read the Afterword, which gives valuable background on the origins of haiku and insight into Wright's connection with this form of poetry, I decided I must read it many times over. Reading haiku is involving. I found a certain joy in finally recognizing the Zen value, the expanding on my perceptions of life.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Basho Basho, August 30, 2004
I guess it's common to blacklist somebody into a certain genre based upon their tendencies and this goes for Richard Wright as well. An outsider could easily peg him into the circle of afro-centric writers who concentrate on little but racial and cultural indentity and the misfortunes of such minorities. I may have hastily done this myself but for this book.

In "Haiku" Wright is at peace with all the earthly elements and the beauty and elegance of these poems are magnanimous and everpresent. Not as some haughty didactic professing his pansophistic knowledge, but as a keen observer absolved of bodily hubris: ("I am nobody:/A red sinking autumn sun/Took my name away."). That is afterall, the crux of haiku, to leave the body for naturalistic tendencies and we see this throughout the book "Dazzling summer sun!/But the smell of the past comes/With rain upon the dust.". These are not the words of an old man feebly writing his last words but rather a man in his final days writing beautifully, as if he were new to the surprise and satisfaction of getting the written word down on paper "The parade has gone,/But the pounding drums still sway/The magnolias." A fine, fine collection, I don't know of a better modern book of haiku than this.

In addition to the poetry there is a section of notes indicating where some of the poems originally appeared and explication of several of their meanings and relations to other texts. The afterword gives a thorough, though basic, schooling on the history and uses of haiku in its many permutations and the foreward by his daughter is worth the price of the book itself.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 5-7-5 and it feels fine!, April 14, 2012
By 
It's a mystery to me why so many journals, haiku critics, and American haiku poets, etc., show such bitterness, disdain and arrogance toward the 5-7-5 (17 syllable) haiku, scoffing at it's "grammar school" mechanics. I've read and own several haiku collections and books about haiku (and I write a bit myself), and have come to this conclusion about said critics: GET OVER YOURSELF.

This collection of haiku by Richard Wright is a PERFECT example of how it can be done and done so beautifully, to present and represent haiku and its limitless juxtaposition of subjects, through a basic structure (think when William Carlos Williams introduced the triadic line to his free verse). It matters not when this volume was published, whether his choice of form presented itself today or before a persistent and pervasive American "form" or ideology took root, which yes, does not subscribe, in general, to any specific syllabic count. All that matters is how good the haiku (and this IS haiku...Bottle Rockets, are you listening??) is.

If you have some kind of hang up on 17-syllable haiku, which Wright uses throughout, or love that he could exhibit such lush observations and emotion in a form some may say is restrictive, traditional, archaic or whatever, try this volume. It's brilliant and profound, surprisingly intimate and wonderfully personal. Count the syllables, don't count the syllables, it's still all those things, and some of the very best American haiku you'll ever read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haiku Rooted in the English Language, July 5, 2010
This review is from: Haiku: This Other World (Hardcover)
I consider this to be the finest collection of Haiku yet written in English. I have read and re-read this collection and with each reading I find some new layers of meaning. I don't have a lot to add to the previous reviews, but here are a few aspects I'd like to mention. First, these Haiku are in a natural, flowing English. My first reaction when I read this collection was, "Wow!! Here are Haiku that are in ENGLISH!" A lot of Haiku are written in a truncated form that eliminates articles, prepositions, and minimizes the use of modifiers. The result is a kind of telegraph-speak that lacks a sense of rhythm and musicality. Wright's Haiku don't do this; each Haiku flows in a natural English, as if the Haiku was a native English form. This is all the more amazing considering that Wright adheres to the traditional syllabic structure of Haiku, following the 5-7-5, three-line syllable count. The book is a powerful demonstration that such a usage is completely natural for the English language.

Second, Wright demonstrates a deep sympathy for people in his Haiku, I found this particularly true of his Haiku on women and children. Some of these are very moving even though very brief. The broad humanity of this collection is something I always find inspiring.

Third, Wright's display of the natural world is complete. He doesn't just show nature in its bucolic aspect, he also shows nature in its toughness and even in its aspect of threat. He saw nature in all its perspectives and is able to communicate this.

My only regret is that we do not have access to the Haiku that didn't end up in this anthology. My hope is that at some point in the future those who have access to his estate will be willing to publish a complete edition; all 4,000 haiku. I'll bet there are some real gems hidden away in the archives.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Master of Images, June 13, 2007
By 
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Richard Wright was one of America's most powerful
writers with strong and passionate images. His
poetry is a reflection of his writing abilities,
his passion, perhaps honing his ability to write
both fiction and non-fiction.

This book is one of the best kept secrets. In
my opinion, it is as vivid as his best known
novels.
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Haiku: This Other World
Haiku: This Other World by Richard Wright (Hardcover - September 30, 1998)
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