Richard Wright  (1908-1960) was among the first great African- American novelists.  Best known for his master work” Native Son” (partially funded by a Guggenheim grant), he also published the semi- autobiographical “Black Boy” and” White Man, Listen!”  Born in rural Mississippi, Wright expatriated to France, in which country he died.  Wright was known not only for the beauty of his writing, but also for his emphasis on racial themes.  In his private life, he held ever fluctuating controversial political opinions.  Critics and supporters alike recognize him as a major literary voice.  He might well have been America’s first haiku master.

In haiku he found an almost Taoist balance between the spirit and the natural world.  There was to be found an inner peace not experienced in the narrative that was his life.  In the final eighteen months of his life, he wrote an astonishing 4000 haiku, all of the highest quality.  Significantly the title to his published work is” Haiku: This Other World.”  Wright found the enlightenment he craved in the seventeen syllable form.

The introduction to” Haiku: This Other World” was written by his daughter Julia, and describes one of the finest dedications to an art form I have ever read.  “One of my last memories of my father during the summer and autumn months before he died is his crafting of thousands of haiku. He was never without his haiku binder under his arm.  He wrote them everywhere, at all hours: in bed as he slowly recovered from a year-long battle against amoebic dysentery; in cafes and restaurants where he counted syllables on napkins; in the country, in a writing community owned by French friends. Although he had at last overcome the amoebas, he was often inexplicably exhausted and feverish.

“My father’s law in those days revolved around the rules of haiku writing, and I remember how he would hang pages and pages of them up, as if to dry in his sunless studio in Paris, like the abstract still life photographs he used to compose and develop himself at the beginning of his Paris exile."

“Some of us will even find these deceptively simple patterns of syllables tap-dancing in our minds long after they are read.  They are Richard Wright’s poetry of loss and retrieval, of temperate joy and wistful humor.  They lie somewhere between the loss for words and the few charmed syllables that can heal the loss.”

Haiku

with Kevin McLaughlin

Kevin MacLaughlin, poetry magazine, haiku

While paging through “Abundance Press: Best of Haiku,” published in 2000, I  came across contributions by a poet best known for his work in non-haiku, who blinked open his Zen eye, turned invisible, and wrote of the natural world.  I am referring to our publisher Anthony Watkins.  We will have two more of Anthony’s haiku in the February column.

 

Sunlight on moss ferns

Filters as a settling fire

Among pine and sand.

 

Fields of legume grass

Wait for nothing but the wind

To caress hardwoods.

 

Deciduous leaves

Turn brown and silver against

Green cypress and pine.

-Anthony Watkins

 

Joan McNerney could almost be considered this page’s house poet.  I love the profound intimacy of her work, an intimacy into which the poet and the noise of an “I” obtrude just ever so subtly.  Joan captures the stillness that is ever present in motion.

It is the white hour

Between deep night and soft dawn.

Even the wren stares.

 

Summer evening

Sun and moon share the sky in

Perfect symmetry.

 

Splash.

One word in

Oceans of sound.

 

-Joan McNerney

 

“Thing of beauty,” I thought when I read Amanpreem Multani’s poetry. “ Zen and beauty have been found in a landfill.”  I realize this piece can be read on several different levels, and thank Mr. Multani for allowing me to incorporate the work into the BTS haiku page.

 

Love is to open sky

As loathing is to a landfill filled

With memories.

-Amanpreem Multani

 

Sneha has written “Literature is the very essence of that fabric which binds life with living…literature embodies those subterranean hinges that cannot be reached mechanically to its core but in the sheer pleasure of revisiting, rereading and reengaging with its seminal discourses.”  I believe this vision is clearly conveyed in a verse titled ‘dwindle.'

The day of scant

Leaves wear a brown gown

With a milk bodice of dust.

-Sneha

Yet once more I encourage all haiku writers to share their work, their insights into the nature of all things, with fellow poets and BTS readers.  For those interested in beginning to write haiku, I recommend you cast back into the BTS archives and reference the September haiku column.  It provides a pretty thorough explanation of the basic format.

-Kevin McLaughlin, Haiku Editor.

I’ve selected five of Wright’s verse as examples of his mastery.  There will be more published in coming months.

I am nobody:

A red sinking Autumn sun

Took my name away.

 

In a misty rain

A butterfly is riding

The tail of a cow.

 

On winter mornings

The candle shows faint markings

Of the teeth of rats.

 

One magnolia

Landed upon another

In the dew-wet grass.

A thin waterfall

Dribbles the whole Autumn night,-

How lonely it is.

-Richard Wright

Late in the season

Black pennant dragonflies

Rest on pine needles.

In this heavy fog,

Stars are made invisible:

Sounds in the wet-lands.

-Kevin McLaughin

This next haiku has been published due to a special request I made to the poet, James Godfrey, a musician/ Industrial Engineer from Shrub Oak, New York. Classical haiku has a historical link to the four seasons and the changing of those seasons. In Japanese, this is known as kigo, and was considered an inviolate part of any true poem.  I have never read a verse that captured the essence of kigo in a purer form.  Take your time reading this verse.  Immerse yourself in the Winter Solstice.  The First Zen Patriarch, Bodhidharma, wrote (Red Pine translation),  “The cave of the five senses is the hall of zen.  The opening of the inner eye is the door of the great vehicle.  What could be clearer?” To write a significant haiku is to experience Big Mind, however briefly.

The solstice is near.

The Sun begins its return,

In long cold shadows.

 

The snake slithers by

The cat becomes confounded

With the coral, death,

-James Godfrey