Richard Wright’s Haiku

Last Sunday marked what would have been Richard Wright‘s 100th birthday. (He died in 1960.) The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette touches on some of the main points of Wright’s biography, and catches up with his daughter Julia, who discusses whether her father ever found peace amid the racial strife he documented:

“Being on the move is a cultural / historical trait that goes back to slavery and our internalized memory of it,” she observes. “Yes, I think he found peace — but not necessarily the way we have been taught to define the word, often in heavily Christian terms.” Wright recalls that during her father’s last years in Paris, a friend introduced him to haiku, an ancient form of Japanese poetry inspired by Zen Buddhism.

“In mastering the writing of these tiny little poems… he did find that sort of Oriental-style ‘peace,’ which finds more meaning in asking the right questions than in finding the right answers,” she says.

Speaking of which, the online companion to the Anthology of Modern American Poetry includes five of Wright’s haiku (via). Lots of unhappy verbs here: “sink,” “soak,” “took,” and (twice) “yearn”:

A sleepless spring night:
Yearning for what I never had
And for what never was.

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