“Poetry aims for an economy of truth––loose and useless words must be discarded, and I found that these loose and useless words were not separate from loose and useless thoughts. Poetry was not simply the transcription of notions––beautiful writing rarely is. I wanted to learn to write, which was ultimately, still, as my mother had taught me, a confrontation with my own innocence, my rationalisations. Poetry was the processing of my thoughts until the slag of justification fell away and I was left with the cold steel truths of life.”
Haiku: This Other World
by Richard Wright
Why did this spring wood
grow so silent when I came?
What was happening?
That frozen star there,
or this one on the water, –
Which is more distant?
Richard Wright was an essayist and novelist that championed civil rights throughout his career. Author of the novel Native Son, he was a mentor and inspiration to many black writers including James Baldwin. Wright’s own experience in America was not one of opportunity, but continued oppression. In 1947 he moved to France to escape American omnipresent racism. During the 1950’s he worked on the African Liberation movement in Ghana and continued to write. His later works includes essays and novels. Given that poetry was only a small fraction of his published work in his lifetime, it is a bit ironic that it is his poetry that has garnered the most attention since his death. Wright wrote more than 4,000 Haiku, which his daughter lovingly compiled and published in 1998 volume titled; This Other World. Wright died in Paris at the age of 52.
Wright infused his essays with poetic language, something Ta-Nehisi Coates espouses. Coates thoughtful writing of difficult truths lend themselves to a poetic touch, not for flourish, but for directness of story telling and depth of meaning. Ta-Nehisi Coates video below is an interesting listen on how he started as a poet and how that has influenced his journalistic style.
Between The World And Me
by Richard Wright
And one morning while in the woods I stumbled
suddenly upon the thing,
Stumbled upon it in a grassy clearing guarded by scaly
oaks and elms
And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting
themselves between the world and me….
There was a design of white bones slumbering forgottenly
upon a cushion of ashes.
There was a charred stump of a sapling pointing a blunt
finger accusingly at the sky.
There were torn tree limbs, tiny veins of burnt leaves, and
a scorched coil of greasy hemp;
A vacant shoe, an empty tie, a ripped shirt, a lonely hat,
and a pair of trousers stiff with black blood.
And upon the trampled grass were buttons, dead matches,
butt-ends of cigars and cigarettes, peanut shells, a
drained gin-flask, and a whore’s lipstick;
Scattered traces of tar, restless arrays of feathers, and the
lingering smell of gasoline.
And through the morning air the sun poured yellow
surprise into the eye sockets of the stony skull….
And while I stood my mind was frozen within cold pity
for the life that was gone.
The ground gripped my feet and my heart was circled by
icy walls of fear–
The sun died in the sky; a night wind muttered in the
grass and fumbled the leaves in the trees; the woods
poured forth the hungry yelping of hounds; the
darkness screamed with thirsty voices; and the witnesses rose and lived:
The dry bones stirred, rattled, lifted, melting themselves
into my bones.
The grey ashes formed flesh firm and black, entering into
The gin-flask passed from mouth to mouth, cigars and
cigarettes glowed, the whore smeared lipstick red
upon her lips,
And a thousand faces swirled around me, clamoring that
my life be burned….
And then they had me, stripped me, battering my teeth
into my throat till I swallowed my own blood.
My voice was drowned in the roar of their voices, and my
black wet body slipped and rolled in their hands as
they bound me to the sapling.
And my skin clung to the bubbling hot tar, falling from
me in limp patches.
And the down and quills of the white feathers sank into
my raw flesh, and I moaned in my agony.
Then my blood was cooled mercifully, cooled by a
baptism of gasoline.
And in a blaze of red I leaped to the sky as pain rose like water, boiling my limbs
Panting, begging I clutched childlike, clutched to the hot
sides of death.
Now I am dry bones and my face a stony skull staring in
yellow surprise at the sun….