English Faculty Publications

Inverting the Haiku Moment: Alienation, Objectification, and Mobility in Richard Wright's 'Haiku: This Other World'

Thomas Lewis Morgan, University of Dayton

Permission pending. Copyright (c) 2011 by University Press of Mississippi; all poetry appearing in the chapter is reprinted with the permission of the estate of Richard Wright by way of his literary agent.


Richard Wright's haiku — both the 4,000 he wrote at the end of his life and the 817 he selected for inclusion in Haiku: This Other World (1998) — remain something of an enigma in his larger oeuvre; critics variously position them as a continuation of his earlier thematic concerns in a different literary form, an aesthetic departure from the racialized limitations imposed upon his earlier work, or one of several positions in between. Such arguments debate the formal construction as well as the strategic reinvention of Wright's haiku. The present essay engages both sides of this conversation, arguing that Wright's inversion of the logic of the “haiku moment” offers him a new generic form with which to explore the themes of alienation, dehumanization, and inequality appearing in his earlier works. Wright's reformulation of the haiku moment allows him to re-engage the same cultural and social mores seen in his earlier works in a different generic context, one stripped of the pre-inscribed notions of identity that influence the critical reception of his prior works. Mapping out the revisions Wright strategically employs to manipulate the formal construction of his haiku reveals the way those manipulations allowed Wright to refine and extend his artistic vision.