WIDELY recognized as the father of the contemporary Afro- American novel, Richard Wright is now also beginning to find his place in the history of contemporary ideas. In Europe, perhaps even more than in America, he is remembered as the passionate observer of the birth of Ghana and of the Bandung Conference, and his newspaper contributions and lectures enlightened the Western world about the problems and struggles of the colonized peoples long before the emergence of the Third World became a political reality and a fashionable concept.
Less well-known is his poetry. Except for the readers of anthologies, 1 only a limited public has come in contact with his work. His early poems, few in number and not yet republished, first appeared in leftist magazines all of which, except for New Masses, were of short duration and narrow circulation. Encouraged by the success of Uncle Tom's Children, he soon turned to the novel and almost abandoned poetry after the triumph of Native Son. And yet the prose of Twelve Million Black Voices is deliberately poetic, and lyric couplets convey the wonder of childhood in Wright's autobiographical Black Boy. Ten years later, as shown by the notes for an unfinished work, he still saw poetry as the complementary form of the dramatic prose of his novels. Finally, on the eve of his premature death, he composed several thousand haikus whose publication would enhance his literary fame. From a purely esthetic point of view, their publication would also justify a study which, in the present circumstances, mostly seeks to uncover the major tendencies of Richard Wright's imagination by examining the evolution of his poetry.
Although symbolic, the genesis of "I Have Seen Black Hands," one of Wright's earliest poems, is significant:
Towards dawn, I swung from bed and inserted paper into the typewriter. Feeling for the first time that I could speak to listening ears, I wrote a wild,