Today I want to share another picture book collection of haiku, but this one has a bit of a different focus.
It was only within the last couple of years that I discovered that a mystery writer from my home town (John Straley) was writing daily haiku as writing warm-ups. I tracked down some of his poetry and shared one of his poems last Valentine’s day (not a haiku, but a poem from another collection of his that he’d published). As I read Straley’s intro he talked about Richard Wright (who I had only known to be a novelist primarily) and the influence Wright’s haiku had on his own writing. This came as a shock to me as I had NO clue Richard Wright had written poetry. Well, I did a little bit of digging shortly after that discovery (as I felt that my education had been sadly lacking somehow as a former English major!) and it turns out that he really only wrote haiku (and thousands of them!) the year right before he died when his health was poor. To my further surprise these weren’t published for nearly 40 years! Why? I have no idea (to be honest).
Now, flash forward a couple of years and I stumble upon this particular picture book: “Seeing into Tomorrow.” What a singular project! The book takes 12 of his haiku and puts them into full page spreads with Nina Crews photographic collages of young African-American boys in nature in an effort to help diverse children see themselves in books and bring to light a poetic voice that has been overlooked for far too long. Now, I freely admit that I’m no fan of Richard Wright. I’m not even a fan of most famous American novels (too depressing! why are they always depressing?). But the poems in this collection sing. And even Nina Crews talks about how she wasn’t a Wright fan (in a Kirkus interview), but then she was converted to one through this important project.
As I read this book, I loved how alive the poems were, not just because of the writing, but because of the pictures with a variety of children in them (NOT just one little boy). It is one of the poems that gives the book its title, and we do see the boy on the cover a couple of other times as well. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to chose only 12 of Wright’s thousands of poems for this collection, let alone collage the photos together in the way they are done here. They are beautiful.
Since this is such a short collection, I once again will only share ONE here (you can see others at the interview with Nina Crews linked above). For some reason, this is the one that spoke to me the most in the book. Perhaps it is because of my own childhood and remembering playing in forests and loving trees.