John Stevenson is a very well known writer in the haiku community. Over the years, he has won many awards and allocates for his work of haiku, senryu, and renka. According to the biographical notes on Brooks Books Haiku website that I viewed on March 13, 2010, he is a former president of the Haiku Society of America and former editor of the HSA journal, Frogpond. He is currently managing editor of Heron’s Nest. Stevenson is the author of Something Unerasable (1996), Some of the Silence (1999), quiet enough (2004), and his most recent Live Again (2009).
I decided to study John Stevenson because he writes about people and real life. I believe everyone can relate to his haiku and see them self living it. He uses familiar events in life to put us in the place where we can see, smell, and taste everything in the area. I love that his expressions of certain moments and feelings are a powerful force upon a memory of the reader. There is variety in his haiku. He writes about all aspects of life, the good and the bad. His haiku changes with the changes of his emotions. Here are some examples of his haiku.
Some of the Silence
This is one of my favorite haiku because this is about me. It reminds me of winter and wearing my slippers to keep my feet warm. It gives me a feeling of comfort and relaxation being at home. I remember getting the slippers as a gift and thinking they were the ugliest things. I could tell that my grandma had picked them out because they had flowers all over them, not my style at all. When I thought about it I decided it didn’t matter what they looked like because I was just going to be wearing them around the house. I wore those slippers so much they started coming apart from the sole. They were extremely comfortable and kept my feet warm even with a few holes. The only reason I threw them away was because I got a new pair for Christmas and decided I could part with them. I interpret this haiku in another way as well. Maybe the slippers are so old that it is time to trade them in for a new pair and the comfort that one has with a pair of slippers is coming apart rather than the actual slippers. Someone may feel uneasy getting rid of something that has been apart of their life for such a long time.
thin winter coat
so little protection
against her boyfriend
I liked this haiku because I thought it was very interesting and could be interpreted two ways. First, I imagined it being a cold, windy day and a young lady has a light weight coat on. I think of spring time when everyone is ready for the warmer weather and we are jumping to put the winter coats away for the summer. The weather forecast says the temperature is going to be warmer than it has been so we think wow it is going to be really warm. So, we decide that we don’t need the winter coat anymore but on this day it just wasn’t warm enough. She was leaning close to her boyfriend to help protect her from the wind. I see her boyfriend being very loving with his arms wrapped around her holding her tight. In contrast, the second time I read this haiku I thought of a gloomier interpretation. Is the coat trying to protect her from her boyfriend? This could be an abusive relationship and the symbolism of the coat trying to protect her from the abuse as it protects her from the weather. Since the coat is thin it doesn’t do a good job. I also get the impression that for some reason she can’t escape the abusive relationship like many women in the world today. They figure it would be even worse if they left than it is to stay and deal with the abuse.
adjusting the cuffs
of my pajamas
Live Again, pg 31
This haiku represents all of the average people in the world. The first two lines give you the idea of being at the Oscars. I think of adjusting the cuffs on a tuxedo or suit coat before making a big entrance. John is painting the picture of being at the Oscars and then takes it in a new direction. I like the twist that he adds to the end of the haiku. Everyone watches movies for entertainment and finds ones that they really love. When it comes to Oscar night, we are anxious to see if our favorite movie will win. Some people make as big of a production of it at home as they do at the actual show. We get settled in on the couch with our drink and snacks waiting for the big show to begin. It is kind of like getting ready to watch a movie. Since it usually is a long show, we are already in our pajamas so we can go right to bed when it is over.
my son asks
what a tree costs
Some of the Silence
Here is a haiku that shows how Stevenson writes about real life. Anyone who has a young child in their life can relate to this one. Immediately, I think of my nephew and all the questions he asks. I often wonder where he comes up with some of them. This haiku is a great example of that. What would make him think of such an off the wall question, but in his mind it is a perfectly good question. Many times he stumps me in trying to find an answer. Sometimes we have to be creative in the answers we give. One incident in particular stands out in my mind. My cousin, who was probably eight years old at the time, asked his parents where babies came from. They were speechless. They didn’t want to go into detail with an eight year old so they told him the stork brought babies. After that we all had to make sure we went along with their story so he wouldn’t ask again. Kids don’t think there is anything odd about their questions because they are young and just learning things. Asking questions is the way in which children learn about people and the world. They are so amazing.
on the beach
the tracks of two
I look forward to living this haiku in October when I go on my honeymoon. I can’t wait for the sunshine and the excitement of finally being married. I think that there are many tracks in the sand, but the two people are so in love and focused on each other that they only see their tracks. They blocked out the rest of the world and are concentrating on each other. The lounge chairs represent the relaxation and comfort that they have being together. I think it also goes along with idea of the beach being a soothing place to sit and watch the waves as they come to shore. It is a fun haiku because I imagine the people it is talking about enjoying themselves. This haiku makes me smile from ear to ear because it puts me in a very happy place. It also makes me so giddy that I feel like jumping around. I just can’t wait until October. I love this haiku.
seated between us
Live Again, pg. 58
Another haiku about real life and the differences people have. I visualize a couple driving in their car in silence. They had an argument and are now mad at each other so they are not speaking. They are the only two in the vehicle but the distance and tension between them makes it feel like there is someone or something else between them. I think of putting a wall up to protect your self. They don’t want to talk about it, but eventually they will have to because it won’t go away on its own. Both of them feel they are correct so neither one wants to be the first to give in. I also can see this in a different way. Possibly the couple has lost a child and as they travel they don’t want to forget him or her. They imagine that the child is still with them when in fact they are not. The parents don’t want to completely let go or haven’t healed from their loss.
again his account
of the airbag inflating
Live Again, pg 19
John shows his humorous side with this haiku. I find myself chuckling a little while reading it. He is telling his traumatic story about a vehicle accident that he was in to everyone. He is giving them a play by play account of what happened and how the airbags inflated and saved his life. Each time he tells the story it bigger and bigger, hence the emphasis of the airbags inflating. As the story goes on he is closer to death and receives more attention from his listeners. I think this is true in many cases. The saying of hearing it through the grapevine comes to mind because you don’t know how true it is. As stories get repeated the words and meaning start to change and eventually you have a brand new story.
With the first glance of this one I was not even going to read it. I don’t like how the words run together and I have to try to separate them in my mind to figure out what he is saying. Then I thought it would not be fair to judge it by its appearance and that maybe there was a reason why John wrote it this way. Once I figured it out I liked how the words all together symbolized to story of the haiku. The elevator is jam packed with people just as the words are jammed together. Being short makes being in a packed elevator even worse. People tend to not see you so you get squished even more. I’m not fond of being extremely close to individuals that I don’t know either. Then there are times when someone doesn’t smell so sweet and you are trying to hold your breath until it is time to get off because the stench is so bad. Also, the idea of every button being pushed paints the picture of how many people are on the elevator. With all the buttons pushed there is a continuation of lights, therefore another reason to run all the words together. John did a very good job tying this haiku together in a number of ways. I really enjoyed it.
used car salesman
his warm smile
Some of the Silence
I like this haiku but it also makes me cringe. I have a negative attitude toward salesman because they are so pushy. When you go to a car dealer to look for a new car, salesmen are quick to greet you with a friendly smile. They want to be as helpful as possible but have an alterative motive. This is the way they make a living so they won’t quit as the haiku says until they sell you a car. I don’t like to rush into making a decision of that magnitude so I think that adds to my frustration with the salesman. No matter how many times you tell them you are just looking at all your options, they keep nagging and nagging trying to get you to buy a particular vehicle. I understand that is part of their job, but I wish they weren’t so pesky. Because of them, I dread when the time comes to purchase a new vehicle.
all new clothes
the school bus
This haiku hits very close to home. Every summer my mom would take my sister and me shopping for new clothes to start the school year. She would give us an amount we could spend and then it was up to us to get what we could for the money. I was a bit of a cheap person, so I tried to get the most for my money. However, my sister was the opposite. She had expensive taste so she wouldn’t end up with nearly as many items as I would. Of course during the first week of school everyone was excited to wear their new clothes. It is funny that by the fourth or fifth week of school the clothes aren’t new anymore and you are already tired of wearing them. I don’t ever remember waiting for the bus. I was usually running down the driveway to catch it. My mom would watch out the window for the bus to come and let us know how much longer we had to finish getting ready. Luckily we had a nice bus driver that would wait for us when we were running late.
John Stevenson is an amazing writer of haiku. He brings real life with a side of laughter and sadness. He writes about his life, which makes his haiku enjoyable to read because you as the reader can relate to them. He brings a simple memory that you may have forgotten back to life. He is one of my favorites and I have enjoyed learning more about him and his life.
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Bilyeu, N. (2001). John Stevenson’s Haiku. Retrieved March 12, 2010 from Millikin University Haiku website http://performance.millikin.edu/haiku/writerprofiles/BilyeuOnStevenson.html
Brooks, R. Biographical Notes. Retrieved March 13, 2010 from Brooks Books Haiku website http://www.brooksbookshaiku.com/haikufilm/HaikuFilm-Authors.html
Stevenson, J. (1999). Some of the Silence, (2nd printing). Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press
Stevenson, J. (2004). quiet enough. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press
Stevenson, J. (2009). Live Again. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press