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Bookstories 17: John Stevenson’s Live Again

libraryofbabelEvery book tells its story, but what of the other story, the story behind the book? Bookstories offers an opportunity to tell that story. If you have a story about a book or poem you would like to share, contact us and we’ll help you make it happen. Thanks for letting us know the rest of the story!

 

Organizing my third Red Moon collection was a very different experience compared to its predecessors. Previous efforts had been modeled as variations on renku, with groups of seasonal and non-seasonal poems and prose. Before I began work on the manuscript that became Live Again (Red Moon Press, 2009), I felt that a different organizing principle was required. Though previous collections had been drafted within a month of my selection of poems and other material for them, Live Again took about eighteen months. Most of that time would have seemed like idleness to an observer. It was not as if I was taking a Thomas Edison approach and trying a great series of variations until I found the answer. I just felt it would come and that I wouldn’t do anything with the set of poems I had chosen until the necessary organizing principle was revealed to me. When it did come, the poems and haibun fell into order as if there had been a DNA code for this particular book. While I didn’t articulate the shape of the book in words while making it, I would say retrospectively that the shape I had in mind was “non-symmetrical duality.” The book presents its contents in two unequal parts—“Live” and “Again.” This produced a title which could also be read in two ways—meaning either “be alive again” or “once again performing before an audience.” The working title had been “book three.”

—John Stevenson

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Dear John,

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    I look forward to reading your book some day. Thank you for what you share here.

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    Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity as I grow older, in my 60s now. In my 40s, after major surgery and an illness that reduced my strength for a time, I had to learn to “live again.” The title poem for my first chapbook, And So My Soul, was written in 1981; published in Time Of Singing in 1991; and the small book in 2001. I only see some pattern now. The book is just 20 pages – I helped with my mother’s care and wanted to create something that an older person could place in a bag attached to a walker, or in the side of a wheelchair; and perhaps take from their rooms to a sitting room, with a bird feeder outside the window, if able. I wanted to tell my story of teaching, illness, and recovery – and share with people who wondered where I had gone. Friendships were renewed. Now younger people follow my blog, and I want to offer hope, the long view along with today’s beauty and perhaps hard challenges.

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    It is so true what you say about projects needing their own time. When I was younger, Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw both taught me a lot about the way discipline and mystery work together. And now it seems the lessons need to be learned again in new ways.

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    So much also seems to be about living in a way that allows the poems to arrive, though each poet’s process is of course unique. What may look like “idleness” to someone else, as you say. The great gift of the illness I had, is that seeing a few birds on a roof was a significant event. I had been working long hours for years. And when with my mother in the hospital during her last illness, the autumn in Milwaukee, near where she taught for many years. I saw her on campus as her own person in my mind, and so happy she had those years. Her spiritual home on earth.

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    Always more to learn, and how wonderful . . .

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    Blessings, and many thanks again, Ellen

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    Luci Shaw wrote a wonderful and honest memoir about growing older. http://www.lucishaw.com

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  2. .
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    A favorite book of mine, which I go back to on a regular basis for inspiration to kickstart the perspiration.
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    Live Again
    by John Stevenson
    Red Moon Press 2009 ISBN: 978-1-893959-83-5 $12.00
    .
    A review by Alan Summers
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    John Stevenson’s haiku “the reversible jacket” prompts me to feel there is, in many of us, only this one side of that jacket that we show to the world, both for work and play. We don a costume, even when there is no fancy dress party.
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    reversible jacket
    the side
    I always show
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    Often we only show the other side of the jacket to a chosen few. This author takes us on a multi-faceted trip round that side yet avoids the pitfalls of over earnest outpourings, of burying us in an avalanche of self-confessions so deep we would require a mountain rescue dog to save us.
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    seated between us
    the imaginary
    middle passenger
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    If this wasn’t enough, we  can learn we are the core of our own material: those intimate themes within the circumference of our body space that provide resources to write for ourselves: the author writes “so much/of what I do/involves my body.”
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    Some of those resources from this will be poignant, painful, awkward.
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    .
    checkout line
    my dad
    could talk to anyone
    .
    .
    midnight sun
    I know for a fact
    the bottle’s half empty
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    Of course there are weaknesses in the collection, although intriguingly I’ve come back to them, and found I’m reducing them one by one.  There is a cohesion to this collection, and possibly outside that structure one or two haiku aren’t strong enough to stand on their own two feet.  At  92 haiku and senryu; fifteen tanka; one renku; and two haibun I defy anyone to keep such a low count.
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    This book is divided into two parts: Live; Again.  I’ll be going back to this book again and again: sometimes to dip into, sometimes to read cover to cover. It won’t always be easy…
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    I put myself
    in the shoes
    of a dying friend.
    He’d moved on by then
    in his bare feet…
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    But sometimes…
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    A child’s
    wide eyes
    stares at me.
    If I could
    I’d have a look too.
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    John, I think you allow us to do just that from time to time:

    we’re here
    we might as well build
    a sandcastle

    Live Again was a Finalist for The Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards 2010.

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    An earlier version of this review was previously published in Blithe Spirit, Journal of the British Haiku Society; and haijinx IV:1 (March 2011)

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