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John Stevenson — Touchstone Distinguished Books Award Winner 2021

John Stevenson is the recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Award for 2020 for his volume My Red: The Selected Haiku of John Stevenson (Edited by Randy and Shirley Brooks. Taylorville IL: Brooks Books, 2021).


Commentary from the Panel:

The Italian expression sprezzatura has been translated as “graceful conduct or performance without apparent effort” . . . or simply as “effortless genius.” Moments of sprezzatura abound in this landmark collection of the finest work from the last quarter century by John Stevenson, widely hailed as an American haiku master.

Stevenson’s easy yet incisive humor is on ample display in these pages.

applauding
the mime
in our mittens

a big diamond . . .
just imagine
the pressure

So too is his openness to experiment with syntax, wordplay and form, often to stunning effect.

expecting
no one
arrives

more automatic words about weapons

the procession
 follows the hearse
around the pothole

jampackedelevatoreverybuttonpushed

Stevenson’s perspective on everyday phenomena frequently surprises, even amazes — not least because of its curious yet unassailable logic.

dandelion wishes
the wind
makes most of them

for the office plants
it rains
on Fridays

The simplest observations can casually impart the deepest wisdom.

a child’s art
the tulips
tower over everything

we’re here
we might as well build
a sand castle

Such work has justly earned Stevenson the fervent admiration of poets across the haiku world. This in itself would secure any literary reputation. But Stevenson’s oeuvre offers something more—and something even greater. At the heart of his poetry is a profound sense of humanity. This can be seen in his attention to, and compassion for, the plight of “all creatures great and small.”

luxury car
a sparrow’s
quiet thump

barks at me every day
but just lately
he sounds lonely

train station
someone who
someone stopped loving

But it’s also evident in the poet’s willingness to be authentically human and make himself vulnerable: sharing self-censure; expressing self-depreciation; confessing self-doubts.

cold moon —
a moment of hesitation
years ago

class reunion
everybody loved
my wife

putting them away
I hope my clothes
were good enough

Perhaps this helps explain why John Stevenson is not only admired in haiku circles but beloved.

embarrassed
by the lavish praise
I imagine getting

Memo to poet: You’re not imagining . . . now deal with it!


See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Congratulations! Great book! He is so good at what he does sometimes he doesn’t even use actual images…Amazing!

  2. If you haven’t watched John’s two trailers for My Red, I highly recommend them . This shows another aspect of John’s poetry that, for me, elevates them to yet another level, and that is his delivery of the poem. I listen to John’s haiku in his unique voice like no other I can think of, except perhaps Roberta Beary.

  3. I’ve always greatly admired John’s poems, both for their keen observations and his unwaveringly surprising turn of mind. Both these skills can’t be taught, but are baked in.
    It’s always pure joy to see unique gifts not your own, especially when so consistent.

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