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.
in our mittens
a big diamond . . .
So too is his openness to experiment with syntax, wordplay and form, often to stunning effect.
more automatic words about weapons
the procession follows the hearse around the pothole
Stevenson’s perspective on everyday phenomena frequently surprises, even amazes — not least because of its curious yet unassailable logic.
makes most of them
for the office plants
The simplest observations can casually impart the deepest wisdom.
a child’s art
tower over everything
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.”
barks at me every day
but just lately
he sounds lonely
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
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.
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.