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John Stevenson — Touchstone Distinguished Books Honorable Mention 2023

John Stevenson is the recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Honorable Mention for 2023 for the volume This Once (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2023)


Commentary from the Panel:

 

Two years ago John Stevenson’s lifetime collection, My Red, won a Touchstone Award. Five of his half dozen other books are award winners as well, not to mention his many other haiku awards and accomplishments over the past three decades. Yet he is clearly not resting on his laurels!

This Once is such a great title and theme. So apropos for a genre of poetry so attuned to the ephemeral. Many of the poems in this collection are indeed the epitome of that attunement:

 

ashes              just                        

            begin              to                                    

                                                  scatter

 

brevity

almost 

the point 

 

Other similar “almost” occurrences are also keenly sensed: 

 

cloudy day

a moment of almost

shadows

 

Stevenson’s signature voice (unassuming, perceptive, nuanced, witty) is well-known and highly regarded. His subject matter spans the gamut of everyday life experiences. With the sparest of language, which is consistently pitch-perfect, his poems engage the mind and the heart. 

 

death as wide as long

 

equinox—

my son and I dress

for different seasons

 

Besides his mastery of haiku, Stevenson is a master of the haiku book (and these are book awards after all). Crafting an immersive haiku book, rather than a collection of greatest hits (though there’s nothing wrong with that) is an art in its own right. Where the whole is greater than the sum of its poems. Where effective use of themes, sequencing, pacing, etc., work together to enhance the significance of individual poems, and to shape a cumulative emotional arc, not unlike that of a memoir or novel. 

 

This Once puts on a clinic when it comes to the art of the haiku book. Obviously, only a full, firsthand reading can show that. But take for a small example the opening and closing bookend poems. Note the contrasts, comparisons, and forward anticipation:

 

waterfall

full sounding 

spring

 

surface tension

the next

drip from the tap

 

Such interconnections abound throughout, thus enhancing continuity and engagement, as with these adjacent poems:

 

wildfire

the roof burnt off

a secret

 

briefly

mine to hold

a firefly

 

The title poem aptly exemplifies the book as a whole. One scenario you might imagine is that of a flitting butterfly momentarily alighting on you (or perhaps you’re hoping for that to happen). It’s a rare experience that can feel quite magical, even mystical:

 

butterflyjustthisonce

 

Fortunately, one can return to This Once and experience these poems a good many times.


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

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Thank you all. I want to recognize the selectors, the administrators and, in particular, whoever wrote this commentary!

  2. I love everything about John Stevenson. His train travel requirement going across the country, his never ending energy to create haiku, his unique voice, his dry sense of humor, his love of life.

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