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Honorary Curator John Stevenson

John Stevenson
Honorary Curator, 2018-2019

Appointment Announcement

John Stevenson photoThe American Haiku Archives advisory board is pleased to announce the appointment of John Stevenson as the 2018–2019 honorary curator of the American Haiku Archives at the California State Library in Sacramento.

This honor recognizes the excellence and range of Stevenson’s haiku and haibun, his longtime service to the haiku community, especially as an editor, publisher, and adjudicator, and his other teaching and leadership roles. Stevenson was born in Ithaca, New York, and now lives near Albany. He is a former president of the Haiku Society of America, former editor of Frogpond, and currently serves as managing editor of The Heron’s Nest. He is a founding member of the Route 9 Haiku Group, which has published the semiannual anthology Upstate Dim Sum since 2001.

His haiku-related publications include Something Unerasable (self-published, 1996), Some of the Silence (Red Moon Press, 1999), Quiet Enough (Red Moon Press, 2004), Live Again (Red Moon Press, 2009), and d(ark) (Red Moon Press, 2014). His poems and books have won numerous awards in most of the leading haiku contests. In 2015, he also codirected the Haiku North America conference at Union College in Schenectady, New York.

We are pleased to celebrate John Stevenson, and to bestow this honor from the American Haiku Archives, which seeks to preserve and promote haiku and related poetry throughout the North American continent.

     a deep gorge . . .
     some of the silence
     is me

               (Geppo, July/August 1996)

     one last look
     through the old apartment
     a dry sponge

               (The Heron’s Nest, May 2003)

     nothing matters how green it gets

               (Roadrunner, VII:4, 2007)

The AHA advisory board is delighted to pay tribute to John Stevenson as the twenty-second honorary curator of the American Haiku Archives. To search the collections of the American Haiku Archives online, please visit http://www.library.ca.gov/. For information on donating material to the archives, or other information about its history and past honorary curators, please visit the American Haiku Archives website at www.americanhaikuarchives.org.

~Michael Dylan Welch, American Haiku Archives Advisory Board Co-chair

 

On John Stevenson

by Cor van den Heuvel

Excerpted from “American Haiku’s Future” published in Modern Haiku 34:3, Autumn 2003.

In New York State, in the land of the old Iroquois Confederacy, is a writer with a darker vision than most American haiku poets. John Stevenson, who was born in Ithaca on October 9, 1948, grew up in the wooded farm and vineyard areas of the Finger Lakes region, and has lived all his life in New York. Half his life has been spent in rural areas, the rest in Buffalo, Ithaca, and New York City. He now lives with his teenage son in Nassau, a small town near Albany, and works as an administrator for the New York State Office of Mental Health.

Stevenson was a poet long before coming to haiku in 1992, writing and publishing his first poem at the age of eight. Since 1993, when he joined the Haiku Society of America, his poetic muse has been devoted to haiku and he has been busy in the haiku community, editing books, judging contests, and working as coordinator for the Northeast Metro Region of the HSA in 1995–96, traveling to the city to attend the group’s meetings, and serving as HSA president in 2000. In 1997 he edited From a Kind Neighbor, that year’s HSA members’ anthology.

Stevenson began as an art major at Buffalo State College but graduated with a degree in theater and was a professional actor for most of his twenties. He has been involved with a kind of improvisation called playback theatre for about ten years. Stevenson relates this activity to his haiku writing, believing that the two pursuits “have important areas of shared aesthetics.” To one who knows Stevenson’s haiku, especially his recent book, Some of the Silence (Red Moon Press, 1999), it is not surprising that he admires the work of Samuel Beckett: “Beckett’s impulse toward ever briefer dramas both parallels and strongly contrasts with my sense of the motives that attract me and other Westerners to the brevity of haiku.” Stevenson’s views of life and the world, and his choice of subject matter, result in haiku that suggest the cynical and ironic existential despair that Beckett’s plays relentlessly and broodily embody. Of course Stevenson writes other kinds of haiku as well, but this trend is apparent in much of his work.

Stevenson looks at this dark side of life unblinkingly. One finds in his haiku more than just traces of cynicism. The sadness in his poems about sickness and death often borders on hopelessness. We also find haiku with a world-weariness and a sense of things falling apart:

          old slippers
          the comfort
          coming apart

          her eyes narrow,
          seeing for the first time
          my little house

Not quite what we expect from haiku, but haiku is finding more aspects of life to explore than ever before. If haiku is about our relationship with existence, why shouldn’t it be able to go wherever the theater, movies, or even the novel go—wherever life goes? See how Stevenson finds the dark side, perhaps even menace or a sense of the ominous, in such ostensibly innocent things as a piece of driftwood or a child talking to a dog:

          winter beach
          a piece of driftwood
          charred at one end

          the three-year-old
          making their big dog
          sit

Beyond the obvious humor of the second haiku there lies a sense that the big dog may not always be ready to obey this proud little ruler but instead may suddenly lunge at him. When Stevenson presents us with emptiness or nothingness it does not have the sense of bringing us to a sense of enlightened awareness, but rather to an awareness of how life can seem careening out of control into a terrible blankness:

          wind-beaten marquee
          saying only
          “Coming Soon”

          the train picks up speed,
          in a paper coffee cup
          concentric waves

At least in the second of these two haiku there is a mysterious sense of unseen forces at work and that even if they may not save us they are at least something—something more than absolute nothingness.

 

Selected Haiku

 

all those haiku
about the moon in the trees,
the moon in the trees

                                                   frosty morning
                                                   the campers hatch
                                                   from their sleeping bags

nude beach
his enormous
sand castle

                                                   lunch date
                                                   carbonation keeps lifting
                                                   his straw

on the subway
a woman with sheet music
moving her lips

                                                   children’s ICU—
                                                   a tissue box beside
                                                   the pay phone

Census Bureau—
a secretary’s new baby
draws a crowd

                                                   tourist town
                                                   postcards of the waterfall
                                                   racked upside-down

between my rush to be ready
and her arrival—
a space

                                                   Christmas day
                                                   the exchange
                                                   of custody

sleepless . . .
the baby’s age
in days

                                                   a change in their voices . . .
                                                   children finding
                                                   a fledgling

a deep bruise
I don’t remember getting
autumn evening

                                                   Palm Sunday
                                                   following the plow
                                                   to church

a crowded street
I’m the one
who steps in it

                                                   expensive dinner
                                                   the hush
                                                   of the menu

last vacation day
a ring of iced tea
evaporates

                                                   one last look
                                                   through the old apartment
                                                   a dry sponge

thin winter coat
so little protection
from her boyfriend

                                                   autumn wind
                                                   the leaves are going
                                                   where I’m going

moving day
the other men
in her life

                                                   last piece
                                                   of a jigsaw puzzle . . .
                                                   filling in the sky

leaves budding
a little girl
spinning in her dress

                                                   jampackedelevatoreverybuttonpushed

hope
without knowing what for
autumn colors

                                                   early Alzheimer’s
                                                   she says she’ll have . . .
                                                   the usual

fireflies . . .
could i still
catch one?

                                                   great clouds
                                                   each one the size of
                                                   my hometown

soft earth
I might risk
a cartwheel

                                                   my hands at rest
                                                   in dishwater . . .
                                                   first hummingbird

grown wild
the spot where I buried
the last of my pets

                                                   this Halloween,
                                                   children born since
                                                   9/11

my doctor
takes off his glasses . . .
cold for May

                                                   dinner for one
                                                   a view
                                                   of the ocean

summer dawn
an arm raised
for deodorant

                                                   someone must be first
                                                   to turn away—
                                                   moon viewing

used book store
the creaking stairway
to poetry

                                                   my old wallet
                                                   in the top drawer
                                                   winter darkness

writer’s conference—
from a toilet stall I hear
someone quoting me

 

Books by John Stevenson

Something Unerasable. Nassau, New York: self-published, 1996.

Some of the Silence. Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 1999.

Quiet Enough. Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2004
(winner of the first place Merit Book Award from the Haiku Society of America).

Live Again. Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2009
(winner of the first place Merit Book Award from the Haiku Society of America and the Touchstone Award).

d(ark). Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2014
(winner of an honorable mention in the Merit Book Awards from the Haiku Society of America).

Stevenson, John, Editor. Ferris Gilli, Paul MacNeil, Fay Aoyagi, Billie Wilson, and Scott Mason, Associate Editors. Nest Feathers: Selected Haiku from the First 15 Years of the Heron’s Nest. Heron’s Nest, 2015. (winner of the Touchstone Award).

 

Essays

Stevenson, John. “Haiku as Dimensional Object.” Frogpond 36.3, (2013): 61-63.

Stevenson, John. “Two and Two.” Frogpond 34.2, (2011): 93-95.

 

Web Links

Archive for John Stevenson, Mann Library’s Daily Haiku, October 2012.
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, October 2012

Heron's Nest

Route 9 Haiku Group Poetry Reading (youtube video)
Mann Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 2006

Upstate Dim Sum
The Route 9 Haiku Group's Biannual Anthology of Haiku and Senryu

 

Millikin University Reader Response Essays:

Aguilar, Dorina. “John Stevenson’s Touch of Familiarity Versus Chiyo-ni’s Touch of Feminity.” Global Haiku Traditions, Millikin University, (2002): n. pag. Web. 5 March 2016.

Aguilar, Dorina. “Real Symbolism: Reading John Stevenson’s Haiku.” Global Haiku Traditions, Millikin University, (2002): n. pag. Web. 5 March 2016.

Bilyeu, Nicole. “John Stevenson’s Haiku.” Global Haiku Traditions, Millikin University, (2001): n. pag. Web. 6 March 2016.

Buzan, Ciara. “John Stevenson’s Haiku.” Global Haiku Traditions, Millikin University, (2004): n. pag. Web. 6 March 2016.

Edwards, Monica. “John Stevenson’s Haiku.” Global Haiku Traditions, Millikin University, (2010): n. pag. Web. 5 March 2016.

Freimuth, Patti. “John Stevenson’s Haiku.” Global Haiku Traditions, Millikin University, (2005): n. pag. Web. 6 March 2016.

Hixson, Catherine. “The Honest Haiku of John Stevenson.” Global Haiku Traditions, Millikin University (2012): n. pag. Web. 5 March 2016.

Orr, Stacey. “John Stevenson’s Everyday Haiku.” Global Haiku Traditions, Millikin University, (2003): n. pag. Web. 6 March 2016.

Villarreal, Jessica. “John Stevenson’s Haiku.” Global Haiku Traditions, Millikin University, (2008): n. pag. Web. 5 March 2016.

 

 

 

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