Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2003

Stacey Orr

John Stevenson

Stacey Orr

Stacey's Haiku



John Stevenson’s
Everyday Haiku

When I was trying to choose an author to study for this class, many names ran through my head. There were the traditional authors, such as Basho and Chiyo-ni, but their haiku seemed old-fashioned and sometimes hard to understand. Then, there were the authors of senryu, such as Alan Pizzarelli, that were quite interesting, but sometimes still hard for me to grasp or relate to. One author seemed to stand out in my mind that would be perfect for this project, and it was the simple, everyday experiences of John Stevenson’s haiku that led me to choose him. I truly enjoy haiku about everyday experiences, and I truly enjoy the works of haiku author John Stevenson.

Mr. Stevenson has a way with words. He has the ability to immerse his reader into the scenes that he has depicted for them. Each haiku is written with such a vividness and clarity, which allows the reader to become part of his experience. You, as the reader feel his emotions, see his visions, and live his experiences over and over again, just as if they were your own. You feel comfortable in experiencing these moments along with the author because of his chosen subject matter and writing style. The words of John Stevenson are simply a reflection of an ordinary moment, conveyed in the simplest terms.

Christmas Day
the exchange
of custody

Some of the Silence, 56

This haiku is a perfect example of one of the everyday occurrences in his life. It depicts the moment on Christmas Day in which he has to meet his ex-wife for the “exchanging” of their child. Stevenson met and married Patricia Kennedy, and years later they were divorced. During their time together, they became the parents of a son, James, who was born in February of 1983. After the divorce, they spent many years “exchanging” their son for the holidays. There is a lot of emotion felt through this haiku. It is hard for parents to give up spending time with their children, especially during the holiday season. The positive side to this experience is that it is universal. In the world today, there are not many traditional families. Many children live with either one or the other of their parents, and their holidays are usually split between the two. Although being a child with divorced parents is not something to be happy about, the experience, for John Stevenson, is something to write about.

Another haiku that I enjoy is found in the book Some of the Silence.

midnight train
the voice of one old-timer
going on and on

Some of the Silence, 14

Mr. Stevenson talks about this train in many of his haiku. It is located along the banks of the Hudson River and runs from Albany to New York City. John sometimes rides this train to and from his place of employment. I picture him riding the train home after a long day of work. He is exhausted, and can’t wait to get home and go to bed. John wants to sit and relax during his ride home, but there is a voice that keeps echoing in his head. A few seats in front of him sits a friendly, older man that just keeps talking to anyone who will listen. He is rambling on about nothing and is annoying to most of the other riders, but he just keeps on talking. Again, this haiku relates to a time in my life, and I am sure the experiences of others. It seems like every time I fly by myself, I sit next to the older person that wants to talk. Although I know they are just trying to be friendly, this usually annoys me. If you have never had the experience of sitting next to a “talker” when you are traveling, I am sure you have heard or seen them somewhere.

cold saturday—
drawn back into bed
by my own warmth

The Haiku Anthology, 204

This is my favorite haiku written by John Stevenson. It gives me such a warm and comfy feeling. I picture myself trying to get up for class during the winter months. I always find myself hitting the snooze button about three times before I finally get out of bed. I just dread the cold, and my warm bed seems like a much better place to be. I think this haiku paints such a vivid picture for its reader because most people can relate to it.

checking the driver
as I pass a car
just like mine

The Haiku Anthology, 205

I think that this haiku is very humorous because I have done this many times before. I picture myself driving along a three or four lane interstate. I always watch the sports cars zoom by me, and I seem to zoom past the older models. Whenever I come up to a car that I especially like, or one that looks like mine, I take my time in passing it. I check who is inside, and I try to imagine what the people are thinking or talking about. I think this is something normal that a lot of people do, and many could relate to this experience as well.
I believe that John Stevenson tries different approaches when writing his haiku. Although the content of using everyday experiences is the same, the element that he uses to add to his writing can be different. For example, after studying some of his haiku, I noticed some of the principles of zen are present. I believe that they all focus on the “nothing special” element, for the reason that all of his haiku are written from simple, everyday experiences, but with each different haiku, another element becomes apparent.

frosty morning
the campers hatch
from their sleeping bags

Some of the Silence, 16

This haiku focuses on two elements of zen, with these being the “season word,” and “oneness.” In dealing with the seasonal element, the seasonal word sort of plays with the reader. After reading the first line, it puts you in a setting of winter. But, after reading on, you realize that it is just a colder morning than usual, where the dew has frozen over the surroundings. With this idea presented, the reader can imagine that the people are camping during the autumn months when the temperature is starting to drop. Next, the idea of “oneness” is presented. The campers seem to be one with nature. They are awoken early with the animals, and adapting well to the other changes happening within their surroundings. There is no definite separation between the two, and a feeling of connection is present.
Another good example of Stevenson’s use of the zen principles is found within the haiku below.

almost home
the river fills
the horizon

Some of the Silence, 5

I believe that this haiku focuses, again, on the “oneness” element of zen. You picture a man on a long walk home. Instead of being focused on the destination, he is enjoying the journey along the way. He does not seem to be separated from nature in any way. He has become one with it because he is acknowledging the world around him and enjoying it’s beauty. In reality, it seems like the author has a long way before he arrives home because the river has almost become one with the horizon, but, because he is enjoying himself, it is like he is almost home. He feels like this walk could not last long enough.

Another haiku that I especially like depicts another normal, everyday, experience for Mr. Stevenson.

bouncing along
on the guardrails
car shadow

The Haiku Anthology, 204

I think this haiku takes a normal experience and presents it in a neat way. I can picture it perfectly. I think of when I am on long car trips. Sometimes I get so board that all I can do is look outside and watch the shadow of our car because it is riding along right beside you. I love the way that Stevenson depicts the shadow as “bouncing.” I think the element of personification adds so much liveliness to this image that otherwise might be somewhat dull.
I absolutely love the haiku written by John Stevenson. He can take a simple image and make it come alive because he truly appreciates the everyday experiences that life brings him. I relate to the haiku that he writes both in content and in style because most of my haiku come from my everyday or personal experiences. His ability to immerse the reader into his experience and allow them to view a part of his life is not always an easy task. For this reason, I admire him as a person and a writer.

Works Cited

Stevenson, John. Some of the Silence. Red Moon Press. 1999, 5,14,16, and

Van den Heuvel, Cor. The Haiku Anthology. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
1999, 204-205.

—Stacey Orr

©2003 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors