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Volume 35.3
Autumn 2004


book review

quiet enough, by John Stevenson


Reviewed by Bob Grumman

quiet enough, by John Stevenson (Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2004). 96 pages; 5.5 x 8; paperback, perfectbound. ISBN 0-893959-44-9. $12.00 from the publisher at PO Box 2461, Winchester, VA 22604-1661.

This collection is almost too quiet to write about. No flashy techniques, unless you count adescriptionofacrowdedelevator, or an amusing sudden use of a one-line poem in a book of three-liners to tell of the spread through some woods of a Native Plant Society, or

on top of everything

Most of the pieces are haiku or senryu (which I can't tell, really, from the haiku) of eight to ten syllables, a handful of which have a prose commentary attached. The subjects are almost all quotidian, wryly observed, such as a son's practicing parallel parking, memories old sleeping bags inspire, turning off a television set, pool toys . . .;

a child's art—
the tulips tower
over everything

Perhaps my favorite haiku here, if the one I just quoted isn't, is (appropriately) the very first:

May morning
the door opens
before I knock

Let me note that I consider this haiku to contain what I call a "juxtaphor" That's an image next to, or close to, another image to which it is not explicitly equated but for which it it is clearly a metaphor, in this case "the door," which is an implicit metaphor for the particular "May morning" the poem speaks of. What brighter way to sneak around the traditional taboo against metaphorical language in haiku to celebrate the welcomingness certain rare days are filled with?!

Stevenson isn't all Nature-centered lyrical moments. A broken marriage darkens several of his pieces, though never defeating his sense of humor.  For instance:

Father's Day
she tells me
I'm not the father

Many, I imagine, would term this a senryu, but I find it deeper than poems I consider senryu. A similar strain of concerns that are almost soap operatic as opposed to outdoor imbues the following: 

three times I've said
"your husband . . . "
now we can just talk

Having been entirely complimentary to this point, let me balance things a little with a grumble about a pet haiku peeve of mine, the use of dangling participles, or the equivalent. Stevenson rarely does it in this book, and only does it annoyingly once:

engrossed in work
the snow
begins to stick

The problem is that I want to imagine the snow's being engrossed in work and can't. I wouldn't consider this poem a dud, even left as is in spite of my BigTime Insights. It's about the only one of Stevenson’s efforts that's at all flawed. At least twenty of his others are keepers. His book is well worth adding to any haiku-lover's library.



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