Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 15 to 18
- Grade: 10 to 12
Zap, grackle, pop! East meets west in these contemporary urban micro poems. Whether exploring haikai forms or improvising jazz renku pops, these poems swing and bop!
Zap, grackle, bop! These English language haiku, senryu, tanka, kyoka, zappai, solo renku-like jazz pop sequences both honour the Japanese haikai tradition and play respectfully with it. Bringing a Beat/jazz sensibility and jazz chops to the page, Stevenson explores Kerouac’s pop ‘ku of idiomatic, beatific epiphany, emblematic verse, even low brow bathroom graffiti zappai and found senryu. The tone shifts from ecstatic to meditative; from bemused to antic; from ironic/sardonic to quiet, introspective; from melancholic to comic and back again, even as the syllables slide, carom, harmonize, swing and bop through a grackle’s ratchety racket to a sibilant summer breeze. Largely urban, the themes and imagery sometimes follow the man- in- nature tradition, and sometimes veer off with bemused candor to consider the human circus. Stevenson’s comic takes on things will make you grin, toe tap past the two lips of East and West, down to Kansas City where syllables swing best.
Stevenson’s comic takes on the English language/ Japanese haikai tradition are rooted firmly in his time and place. Writing from the “downward slope of middle age,” having just retired from a thirty-year teaching gig, with thirty books behind him, he has time to stop and smell the roses – or, in his biome, the willows and irises, the rosemary and oregano, the prickly pear and sage, fescue and cottonwood. Combining the imagist flashbulb epiphany of Kerouac’s pop ‘ku, with the fragment and phrase construction of traditional haikai tradition, Stevenson writes both traditional nature haiku and comic/ironic urban senryu and zappai; tanka and kyoka; and plays the imagist solo renku keys with a jazz sensibility, combining the best of East/West imagist traditions into sequences about the music of John Coltrane and Miles Davis; about the Roots and Blues and South Country summer music festivals, and short-lived Mugshot’s club in Lethbridge. He watches the seasonal round in his backyard and freely pilfers from billboard, roadside, business, and bathroom stall signs and graffiti for more profane observations of the human circus. Typically, the poet hones in on the telling detail – the cell phone in the hand of the pan handler, comic quip rejoinders to others’ billboard or bathroom graffiti, the cigarette blocking the ant’s passage on the driveway, difficulties of the dachshund on a snout cruise for his scent after a snowfall, personality details of fondly remembered friends and neighbours, whose passing occurred all too soon, the Braille buttons on the drive-up teller machine… . East meets West in weird and wonderful ways when the poet jumps from the Japanese traditions of a pictographic language of vertical text and sumi-e sketch to orthographic horizontal lines and fellow artist Ellen McArthur’s interspersed black and white landscape photos. Both trace a path around Henderson Lake Park, through the Japanese gift of the Nikko Yuko gardens. Where the human world and nature collide, on the lovely summer music festival grounds of the South Country and Roots and Blues fairs, through the IPod to the stereo to the cat’s ears to the soundtrack of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the dozens of rock, blues, funk, soul, folk, jazz, country, and world beat musicians gracing southern Alberta and BC stages and winter weekend club dates; haiku and senryu, and rude cousin zappai; tanka and kyoka; solo renku-like sequences proliferate like dandelions –dentes des liones – along the path. Sometimes the lofty “high coo” epiphany of macrocosm through micro filter brays through the trumpet petals of the Hollyhock, or convenes at its convenience on six bumbling dirty feet at the porch of a lily; other times the movement from close-up to extreme close-up reveals a more profane human reality/venality.
Stevenson sees beauty in both the weeds and the flowers. Following William Carlos Williams’ edict of “no ideas but in things” through proprioceptive meanderings of the Black Mountaineers, to the Zen haiga of Paul Reps and Ion Codrescu; from the found poems of Paul Gross’s Pop Poems, various volumes of found poetry assembled by John Robert Colombo, and Lionel Kearns’ By The Light of the Silvery McLune; to the micro narrative/ imagist poems of Nelson Ball; on through witty social haiku/senryu territory of George Swede, Marco Fraticelli, LeRoy Gorman, Michael Dylan Welch, Terry Ann Carter, Billy Collins, Alexis Rotella, Winona Baker, Roberta Beary and others, the path has provided innumerable bi-ways to explore. “I can’t see the point in insisting on all of the Japanese bric-a-brac of kigo (season word), kireji (cutting particle or sign), fragment/phrase construction, present tense, strictly colloquial diction, epiphany (haiku moment), the various tones ( wabi, sabi, yugen, etc.) – at least not all the time,” Stevenson says. “After all, Japanese is a pictographic/symbolic language to begin with; English is a largely abstract, orthographic one. Syllables aren’t onji or on; and a picture is still worth a thousand words in any language. I’m interested in all the possibilities of the English language haiku-like imagist poem. If the poem wants to evolve along a satiric/ironic axis, why not? Most English language poetry of the last century and new millennium – so far – has been informed by irony in the absence of a respected monad authority. Never mind the hegemonies of the various mono cultures.” “Coming from a background of lyric/narrative, imagist, realist, jazz, and neo-surrealist object poetry, I find it more difficult to write passable haiku than it is to write passable senryu anyway. My sensibility leans toward socio-political poetry.” “As for Spam-ku, Scifaiku, etc., the merely painterly descriptive 5-7-5 syllable statement is never going to replace the concentrated juxtaposition or fragment and phrase imagist tradition. But that doesn’t mean we can’t go to the junkyard for recyclable trash. Picasso did it, creating a bovine ruminant of handlebars and bicycle seat. Why not recycle junk language, re-contextualize effluvial cast-off? The best vantage point on a culture is from the periphery anyway.”
About the authors
Richard Stevenson was born in 1952 in Victoria, British Columbia. A prolific writer, Richard has published twelve collections of poetry (including Why Were All the Werewolves Men? (Thistledown, 1994), and Nothing Definite Yeti (Ekstasis Editions, 1999)) and four poetry chapbooks. Richard won the 1994 Stephan G. Stephansson Award for From the Mouths of Angels (Ekstasis, 1993). He is also the co-founder of Naked Ear, a poetry-jazz performance ensemble.
Ellen McArthur lives in Lethbridge, Alberta, where she draws in pen and ink and photographs people, cityscapes, landscapes, etc. Her other passions include cooking, hiking, reading, family and friends.
Excerpt: Fruit Wedge Moon: Haiku, Senryu, Tanka, Kyoka, and Zappai (by (author) Richard Stevenson; photographs by Ellen McArthur)
Dozens of delightful moments populate this book. Stevenson reveals familiar things in a new light: a window with paw-prints on both sides, a crow that “flaps a lot to stay still,” and “the emerald hour — / each branch a boy with / a string of green fish.” Whether it centres on trampoline-jumpers, dragonflies downed by forest-fire smoke, or John Coltrane’s sax-playing, this poetry lives through a clear eye, a keen ear, and deft phrasing. The poems are buoyed by an attractive lightness, contrasting with moments of weight and gravity. One of the haiku reads, “wizened apples — / all the words I didn’t say / still on the tree” — but we can be thankful that this poet offers us so many apples from the tree of his speech and craft. Brian
Barlett, author of Potato Blossom Road and The Watchmaker's Table
From dachshunds to dragon boats, hollyhocks to hot flashes, Richard Stevenson goes AWOL with the traditional haiku form to transcribe our diverse and dazzling urban world. Alternately funny, touching, irreverent and ecstatic, Fruit Wedge Moon is a no holds barred, humdinger of a collection.
Angela Leuck, author of a cicada in the cosmos and Garden Meditations
Everyone interested in the Eastern short poetry form will find something to enjoy in this book. The haiku especially are very strong. Stevenson pushes the limits of the modern haiku while staying true to its historical spirit.
Marco Fraticelli, editor, Kings Road Press, author of Voyeur and Night Coach
What Reviewers Have Said In The Past:
About Driving Offensively: “… Driving Offensively is a book of first-rate poetry and a human document full of compassion and wisdom. Highly recommended.” – Michael Williamson, Canadian Book Review Annual ( 1985-86 )
About Suiting Up: “ Rich metaphors … a distinct voice … the reader hangs off the crispness of each word.” – Vernon Mooers, Writer’s Lifeline
About Horizontal Hotel: “ There have been few such faithful, self-examining white reports from Africa as Stevenson offers … .” – Michael Thorpe, Toronto South Asian Review
About Whatever It Is Plants Dream… : “ This collection is wide-ranging and very ambitious … . Theodore Roethke would have danced with this book, hugging each line scraped hard by dirt – and then had a mood swing and been jealous!” – Phil Hall, Books in Canada About Learning To Breathe: “ The power of Stevenson’s poetry lies in a reliance on the particularities of personal experience, and in a forceful combination of narrative and lyric styles that successfully portray the several seasons of being male.” – Matthew Manera, The Canadian Forum “These are poems like novels, like paintings, like rainbows. From far Cathay (Beijing) and the massacre to Marika’s new black seven-league shoes, the range of these poems is wonderful, their scope both micro- and cosmos-reaching marvelous.” – Al Purdy
About From The Mouths of Angels: “Stevenson is adept at making his own poetic windows, framing experience and impression with a feel for how words sound and images might be perceived. … His often off-kilter takes on things are permeated with a gently rueful sense of humour.” – Valerie Warder, NeWest Review
About Flying Coffins: “ Poet Richard Stevenson, who has just won the 1993 WGA award for best book of poetry for From the Mouths of Angels, is a meticulous wordsmith. … [His] best poems gleam with ironic humor and heartfelt insights. They are unforced discoveries, chanced upon by a thoughtful white man whose conscience is his best guide to Africa.” – Mark Lowey, The Calgary Herald
About Why Were All The Werewolves Men?: “ This book is utter nonsense. Delightful nonsense. … Read one or two of these poems to a rowdy group of nine-year-olds, and you’ll have their rapt attention. Read them to yourself and you’ll chuckle at the imagery and adroit use of language. Stevenson has an ear for what children like without stooping to patronize . This is one for the young monsters of your household.” – David Bly, The Calgary Herald
About A Murder of Crows: New & Selected Poems: Finally, after 30 years of writing, Richard Stevenson, Victoria-born writer who served as Editor-in-Chief of Prism International and Alberta Representative of The League of Canadian Poets, is bringing together some of his work in this selection of poems. Stevenson's work is a passionate look at Canadian society. The poems show a fascination with music and literature. They identify heroes and mentors. There is a visceral quality to the writing. It is down to earth and lyrical, writing about day-to-day events, about people on the prairies, about farmers, blue collar workers, the men and women who inhabit bars, the intellectuals who stay close to the earth – Black Moss Press
About Nothing Definite Yeti: Stevenson evokes the nightmare world of dreams, in wit and humour, to create an engaging new folklore for the millennium. The young of all ages will find this book simply a whole lot of fun. – Ekstasis Editions About Live Evil: A Homage To Miles Davis: … the poet captures the fragile purity of this musical genius, "those doeskin notes" transformed on the page into enjambment lines as soulful and tight as the best of the master's improvisations. … What's clear is that with Live Evil, Richard Stevenson has become a charter member of the Great Poetry Orchestra, playing with the likes of Langston Hughes, Amiri Bakara, Corso, Ferlinghetti, and Frank O'Hara. It's illustrious company to be sure, but Live Evil is that good." – Doug Beardsley, Quill & Quire