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Retiree Haikus Include Stunning Submission

Two loons feeding baby loon in a lake

Nobody will be surprised at the talent of our retirees, even when it comes to fun summer-themed haiku poems, but our recent contest included a submission from a retiree who passed away earlier this year. Of course, there’s more to this story…

All poems were judged “blind,” that is, no author names or school/unit affiliation were associated with the haiku poems. The poems were shared with Emerita Professor Shirley Heath and several other judges, who each voted on their favorites. Once the votes were in, the haikus were then associated with the retirees who submitted them. The Retiree Insider found that one of the haikus was submitted on behalf of the late John Felstiner, Emeritus Professor of English in the School of Humanities & Sciences; further examination of the submission showed that the email used to submit the poem was that of his wife, Mary Felstiner, Emerita Professor of History from San Francisco State University.

We reached out to Mary to get the story and to verify she was the one who had submitted her late husband's work, and here’s what we learned. Mary relayed that after John’s death in February 2017, she and her children worked to put together a memorial for John that was held in April. As she was going through his writings to find appropriate works to share at the memorial, she happened upon a binder that had several pages of haiku poems, all typed neatly. She recalled how they used to spend their summers in Maine, and felt he wrote the poems during one of those summers because they refer to the loons, which seemed to always be nearby.

When The Retiree Insider announced the haiku poetry contest, she decided to send them in. Mary shared that she packed 60 banker's boxes of John's writings that are now in storage, gave extra copies of the books he authored to Stanford students, donated literally thousands of books to the Palo Alto public libraries, and donated an impressive collection of 15th and 16th century maps he had collected to Stanford Hillel. One day, we hope to see his unpublished writings in an archived collection, including the haikus he wrote.

Thank you to the retirees who took the time to submit a haiku; the poems definitely reflected relaxing or adventuresome summer experiences. Even though the contest is more about bragging rights than anything else, it was hard to choose! Here are the poems the judges thought most captured the spirit of the contest, listed alphabetically by last name:

Judge’s Favorite

  • Late Emeriti Professor John Felstiner

Gauze-gray rain all day,
no past or future in it –
now two loons appear.


Winning Haikus

  • Robin Apple, staff member formerly with Psychiatry in the School of Medicine:

Ripe summer peaches,
vacations and fireworks.
Summertime is love.

  • Janice Dabney, staff member formerly at SLAC:

Surfing class newbies
fall from boards then rise to try
again. Otters sigh.

  • Mary Lake Polan, Emerita Professor from Obstetrics & Gynecology in the School of Medicine:

Something in the air
Sound of sparrows, scent of rose
Bright sunlight sparkles

  • Patricia Ryan, Emerita Professor from the Drama department in the School of Humanities & Sciences:

Sand on the stairway
Grandchildren’s tiny foot prints
Ah, summer is here


Honorable Mention Haikus

  • Margaret Harvey, staff member formerly with the Philosophy and Religious Studies libraries:

Let’s wade in the surf
Then search for lovely seashells
Sand between our toes

  • Frank Reisinger, staff member formerly with Pathology/Blood Center in the School of Medicine:

When in Rome-should you?
Ancient bricks-frozen lava
Pave a path to roam

  • Peter Stangl, staff member formerly with the Lane Library in the School of Medicine:

Summer and Winter
Are all the same to me now
I am retired!

  • Frank Topper, staff member formerly with SLAC:

Inside to outside
Retired yet not tired
Campus in my heart


Our thanks to our haiku judges: Emerita Professor Shirley Heath; Vice President for Human Resources Elizabeth Zacharias; Associate Vice President for HR Communications Melissa McVicker; HR Communications Director Valerie Beeman; and HR Communications Program Coordinator Hana Hsu.

Enjoy all the haikus submitted, especially those from the late, great, John Felstiner.