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 with Kevin McLaughlin

Kevin MacLaughlin, poetry magazine, haiku

 R.H. Blyth, the Western world’s foremost expert on haiku, identified thirteen characteristics he considered common to this poetry form.  These qualities, the inner state of the haiku poet, drive the seventeen syllables written when both conventional and absolute reality are glimpsed.  They are selflessness, loneliness, grateful acceptance, wordlessness, non-intellectuality, contradictoriness, humor, freedom, nonmorality, materiality, love, simplicity, and courage.  All of these qualities are to be expressed with the poet implicit, not the explicit protagonist or subject. Some of these qualities may seem overly abstruse.

Beginning next month, I will give a brief description of these traits, as defined by Alan Watts, along with an accompanying haiku illustrating that characteristic. 

This leads inevitably to questioning what are the “proper” subjects for a haiku. Are there proper subjects?   Classical work is filled with dragonflies, bamboo, the image of the moon in the water, banana leaves dripping water, the monsoon rays, the cry of birds, butterflies, and various flowers in bloom.  I am beyond any doubt a traditionalist; nevertheless, it seems restrictive, maybe even absurd, to confine our preferred verse to subjects common to sixteenth and seventeenth century Japan.  The next Basho or Buson lives, of course, in a world that is understood differently than the era known as “The Golden Age of Haiku.”  As we shall read later, advances in science, particularly in  physics, quantum mechanics, and astrophysics have introduced new material that does not violate the one dominant haiku theme, nature.

Three feet underground,

Lies a dark different world:

The insect realm.


Across the wetlands,

Two sandhill crane families,

Exchange trumpeting.


An osprey peeping:

Invasive Australian pines,

Choke the spoil islands


Cold fetch of the wind,

Coconuts float with the chop,

Against the tidal flow.


Scent of distant smoke:

The crescent moon through the pines,

Makes the night colder.

-K. McLaughlin


BTS received three haiku from Honorah Murphy, an astrophysicist at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland that precipitated this column’s theme of what qualifies as a classical piece.  In her cover letter, Ms. Murphy made it clear she was familiar with the standard haiku guidelines.  All of her verse follow the critical 5-7-5 syllable format. For Murphy, this is the natural order.


Brownian movement

Quantum particles collide

In the mud puddle.


The Magnetic field

Protects Earth from solar winds:

Cosmos wave functions


Spooky building blocks

Stabilize the nucleus:

Three quarks per proton.

-Honorah Murphy

poetry magazine, kelly writers house

Tayler Riouff has absolutely captured the doctrine of Impermanence that defines all existence. .  She has a grasp of the tenuousness veil between life and death: she peers into the void.  Ms. Riouff has set herself the mission of writing one haiku per day throughout 2017. BTS hopes to see much more of her work.



Life remains requested by

Impermanent hearts.


Beat, you fickle thing.

You annoyingly fragile

Powerful organ.


Beat with borrowed time

With moments between seconds,

Lost in passing ticks.

-Tayler Riouff


An interesting insight into the brain when it is in a haiku mode was spoken by neurophysicist Wolf Singer at the 2005 Mind and Life Conference hosted by the Dalai Lama,  “So it appears that one correlate of conscious perception is a transitory synchronization of neuronal responses that establishes a highly coherent pattern of oscillatory activity across the cerebral cortex.”  This is your brain on haiku.

Angie Davidson submitted a serene verse that could only have been written in the state of mind described above by Singer. When you devote yourself moment by moment to what you are doing you see Angie’s “Body of water.” Pure Zen, quiet, and  without ostentation.  There is Big Mind in her 17 syllables.

Body of water,

Reflecting mirror image

Wispy clouds pass by.

-Angie Davidson

In the 50 years I have been involved with haiku, I have never before encountered a husband and wife who both wrote quality verse.  Here are two haiku by Joseph Davidson that compliment his wife’s poem.  Joseph is a dedicated Vajrayana practitonert who has taken Refuge in Tibetan Buddhism’s Nyingma tradition.  These haiku illustrate how you can see the world when your consciousness begins to ripen.   


Lacking any wind

Sails become curtains at sea:

shapeshifting clouds drift.


Vulture’s paradise,

Water hole drying up:

Storm rumbles blessing.

-Joseph Davidson


The haiku below was submitted by a poet who chose to remain anonymous. In some ways, this delightful haiku is consistent with that of Tara Murphy.  “spotty photons”-this is an image worth contemplating.


Trying to connect,

But from the spotty photons

No beam gets across.

-Anonymous on RG

Mick Shea from Portland, Oregon, sent a piece that continues this month’s trend towards expanding haiku subjects to the scientific approach to the natural world.  Mr. Shea noted he is a devout Roman Catholic, and has almost no knowledge of Buddhism.  Mick’s work shows there are many paths up both the haiku and the spiritual mountains.

From the ocean floor,

The single cell archea

Pour from thermal vents.

-Mick Shea

We are fortunate again this month to have some Joan McNerney’s work.  When I read these pieces, I thought of a Gaelic word “Craic” that combines the concept of good hearted joy combined with an undercurrent of wisdom.  I loved imagining those faces of frost that were on her window in the first haiku..


Even Goyas’s portraits

Are less intriguing than faces

Of frost on my window.


A snowflake

Falls in my surprised eyes,

…all is black.


Try to catch the wind.

Count the ripples in the sea.

Become a child again.

-Joan McNerney


Vera Ignatowitsch perceives pure joy and gets a glimpse of satori in her sparrow haiku.  I compliment Ms. Ignatowitsch on her delight, implied seasonal reference (Kiru).  That exclamation point at the end of her verse is well earned!


Melted ice puddles

Welcome sparrows landing splash,

At long last bath!


-Vera Ignatowitsch


First time submitter Aline Pusecker Taylor also presents some wonderful seasonal references.  The overall tone of her work reminded me of a passage written by Robert Aitken in “ A Zen Wave.”  He states, “The earlier name for haiku was hokku which mean “verse that presents.” Haiku is the intimate task of presenting the vital experience of the thing in itself.”  That quality is particularly strong in the silk poppies piece.  I enjoyed all the motion presented in her third piece. 


Orange silk poppies

Shade twin snowman candles:

Wax drips to mantle.


Fleece reindeer blanket

Cozy, warm on my lap. Sink

Into plum sofa.


Heat escapes ductwork

Sparrows shriek; scavenger squirrels

Hiss at dogs barking.


-Aline Pusecker Taylor


Readers who have been following this column know we publish a few poems each month from African-American Richard Wright’s beautiful collection “Haiku: This Other World.” 


From across the lake,

Past the black winter trees,

Faint sounds of a flute.


What will these moths do

When the bright streetlamps wink out

And summer rain falls.


A thin waterfall

Dribbles the whole autumn night,-

How lonely it is.

-Richard Wright

Yet once more I encourage all haiku writers to share their work, their insights into the nature of all things, with fellow poets and BTS readers.  For those interested in haiku, I recommend you cast back into the BTS archives and reference the September column.  It provides a pretty thorough explanation of the basic format.

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