Kevin McLaughlin, the BTS Interview
BTS: How did the son of Irish Catholic New Yorkers become a Florida Buddhist?
Kevin: Causality. From the moment of the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago, my karma, created by cause and effect, led me to Florida and Buddhism. Initially, I settled Cocoa Beach, and then moved to Jensen Beach in 1973. In High School junior year, my friends and I came across “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones,” translated by Paul Reps and the writings of Alan Watts. These books started me on the Dharma path.
BTS: Did Buddhism lead you to haiku or the other way around?
Kevin: Buddhism is the path to the liberation from suffering. This is achieved through meditation, mindfulness, compassion, ethical actions, and an understanding of the true nature of reality. The Zen school stresses Satori, periods of understanding when you see your true nature, and comprehend both absolute and conventional reality. These moments can be memorialized through Haiku. No seventeen syllable, three line verse is truly a haiku unless it reflects at least a glimpse of Zen.
The sound of the wind,
Hollow stems clack together,-
The black bamboo grove.
BTS: How have they both affected your life, in general, and in regards to poetry?
Kevin: Poetry and Buddhism help me to stay mindful every day, sometimes every minute. They assist me in avoiding daydreams, distractions, memories, and "what if" scenarios.
What led you to the Vampire Tales," Kill the Buddha?"
While at Stony Brook University, I was profoundly affected by the Swedenborgian derived Gothic writings of Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, a 19th century Irishman. One of his finest works was Carmilla, a novel about a lesbian vampire. LeFanu was my inspiration. Also, I enjoy writing narratives. Naturally, I wanted to place my gothic writings in modern day Florida.
BTS: Are you still leading others in Buddhism and or Haiku?
Kevin: I belong to two Sanghas, one Tibetan in Lake Worth, the other an eclectic Sangha that meets every Wednesday night in Stuart. Approximately every four weeks, I present the teaching, a facet of Buddhist doctrine I accompany with a pamphlet or hand-out. I have self-published an e book on Amazon, Three Turtles on a Log, that has placed me in contact with several of America's leading Buddhist authorities, including Red Pine/Bill Porter, who is best known for translating Chinese Sutras (EX: The Heart ) into English. Bill's commentaries are considered definitive. I also have an informal email circle with whom I exchange Haiku on an almost daily basis.
Kevin has graciously shared one of his famous Vampire Key West tales for our Fiction section this month.
BTS: Tell me about the Night Herons
Kevin: The Night Heron Poets were a phenomenon that began in October 1993. Having lived in the arts oriented Stuart community for many years and both having wide ranging acquaintances, Julie Bertrand and I believed the area might be rich with talented poets. We were right.
Encouraged by the cultural venues Julie had attended during a short stay in New Paltz, New York, we planned out the format for an open mic poetry night. Chancing across Lyric Theatre house manager Jim Rogers one evening when we were in downtown Stuart, we presented our proposal. Jim agreed immediately to host the evenings in the then coffee house setting of the theatre's lobby. Microphones and speakers and chairs were west up with the focus being the Baldwin stage with its Osceola Avenue back-drop.
We met the third Wednesday of each month at 8:00 pm, and drew upon a unique selection of accomplished poets from high schools, colleges, the middle aged folk, and a number of senior citizens. It was a standard open mic event, based on signing up and taking the stage for approximately 6 minutes.
One of my favorite aspects of the evening was the tremendous appreciation the different age groups expressed for one another. Eventually, Night Heron Open Mic Night became the hottest ticket in town. Friendships were made. Images and metaphors transported those present. Talented poets suddenly had an outlet for accomplished pieces that would, otherwise, have been stashed away in desk drawers. I believe having participated in The Night Herons will have a lifelong positive effect on those who read, as well as those who came to listen.
The Night Herons formed a mythical group of poets when Stuart, proudly represented by the Lady Abundance statue, was a cultural center. Eventually the Poets self-published a volume that was praised by many people who were fortunate enough to have the volume pass into their hands. There have, of course, been many Golden Ages. The Night Herons open Mic Night at the Lyric were one such Golden Age. Ubi Sunt, and may all the poets be continuing their work.
Even Julie and I were overwhelmed by the national level quality poetry that was read on that stage. Dr. James Lancaster, Brenda Black White, Jerry Warmuskerken, Anthony Watkins, Paul Ryan, Sheila Rimer, Shadow Baldwin, Art Noble, and many other gifted artists read their pieces to very appreciative audiences. And, of course, all in the house that night will remember Julie's spirited performance art readings.
Kevin McLaughlin and Jerry Warmuskerken