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with Kevin McLaughlin

Kevin MacLaughlin, poetry magazine, haiku

Seldom do I disagree with Zen Master/ haiku expert Robert Aitken.  But while reading this passage from his book “A Zen Wave: Basho’s Haiku & Zen” I felt he overstated the extent to  which the poet’s Self should be inserted in the verse. Haiku should be as ego-free as possible.  Even in Senryu, sentiment is not a desirable element of this form.  Aitken writes, “Basho himself is the subject of his haiku, more idiosyncratically and personally than here (reference poem below),  He never seemed to stray into indulgent self-consciousness in his mature poetry, but rather noted himself as an element he knew well in environment of natural change.  It is recollection that is central to this verse, recollection evoked by cherry blossoms.”


How many, many things

They bring to mind-

Cherry blossoms.

-Matsuo Basho


Snake Skin

Bonsai are watered, pruned, and fertilized meticulously.  This is the art of growing a dwarfed tree in a shallow pot.  The bonsai in the verse below is a ficus tree, identical to a full grown banyan tree in all respects except the proportionate size of its leaves to its other parts.  The tree is twenty four inches tall, weighs in excess of forty pounds, has several trunks, and many arboreal roots.  The ficus is in excess of 40 years old.  Its soil is changed annually when its subterranean roots are trimmed.


Tending the garden,

A snake’s intact skin is coiled,

On the bonsai’s limbs.

In shedding season,

The pygmy rattler is blind,

Guided by instinct.


In this floating world,

Maggots and dragons alike,

Will cry a death song.


Gravity bends light,

Alters position if stars:

Raccoon prints in mud.

-Kevin McLaughlin


Vera Ignatowitsch effortlessly fashions a poetry footbridge from Matsuo Basho to William Blake.  Both poets would have enjoyed Ms. Ignatowitsch’s work. It is possible Shelley and Wordsworth would also have taken delight in the reading.  East fuses with West. Few can master this seemingly simple form’s paradoxical difficulty.  Vera does.


Bear hibernating

In subterranean dreams

Drinks quiet wisdom

(A splendid image, easy to reconstruct with your five senses.)

Dry stalks in a bed

Of virginal snow summon

Patient ancestors.

(The third line has a sense of both mystery and promise.)

Canine cavorting

Ruffles the blanket of snow

Into shapes of joy

-Vera Ignatowitsch

FREE “ModPo,” our 10-week course on modern & contemporary U.S. poetry.  (9-9-17/11-21-17)

(The ModPo site will be open all year but we convene a super-active 10-week “live” run-through of the course each September through November.)

1st opened ModPo in 2012 and has offered great fun of a community of people worldwide who care about poets and poetry. The original ModPo Teaching Assistants, whom you encounter in the video discussions, are still here! They are remarkable! And many ModPo students now join us as “Community TAs” (or “course mentors”). ModPo is more in fact than a course—it’s an ongoing symposium, a growing lively discussion, a true community. We sincerely welcome you!

Kenneth Salzmannn’s haiku span a large frame of reference, including social conscience.  


Voter suppression


Fake new democracy


Another shooting

Numbers dead in anywhere

American prayer

(Sorrowful, but accurate.)


Invisible in the fog

Berkshire memories

Night air tastes like home

(How wonderful to taste night air!)


Tyrrel’s lonely lake

Footsteps along the shoreline

Reflections on the water.

-Kenneth Salzmann


George Brookings writes both in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Lima, Peru.  He holds an MA from UVA, taught English briefly, and has piloted a boat across the Gulfstream.  His story, The Mountain, appeared in Copper Nickel.

Mr. Brookings has a keen eye and clearly enjoys day to day existence.  His poems pre-date a theme this column will work in a coming month: haiku as “play verse.”  Originally, haiku was free-spirited and placed a large value on having fun with the foibles of both mankind and nature.


The food is not good,

But the staff eat anyway,

Indigestion, gas.


Staff want to know what,

These rats see in the kitchen,

Manna from Heaven.


Global warning strikes,

The ice machine.  Computers

Below have a swim.


The boss wants to know,

Why the computers are down:

The chips are silent.


Done with all desk work,

Staff turn to their grievances:

The Universe yawns.

(The last line of the this haiku paces a profound punctuation on the enjoyable chain)

-George Brookings


Haiku has traditionally been written about, and for, festivals, religious holidays and celebrations for such events as New Year’s Day.  Angie Davidson sent a haiku celebrating Christmas that joyfully recognizes the actions and anticipation of one of the world’s Holy Days.  High spirited, indeed.


Hanging ornaments,

Making out cards, buying gifts…

Christmas is coming!

-Angie Davidson

Jen Smith is visually aware of this world of particles and invisible forces.  Frequently, Jen supplements her haiku with stunning photographs.


Supermoon rises,

Distant coyotes howling:

Another day gone.


Misty morning dew,

Beading of pine needle ends:

New day beginning.

(At the tip of each pine needle is a drop of water, and each drop is illuminated by the sun after the rain.  I checked my pines after the last rain.  It was just as Ms. Smith described.)

-Jen Smith

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 2016 column.  It provides a pretty thorough explanation of the basic format.


--  Kevin Mclaughlin

Joe Davidson catches life as it flows. His haiku express the continuous stream of time, the impermanence that characterizes our world.  When his thoughts do drift from this constantly arising world, it takes the hooting of an owl to bring him back to the present.


Pulled from kindling pile,

Too young and green for the fire:

Pyre awaiting.

(Pyre awaiting summons up an image of a cremation on the banks of the Ganges River.  The High Priest removes wood not suitable for the ceremony.)


Foggy valley floor,

Montain’s breath obscuring path:

Rocks slick with dewdrops.


Hooting of an owl,

Awakens me from daydream,-

Return to present.

-Joseph Davidson


James Godfrey has a vision of all 365.25 days compressed into one day, the day that dawned that morning. That is a rare talent.   We may surmise Mr. Godfrey has worked in some numerology to his haiku as, in many systems, 9 is an auspicious number.


The Spring of Winter,

Brings puffs of words beneath words:

Ninth of December.

(The reader can intuit December 9th represents an auspicious day to Mr. Godfrey.  This parallels some Japanese and Chinese poetry)

-James Godfrey

Ken Lott from Bloomington, Indiana, exemplifies exactly how haiku can fuse with the human spirit.  Reading Mr. Lott’s warm  hearted verse, you get an insight into the mind of a man who enjoys nature and is naturally mindful during each day. Mr. Lott’s “Cold rain” and “Old sugar maple” have previously published in “Under the Basho.”

Beach sunrise

Almost to the surf…

Turtle hatchling tracks.


Old sugar maple oozing sap

Children’s tongues

Longer and longer.


Cold rain

Mourning dove’s

Hoarse coos.


Spring rain

Carrying twigs

We burn our mortgage.


Tornado warning


Village call to prayer.


On my patio

Cold wet leaves—

Summer slipped by.

-Ken Lott


Ireland’s Honorah Murphy has given us two poems this month, one from the celestial regions, her normal sphere, and one from the mundane world.  She writes,” Even the most common of images has the same wonder as astrophysics and the metaphysical realm. I take the same joy from squirrels as I do from colliding black holes.  All are part of the natural world from my perspective.”


Jupiter’s surface,-

Storms rotate across its poles:

Arctic ice berg calves.

(How seamlessly she juxtaposes Jupiter and Earth)


Pure acrobatics:

The squirrels in the tree tops,

Leap from branch to branch.

-Honorah Murphy


“Yet a successful haiku must, in spite of its brevity, not only evoke a mood but also manage to convey a picture vivid enough to stir the imagination of the reader of the listener.  Thus in haiku, we find a certain demand laid on each participant.  One is expected to “fill in” , to continue, so to speak, where the artist leaves off.”

-Alan Watts

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