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 with Kevin McLaughlin

A passage by Bhikku Bodhi presented profound advice that was not directly aimed at the haiku writer; but it absolutely applies.  Please give it a moment of consideration: “It might be assumed we are always aware of the present, but this is a mirage.  Only seldom do we become aware of the present in the precise way required by the practice of mindfulness.”  I have included this quote for one specific reason: haiku is the poetry of mindfulness.  There are 10,000 opportunities to write a haiku every day.  But not if we are distracted, fretting, or day dreaming.

While I was on an afternoon jog at Halpatiokee Regional Park in Martin County, Florida, my thoughts strayed to the role and the need for a seasonal reference, a kigo in classical haiku.  The form is quite specific. Casual musing is just one of the many benefits of jogging or running.

Harold G. Henderson, one of the Western world’s earliest haiku proponents wrote, “The older haiku makers came to the conclusion that one experience common to all men was the change of weather with the different seasons, and so introduced into all their poems what is known as kigo, or season.  That means there is in all of their poems a word or expression that indicates the time of year, and so forms a background for the picture they are trying to bring up in the reader’s mind.  Such a kigo can be a definite naming of the season like “summer heat” or a mere suggestion like a reference to a plum blossom or to snow.  The custom of kigo has hardened into an almost inviolable rule, and most modern collections of haiku arrange their contents according to the seasons.”


Anyone who has followed this column knows I am a purist.  I believe haiku is a set form with the superior verses adhering to a format developed in 17th century Japan.  I’ve been critical of modern revisions.  Maybe I’ve been wrong in some regards. Kigo is easy to include in your verse if you live in a temperate zone.  Seasonal change is marked by vast changes.  The seasons embody impermanence.  But in the tropics and semi-tropics, the seasonal change, save for the length of daylight, is too minimal, maybe even none existent.  In the Arctic and Antarctic, and areas of the globe, the change of seasons may be imperceptible or even non-existent.


I do believe every effort must be made to include a Kigo in your 17 syllable insights. It enhances the poem.   But I no longer believe it is an inviolable component.

Here are three of my own haiku in which I acknowledge the kigo is altogether missing, or you would have to be a long-time Floridian to detect it.  Integration of the universal and the particular are essential to haiku-vision.  To some extent, these verse are salvaged by their appreciation of the phenomenal world.

Ficus excretes sap

To ward off burrowing bugs:

Thick aerial roots.


Barrier island

Reshaped by tides and weather.

Protects a lagoon.


Empty trash barrels:

Catfish swim the riverbed.

Devouring debris.


- Kevin McLaughlin

Having questioned the absolute need for a Kigo, I now have the honor to publish a poem  with the subtlest and strongest seasonal reference I have read in many years.  The second line of Ms. Ignatowitsch’s haiku loaded with power: these three lines have the bonded attraction of molecules forming an atom. Her usage of “massing” also provides the reader with a cutting-word.


thunderstorms push heat

pressure multiplies massing

buds burst into bloom. 


- Vera Ignatowitsch

poetry magazine, kelly writers house

The four verse below show the influence of a mind at rest.  An agitated mind cannot perceive the beauty in the mundane, the splendor of non-duality.  Haiku poets, in general, strive for personal serenity and compassion for all sentient beings.  A meditation practice is a great aid to generating the sort of Big Mind that produces haiku, especially when the meditative state of mind lasts throughout the day.  My belief is Mr. Davidson has a mature meditation practice.  I especially enjoyed the image of “seaweed wreath coming in with the tide.


Sun bleaching fish bones,

Seaweed wreath coming with the tide,

Lonesome song of gull.


Moonlight at sunset,

Exchanging gold for silver

.Blue sky blushes red.


Prickly pear on trail,

Needle thorns protect nectar,

Yellow flower blooms.


Early summer rains:

Rebirth of cypress swamp life,

Cool breeze swaying reeds.


This last poem by Mr. Davidson also has a noteworthy Kigo.  Residents of the southeast will appreciate the reference to swamplife.


- Joseph Davidson

My first impulse reading Jenna Nichole “Jay Jay’” haiku chain was to publish three in June and three in July.  I read them again.  I realized that while they are individual haiku, well written haiku, they formed a distinct chain.  Collaborative synergy conveys those times when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  I especially enjoyed that dignified Great blue at the water’s edge.  And that last line in these linked pieces, “There do you see?” is a sage-like question that comes close to defining an awakened life. 


Great blue

Majesty, proud

At water’s edge.


Kingfisher’s reflections unbroken

By beaks

Snapping surface tension.


Twilight smiles, the

Reeds singing wind chime hymns

For no human ears.


Sweetgrass charms

The senses like opium



Violent sun rays

Soften upon sifting

Through web branches.


Eyes flit open,

Literal metaphors—

“There, do you see?”


-  Jenna-Nichole “Jay Jay” Conrad 

It is becoming a monthly pleasure to cross the Atlantic to the Emerald Isle, Eire, and read the expansive poetry of astrophysicist Honorah Murphy.  Her natural world encompasses the expanding Universe and earth’s smallest particles. Ms. Murphy added an interesting side note: The quark, an element of a nucleus, after its discovery, was named after a line from James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake:” Three quarks for Muster Mark.”  Also she noted Joyce is the absolute antithesis of the haiku spirit. 


Ants circle their nest:

Matter circles the Black Hole’s

Event Horizon.


Particles decay

To lighter quarks and leptons:

Three pink flamingoes.


- Honorah Murphy

Most astronomical events take place unnoticed.  On the morning of 9/21/2010, the planet Jupiter came closer to the Earth than it had in 50 years.  Walking down to the street pre-dawn to get the newspaper, I love to spend a few minutes admiring the night sky.  On that occasion, Jupiter was large, glowing steadily, located near the moon, to the lower left side.

Once in fifty years,

Jupiter glows near the moon:

Sound of frogs barking.


The cutting word is moon.  This separates the spectacle of the swollen Jupiter from the cheerful background sound of the barking frogs and tree toads.  Looking up at the sky, there was a spontaneous realization that “form is emptiness, and emptiness is form.

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. --  Kevin Mclaughlin

Kevin MacLaughlin, poetry magazine, haiku

Ho, ho, joy and delight are also an essential element of the haiku’s essence. Many of the classical Japanese writers included humor and observations about human activities in their canons.  So has Angie Davidson.  A new activity in several local counties is the painting of rocks with pictures or inspiring words and hiding them at parks.  I, myself, have found several.  They bring a smile to your face when you come across one.  The painter is performing a selfless act: the only intent is to spread happiness. Note Angie provides a good natured pun in the third line, an unusual technique in haiku.


Tree with hidden gem

Fun painting stones with art work,

Martin County Rocks.


As Earth spins in space,

It gives off a cosmic song:

Universal sound.


- Angie Davidson


Jane Corrigan sent us two haiku, both of which demonstrate her hands on approach to nature.  Jane works for the Forestry Service in Maine.  She, too, has the ability to convey the season and its specific beauty.


Well tended garden,

Snails feed on the tomatoes:

The soil fertilized.


The butterfly’s shadow,

Skiiters around on the concrete:

Soon it will migrate.


- Jane Corrigan

The haiku we write demonstrate the way we see the world, the way we smell, hear, and taste the things of this planet.  Haiku are a strong reflection of your basic nature.  If it is the most compact, authentic form of expression, we can be grateful for writers like upstate New York resident David Rosen who  invites us to share the sight of water lilies floating across a pond.   I’ve always enjoyed verse that convey a sense of motion.


Water lily leaves

Uprooted by the storm’s winds,

Float across the pond.


This clear winter night,

Crescent moon reveals new moon:

Mars just a red dot.


- David Rosen


That same joyful spirit is evident in a haiku sent in by Richard Mortenson.  And, by coincidence, there is a pun in the third line.  On a serious note, the scrub jay is an endangered species.  To the best of my knowledge, it flourishes only in Jonathan Dickinson State Park’s mix of dunes and pine flatwoods, zoos, and wildlife hospitals.


The lone scrub jay sentry

Gives his flock security:

True Birdhisattva.

- Richard Mortenson


Jim Phillips, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Louisiana sent in several remarkable verse. I, too, have had the joy of bare handing a spider in order to return it to its web.  Its movement in the palm of your hand inspires awe for all of nature. The best haiku frequently result from the tension between the rigidity of the classical form and the depth of the poet’s feeling. And while Mr.Phillips does not exhibit a kigo, a reference to the change of seasons, his second haiku certainly presents a magnificent “time lapse” of the change of hours during a day.  Was it the birdsongs, the crescent moon, or both that gave him an “Ah, ha!” experience about something so outwardly mundane as the effects of the earth’s rotation?


Bare handing the spiders,

Setting them down in the grass:

Driving to the Church.


Birdsongs replace stars,

And then the birds are silent:

Crescent moon at night.


- Jim Phillips


We can all be pleased at the favorable comments BTS readers have been sending in regarding Joan McNerney’s haiku.  We can only hope she is inspired to send in more examples of her work.   Haiku answers profound questions with examples drawn from everyday life.  We’ve been fortunate to see how Ms. McNerney sees this every day world . . .through her remarkable vision.

What discus player

Threw a tangerine moon on

Top of main street?


Green new leaf

Fits perfectly—the future

 lies in your palm .


Cool bright delicate

Let me wear it around my neck,

This soft splash of rain.


Joan McNerney

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