with Kevin McLaughlin
Taoists tame their minds through meditation, and they seek to be in harmony with the rhythms of the natural world, as they understand it. The Taoist seeks to find stillness in motion and motion in stillness. When you act naturally, you get what you need.
Balance in all aspects, both internal and external is a core principle. The yin/yang, the circular fish diagram represents the balance pervading the Universe. There is always a spot of black (female yin) in the white, and a spot of white (yang) in the white. Taoism is the religion of balance and active equanimity.
The Tao manifested itself 13.8 billion years ago, when the singularity, the Big Bang, loosed the laws of Heaven, physics, quantum mechanics, energy, matter, time and gravity for this particular Universe. All things, thus, arose from the Tao, our primordial nature. Everything as it should be for the stars, the planets, and all the kingdoms of sentient beings. All matter and all empty space became a potential image for a haiku.
When Zen (Chan) moved into China with the arrival of the monk Bodhidharma, a synthesis began between Zen and Taoism. Not a total blending, but there are many common practices and even common texts.
Not Worth a Damn
It went unnoticed,
The Autumnal Equinox:
Light and dark balanced.
Jen Fa-Jung lived in the Chungnan mountains, the ancient refuge of Buddhist and Taoist hermits. For the last 17 of these years, the retired Buddhist Abbot had lived approximately ¾ s of a mile above the Taoist hermit Shan-tao’s well- constructed hut. The two were friends, and exchanged the foods necessary to live away from the rest of humanity.
When Fa-Jung saw Shan-tao, he smacked him hard on the shoulder with a bamboo staff, sending the elderly man stumbling. “The Autumnal Equinox was three days ago!” he screamed, “Where is my semi-annual poem? These Taoists,” he grumbled, “I always said they weren’t worth a damn.”
Note: This year I neglected to celebrate the balance that comes with the Equinox.
Born in Budapest, poet Geza Tatrallyay escaped with her family in 1956 during the Hungarian revolution. Ms. Tatrallyay holds a BA from Harvard, won a Rhoades scholarship, earned an MA/BA from Oxford. She is a Canadian citizen who has been extensively published, including novels, poetry, and memoirs.
In the evening calm,
Was it your sigh that,
Made the dying leaves flutter.
Winter’s whiteness now,
Cloaks the grass we once loved on,
In this quiet glade.
Sun glitter shimmers,
On the mirror of the pond:
Clouds threaten, like death.
Crimson glaciers ooze,
Within this wintry being,
Freezing thought, feeling.
Fossil shells in stone,
Remind me: the sea stood here,
Once, where I now stand.
When spring’s madrigal,
Sighs over the world,
Ecstasy stirs souls to dance.
When spring’s silken sigh,
Strums the world’s koto,
Joy stirs nature’s soul to dance.
The waveless water,
Mirrors wrinkles wrought
By the voyage of the sun.
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!
The Taoist “Real People” developed and nurtured Chi, the breath, the life force within their bodies. Maintaining balance, they also developed Te, a virtue that arose from being in harmony with the natural world. James Godfrey, equipped with bifurcated talents, manages to remain in equilibrium with fraternal twin, separate environments. He makes his homes in Shrub Oak, New York and in Stuart, Florida. We are grateful he sends in a 5-7-5 haiku every few months.
‘Round, ‘round Fall again,
Melancholy thoughts sear deep:
Paths of lost children.
(The Autumnal Equinox did not pass by Mr. Godfey unnoticed.)
John Hawkhead is a writer from southwest England. His haiku book “Small Shadows” is available from Alba publishing. Note the amount of tension he is able to create in the first poem using only 15 syllables. All 3 of these haiku present vivid images, with the second one being particularly intriguing. We at BTS hope Mr. Hawkhead contributes more of his work in future months.
From the trawler’s radio,
An undersea bell.
Hurled to the floor,
Making sense of it.
Opening the bell,
To our silent bedroom,
The sheets of dust.
(A hint of sadness, maybe even loneliness, in the piece.)
Ms. Augusto-Cox developed a deep connection with haiku and its unique form back in her high school days. She has selected the urban landscape as her area of Mindfulness. With her eye, she would have 10,000 opportunities to write a haiku, immortalize and image, every day
Shifts right to left, up and down,
Vibrated puppet chords.
Laptop key teeth…
Wide grins without meaning,
Black gloss screen holds tight,
Slack jawed stare, eyes wide open,
Empty sockets filled.
-Serena M. Augusto-Cox
Gracie Valena has written a haiku that addresses an existential reality I have seldom seen addressed in any form of literature. It is presented starkly, unadorned, without judgment. This is a component of existence. This nocturnal feeding could lead to a unique haiku chain.
Every night I wake,
To feed the never ending,
Hunger baby greed.
Laurie Corzett’s haiku will make the reader stop and reflect. Her haiku will stay with the reader, vanishing only by half-lives. Ms. Corzett has a vision, and she has mastered expressing it in the haiku format. True to the haiku zeitgeist, she states her understanding of the world, and the world to come, in a completely objective voice.
Happy day to die,
Amid man’s and planet’s ruin,
(The 1st line may have some native American influence)
Potent messaging released,
(The 3rd line of this piece is especially haunting.)
Born to nuclear wasteland,
Shriek mass destruction.
(Songbirds shrieking is a rare poetic contradiction)
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
Vera Ignatowitsch displays a rhythm in her work that parallels nature’s change of season. Haiku, by intent, is to be read silently. But try an easy experiment. Read that first poem aloud. It has the gentle sound of a zephyr, of the winds soughing through the pines. And while you read it, immerse yourself in its tranquility.
matted wet leaves
cling close to cracks in concrete
sealing sucking wound
dojo tatami impact
hand clap of silence
(This verse brought back early days of the austere Zen meditation hall, the young monks filling themselves with the silence of one hand. This image works perfectly in subtle juxtaposition with Cacophony swells.)
Angie Davidson joins Honorah Murphy as the haikuist who has brought the cosmos into our natural world. The Japanese Masters wrote of dragonflies, the reflection of the moon in a pond, and the plaintive cry of the hotoguisi bird. Ms. Davidson echos the XIVth Dalai Lama. If science reveals truths, then we must update our Buddhist eye.
On backside of Pluto from Sun,
Halo of blue light.
Pluto’s methane ice,
Coating highest mountain peaks,
(Frozen methane gas has one unique property; it is flammable.)
Europa’s icy surface,
Deep space cosmic rain.
All artists and people of a Spiritual nature ascend their own personal Mount Everest (Chomolungma). Few people have the endurance and vision to summit. Joseph Davidson, judging from his poetry has reached Base Camp 4. It is clear he long ago left the Cave of Ignorance.
Mangrove cut slipstream,
Adrift in inner cosmos,
Spoonbill taking flight.
When murder meets wake,
Attired in formal black,-
Sheltering from storm.
Richard Marciano is a mechanical engineer with the Boeing Company based in Seattle. Mr. Marciano, of no particular philosophical or religious persuasion came across this column quite by accident. He resolved to become more aware of the natural world around him, and to take the challenge of fitting his gleanings into the 5-7-5 format. He did not expect to be published.
The daylight reduced,
All photosynthesis slows,
Hardwood’s leaves dying.
During the mating season:
Three times it hooted,
And then it was heard no more:
The Great horned owl’s cry.
Elaine Christenson is a Michigander who wants to remind us that many haiku writers live in the Northern latitudes. She notes that the changes of the season are very distinct, and that people must adjust to four different types of weather. Ms. Christenson favors Winter.
Shoveling the snow:
Drifts pile up against the fences,
This brightest of days!
On the baywindows,
Ice crystals and sheets have formed:
Heat pipes are clanging.
Honorah Murphy has been busy in the laboratory. But she did find time to send one of her Heaven-laden poems. It offers a seldom noted feature of the Moon. The Moon plays a major role in maintaining our planet’s balance. Were it not for the Moon, we could not trace that delicate revolution we make around the Sun. Every element of the Universe is connected, and that Truth is reflected in classical haiku.
The moon’s gravity.
Steadies the Earth’s axis tilt:
Tectonic plates drift.