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  with Kevin McLaughlin

Kevin MacLaughlin, poetry magazine, haiku

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

As haiku emigrated from Japan, it took on the rhythms and customs of its host countries.  Haiku and Zen are yet binary star systems that orbit around one another in the cosmos.  But the Zen that is the magma of this poetry form has become marvelously secularized.  Zen is a Way, a Tao, not a religion.  It neither denies nor affirms a creator God. Recently, I came across this piece by John Blofeld in his book My Journey in Mystic China, and I thought I must relay this to the BTS haiku readers.

“The old Taoist had begun to study the Tao when he was fourteen years old.  His master taught him to pay close attention to all natural phenomena, such as floating clouds, the reflection of the moon in a pond, flowing water, birds, and so forth, and to take these as models for his own behavior.  With the sole exception of the human species, no other species on Earth ever violates the principles of Heaven.  Birds and beasts, flowers and trees, all conform to the primordial principle of flowing with the wind, and they all follow their destines as decreed by Heaven.  They delight in the natural world, without wasting an iota of energy trying to change it.’

-John Blofeld

The above (lengthy) quote conveys the spirit of the haikuist.  Zen is not a religion or a philosophy, but a practical psychology of being Awake to your surroundings, much like Taoism.  Haiku is one of its tools.

Fire Ants

Fire ants are wrathful deities, tiny dispensers of pain and suffering.  Native to Brazil, these detestable insects have flourished in Florida and Texas, and other southern States since the 1940s.  When a nest is threatened, swarms of these ants swarm instantly to the surface, spreading out to attack the intruder.  They bite and inject an alkaloid toxin that results in a fire-like pain that frequently develops into a pustule.


Their dirt mound disturbed,

Hundreds of fire ants surface:

Instinctive attack.


The cutting word is disturbed.  An ant’s life is interconnected with the lives of all the other ants in the colony.  They are ideal examples of John Blofeld’s creatures following the Tao of natural instincts.

-K. Mclaughlin


Trees thick with guano:

Pelican roost spoil Island,

West of the inlet.


Eulogy written,

Ghosts peer over my shoulder,

Memories, sadness.

(The above verse has strong Senryu characteristics.)


The mangrove tunnel,

Is filled with orb weaver webs:

Seeds bob in strong tide.

-K. Mclaughlin

poetry magazine, kelly writers house

In the fifteen or so months I have been writing and collecting the BTS haiku column, I have had the pleasure of developing a friendship with Vera Ignatowitsch, a woman I have never met face-to-face.  Her haiku are worthy of inclusion in any anthology.  Simply put, they are like the diamonds that rain down from Saturn’s moons onto its surface.


Lotus petals drop

Caress on the fertile mud,

Promising return.

(Consistent with Blofeld’s Tao?  I think so.)


White tail deer frozen

Silhouette on rutting moon;

Moment of mating.


Fall blooming crocus

Pulsates purple covenant;

Poignant lullaby.

(Just a graceful hint of alliteration in that 2nd line.)


Sparkling cider crisp

Sweet tang tasting of orchard:

Fertility rites.


Dragonfly captures

Butterfly in folded legs;

Shivers shibumi.


This last verse from Vera is a wonderful hybrid of haiku with Senryu (human affairs).


Your unshaved stubble

Scours my skin to freshness;

Black volcanic sand.

-Vera Ignatowitsch.


Haiku is impact, not an ideology or an expression of Romantic ideals.  Don’t be contrived.  Just be natural.  That is the pathway to the purity of sleeping consciousness.  Joe Davidson, with whom I daily exchange a haiku, embodies this naturalness.


Woven mandala,

Silken threads of life and death,



Serene sky below,

Beneath grasping illusion,

Still waters mirror.



Summer’s forest song

Symphony of cicadas:

Distant heat waves dance.

-Joseph Davidson


Joe and wife Angie Davidson have incorporated the wakefulness of writing haiku into their homelife and their Buddhist practice.  Angie is the gifted yin to Joe’s yang.  And she writes with a rarely encountered subtle touch.


Morning’s pink sunrise,

Casting shadows of palm trees:

Soft glow from windows.


Rippling clouds on

Water’s reflective surface:

Frolicking turtles.


In this haiku, Angie edges into subject matter usually reserved for astrophysicist Honorah Murphy.

Jupiter’s red eye,

Giant vortex in the sky,

Storms raging for eons.

-Angie Davidson


Oliver Plunkett made it evident in his submittal letter that he is neither Buddhist, Christian, nor of any other religious persuasion.  Mr. Plunkett is a computer technician from Sebastian, Florida, and he recently underwent the terrors of Hurricane Irma.  His work has an uncanny directness, and effortlessly conveys the experience of living through a storm and its aftermath.


A copperhead snake,

Nestled in a dead palm tree,

Tongue tasting the air.


Overflowing wetlands,

An Ocean of Emptiness,

For seldom seen snakes.

(That 2nd line wafts a bit of Buddhist fragrance through his Humanist beliefs.)


Leaves starting to die,-

Fallen Poinciana tree:

Ants crawl along trunk.


Loose shutter banging:

Working in hurricane winds,

To tighten wing nuts.

-Oliver Plunkett

Jennifer Smith is a recent member of the haiku sorority/ fraternity.  Reading Jen’s work, I get the impression of someone with a keen eye, a woman who could do marvelous work with a camera. She transmits the world’s secrets with a crisp phrasing that is every bit as sharp as the click of a camera shutter.


Still of the morning,

Reflections of a new day,

Rising with the Sun.


Swaying in the wind,

Threads of invisible silk,

Woven across trail.


Buzzing through the air,

Flying flower to flower,

Spreading the pollen.

-Jennifer Smith


Ireland’s scientist/ poet Honorah Murphy has become a regular contributor to our BTS  pages.  Open Comments to Honorah: Neil deGrasse Tyson’s  “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” is not on the post-graduate level.  But I read it, and, as a layman, thought it a beautiful book.


Orbiting the Sun,

Comet from the Kuiper belt:

Ice coated boulder.


Amino acids,

Carried on an asteroid,

Strike newly formed Earth.


The Universe cooled,

Protons and electrons bond:

Consciousness begins.

-Honorah Murphy


Mary K. Gowdy of Denton, Texas has written a delicate, multi-layered poem that must be read several times.  If the definition of poetry is “the best words in the best order,” then this is classical poetry.  Given my background, I could not help but reflect on the doctrine of Impermanence.  Mary, we would love to read more of your work.


The illusory stillness,

Of the night sky in a timeline,

That won’t stop moving.

(That is a lot of purity packed into three lines)

-Mary K. Gowdy


All too often, haiku omits humor.  “Comedy is for those who think, tragedy for those who feel,” wrote an ancient Greek playwright.  Richard Mortenson’s piece maintains the classic 5-7-5 format and deepens the haiku’s meaning with a pun at the end of the third line.  Mr. Mortenson, an accomplished musician, founded an eclectic Sangha in Stuart, Florida, and regularly practices Vajrasattva at the Palm Beach Dharma Center.


Lone scrubjay sentry,

Gives his flock security,

True birdhisattva.

-Richard Mortenson


BTS was grateful to receive this piece from Hideki Bankei, a maintenance worker at the University of Tokyo.  Mr. Bankei wrote it was odd he had to read a Western publication to grasp the true nature of haiku, Japan’s national poetry.  Thank you, Mr. Bankei. 


Dragonflies hover,

Over the Kikaku pond’s surface:

Teeming with larvae.

-Hideki Bankei

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!

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