Startled by JOY 2019: Meet Tekkan

Dear Readers…

When I’m not writing, I’m involved in a multitude of other projects, foremost among them 
  • Books and Brews, in which Michael Agnew (Minnesota’s first beer cicerone) and I interview local authors as Michael pairs craft brews to their reading and….
  • editing Gabriel’s Horn’s annual poetry anthology.

This year was our maiden voyage, with the theme of JOY. Our goal is to provide a paying market for poets writing in traditional and classical forms. I was delighted with the quality of poets who responded, with their impressive credentials and backgrounds and am very proud to feature THOMAS R. SMITH and DAN BLUM, two very accomplished wordsmiths. We have a number of poets from the Twin Cities, but also from around the United States, from Canada, and from the United Kingdom. I look forward to having even more countries represented next year. If you’re a poet and would like to submit, please visit our submission page.


  • July 7, 2017 at

  • Next Chapter Books, 38 South Snelling, Saint Paul, MN,

  • 2 to 3:30.

  • Wine, beverages, hors d’ourves and readings from several of our poets!

And so, as we launch Startled by JOY: 2019, I begin a series of interviews with several of the twenty-nine poets. I have enjoyed getting to know more about these people who are part of this wonderful anthology. As a writer and some-time poet myself, it is an inspiration to get to know them better. Today, please welcome:


What first drew you to poetry? Was there a
defining moment, poem, or poet?
barry macdonald, poet, barry macdonald poet, Persian poets, poetic influences
There were defining
moments. The first was when I read Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha in my high school
library. The novel presented the life of a seeker of enlightenment — it offered
me a glimpse of the power of meditation that would bear fruit 20 years later.
The second was my
introduction to William Shakespeare, his plays and sonnets, in college.
The third was my
tutorials with Oxford Dons at the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies
at Oxford, England.
The fourth was my reading
of Japanese haiku, tanka, and renga poetry after I arrived in Japan to teach
English in private language schools.




And finally, some of the Persian poets, including Rumi and Hafex.
What are some of your influences?
My Dad was a serious
congregational minister, very much in opposition to the Beatles’ Revolution,
while I was for it.
I hit my bottom as an
alcoholic in full flower on April 10, 1984, in a detox center in Hastings
Minnesota — I have been sober for 35 years now.
A friend in Kyoto,
Japan, introduced me to a Zen temple — Hosshin-ji, in the town of Obama, Japan.
I have been practicing Zen for 30 years. I took Buddhist vows and was given the
dharma name “Tekkan” which means Iron Man — a settled practitioner of great
Who are your favorite poets?
William Shakespeare;
John Keats, Alexander Pope; Lord Byron; Walt Whitman; the youthful Ezra Pound;
T. S. Eliot; William Yeats; Matsuo Basho; Kobayashi Issa; Ryokan Taigu.
Do you or have you studied the craft of poetry,
and if so, how?
I studied for one year
with Oxford Dons at the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Oxford,
England. We had one-on-one tutorial once a week. Each week I came prepared with an
essay that I wrote about the major English poets.
I lived in Japan for 9
years. For 3 or 4 years I hosted a poetry workshop in my home with Cid Corman,
a well-known poet who is often associated with the Beatnik poets. After four
hour sessions with him, my head hurt.
I don’t separate my
Zen practice from my poetry (which may not be ideal for my Zen practice). There
is a saying in Zen — that Zazen teaches Zazen — which means that doing seated,
silent, meditation is a learning experience. My inspiration comes from my
meditation, and every poem is written after meditation.
Do you make a daily practice of writing poetry?
Yes I meditate and
write poetry everyday.
Tell us something about your process of writing
poetry — what sparks an idea, how do you begin, how much editing and
re-writing, etc.
I get up at 4:40 a.m.
and enjoy watching my mind percolate with ideas, as I am attending to my three
cats. After breakfast I meditate for 40 minutes. Then I go to an A.A. meeting everyday
of the workweek. Then I write poetry for about an hour.
I read a week’s worth
of poetry to my writing group once a week, year round. I have a backlog of
poetry, so I am reading poetry that I wrote 6 months ago. I find it helpful to
review my poetry after a significant amount of time has passed. And it is good
to read the poetry to other writers, because not only do they find typos in the
printed copies I give them, but we also find phrases which need reworking when
I read them aloud.
Sometimes I will see,
hear, or read something that makes me think — I can make a poem out of that! It
is like catching a bird in flight! Other times I have to sit at my desk and
wait for an idea to arise. Sometimes I will look at my daughter’s artwork and
think — I can use this!
The more I practice, the easier it gets.
Are there two or three themes a reader might
tend to find running through your poetry? If so, what draws you to these
The most important
theme is my depiction of the hard work that goes in my sobriety. To stay in
remission from alcoholism and drug addiction, I have to practice spiritual
jujitsu — meaning I have to practice turning negative thinking into positive
The next important
theme, and closely related to the most important theme, is my exploration of
“everyday mind.” “Everyday mind” is a common term in Zen practice.

The question is asked:
Where is the way to enlightenment. The answer is everyday mind.

I look for inspiration
is the ordinary happenings of life.
I love watching the
seasonal changes, which is a habit I picked up from Japanese poetry. And I also
love to write about physics and the cosmos — which the poets of the past
couldn’t do because so much wasn’t known in their time.
What are your hopes or goals for your poetry
and or writing life?
I am lonely and want
to meet like-minded people. I don’t get a chance to meet people, outside of the
recovery rooms, and have a fulfilling conversation. I love conversation when it
becomes an exciting exploration.  



Your published
books and Works:



I have also published
a 500 page anthology of my first five books:
An Exploration of Consciousness.


The Battle is O’er is now available!
Start from the beginning: Prelude One 
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