When she was 24, poet Charlotte McLaughlin created and managed the Philadelphia Hare Krishna Food for Life program. They sheltered more than 120 homeless men, women and children. According to the program, they served “500 offered and blessed vegetarian meals.” Now called Food for All, it continues to be one of the biggest social service providers in Philadelphia.
McLaughlin—otherwise known as Chandrika—spent five years of her young life living in a Philadelphia Krishna temple, praying and devoting herself to Radha and Krishna. She was also the media coordinator for a Supreme Court appeal that kept the Krishna religion from losing $15 million and countless temples across the country.
That’s why it’s no surprise McLaughlin’s poetry is filled with the common theme of love. She began writing poems at the age of five. Her first poem was simple but promising:
Beneath the singing surface is a silent depth.
Strange weeds drift and flow.
Fish move noiseless and slow.
Never happy or sad.
Not bad for someone whose peers were probably playing in the dirt. McLaughlin has since released several CDs filled with her inspirational poetry. Her newest album, Absolute Romance, debuts June 4 and is a poetic telling of Radha and Krishna’s tragic separation and reunion. McLaughlin’s release event of Absolute Romance will feature the flute and sitar music of Shastro and Nadama, who McLaughlin praises as accomplished New Age and world fusion musicians.
McLaughlin says she became interested in the Krishna religion when she just 19 years old.
“I was internally guided to a Radha Krishna temple in Florida,” she told me. “I was attracted to the ecstasy of loving devotion, dancing and kirtan or singing for God and Goddess.”
While she was living in the Krishna temple, McLaughlin studied philosophy and learned the practiced art of chanting.
“This has stayed with me my whole life,” she said. “Through practice I gain everything from bliss and peace to inspiration and direction.”
Her years spent in a Krishna temple helped her find inspiration for her poetry. McLaughlin said she prays for a poem and will “write the entire poem in one flow.”
She also said she rarely goes back and edits her poetry. When asked what her poetry tries to convey, McLaughlin said that it “seeks to convey the sweetness and personal nature of the absolute, where Radha and Krishna engage in pastimes of love.”
Absolute Romance aims to give the listener “an experience of their divine spiritual nature on a soul level,” she added. She mentioned that some listeners of her CD felt like they went to another world.
“They probably did,” McLaughlin said.
Absolute Romance features McLaughlin’s poetry and the music of Patrick Bernard, known for his award-winning Atlantis Angelis. He has won two Felix Awards, which is like a Grammy in Canada.
She mentioned that the daily spiritual practice of chanting has helped guide her poetry, as well as raising her son and starting and running shelters for the homeless.
“It keeps me connected to my soul and eternal identity and relatively free from fear,” she said.
The years McLaughlin spent writing poetry have made her realize that not worrying about writing the perfect poem allows her words to flow easier. The less she labors over a poem, she said, the more she’s able to “bring gems from the spiritual world” into her poetry.
When she’s not saving the world, McLaughlin continues to live a very active spiritual life. She’s a massage therapist and hypotherapist at a yoga retreat center. Most mornings she also attends local services at Maui temples and gives poetry readings.
When I asked McLaughlin about the nature of her poetry, she said that “any flaws would be mine, as I try to stay out of the way of the creative, divine inspiration of it all.” MTW