Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. This week’s poem was
it’s not me he punches the window in anger — Robin Anna Smith. Poem taken from the Haiku Foundation feature Haiku Windows: Broken Window, ed. KJ Munro (February 2018)
Carol Jones peruses the pivots:
When I first read Robin’s verse I thought this could be relating to domestic abuse:
it’s not me/he punches/the window in anger
The middle, I think, could be a pivot to suggest this.
I then read it this way:
it’s not me/ he punches the window in anger
This could be read as a person with mental health problems, a dual personality, maybe.
One part of the mind looking in from the outside, the other looking out from the inside. How frustrating this must be not to be able to bring the images together to make a whole. That window a fragile separation in the mind that ‘he’ wants rid of.
I can only imagine the build up of frustration leading to an outburst of anger. Such a devastating situation.
Radhamani Sarma speculates:
It is with pleasure and privilege to comment upon the haiku of Robin Anna Smith,a writer and visual artist from Delaware.
A single-lined haiku, in first person, depicting fury, insult and injury, injury to the heart taking the pain.
The person on the receiving end here could be a domestic servant,or housewife. The male counterpart, be it her husband or boss, reacts, whatever the cause, by punching the window. He is anger personified, directing all his uneasiness at the person facing him.
Or it could possibly be two personalities of equal status, while in a heated debate, when one beats or punches the table or window, for he cannot hit the other directly.
This haiku depicts anger not in words but in action directed or misdirected. In a powerful composition of just 12 syllables Robin Anna Smith has achieved a lot. She opines:
“I do attempt to reflect on subjects that people would often prefer to ignore, as well as highlight contradictions in everyday life.”
Lori A. Minor peers through the windows:
This is one of those pieces I had to read a few times to fully digest. The first time I read this ku it was a punch in the gut. The second, third, fourth, and so on I was able to break it down into several layers that helped me take it all in.
The first thing I notice is the whole “it’s not me, it’s you” attitude behind it. Clearly the narrator is not the problem, “he” is. It seems like a possibility that the man mentioned has been dealing with his anger and frustration for quite some time and has most likely hit the narrator before. Or, maybe he hasn’t. Maybe he breaks down and hits everything but the narrator when he is angry.
I love that in this piece the relationship between the narrator and “he” is unclear. It leaves the reader open to put themselves in the shoes of “me”. Is the narrator male or female? Is “he” a boyfriend, husband, father, friend, etc.? Literally anyone who has been abused can put themselves in this situation.
The next part I’d like to discuss is the window, which is incredibly symbolic. Windows are used as protection from the outside. In this ku, clearly the window being available to take the hit protects the narrator. There’s also this idea of the window providing a different perspective for the reader as an outsider looking in at the situation.
This haiku is the perfect example of the cycle of abuse, especially in domestic violence and brings much needed awareness to situations just like this one. It works perfectly as a one-liner as you can just read it over and over, emulating that cycle. You can almost break it up when you read it as “it’s not me / he punches the window…” or “it’s not me he punches / the window…” No matter how many times you read this beautifully written piece, you can just keep digging deeper and deeper.
Mark Gilbert presupposes a male/female dynamic:
This is a taut one-liner. The writer uses plain language to communicate directly to the reader. The choice of present tense delivers us right into a difficult situation. We are present. We are standing in a corner of the room, seeing events which are not normally witnessed or shared. It’s not an easy poem to enjoy. But it is easy, for me, to admire.
There is no ego here. There are no obvious poetic effects or the usual devices used in many haiku. For instance, the words are not lightened by juxtaposition with a less challenging image. But there are, I think, sophisticated things going on to heighten the immediacy and to communicate effectively with the reader. I love the tumbling run-on of ‘me’ with ‘he’, suggesting that words, insults, are flying around in this scene, interrupting, overlapping, in shouts and screams.
‘It’s not me’ is for me the key phrase, its ambiguity suggests many possible scenarios. I have two main interpretations. Firstly, the poem can be read in this way:
it’s not me he punches
he punches the window in anger
The writer may be using a compression technique whereby repeated words are used in parallel, simultaneously but only appear once (it is, after all, a haiku or senryu, and every word counts). Thus ‘he punches’ appears both before and after the break. This disorientation – along with ‘it’s not me’ and the irrationality of being angry with the inanimate window – gives the poem a feel of distress. ‘It’s not me he punches’ this time – unlike all the other times, perhaps over years, when ‘he’ was violent towards ‘me’ (the narrator), this time he punches something else. On this day, no-one knows why, he punches a window. Why this time does the narrator feel able to write down words describing the scene? Because ‘she’ is not the object of the violence. This to me is quite distressing, for it implies that ‘her’ self-esteem is so low that the fate of the window is somehow more important than her own. We can only hope that the act of writing down the words will help the narrator – and perhaps ‘him’ – to improve the situation.
The second scenario that comes to me I would represent as:
“IT’S NOT ME!!!”
He punches the window in anger.
Now we are seeing the scene more from ‘his’ point of view, although this is still likely to be arising from domestic conflict. I can imaging ‘him’ screaming “IT’S NOT ME!!!” at the narrator (although the narrator may or may not be present in the scene) and then punching the window. This is perhaps self-justification, or self-righteousness. Seeing ‘his’ face in the reflective window may have triggered the punch through self-loathing. He may be screaming at himself. The window may shatter, his hand left broken and bloody. Perhaps ‘he’ now calms down. Perhaps the event will now lead ‘him’ to re-evaluate his life and not blame others, to take more responsibility for his actions.
So this is a haiku which is more than a single image but a slice of a story with a history, a critical scene and a future.
These are only my thoughts, of course, based on the nine words, and I’m not claiming any ‘truth’. But we writers of haiku are skilled in conciseness and this example shows how we can communicate powerfully, directly and effectively with a wider audience.
As this week’s winner, Mark gets to choose next week’s poem, which you’ll find below. We invite you to write a commentary to it. It may be as long or short, academic or spontaneous, serious or silly, public or personal as you like. We will select out-takes from the best of these. And the very best will be reproduced in its entirety and take its place as part of the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentator gets to choose the next poem for commentary.
Anyone can participate. A new poem will appear each Friday morning. Simply put your commentary in the Contact box by the following Tuesday midnight (Eastern US Time Zone). Please use the subject header “re:Virals” so we know what we’re looking at. We look forward to seeing some of your favorite poems — and finding out why!
to tangle or untangle the willow — it’s up to the wind — Fukuda Chiyo-ni (1703-75), translated by Yoshie Ishibashi and Patricia Donegan, Chiyo-ni: Woman Haiku Master (1998)