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re:Virals 164

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!
re:Virals 164:

     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) 

This Post Has 23 Comments

      1. Thanks Marion! 🙂
        I’m hoping that the link will be beneficial to readers who revisit this page from time to time, as well as new readers, whether to haiku or this particular web page.
        warmest regards,

  1. “it’s not me” was the part I really wanted to understand. At first I thought it could be the narrator saying “it’s not me (who’s having the affair/ is wrong/ is paranoid/ is causing all the arguments)” thereby saying the situation – whatever that may be – is not her fault. The man’s response is to punch the window because he is enraged that his super-paranoia or wrongdoings have been discovered.

    Then I imagined a doctor/consultant reporting bad news. The narrator is watching a husband / partner / son being shown a scan or x-ray and, in denial, he strikes out, refusing to believe he is dying. However, that punching of the window in anger that seems so violent, so over the top, no matter how bad the news. I can’t imagine my father punching the hospital window when he was told his cancer was incurable.

    So we are left with a very angry person who hits the window, not caring that he may shatter it and injure himself, suggesting total lack of control – or is it the epitome of self-control because he knows that if he doesn’t hit the pane he will punch the narrator. And we know he has done this before, because she is telling us this time it’s not her.

    A chilling haiku that is sufficiently open to allow the reader space to ponder the sitation. And of course it’s always great to receive an input from the poet, so thank you Robin.

  2. Exellent commentary this week and such a powerful haiku. Petru mentioned trauma bonding and it reminded me that this is also extremely common with psychological abuse.

    The phrase ‘it’s not me’ can be read in so many ways and spoke to me of the boundary confusions and violation that happens in both physical and psychological abuse. Perhaps the person saying it has finally realised that he/she is NOT responsible for their partner’s violence and instability. This is obviously a healthy step towards separating oneself. So often abusers make the victims feel responsible for the abuser’s violence…fear, guilt, and obligation can play a big part in people staying in psychologically abusive situations.

    But I also read ‘it’s not me’ as the abused person recognising that the person they have turned into in the abusive relationship is not who they are. They have had to suppress their feelings and needs because they are being controlled by their abuser. Or ‘it’s not me’ could be uttered by the man before he punches the window, a complete denial and lack of responsibility for his emotions and actions.

  3. As the person who nominated this haiku:
    it’s not me he punches the window in anger
    — Robin Anna Smith
    It is positively unnerving and disturbing how it becomes more powerful for me after each reading. I”ve read this haiku since it was first published, possibly a hundred times, at least.
    Just the first five chilling words…
    “it’s not me he punches”
    is something I won’t forget, and I’m aware of having known women who have been abused, but thankfully escaped the relationship. Whether the other party is punching anything and anyone in frustration about something else is no excuse. The law is changing I believe within the U.K. where a serious attack on a partner or spouse is still a criminal offence even if the assaulted party does not, in fact refuses, to press charges.
    Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but the sheer volume and scale of violence, up and down the scale, against women is shocking and terrifying. It’s not only men who do the violence directly or indirectly of course, and I find that horrifying, that the ‘sisterhood’ is not 100%.
    Japanese haiku poets faced death protesting against WWII, so are we really going to turn our head away when a well-crafted verse lifts the rug and shows for a few seconds the terrible and unrelenting violence against a fellow gender, and fellow human?

    1. I wonder if this sentence: ”The law is changing I believe within the U.K. where a serious attack on a partner or spouse is still a criminal offence even if the assaulted party does not, in fact refuses, to press charges.” shouldn’t read: even if the assualted party does, in fact refuses, to press charges. It’s a law dearly needed in South Africa, from where I am, where the statistics of women abuse is the highest in the world.

      1. I’m not a lawyer or politician so I’ll leave the wording to those people but yes, I dearly hope that throughout the world a serious assault can be dealt with by the law enforcement officials without the assaultee kickstarting the whole process if they press charges.

          1. Robin Smith is both deeply courageous, and if you get to meet her in person, a downright giggle! 🙂
            It’s amazing how some people have experienced so much unfairness and are still both decent and funny.
            I was wary about some haiku writers not liking this haiku but I’m inspired by the New Rising Haiku movement where one or more of their poets died under torture after denouncing WWII.

    2. Dear esteemed poet,
      Greetings! The haiku by Robin,

      “it’s not me he punches the window in anger”

      And you analysis:

      “It’s not only men who do the violence directly or indirectly of course, and I find that horrifying, that the ‘sisterhood’ is not 100%.”
      I too concur with the view, in the name of rights for women , emancipation , suffrage and
      laws governing the protection of women,women do sometimes such heinous acts than men,
      some even directly and more surreptitiously,relying more on their confidence and dictates of will and even prepared to face any kind of trial. A kind of vengeance perhaps.
      Before commenting via contact form, i too read and re read a number of times.
      with regards

  4. I commend the insightful and sensitive response of Mark Gilbert. I had a very similar train of thought but submitted the comment too late. Just as well then. It’s a woman writing, gender-based violence is recognised as a world-wide problem so we assume the haiku is based on that theme. It could’ve been two boys, it could’ve been two grown men. But the scenario probably was between a woman (the narrator) and a close male partner.

    If it is a battered woman speaking, one is somewhat surprised at the calmness of the observation in an immediate situation, busy happening as we speak. (It probably is, in a great very many households across the world). If he didn’t harm her he was angry enough to harm himself. I’m not making excuses for the puncher. Psychology tells us anger always has an underlying cause, one of pain. I think the calm observation points to a situation where the woman realises it could’ve been her but it wasn’t and this is where I depart from Mark Gilbert’s opinion of her having the low self esteem of a battered woman. Perhaps she thought herself one of the lucky ones?

    1. I agree with you, Petru, the narrator certainly can be recording this incident in a positive way rather than as a result of low self-esteem. I appreciate your comments very much.

          1. Oh! The poet speaks! I was wondering if it would be okay to ask about the circumstances brought to the haiku. I now realise it is autobiographical. In the first place, sorry you went through all that. Secondly, glad you were able to extricate yourself from such horror.

            So Mark’s (and just about everyone else’s) observation was correct then. Thanks for clarifying.

    1. I saw these.

      In response to Linda Ludwig’s comment, it is important to note that a trauma bond is as hard to break as any other. A post by Trelawny Grenfell-Muir on Feminism and Religion illustrates that very well. I add the link:

      It is indeed a haiku that demands reading again and again. The comment by Alice Wanderer where she mentioned the distortion of conventional time was striking.

        1. Discussion of GBV is long overdue. Thanks to you too for the courage to write about it!

    1. Mark, it’s the perfect length!

      Thank you, and thank you to everyone who participated in this conversation. I know it’s not a comfortable read for a lot of people but I’m happy we were able to get some different perspectives in these responses.


      1. I think I’ve written longer. And I hope people appreciate the time and effort to write a longer piece.
        Saying that, I hope future commentators know they can just write a single sentence if they want to, and add to the variety and length of these featured commentaries.

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