Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly commentary feature on some of your favorites among the best contemporary haiku and senryu written in English. This week’s poem, proposed by Sushama Kapur, was:boundaries her therapist newly single too — Reid Hepworth Prune Juice, Issue 37, July 2022
Introducing this poem, Sushama writes:
What was fascinating about reading this verse was how each word fits in with the rest to build the picture that expresses the idea of boundaries. It made me think of Robert Frost’s ‘Mending Wall’ and the importance of fences between neighbours.
The verse brings to mind the title and strapline of a film. It’s the beginning of a little story with wider implications, with which a reader may conjure. “Boundaries removed or imparted?” — reader Louise Zielinski comments succinctly. An open senryu that deftly, and without judgment, invites the reader to contemplate the delicate (and potentially indelicate) nexus of relations between client and therapist and the possibility of sexual attraction or of exploitation of a dependency. Or even the thunderbolt of mutual love which may intrude upon any situation at the risk of downfall. It has been known.
Reading the poem, I immediately thought of this line from the longest running drama series on American television: “We teach the best what we need to learn the most.”
I recently shared a meme with my therapist which said, “Convinced my 44 year old therapist to confront her husband about not liking her Instagram post and left the session feeling so empowered by the realization that while she can’t make me better, I can make us both worse!”
Jokes apart, we expect people like parents, teachers and therapists to be perfect. We want them to have a perfect life in front of us so that we feel better. A divorced marriage counsellor might get a lot of flak and his/her clients might wonder whether that counsellor is qualified to guide them. Therapists absorb a lot; good, bad or ugly. And it is bound to take a toll. This poem made me chuckle and it immediately gave me a sense of freedom. Who knew the word ‘boundaries’ would make me feel so free!
I loved Reid’s senryu. Especially the surprise in the third line: newly single too. And I instantly thought of the funny scenes in the television series Good Girls where Annie starts booking sessions with a children’s therapist because she has a crush on him. Annie has absolutely no boundaries and while Dr. Cohen tries to have them, he doesn’t really either.
I also quickly flashed on the movie Prime where the patient is unknowingly dating the son of her psychologist. The doctor, played by Meryl Streep, knows about the relationship, though. And it becomes increasingly awkward, and very funny, when the patient goes into detail about their relationship.
While it’s almost a cliche – the patient having a crush on their therapist – this verse has a new twist on it, given that the patient and counselor are both newly single. That phrase adds heat to the poem. The first line says it all so succinctly in terms of what is needed, or even required: boundaries. That’s key in any patient-doctor relationship. But especially one where there is attraction.
Tell that to Annie as she is sitting on a bean bag chair making a pass at her counselor.
In six words with some alliteration, this senryu brings out an important aspect. The first word boundaries is a strong one bringing about questions: Whose? Did something happen prior and after? L2 takes us to ‘her therapist’ making us conclude that an incident probably occurred in her life for which she consults a therapist. However, L3 brings the twist – the therapist too is in the same situation as the her in the poem. The boundaries have become more essential than ever now and probably the speaker here is more in need of maintaining boundaries with the therapist than with anyone else, in how much the therapist is allowed to share their own story with the speaker and in neither of them becoming so over dependant on each other that unnecessary expectations arise.
A story told in so few words with so much more to discover.
In seven words, this week’s poem tells a story of the healing power of empathy. A woman learns that her therapist, like her, has recently divorced. How will this news effect the therapeutic relationship?
I see a precipitous fall from grace for the therapist, from deified professional to clay-footed human. Suddenly the therapist’s ego must confront his/her fallibility.
The newly equalized status of therapist-client — both confronting divorce issues — sets the stage for a more effective relationship, one based on shared suffering.
The client can now feel less alone, more deeply understood by the therapist, less protective of her psychic boundaries, and more open to baring her soul, as it were. The therapist can connect empathically with the client, reach her on a deeper psychological-emotional level. This narrative reminds us how suffering levels the playing field at the same time it makes us kin with our human family.
Harrison Lightwater — nicely done:
I like this neat little senryu which lays out a tantalising all-too-human scenario without pre-empting the reader’s considerations by some judgmental statement, and without the sadly almost ubiquitous indulging in “I” or “my.” There is use of “her,” rather than “the” therapist, but it’s clear that the ‘she’ in this case is identified as the patient or client. Identifying the client as female, if I may use the word, suggests particular vulnerabilities. Ah, but we see that the therapist, ungendered, also has potential vulnerabilities! Nicely done.
This is a ku that suggests a story as so many successful ones do, without telling us how it unfolds. It introduces two people in a situation and leaves the reader to think about the wider scope in all its possible variations. This is the moment, the boundary between the past (their two failed relationships) and the future, that “the cut” cuts across.
It’s for consideration, however, that it is not easy to find a real contrast or juxtaposition between the fragment and the phrase. The concept word “boundaries” is telling us to think about them in the situation that follows. The juxtaposition is maybe the two characters in it, their different positions in one sense, the professional, and their similar positions in the personal sense. It works for me.
Author Reid Hepworth:
As a former Expressive Arts Therapist and counsellor, boundaries always played a large role in my work with people. I can’t stress how important they are in the therapeutic relationship! However, this senryu came out of a personal experience I had as a client; where, through no fault of the therapist, the boundaries became blurred.
I was living in a new city, far from family and friends and my usual support network, and was going through a particularly tough break-up. Knowing I needed support, I cold-called a local agency and was given a referral to a counselling service near me. As I sat in the waiting room, the therapist’s secretary had me fill out some paperwork and one of the questions asked was “reason for visit”. After reading through my intake form (sigh), the secretary stated, “you’re going to get on so well with (therapist) because she just broke up with her girlfriend too”. At the time, I was horrified, both for myself and for the therapist. Needless to say, I found a therapist elsewhere and I also never had a secretary when I was in private practice!
This senryu came about quickly and required very little revision. I find the ones that come from my memory vault typically come out fairly easily. For this senryu, I wanted to express the seriousness of boundaries, but also the humanity and humour that comes with being alive. I wanted to be as succinct as possible and leave room for the reader to fill in the blanks. Horrifying, funny, this is life.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Harrison has chosen 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. All with respect for the poet. Out-takes from the best of these take their place in the THF Archives. Best of all, the chosen commentary’s author gets to pick the next poem.
Anyone can participate. Simply use the re:Virals commentary form below to enter your commentary on the new week’s poem (“Your text”) by the following Tuesday midnight, Eastern US Time Zone, and then press Submit to send your entry. The Submit button will not be available until Name, Email, and Place of Residence fields are filled in. We look forward to seeing your commentary and finding out about your favourite poems!
stamp album — a page from a country that no longer is — Linda Papanicolaou haikuKatha issue #16, February 2023
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Reid Hepworth lives in a cabin in the woods on Vancouver Island, BC, where she plays ukulele and writes tiny poetry that is widely published.
I have been giving thought lately to the matter of storytelling in haiku, and am indebted to Harrison for reminding me of a stimulating article by Jim Kacian: “Haiku as Anti-Story” (2009), with its view of the kire or cut as a cross-section through narrative.