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re:Virals 390

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.

Opening comment:

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.

Surashree Joshi:

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!

Jennifer Gurney:

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.

Amoolya Kamalnath:

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.

Jonathan Epstein:

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.


virus2

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

The Haiku Foundation reminds you that participation in our offerings assumes respectful and appropriate behavior from all parties. Please see our Code of Conduct policy.


Footnote:

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.

This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. My first reaction to reading boundaries, and then the therapist also being newly single, was “be careful, girl!” Which could be comedic as some have observed. But the irony of likely seeking therapy to deal with maintaining boundaries from the ex, while maintaining boundaries in the therapists office, gave the line a graver note.

  2. That secretary would/should be fired for revealing something personal about the therapist.

      1. I suppose so. Don’t know about others, but I’m ready to move on to next week’s episode.

  3. To me, this senryu seems like an introduction to an American TV comedy series, except that such a comedy featuring same-sex characters is probably still a thing of the future. The “boundaries” are straight-forwardly figurative and the plot is outlined in the “phrase” part.

    However, for some unknown reason, the first line of Robert Frost’s classic poem , ‘Mending Wall’ comes to mind: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” So perhaps “Something there is that doesn’t love social boundaries'” predicts the plot and contents of the possible comedy tv series, but also points to that fact that, in reality, all of our ‘social fences/ boundaries can come down.

    And sometimes comedy can be the outcome, rather than something dire.

  4. boundaries
    her therapist
    newly single too
    — Reid Hepworth
    Prune Juice, Issue 37, July 2022
    .
    .
    Immediately upon first reading this haiku brought to mind the old joke about the/rapist. For me this haiku was meh…, but it inspired a couple of portmanteau:
    .
    theratory
    .
    singxiety
    .
    Thanks for the link to the article by Jim Kacian: “Haiku as Anti-Story” (2009) – always learning.

      1. It would be helpful to know why you consider it “meh”. Thanks – Dmitri Parseff
        .
        boundaries
        her therapist
        newly single too
        — Reid Hepworth
        Prune Juice, Issue 37, July 2022
        .
        I think that the reason this haiku doesn’t really work for me is because I feel that the word “boundaries” in L1 is an overstatement, and unnecessary. It seems to me that L1 could be eliminated and achieve the same effect:
        .
        her therapist
        newly single
        too
        .
        Your mileage may vary.

        1. Yes, it’s like the title and strapline/logline of a film or TV series. Loglines, generally one brief sentence, can have something in common with senryu. For instance, Tips for Writing the Perfect Logline at masterclass.com:

          “Clearly lay out the narrative (but not the ending!).

          Use active and visual language.

          Home in on the irony of the premise. ”

          Maybe:

          her therapist
          newly single too
          who ya gonna call
          😉
          I’m all for a broad view of haiku/senryu. I think this one of Reid’s makes it. It’s suggestive, open, offers tantalising delights or horrors, has some subtleties, and has prompted some thoughtful (and enjoyable) meditation….

        2. To me the range of responses is interesting. For one poem to provoke comedy one one hand and insidiousness on the other is impressive. I can understand the desire to strip out ‘boundaries’ for aesthetic or technical reasons. But does this really improve the poem, for the reader? ‘Boundaries’ tries to delve down into the causes of the situations involved in this poem rather than leaving it as superficial. It reminds the reader that there are serious issues here. I don’t see the problem in prodding the reader to consider ‘boundaries’ in this context, to think deeper, to actually think something, rather than just respond on an aesthetic level.

  5. Very interesting selection of interpretations, or ‘stories’, including from Keith and the poet.

  6. I have to wonder why the writer chose to say “her therapist” rather than “my therapist.” Is it because haiku/senryu are not supposed
    to be about or refer to oneself? When she says “her”, I am left to wonder to whom she is referring– it could be anyone– an openness I don’t find helpful in this instance. Were she to say “my therapist,” I feel the conflict directly, immediately. As if it was mine.

    1. “I have to wonder why the writer chose to say “her therapist” rather than “my therapist.” Is it because haiku/senryu are not supposed
      to be about or refer to oneself? ” Dnitri Parseff

      No, it is not,

      “When she says “her”, I am left to wonder to whom she is referring. . . ” -Dmitri Parseff

      Consider what author Reid Hepworth writes in her comments: ” After reading through my intake form (sigh), the secretary stated, “you’re going to get on so well with (the therapist) because she just broke up with her girlfriend too”.

      The therapist and the author have both broken up with their girlfriends. Therefore “her girlfriend” is the therapist’s (now ex) girlfriend. (“She” is 3rd person. “Her” is 3rd person possessive. )

      1. I guess I was not clear. I meant I don’t know if “her” refers to a client who is younger, older, a friend, a relative, someone overheard talking. Etc. At any rate, my preference is for “my”.

        1. I think I understand Lorin’s reading now, and to me that (way of reading the situation) is not at all apparent at first. I simply read it as the writer speaking of a situation where a therapist and her client are both in the same (vulnerable) situation and boundaries may get shaky.

          1. Once more. I am thoroughly confused. How am I supposed to read this? It feels more and more like a puzzle. How are others reading this– especially on first take? Thanks.

          2. Replying to Dmitri, my initial reading was that the writer has just gone through a difficult break-up, revealing all to their therapist during the process, and then finds out casually that the therapist has also broken up with their partner. So, an unbalanced situation where the writer might be vulnerable but the therapist not, and might take advantage.

          3. Thanks Mark, that’s my initial reading too, pretty much.

            (There was no “reply” button under your response, so this may be out of sequence.)

          4. ” . . . to me that (way of reading the situation) is not at all apparent at first.” – Dmitri

            I completely agree with that, Dmitri. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to read it the way I have if I hadn’t read the author’s comment. And , going back to Shusuma’s introductory comment, I see that she, too, had Robert Frost’s ‘Mending Wall’ pop into her mind.

            But never mind. Even without the “all woman” cast that the author reveals in her comment, the senryu sets a scene for the usual client/ therapist relationship to be be challenged, perhaps even overthrown.

    2. The drafting choices seem to be between “the” therapist (detached view), “my” therapist (personal viewpoint of the author) and “her” therapist (detached, and introducing new information that the patient/client is female). Many verses are being written with generic pronouns only, seen as either vague (cf Susumu Takiguchi “Being Specific and Vague“) or all-embracing. Here, “her” therapist, as Harrison pointed out in his commentary, pretty clearly identifies “her” as the patient/client. I think it’s a reasonable choice.

      Use or implication of the first person is also a reasonable choice, with plenty of precedent in the old masters. Sometimes use of “I” or “we” invites the reader in to a fairly universal situation; sometimes it makes the situation a personal one particular to the author, possibly excluding the reader; sometimes it simply introduces an opinion, experience or reflection personal to the author: there’s currently a load of those.

      Cor van den Heuvel: “there is another kind of new haiku that I think often fails to present a haiku moment. It’s not the haiku way I’ve been trying to follow. It has actually been a trend that has had many adherents for some years. That is the juxtaposition of a psychological, emotional, or an intellectual situation or thought with a brief reference to an element in the natural world, as if the combination will create a haiku moment. I don’t think it is that easy…. Now, and for some time, the haiku magazines and whole books are full of this kind of “haiku.” Its “success” in finding editors who like it is, I think, helping to encourage more and more poets to write not only that kind of haiku but also poems following most, or all, of Gilbert’s multitude of various kinds of juxtapositions.” (JUXTA 2, 2016, p168)

      I have never hired a therapist (okay, I hear mutterings, maybe I should); yet with this verse, imagination suffices.

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