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 Amoolya Kamalnath, was:scars on my wrist the man who begged me to call him uncle — Roberta Beary tsuri-dōrō, Issue #16, July/August 2023
Introducing this poem, Amoolya writes:
This sort of senryu is a rare find. Generally, these issues are stuffed inside the closet and locked up not to bring it up ever again but that only leads to more such happenings. These issues need to be addressed and not only the sugar and honey ones. This powerful senryu brings to mind rape. The scars on the wrist of the speaker reminds them of the man who scarred their life. These physical scars which are reminders of their violent, abusive and depressive past (childhood and/or adolescence) will remain in their mind throughout their life on this earth. This causes aversion of the youngster to this supposed-to-be role model or even just an elder in the family or close family friend. Forget addressing him in any way, it takes much to even come face-to-face with the person after the abuse. On top of that having to be civil to that man? However, when it is within the family, many elders still want the youngsters to keep the ‘secret’ hidden, even the closest family, to keep the family name and honour. Can this ever be justified? Does society and especially the perpetrator realise the trauma the victims undergo? Can/will our male dominated society, our world, ever evolve?
Such is the current volume of reports of sexual abuse within families or by close friends that it takes no effort to interpret this verse. It was almost taboo to mention these things many years ago. The authoritative figures are stark. In the USA, the Center for Disease Control (an apposite title in this case) records that over half of women and almost one in 3 men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetimes. One in 4 women and about 1 in 26 men have experienced completed or attempted rape. About 1 in 9 men were made to penetrate someone during his lifetime. “Sexual violence starts early. More than 4 in 5 female rape survivors reported that they were first raped before age 25 and almost half were first raped as a minor (i.e., before age 18). Nearly 8 in 10 male rape survivors reported that they were made to penetrate someone before age 25 and about 4 in 10 were first made to penetrate as a minor.”
In the UK, the Office of National Statistics cites the Crime Survey for England and Wales as providing the best measure of victimisation and estimated that 2.3% of adults (3.3% women and 1.2% men) aged 16 years and over were victims of sexual assault (including attempts) in the year ending March 2022; this equates to an estimated 1.1 million adults (798,000 women and 275,000 men). Approximately 16.6% of adults aged 16 years and over (7.9 million) had experienced sexual assault (including attempts) since the age of 16 years; 1.9 million were a victim of rape (7.7% women and 0.2% men). There has been a significant increase since the year ending March 2014 (1.5%), which aligns with trends seen in police recorded crime.
The volume of sexual offences recorded by the police has been increasing over the last decade although the numbers remain well below the number of victims estimated by the survey; the latest figures for the year ending March 2022 show an increase of 31%, to 193,566 police recorded offences, compared with the previous year. Unwanted sexual touching was the most common type of sexual assault experienced by adults (1.7%) compared with rape (0.3%) or assault by penetration (0.4%).
The British National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children doesn’t know exactly how many children in the UK experience sexual abuse. However, research with 2,275 young people aged 11-17 about their experiences of sexual abuse suggests around 1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused.
Those who have lived a life sheltered from all this must be grateful. Haiku/senryu can have a role in bringing it to attention and sharing the consequences. It takes personal courage to do so, and Roberta is to be admired. The haiku readership are already sensitive, non-abusive people, in the main; the detailed harrowing stories in the media by victims brave and angry enough to come forward in public are perhaps more powerful and more widely-read than poetry, and have exerted a very strong effect. Though not, as is clear from the statistics, strong enough.
Pain. Grief. Despair. Roberta Beary’s senryu is a punch in the gut, a three-line in-your-face narrative. The raw, direct way it is told serves a dual purpose. By revealing the effects of unwanted touch, some of the burden of long containment may be relieved. At the same time, telling the story can encourage other trauma survivors to tell theirs. We learned this from the #MeToo movement in 2017.
The statistics of sexually molested girls and boys are alarming, including those who contemplate suicide and those who attempt it. As we know from our own secret lives, to heal the darker emotions — grief, shame, despair, among others — we start by taking them from their cave into the light of day. The poet has set a bold, brave example.
I haven’t much to say about the verse as poetry. It’s sufficiently suggestive as it is plain. There are so many accounts of serious sexual abuse in the news that they can give the impression every man is like this, and spill over into general misandry. But the problem is that it’s almost always males, whichever gender the victim is, who are the violators. Some role models such as the rich, sportspeople, and egocentric actors and singers who think they can get away with it don’t help, and the part that certain social media groups and violent games play isn’t negligible either. Fortunately most men — the majority — are still lovable, as the number of love verses published shows. They need to help take down the villains.
Lakshmi Iyer — knowing the bad touch from the good:
I can clearly visualise as my mind reads the words ‘scars on my wrist’ – the dark red-blue colour of the hard masculine fingers! Isn’t it a strange and scary trembling feeling that literally runs through our blood, a creepy one too!
The immediate lines
‘the man who begged me
to call him uncle’
is another dark night hovering around every growing girl, even though she’s brought up to be bold to face these situations.
A striking image communicated in so few words. I appreciate Roberta Beary for the excellent craft of this poem. Though it reads very simply, a lot of homework must have gone into it.
1. The line one on its own can be taken as anything not until
2. Line two and three followed.
3. The poet could have just avoided line two as well and completed by not putting the word
4. BEGGED – which now reads to be the main source of the whole poem.
A classic poem!!
What more to ask for!
An announcement to all the girl children of this universe of the precautions and the solutions.
An announcement to all the parents of the girl child to not make this a stressful chapter but to slowly and steadily create an awareness of ‘the good and the bad touch’, of the various tones and conversations amidst the young and the old, of the various eye signals, etc.
To put it in a nutshell: just make it a journey of heavenly thoughts rather than a scary one.
Thank you Roberta and thanks to Amoolya for bringing forth this poem.
I am surprised and honored to have this particular ku chosen for Virals as it is one close to my heart. I thank Virals host Keith Evetts along with Amoolya Kamalnath for the selection. And Tony Pupello, editor of tsuri-dōrō, for publishing it. This ku was rejected by too many journals to count. But I never gave up. If there is one takeaway for readers of Virals, I hope it is this: Keep on submitting!
I have written very few haiku about self-harm. This is one. I wanted many people, including non-writers, to read these 3 lines. Line 1 grabs the reader and pull them in. Line 2’s POV is gender-neutral, again in keeping with as broad an audience as possible. Line 3 may come as a surprise. Much depends on the reader’s prism of experience, which I view as the unwritten Line 4. Those familiar with my work know I write for the silenced. This haiku illustrates what I hope for the childhood secret-keepers who inhabit our universe — I hear you — You are not alone.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Lakshmi 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!
Poem for commentary:opening the window to a moth and what's left of the moon — Sanjuktaa Asopa, A Hundred Gourds 1.4, 2012
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Widely known, loved and acclaimed, especially for fine haibun (the haibun After Long Absence won a 2022 Touchstone Award), Roberta’s bio may be read in the Foundation’s Haiku Registry.