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Robin Becker

Visiting Poet

Robin Becker

Carole Oles lauded the poems in Robin Becker’s first book, Backtalk (1982), “for the wit, tenacity, compassion they enlist.” Since then, she has gained national acclaim for Giacometti’s Dog (1990), All-American Girl (1992), winner of the 1996 Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry, and The Horse Fair, which Jane Miller called “one soulful book of poems.” On the publication of her most recent collection, Domain of Perfect Affection, Michael Waters proclaimed her “one of our most generous and essential poets.” Praised early on by Maxine Kumin for her “clear unafraid image in the mirror,” Becker’s work is muscular and sensual and clear-eyed. Shirley Kaufman called The Horse Fair an “exquisite manual on how to live.” And the poet Alice Fulton writes, “Robin Becker’s poetry is wise with the consolations and disconsolations of experience. At once poignant, sinewy, and honest, these lyric narratives take exile to heart and to task.” A four-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize, Becker is recipient of fellowships from the NEA, the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies of the City University of New York, The William Steeple Davis Foundation, and the Massachusetts Artist Foundation. She is professor of English and Women’s Studies at Penn State, where in 2000 she was awarded The George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching. A passionate feminist and lesbian activist, Becker also serves as poetry editor and columnist for The Women’s Review of Books.

Select Poems

The snake, alphabet of one glide, swims

with its keepsake head, periscoping, and then

we lose it in the pond grass, lashed

among the bottom-feeders. Pocketing goggles,

my gaze tends pineward, to the driest sky

in twenty years (also passing, rain predicted),

a month of sun days. In Fairbanks, all-night baseball

and a picnic breakfast Alaskan-style. Someone’s

driving south, to Anchorage, in that luscious uplift

that here will linger long enough for us

to get a sunburn, to get down, to get stung,

to get the hang of happiness and get going.

Get the picture? I do, but just for the moment,

which is why I want it monumental, equestrian,

astride, however I can get it. What’s

passing is June, another: peony’s scent; postcards

from the lower forty-eight. The frog I trod sprang back

intact, all its receptors set on July.

From THE HORSE FAIR (University of Pittsburg Press, 2000)

Long accustomed to playing the butch

I saw you for the femme I thought you were—

long waisted, well bred, the hostess who knew

to fold the napkin in the wineglass. But I had not

watched you square your shoulders before the arborist,

determined to take down the holly to save the oak.

No, you said, the pin oak goes, the holly stays.

The gutter man who wants his check will have

to repair the drain he botched. Please have your son

call me, you say, your fingers ready for another call.

In the cellar, among the foraged dressers, you measure

and sand and strip. Come up for the lunch I made you,

O handy lover, with your retractable blade,

your small drill, your paint brushes bristling.

From DOMAIN OF PERFECT AFFECTION (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006)

Art does not reproduce the visible, it makes visible.

                                                       –Paul Klee
May we walk into our lives as into a watercolor,

grounded in sunlight, with two large ruminants and a baying ass.

May we go by foot, hot paving stones giving way to the Perfume Maker’s Souk,

cajoling two camels and the small-hoofed donkey.

May we improvise mosaics in the maize and indigo plazas,

with our crazy families, over acqueducts made famous by warring

Romans, and through decaying archways,

followed by two camels and one disagreeable donkey.

May we jam in the amphitheater and read aloud our odes to friends

who will love and disappoint and delight us in the melodies of friendship,

remembering to water two camels and one obstinate donkey.

In blowing sand that stings our faces, with recollection of our dead tenderly

wrapped and shaped like pyramids, may we sway

rhythmically on the backs of two camels and one moody donkey.

May we cherish the desert and embrace our memories of the sea,

knowing that one does not cancel out the other

but permits a cobalt-blue feather to grow in the mind.

May we gather in temporary shelters and break bread with others,

never allowing our envy to get out of hand and respecting the laws

of the lands we cross on two camels and one petulant donkey.

Thus, the painter invented this fanciful checkerboard grid,

this landscape of magic squares into which we may walk

with our lives and our deaths, with two camels and one recalcitrant donkey.


From DOMAIN OF PERFECT AFFECTION (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006)

About Robin

Poetry Center Reading Dates: April 2007