Robin Becker explores the conditions under which we experience and resist pleasure: in beauty salon, summer camp, beach, backyard or museum; New York, or New Mexico. These poems offer sharp pleasures as they argue, elegize, mourn, praise, and sing.
Robin Becker, Liberal Arts Research Professor of English and Women’s Studies at the Pennsylvania State University, is the author of seven poetry collections, including Domain of Perfect Affection, The Horse Fair, Giacometti’s Dog, and All-American Girl, winner of the Lambda Literary Award. In 2002 the Frick Art and Historical Center in Pittsburgh published Venetian Blue, a limited-edition chapbook of Becker’s art poems. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Bunting Institute, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2000 she received the George W. Atherton III Award for Excellence in Teaching from Penn State, and from 2010 to 2011 she served as the Penn State Laureate. For the Women’s Review of Books, Becker edits poetry and writes a column on poetry called “Field Notes.”
In Domain of Perfect Affection, Robin Becker explores the conditions under which we experience and resist pleasure: in beauty salon, summer camp, beach, backyard, or museum; New York or New Mexico. “The Mosaic injunction against / the graven image” inspires meditations on drawings by Dürer, Evans, Klee, Marin, and del Sarto. To the consolations of art and human intimacy, Becker brings playfulness—“Worry stole the kayaks and soured the milk”—suffused with self-knowledge: “Worry wraps her long legs / around me, promises to be mine forever.” In “The New Egypt,” the narrator mines her family’s legacy: “From my father I learned the dignity / of exile and the fire of acquisition, / not to live in places lightly, but to plant / the self like an orange tree in the desert.” Becker’s shapely stanzas—couplets, tercets, quatrains, pantoum, sonnet, syllabics—subvert her colloquial diction, creating a seamless merging of subject and form. Luminous, sensual, these poems offer sharp pleasures as they argue, elegize, mourn, praise, and sing.
“The sixth full-length [collection] from the still-underrated Becker (The Horse Fair, 2000) uses sustained attention and deceptively quiet language to delve skillfully into Jewish heritage, lesbian culture, generational succession, and the ambivalent legacy of the Sixties. Describing her path from a radical youth to middle age, Becker's verse remains careful and clear, much like Philip Levine's in its sense of how poems ought to work (and Becker is at least as good a technician). Her free verse lines can grow pleasantly prickly, or even grim: "Against Pleasure" warns beachgoers about ‘jellyfish for the rest of the summer/ and the ozone layer full of holes.’ Celebrations of amity and of erotic love counterpoint such sad reminders: a poem about a grand flood projects ‘a waterproof optimism, hoping to run into a few friends/ who'd taken the rain into their own hands and gone pelagic.’”
“Becker builds solid, well-crafted poems out of everyday materials, therby capturing life as it is lived. For readers who like poetry that ‘honors the poached fish and the beans,/...our communal selves sheared of the theoretical,” this honest, plain-spoken collection is just the thing.
“A deft painter of scenes and lives, Robin Becker follows a thread of comedy in the dark labyrinth of the family saga. We could call that thread compassion. We could call it
wisdom. Becker is an aficionado of old and odd paintings, of summer and seashore, of friends, lovers, and autumn heat, of whatever may ‘disappoint and delight.’ She is a lover of life and language—stubborn as they come. Domain of Perfect Affection is a poet in her prime.”—Alicia Suskin Ostriker
“In Domain of Perfect Affection, Robin Becker has again written poetry that, in Wordsworth’s phrase, ‘is carried alive into the heart by passion.’ She bears forth her father’s wisdom, ‘The most important thing: / to love your work,’ and in poem after poem that love is obvious: ‘How many words for glisten, sparkle, glister?’ Yet her passion for language spells a deeper passion to ‘inhabit / a place of such tenderness’ where the poet might ‘accept myself / for what I am—androgynous, sublime.’ Line by line, these poems create such a place, a domain where celebrations ‘of our communal selves, / sheared of the theoretical,’ quicken our lives, endowing us with ‘the dignity / of exile.’ In poems of startling clarity and intensity, in poems of—yes!—androgynous sublimity, Robin Becker reveals herself to be one of our most generous and essential poets.”—Michael Waters
“Robin Becker achieves what may be one of the early twenty first century’s most difficult accomplishments—to write a credible poetry of affirmation. In the doing, she doesn’t pretty up the world. Rather, she finds language that embraces our dualities, our many-selved presences, regularly demonstrating her kind of perfect affection: ‘Come up for the lunch I made you, / O handy lover, with your retractable blade, / your small drill, your paint brushes bristling.’”—Stephen Dunn
”Firmly about the business of living, about the information one must collect and process both to live from day to day and to instigate change. She creates calm and then upsets it, a stunning achievement for any poet.”—Feminist Review
“Stunning: it reveals a poet whose age and experience have mellowed her subject and tighened her craft, but never diminshed her intensity of both attention to detail and affirmation of the dark compassion it takes to ‘accept myself / for what I am--androgynous, sublime.’ Becker’s poetry is always reaching toward the unsayable, demonstrating her deft abilities to write poetry that bears forth generous and ‘homely affection.’”—The Virginia Quarterly