In The Horse Fair, Robin Becker asks questions about citizenship and participation in the marketplaces—of bodies, of ideas, of objects—in which we function. She investigates how individuals marginalized by gender, religion, and sexual preference negotiate public and private spheres while inventing sustainable communities. Beginning with the great nineteenth-century French painter Rosa Bonheur, Becker has produced a number of multi-voiced, synthetic portraits, each within a framework of social history and a poetics of partiality—she speaks from the persona of Charlotte Salomon, child of assimilate, German-Jewish parents and grandparents and killed by the Nazis at the age of twenty-six; she appropriates passages from the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services; and juxtaposes them against stanzas that mourn her sister’s death and those that celebrate non-traditional families. Organized around the long meditations, other poems show Becker's dexterity with formal verse (sestina, sonnet, tercets) and her imaginative engagements with free verse.
The Horse Fair takes its name from Bonheur's monumental painting and serves as the vehicle through which Becker explores anti-Semitism, cross-dressing, and Bonheur's lifelong relationships with women. In Becker's hands, The Horse Fair transports us to the communal plaza where we come to barter and to buy, to study one another, to touch the foundation upon which we build our temporary habitations.
It's hard to know where to begin praising this collection, it contains so many virtues: unremitting, intellectual brilliance and acute historical understanding, especially about being an outsider and a survivor. I go to Robin Becker's poetry as I might go to a great novelist like George Eliot or Carol Shields—to experience the news they bring back from the world and its interpretation by a major mind.
I treasure these redemptive poems by Robin Becker, who writes with compassion and amazing vitality about the grief, afflictions, and foibles of trees, animals, and humans bound together on this dangerous planet. Her book is an exquisite manual on how to live.
Describing a woodpecker, Robin Becker writes, 'Far-flung orbit of energy . . . a restless aptitude drives her hungers . . .' She could just as well be describing her own far flung imagination, her own hungers made manifest in language. The Horse Fair is a beautifully crafted book, wise and forgiving.
These narratives pay loving attention to several personal and historical tragedies. They record life with a tenderness that is easily trusted, despite forces bearing down on their subjects which would have it that their souls be obscured. This is one soulful collection of poems.
What I love in Robin Becker's poems is how much the world is with her; characters, histories, animals, places, and things crowd onto these pages, inscribing them with the cries of the living. Becker is against silence; she instructs the world, instead, to 'Harpsichord me. Entail me. Depose me' in these shapely poems marked by her curious, tender, worldly presence.
Through a wide variety of forms, Becker's strong yet soulful voice is especially adept at studying people forced to coexist on the fringe.
Becker seems to have found a kind of bittersweet peace for herself. . . . This generous poet is never less than attentive and responsive to the world that surrounds her.
There should be more books of poetry that make use of the dramatic monologue as skillfully as Robin Becker does in the two longer poems that drive her collection.
Throughout The Horse Fair, Becker's painstaking, empathic use of language celebrates a patient yet intrepid dedication to art as well as the indomitable spirit of life—-human or otherwise—-in the face of oppression and death. . . . The Horse Fair contains Robin Becker's strongest poetry to date.
Robin Becker received the Lambda Award in Poetry for All-American Girl and has held fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard. Her books include Tiger Heron, Domain of Perfect Affection, The Horse Fair, and GiacomettiÕs Dog. Professor Emeritus of English and WomenÕs Studies at Penn State, Becker serves as poetry and contributing editor for the WomenÕs Review of Books.learn more