Robin Becker

b. 1951
Robin BeckerMiriam Goodman

Poet Robin Becker was born in 1951 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She earned degrees at Boston University and taught for many years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, before returning to Pennsylvania in 1994 to teach at Pennsylvania State University where she was named the 2010 Penn State laureate.

Becker’s many collections of poetry include Personal Effects (1977); Backtalk (1982); Giacometti’s Dog (1990); All-American Girl (1996), which won a Lambda Literary Award; The Horse Fair (2000); and Domain of Perfect Affection (2006).   Noted for verse that is approachable and engaging for even the casual reader, Becker’s range of subjects has been described as a “vibrant miscellany.” Her poems reflect her Russian-Jewish heritage and lesbianism, her interest in art history and art, the experience of growing up in 1950s America, and the legacy of the 1960s. In The Horse Fair, her subjects range from the painter Rosa Bonheur to the Torah and personal tragedies. Poet Kathleen Aguero has said that Becker’s poems are “richly populated by friends, lovers, family” as they “chronicle a search for community.”

Becker’s interest in narrative springs from her family background, including a childhood spent listening to her grandmother’s stories, learning from her the nuances of storytelling and her family’s history in Ukraine. Becker was also greatly influenced by the women writers whose poetry was available in the 1970s, including Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Maxine Kumin, Denise Levertov, and Susan Griffin. Though she mines personal experience and the quotidian in her poetry, her “free verse lines can grow pleasantly prickly, even grim,” noted Publisher’s Weekly. And poet Stephen Dunn regards Becker as achieving “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.”

Becker’s work has appeared widely in magazines and journals including American Poetry Review, the Boston Globe, the Georgia Review, the Kenyon Review, and Prairie Schooner. She is a contributing editor to Ploughshares and poetry editor for the Women’s Review of Books, where she writes a column called “Field Notes.”Becker also teaches workshops at the Fine Arts Center in Provincetown. She has won fellowships from the Bunting Institute, the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is professor of English and Women’s Studies at Penn State. In 2000 she was honored with their George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching.




Career

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, lecturer in creative writing and humanistic studies, 1977-93, assistant professor of exposition and rhetoric, 1983-87; Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, visiting professor, 1993-94, associate professor of English and Women's Studies, 1994-98, professor, 1998—. Kent State University, visiting professor, 1992; writer-in-residence, Wyoming Council on the Arts, Sheridan, and the Writers' Place, Madison, WI, both 1991; Central High School, Philadelphia, American Poetry Review scholar-in-residence, 1994; visiting scholar, Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, City University of New York, 1998. Member of board of trustees, Cummington School of the Arts, 1976-83. Co-coordinator of reading series at New Words (bookstore), 1981-83. William Steeple Davis artist-in-residence, 2000-01; Frick Art and Historical Center in Pittsburgh, visiting artist, 2001-02.

Bibliography

POETRY

  • (With Helena Minton and Marilyn Zuckerman) Personal Effects, Alice James Books (Cambridge, MA), 1976.
  • Backtalk, Alice James Books, 1982.
  • Giacometti’s Dog, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1990.
  • All-American Girl, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996.
  • The Horse Fair: Poems, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000.
  • Domain of Perfect Affection, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006.
Contributor of poetry and short fiction to numerous anthologies and textbooks, including Ourselves and Our Children, Random House (New York, NY), 1978; The Things That Divide Us, Seal (Seattle, WA), 1985; Naming the Waves: Contemporary Lesbian Poetry, Virago (London, England), 1988; Cries of the Spirit, Beacon (Boston, MA), 1991; To Woo and to Wed: Poets on Love and Marriage, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1992; Dog Music: Contemporary Poems about Dogs, St. Martin’s (New York, NY), 1996; Poetry: An Introduction, Bedford Books (Boston, MA), 1998; First Loves, Scribner (New York, NY), 2000; and Spreading the Word: Editors on Poetry, Bench Press (Beufort, SC), 2001. Contributor of essays and book reviews to American Poetry Review, Boston Globe, Boston Review, Gettysburg Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Women’s Review of Books, and other publications. Poetry editor, Bay Windows, 1983-85, and Women’s Review of Books, 1986—.

 

Further Reading

BOOKS
  • Contemporary Women Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
PERIODICALS
  • Booklist,August, 1990, p. 2149.
  • Lambda Book Report, September, 1996, Peter Klappert, review of All-American Girl,p. 26; September, 2000, Patricia Roth Schwartz, "Profound Pitt Poets," p. 21.
  • New York Times Book Review, September 24, 2000, Carmela Ciuraru, review of The Horse Fair.
  • Ploughshares, fall, 1996, Joyce Peseroff, review of All-American Girl,p. 238.
  • Publishers Weekly,May 4, 1990, p. 65; December 18, 1995, p. 52.
  • Village Voice Literary Supplement,June, 1982.
  • Women's Review of Books, July, 1996, pp. 40-41; October, 2000, Enid Shomer, review of The Horse Fair, p. 16.

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Poet Categorization

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

LIFE SPAN 1951–

Robin Becker

Biography

Poet Robin Becker was born in 1951 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She earned degrees at Boston University and taught for many years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, before returning to Pennsylvania in 1994 to teach at Pennsylvania State University where she was named the 2010 Penn State laureate.

Becker’s many collections of poetry include Personal Effects (1977); Backtalk (1982); Giacometti’s Dog (1990); . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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