The Poet's Perspective: 'Venetian' imagery foreshadows failing couple

Robin Becker, the 2010-11 Penn State laureate and professor of English and women's studies at the University, is sharing several of her poems via video during the 2010-11 academic year, aiming to engage people "in the deep pleasures of poetry -- language crafted and shaped from words, the 'ordinary' material we all use every day," to explore how and why poems move us.

"The Poet's Perspective" is a weekly poetry video series scheduled to appear during the fall 2010 and spring 2011 semesters on Penn State Live and in Penn State Newswires. Prior to each poem, Becker offers her thoughts about what inspired her to write the piece, then poses a question to consider. Below and in the video link of "Venetian," Becker uses unsettling imagery from a vacation scene to foreshadow an unraveling relationship.
 

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In this poem I tried to juxtapose elusive and transitory Venetian canal reflections with a deteriorating relationship. Despite the holiday setting, the "unspeaking" couple in the poem struggles with a "sham Thanksgiving," a "fugitive" happiness, and a "fraudulent" purchase. By pairing these nouns and adjectives, I sought an instability of feelings, objects and setting.

Question to Consider: Can you remember a time when a holiday or vacation turned sour, revealing some underlying problems or unresolved issues? In what ways did the visual details (of the trip and place) "reflect back" at you the unsettled feelings?

Venetian

For a week, the grandeur and mass of palace
        façades sloshed in the waters of the Grand Canal,
                 our happiness fugitive as the ornate, shifting

balustrades, oblique, partial. Column, cornice,
        and fluted pilaster dissolved in wet washes,
                reappeared as stone basilicas when we looked back.

Our sham Thanksgiving ­-- pasta, on Murano --­
        a glassblower said, Watch out for Chinese imports
                in island shops. Next morning, she wanted time

to herself. I copied Tintoretto’s Creation
        of the Animals: above bright swordfish and pike,
                pairs of marsh harriers flock west with God.

Unspeaking, we toured secret synagogues (disguised
        as apartments) adjoining treacherous guilds
                and returned to the hotel through alleys where men

opened duffels onto counterfeit Prada bags,
        fakes identical to those in dressed windows.
                She bought two for herself; he vanished into

a Baroque wall. At customs, we had little to declare,
        one fraudulent strap already loosed from its cheap
                metal ring, the other, like us, coming apart.

"Venetian" originally appeared in Prairie Schooner, Summer, 2009.

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View Robin Becker's schedule of appearances at http://live.psu.edu/story/47796 online. To read or watch videos of previous poems in the series, click here. To listen to an occasional podcast series where Becker and a small group of students and faculty discuss one of her poems, visit "Liberal Arts Voices."

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Last Updated March 21, 2011