The Poet's Perspective: 'Island of Daily Life' recalls summer's joys

March 14, 2011

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 "Island of Daily Life," Becker composed wavelike lines to help illustrate the relaxed rhythm of summer leisure time.

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I tried, in shaping this poem, to give it a swaying, rhythmic look on the page, echoing the summery feeling of the images. As a celebration of unhurried summer days, each stanza contains material that excites the senses: wildflowers, lake, light, rowboat, blueberries, wine, moon. I give a special nod to poetry by having the characters read poems aloud after dinner, another special summer pleasure.

Question to Consider: What special practices or rituals characterize summer for you? How might you write a celebration of those pleasures?

Island of Daily Life

This one is for Sandy
        who loves poems about ordinary things.
                 For her, I'll keep my abstractions
        to a minimum and praise
the open carpentry of the summer cabins
        for their impromptu shelves
                 where every ledge invites a wildflower bouquet
        or a drawing from a child at camp
or a special stone plucked from the lake,
        and I praise the lake
                with its dappled beach and sloping light,
        the comforting iterations
of rowboat, bathing cap, splash,
        where lakefront trees and small docks
                 flare in the late afternoon, and a neighbor
        calls softly to her daughter it's time
to go, don’t forget your things…

        This poem gets up early for the Saturday
                 yard sale and celebrates the evening
            walk across the mowing
 through low-bush blueberries.
            Sometimes guests from the city.
                 Always the dog in his summer
          haircut announcing his arrival.
This poem honors the poached fish and the beans,
        the goat cheese and the wine,
                 the poems read aloud after dinner
        for their attention
to the quiddities, to aspects
        of our communal selves,
                 sheared of the theoretical.
        This poem celebrates the passing
of the dish and the return of the bowl,

        the full moon now high
                        above October lakes, shining
        on a thousand forgotten beach books.

"Island of Daily Life" is from Domain of Perfect Affection, by Robin Becker, © 2006. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the publisher.

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View Robin Becker's schedule of appearances at 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."

  • To watch a video of Robin Becker reading 'Island of Daily Life,' click on the image above.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated March 21, 2011