The Poet's Perspective: 'In Praise of the Basset Hound'

February 15, 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 "In Praise of the Basset Hound," Becker honors an "unlovely" canine as only an admirer could.

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A creature I initially found smelly and disagreeable taught me a great deal about affection, endurance and loyalty. I wrote this poem to remember a dog who feel into my life for a year -- and the year I fell in love with her.

Question to consider: Can you recall a time when your first impressions differed wildly from the feelings you eventually had for a person or animal?

In Praise of the Basset Hound

This unlovely dog, with warts, and a terrible stink
common to the breed, legless as walrus, teaches me
to pursue my life with devotion. Steadfast enthusiast
of fisher cat and vole, she relies now almost entirely on scent
and sings her hound’s song of pleasure when we come
close enough for her to hear her name.
In snow above her shoulder, she tracks our skis,
when all we can see is her metronome tail
tipped in black, sweeping the horizon a mile back.
We keep her, incontinent, in an old shed behind the farmhouse,
a wire fence around her run. Warm days, nose in the air,
she sits like an old retiree in the sun, listening
to warblers build their spring nests.
Her warts ooze, her eyes rain green phlegm. Still,
I kiss her and hold her against my breast,
she who whelped twelve litters before someone
took pity and bought her from the breeder.
Never permitted to lick hand or face, she will not
disgrace her training and extend her tongue in play,
though I offer my cheek. Daily, she shows me
the meaning of character, loping painfully
on swollen paws. I apply salve to her scaly folds,
croon over her. Who among us has not been
moved by the magnificence of mute
creatures in their abundant, dying skin?
 

"In Praise of the Basset Hound" is from The Horse Fair: Poems, by Robin Becker, c. 2000. 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, including a public reading Feb. 17 at the Hintz Family Alumni Center, 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."

  • To watch a video of Robin Becker reading 'In Praise of the Basset Hound,' click on the image above.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated March 21, 2011