The Poet's Perspective: 'Shopping' ponders retail therapy

February 07, 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 "Shopping," Becker pokes fun at a cliched pastime of wounded hearts.

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Lists function in poems to create a dense texture, to emphasize accumulation, to suggest excess. In “Shopping,” I lampoon a familiar cliché: that we console ourselves after disappointment with material acquisitions. Here, as the speaker lists all the items she intends to purchase, as the poem gains momentum, the tragic heart of the story emerges.

Question to consider: Could you fashion a comic piece about your own shopping habits?


If things don't work out
I'll buy the belt
with the fashionable silver buckle
we saw on Canyon Road.
If we can't make peace
I'll order the leather duster and swagger
across the plaza in Santa Fe,
cross-dressing for the girls.
If you leave I'll go back
for the Navaho blanket
and the pawn ring, bargain
with the old woman who will know
I intend to buy.
If you pack our things,
if you undress in the bathroom,
if you see me for what I am,
I'll invest in the folk art mirror
with the leaping rabbits
on either side, I'll spring
for the Anasazi pot with the hole
in the bottom where the spirit
of the potter is said to escape
after her death.

If you say you never intended
to share your life, I'll haunt the museum
shops and flea markets,
I'll don the Spanish riding hat,
the buckskin gloves with fringe at the wrists,
I'll step into the cowboy boots
tanned crimson and designed to make
any woman feel like she owns the street.
If you never touch me again,
I'll do what my mother did
after she buried my sister:
outfitted herself in an elegant suit
for the rest of her life.

"Shopping" is from All-American Girl, by Robin Becker, © 1996. 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 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 'Shopping,' click on the image above.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated March 21, 2011