The Poet's Perspective: 'The Children's Concert' eyes cruelty, regret

January 24, 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 "The Children's Concert," Becker uses a cruel joke perpetrated during childhood to reflect on an adult's regrets.

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After my sister’s suicide, I wrote this poem about a childhood cruelty I perpetrated and later regretted. The poem explores regret and the sometimes heartless behavior of the elder sister from the perspective of adulthood.

Question to consider: Do you recall a childhood experience you now regret? How does your distance in time from the event reframe your telling of it today?

The Children's Concert

Once a month when I was twelve
and my sister was ten
our mother would drop us
at the Philadelphia Academy of Music

for the Saturday children's concerts.
We'd sit in the enormous dark
hall with the other children and I'd
whisper to my sister

that our mother was never coming back,
that she's abandoned us there,
that she was driving to meet our father
and take a plane to Europe.

My sister called me a liar
and her eyes filled
with tears. The musicians had started
on Mozart, but I was whispering

about how we would feel when all the other
children had gone and we
were left standing in our navy winter coats
on the grim Philadelphia street.

I did not know then that I would grow
to love the eighteenth century,
that my sister would take her own life
one winter day in Philadelphia,

that childhood could be so final a thing.

"The Children's Concert" is from Giacometti's Dog, by Robin Becker, © 1990. 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 'The Children's Concert,' click on the image above.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated March 21, 2011