The Poet's Perspective: 'The Wood Lot' honors a conscientious subject

November 29, 2010

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 Wood Lot," Becker paints a word-portrait of a companionable subject.

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In this poem I attempted a portrait, much the way a painter might. To illustrate my character's qualities, I used concrete examples of chores and pleasures, actions performed and conversation distilled. Libraries and 200-year-old stone walls require cooperation among community members and a shared concern for the collective good. Here, the "artfulness" of love includes faith in collaborative efforts that advance the civic sphere.

Question to consider: Who, among your friends, has a gift for bringing people together, and how would you describe that person using concrete examples?

The Wood Lot
                     for Victor Kumin

In the farmhouse, early morning,
you review the list of chores
tacked to the post. They vary by season,

site, number of hands needed,
number of trips, machinery
and vehicles. Tasks fall into invisible

sub-categories -- the urgent,
the accidental, the rock-bound.
We walk uphill, you’re explaining

citizenship, your passion for the civic work
that builds a library, a community,
a two hundred year-old stone wall.

We spend an hour stacking wood,
a companionable chore, good for two,
you tell me, never one alone.

Alone, the stacker will grow careless, miss
the logs’ listing tendency, forget to throw
halves aside for supporting ends. You shim

unsteady places as we go, selecting
pieces for the trim, crisp line
that gives us room for another row.

You are love’s year-round
caretaker, and by your example I understand
the artfulness of love’s responsibilities.

"The Wood Lot" is from The Horse Fair: Poems, by Robin Becker, © 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 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 Wood Lot,' click on the image above.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated March 21, 2011