The Poet's Perspective: 'Old Florida' reveals generational anxieties

November 08, 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 "Old Florida," an adult child of distant elderly parents in danger recalls the angst of helplessness against nature's threats and their stubborn insistence in waiting out the storm.

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Within families, tensions between generations provide much raw material for poems, both humorous and serious. For example, as parents age and retire, adult children may struggle to reconcile their parents' desire for independence with their need for increased care or assistance. The speaker-daughter in "Old Florida" chooses words such as "bunker," blitz," "infrastructure," "refugees" and "foxhole" to evoke the internecine "war" she's waging. Her parents, however, thwart her campaign and thus supply the poem with irony and humor.

Question to consider: How does your family enact generational anxieties, and what strategies have family members employed to sort them out?

Old Florida

             When the soon-to-be famous hurricane
hurried to their neighborhood, I begged them

             to leave. Rain made a cassoulet of the parking lot;
                          winds juggled giant palms like rolling pins --­

             but they hunkered down, children
under desks in the 50s, the storm their personal blitz.

             I cried, I screamed over the phone but they rejected
                          the generator-backed shelter I found, chose canned

             goods and bunker, until the phone died -­- and I consigned them
to their neighbors, their luck, their blood-thinners.

             Eighty-seven years old, they hid on the ninth floor,
                          elevator out, infrastructure crumbling, but more

             than death or thirst they feared their daughter
with her talk of evacuation.

             Leaving home, even for natural disaster, made
                          them refugees, registrants in a vast and subtly

             documented conspiracy to remove them
from their apartment to assisted living.

             Neighbors found them sweating in their foxhole,
                          delivered salami and crackers and ice,

             and when the power came back, they phoned
to report that hardship brought out the kindness

             in people, wasn’t it fortunate they stayed in their home?
                          And where was my faith in human goodness?

"Old Florida" originally appeared in Prairie Schooner, Summer 2009.

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Robin Becker will visit several Penn State Commonwealth Campuses this fall; view her 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 reading of 'Old Florida,' click on the image above.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 18, 2010