The Poet's Perspective: Penn State laureate on fitting in, choices

October 18, 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 Poconos," Becker correlates a woman's lessons in compromises with Native Americans' forced relocation.

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In this poem, I take liberties with my mother's biography and place her as child at overnight camp, learning skills of self-sufficiency and independence. Throughout the poem, the child thrives physically and emotionally. However, like the Native Americans forced to give up their land and relocate to reservations and settlements, the young woman here learns the "ways" of society and gives up her freedom for the trappings of belonging.

Question to Consider: Do you recall a time when your desire to "fit in" competed with your desire to maintain or exhibit your individuality? If so, what choices did you make and why?

The Poconos

My mother joined
the Leni-Lenape

when Pennsylvania Power and Light

Lake Wallenpaupack
and she turned

eight. In Philadelphia
Bubbie sewed name tags

into underwear and chose
Camp Pine Forest

for its strict counselors
and Friday night corn roasts.

My mother and her sister rose
high into the Poconos,

past waterfalls and rivers
where the eldest

became an Iroquois
among unruly bunkmates,

raiding the Shawnee
and short-sheeting the Minisink.

My mother fished
peaceably for perch and shad

with the other Leni-Lenape
and pursued the arts

and crafts of clay, wood.
She gave her birch bark box

in friendship
and taught the Seneca to build

a gabled frame from saplings.
For seven summers

she portaged and rowed,
roaming the woods with her clan,

and in time,
after Color War,

the tribe made her a Pine Tree --
and she sat at tribal council,

where she presided
over her children,

by her compassionate nature,

bartering her freedom
for a modest home on a small tract of land.

"The Poconos" is from Domain of Perfect Affection, by Robin Becker, © 2006. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the publisher.

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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."

  • Penn State Laureate Robin Becker reads 'The Poconos.' Click on the image above to watch the video.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 18, 2010