The Poet's Perspective: 'The Round Barn' examines architectural story

October 04, 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 Round Barn," Becker ponders the history of the structure and the lives of those who inhabited it.

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The first time I saw a round barn, I knew I wanted to write about it. In my research, I discovered that the Chinese employed them for horse-powered mills during the Han dynasty. Accustomed to the square, right-angled architecture of conventional barns, I imagined a farmer breaking with tradition. This led me to speculate on the origins of such creativity.

Question to consider: What buildings or monuments or homes strike you as especially original? How do they pressure or expand community standards?

The Round Barn

I winder if the horses balked
at the curvature, anticipating
clean, indigenous right angles.
They must have paced the perimeter
like their Chinese forbears, circling
the shafts that powered the mills
in the Han dynasty.
And did the farmer mourn the end
of linear thinking, did he pause
to consider the rectangles
of daily life? Haystacks, windows,
narrow rows of corn
in their righteous beds.

Good farmer, when you broke
with your neighbors and led
your livestock into the center
of the cosmos, were you only
following a hunch: that the wind
would sweep around
the progressive curves,
that revolution would harbor you?
Perhaps you saw in the repetitions
of history the wandering Mongolian
sleeping naked in his yurt,
who knew the world was a simple sphere
with an opening at the top for God.

"The Round Barn" 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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Robin Becker will visit several Penn State Commonwealth Campuses this fall; view her schedule of appearances at http://live.psu.edu/story/47796 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."

  • Robin Becker reads her poem 'The Round Barn' near a horse barn on the University Park campus. Click on the image to watch the video.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 18, 2010