The Poet's Perspective: 'Repair' examines effects following Sept. 11

September 26, 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 "Repair," Becker examines the process of picking up the pieces after Sept. 11.

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This poem originates in my personal experience of New York's West Village shortly before and after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. A shoe and watch repair shop I frequented closed, and the "magic" quality of the neighborhood changed unalterably. The poem became a meditation on a relationship when I allowed myself to play with the words "restore" and "repair."

Question to consider: How would you describe a neighborhood you cherish? What concrete details come to mind? What changes have you witnessed and how do you feel about those changes?


More stall than store, his cramped space on Carmine
smelled of Cat’s Paw leather cream polish.
A belt, a boot, our shoes for soles: he restored
them, mended your silver heron lamp
from Norway; replaced your cracked crystal.
He charged so little I wondered how

he paid the rent, a Chekhov character
transposed to the West Village, resolving
toggle switches, latches, sundered bolts,
talking to himself in Russian­ jeweler’s
eye-piece fixed in his face.

After the towers fell, the shoe and watch
man moved; what we couldn’t repair
between us stayed broken.

Seasonal vendors hawked fir and spruce wreaths.
A mercantile buzz of commerce dizzied
Carmine, where windows of valentines surfaced
and disappeared. In restauro read the sign,
that spring, on the Church of the Sacred Conversation.

I missed our magician of the material,
tried to bring you renovated things
from the Used CD Emporium
and Bookstore, bazaar of second and third
chances, our New York of the damaged,
the irredeemable, beyond repair.

"Repair" 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."

  • Robin Becker reads her poem 'Repair' in the Palmer Museum of Art. Click on the image to watch the video.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 18, 2010