The Poet's Perspective: Video of 'Living in the Barn'

September 13, 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 "Living in the Barn," she offers reflections about how our dwellings can reflect who we are.

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Watching my sculptor friend reclaim and transform an abandoned barn into living and working space catalyzed this poem. In the first stanza, I evoke the vanished history of the barn, imagining farm workers and draft horses. In the second, I direct the reader’s eye to what the sculptor has placed in the barn -- her drafting table and welding tools -- and I show my admiration for her grit and determination.

Question to consider: All of us "nest" and make homes that speak to our ideas about ourselves. How might you use architecture or interior design to characterize a friend?

Living in the Barn
     For Marianne Weil

Beside you in the truck, I almost forget
you are a woman, thirty, turning the wheel,
slamming the door. You could be a boy, fifteen,
slim and eager for exercise in a soiled shirt and jeans.
By the time you closed the deal, the animals were gone,
but their ghosts raise their heads as we pass.
Black and white cows reclaim the pasture; curious billy goats
eye two women rattling up the drive. Like an archetypal barn
from memory, the barn slumps broad and red in the rain.
Now the great hayloft holds your bed and table.
In dreams, the farm boys bale and hurl their burdens
into the atrium; I feel the heavy hooves of Clydesdales
stamping in their stalls; the walls still hold their scent,
their hairs, their troughs, their significant sighs.

You have restored yourself by restoring this barn --
long days under the sun's hot hand,
hours at the drafting table --
planning for the time you will have what you need:
a place to work, a place to live.
Like barn swallows high in the rafters
your sculptures float and fly, wings beating against weathered wood.
In the studio, your welding tools assume the shapes
of fantastic creatures, the bronze and brass of your trade.
You lace your boots, tie back your hair,
prepare for work like a farmer whose animals,
like a ring of friends, surround her.

"Living in the 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."

  • A horse barn on Penn State's University Park campus provides an agrarian backdrop for Robin Becker's reading of 'Living in the Barn.' Click on the image to watch the video.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 18, 2010