The Poet's Perspective: 'The New Egypt' is laureate's second video

August 30, 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.

Below, "The New Egypt" is second in a weekly video series 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.

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This contemporary sonnet concerns the durable Jewish themes of exile and home. Using humor, the speaker offers her father's wisdom and conveys her own ambivalence about the "fire of acquisition" and what it means to be a "slave to property."

Question to consider: How have you wrestled with familial attitudes that you perceived as restrictive or proscriptive? And what have you taken from that engagement?

The New Egypt

I think of my father who believes
a Jew can outwit fate by owning land.
Slave to property now, I mow
and mow, my destiny the new Egypt.
From his father, the tailor, he learned not
to rent but to own; to borrow to buy.
To conform, I disguise myself and drag
the mower into the drive, where I ponder
the silky oil, the plastic casing, the choke.
From my father, I learned the dignity
of exile and the fire of acquisition,
not to live in places lightly, but to plant
the self like an orange tree in the desert
and irrigate, irrigate, irrigate.

"The New Egypt" 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 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 each poem, including the first poem in her laureate series, titled "Solar," visit "Liberal Arts Voices."

  • Click on the title image above to watch Penn State Laureate Robin Becker read 'The New Egypt,' the second poem in her weekly video series.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 18, 2010