In her eighth book, poet and feminist scholar Robin Becker reconciles with the reality of middle age—caring for ailing parents (and wishing, futilely, for “dying to be Mediterranean, / curated, a villa, like the Greek sanatoria”) as well as a slowly unraveling relationship of seven years—while amid these difficulties, embracing the pleasure of friendship, nature, and canine companionship. Becker’s steady and clear-voiced poems also maintain her career-long interest in identity, whether celebrating “The Sounds of Yiddish,” or pondering her relationship with the word “Dyke”: “First / I had to hate her; / then I had to hurt her; the rest of my life, / I ate from her hand.” Becker’s romantic lyrics are taut with the pain and uncertainty of a relationship in jeopardy—in one poem, she compares it to a counterfeit purse literally “coming apart” at the seams, while the brief “Her Lies” operates entirely on the level of metaphor, describing a house surreptitiously destroyed by carpenter bees. As ever, Becker’s plainspoken style lends itself to the emotional precision at which she is so adept: “I used to think only of my father’s anger. Now I think of his loneliness,” one poem concludes. Still, in the face of such hard-won insights, Becker remains, steadfastly, a poet of affirmation. In “To a Poet,” dedicated to Maxine Kumin, she writes: “Your anguish // in aligning loss / with love became metrical protests / as gorgeous as May.” This is the very act of alchemy at the heart of Becker’s own work.
This review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2014.