Tolerance urged in verses of gay poet

The Daily Pennsylvanian
March 26, 1999

Intermingling over delicious cake and fruits, members of the Philadelphia community gathered Monday night to hear the University's first speaker of this year's Bisexual Gay Lesbian Transgendered Awareness Days.

About 25 people, most of whom were women, filled Kelly Writers House to listen to readings by poet Robin Becker, a professor of English at Pennsylvania State University.

Becker read around nine poems from her earlier books Giocometti's Dog, Backtalk and Personal Effects. She also read some poems that will soon appear in her newest manuscript, Why We Fear the Amish.

Her poems all shared the common themes of the stereotypes gay people face and how it feels to be gay and therefore a minority -- themes which Becker tied in with Judaism.

In one of her poems entitled "Shopping," Becker plays on the idea that women think shopping can heal their wounds. Many women feel that "shopping is a compensatory activity," Becker said. The poem ends with the image of a mother who put on an elegant suit to feel better after her child dies.

Becker also read many childhood poems which she said originated in autobiography and were then fictionalized. She writes of what it is like to be a lesbian growing up and feeling differently from other teenagers. A character in one of the poems is a 17-year-old girl who fears her attraction to other girls.

Pilar Berguido, a 29-year-old Philadelphia resident and part of the Young Women's Advisory Group of Planned Parenthood, said she sensed a theatrical undercurrent in Becker's reading and felt like she was experiencing a lot of the same things.

Becker's new work, Why We Fear the Amish, focuses on the same themes of her other books. While the Amish may differ from the mainstream in many ways, no one should be afraid of them, Becker said.

Becker graduated from Boston University and also attended graduate school there. She is currently a visiting scholar at the Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies at the City University of New York.

B-GLAD, the Women's Studies Program, Planned Parenthood and the Writers House all co-sponsored the event.

According to Heather Starr, the residential coordinator of the Writers House, this event was the first time the Writers House collaborated with Planned Parenthood. Starr added that the Writers House was "excited about sponsoring the event with Women Studies and B-GLAD."