rev. of Giacometti’s Dog by Robin Becker

Issue #53
Winter 1990-91

In poem after poem in
Giacometti's Dog, Robin Becker's third book, there is a courage in the piercing details that keeps the work from flinching from feeling and avoids even a trace of self-indulgence. These poems, generous in their emotional and geographical range, speak in Becker's voice about loss, guilt, erotic yearning, and the journey of the self toward the consolations of friendship, of love, of art. There is a sense that her travels and her immersion in the cultures of Europe, of Katmandu, of the American Southwest, provide tough insights commonly sought but rarely found in "travel poems."

Two deaths inform this collections, and it is a sign of the poet's sureness of control that there are poems equally fine which take as their subjects her sister's suicide and the accidental death of her dog. Poems like "Good Boy" and "The Return" are models of tender, unsentimental writing.

In "The Children's Concert," the poet remembers monthly concerts where, indifferent to the cultural improvement their mother intended, she would tease her younger sister that they'd been abandoned a familiar memory of sibling torment, until the sister's suicide years later turns a childhood cruelty into her own enduring wound. And in "Grief," it is characteristic of Becker that "It is the kindness of the rabbi I remember now. . . ." In a poem that travels from a Philadelphia cemetery to Florence and Venice, to the recognition that the sister's life "was a place I visited by boat," a kind of peace is achieved, a distance, a compassion for her tragic family.