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SHJ Issue 18
Spring 2018

Words With Friends

by Robin Becker

Though not a competitive person, I do
like to give my friends good game and so
I’ve spent the better part of a morning

studying “legal” words with the letter K
and found that great chunks of social history
may reside in a single letter when applied

to the cultural geography of food. Without
an official okeh (11 points) I can’t make kofta
(ground lamb with parsley, garlic and lemon)

or kidreh—a dish that would surely bring
to the table Palestinian and Israeli to debate
the arrangement of rice and lamb in the pot

and thereby pave the way for a sustainable
peace, much as the legal kibbeh (17 points)
links Arabic and Sephardic cuisine

with allspice and pine nuts rolled between hands.
Imagine Jerusalem united over kuku (illegal),
everyone waiting to add yogurt and cucumber

to the frittata of baked fava beans
and bayberries, eggs cooked just right, resting
on the serving platter, guests at the klatch (15 points)

discussing za’atar, the mix of hyssop,
ground sumac, toasted sesame and salt,
a version of which will soon become perfectly

“legal,” like z (10 points) or zek (16 points)
or zizith—worth 27 points before landing
either z on a double or triple.


—Honorable Mention, the Steve Kowit Poetry Prize 2017; first published in the San Diego Poetry Annual 2017-18 (Garden Oak Press, February 2018) and appears here with permissions from the publisher and the poet


SHJ Issue 18
Spring 2018

Robin Becker

is the author of several books, including The Black Bear Inside Me (Pitt Poetry Series, University of Pittsburgh Press; 2018); Tiger Heron (2014) and Domain of Perfect Affection (2006), both released by the University of Pittsburgh Press; The Horse Fair (2000); All-American Girl (1996), which won the 1996 Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry; Giacometti’s Dog (1990); Backtalk (1982); and Personal Effects (1977).

Her range of subjects is eclectic, with her poems reflecting her Russian-Jewish heritage and lesbianism, her interest in art history and art, the experience of growing up in 1950s America, and the legacy of the 1960s. Her work has appeared widely in magazines and journals, including American Poetry Review, the Boston Globe, Georgia Review, Gettysburg Review, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and Prairie Schooner. She is a contributing editor to Ploughshares, and poetry editor for the The Women’s Review of Books, where she also writes a column on poetry and the poetry scene called “Field Notes.”

Born in Philadelphia, Becker earned her BA and MA degrees from Boston University and taught for seventeen years at the Massacusetts Institute of Technology. She returned to Pennsylvania in 1994, where she’s a Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Pennsylvania State University. She also teaches workshops at the Fine Arts Center in Provincetown. In 2000, she received Penn State’s George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching, and she served as Penn State Laureate in 2010-11. Her honors also include the 1997 Virginia Faulkner Prize for Excellence in Writing from Prairie Schooner magazine and fellowships from the Mary Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury