Sandra Lynn Becker
2014 Poet Laureate
Sandra Lynn Becker, a brave and candid lyrical poet, died suddenly on November 19, 2018. She was 64. Ms. Becker's commitment to the writing, revising, and reading of poetry could be seen in her own work and in her willingness to help others with theirs. She was selected as the 2014 Bucks County Poet Laureate by judges of national repute, Kim Addonizio and Kasey Jueds. Of Ms. Becker's work, Ms. Jueds wrote that it contained "boundless compassion and deep humanity" while noted poet and actor Hayden Saunier believed that Becker's poems "are clear and startling calls to discover and dance our own dances."
Besides her work with poetry, Ms. Becker was devoted to the care of mentally and physically challenged individuals. As their champion and caregiver, her third poetry book, Dread Islands, is dedicated to them. Also, a love of dance and the welfare of nature and animals were strong influences in her work. For the last two years, Ms. Becker worked as a poetry editor, serving other poets with manuscript critique and commentary.
In an interview with Lynn Fanok, who organizes the Newtown (PA) Bookshop poetry reading series, Ms. Becker commented on her beginning foray into writing poetry: "My first memory of writing a poem was in a creative writing class in junior high school. The teacher had each of the students keep a journal, which we would hand in weekly to which he would reply to each entry. The only thing I remember about that experience is writing my first two poems in the journal and having it returned to me with the comment: ‘A gift, Sandra, a gift for language.' I did not write again until decades later, but those comments stuck with me and made me aware, in retrospect, of the tremendous influence of a teacher's words, and that my words must matter if he could say that."
Ms. Becker believed that a poet was lost without a poetry community as a sounding board for his or her work. She was a member of poetry groups all of her writing life; the most influential and recent of those was Dr. Christopher Bursk's Master Poetry class at Bucks County Community College where she was a member for over twenty years. Of the class, she wrote, "We are all here for each other and support one another in the growth of our artistic processes. This community is my extended family. I can't even begin to imagine how my life would have been without Christopher Bursk and the poets of Bucks and Montgomery counties in it.
Ms. Becker published five books of poetry: What Now, What Next: Other Ways to Pray by Kelsay Books in 2018, Dread Islands, by Kelsay Books in 2015, Imperfect Matter by WordTech in 2013, At the Well of Flowers by Virtual Artists' Collective in 2011, and Foreign Bodies, winner of the Carolina Wren Press Chapbook contest in 2003. Joseph Donahue, final judge of the 2003 Poetry Chapbook Contest, said of Ms. Becker’s work: "Like Emily Dickinson, or more recently Paul Celan, Sandra Becker is a poet of ultimate moments rendered with spare, exacting strokes. These poems bring to difficult matters a spiritually attuned music that finds, in the ironies of illness, a luminous compassion."
Sandra Becker grew up in Long Beach, New York, and attended Long Beach High School. After earning a degree from CUNY Queens College, and a masters from St John's University, Ms. Becker studied at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, a Buddhist school where some of the Beat poets taught. She later studied poetry with Martha Rhodes, director of The Frost Place in New Hampshire, at Rhodes' brownstone in Soho, New York. The exposure to other poets made her yearn to improve her work. "Thus began a more serious study of poetry, not just as a survival tool, but as an artist," she explains. "My poetry became a portal to inhabiting my feelings and experience rather than trying to transcend it all. It was like climbing down a ladder, and having my feet touch the ground." She edited a poetry journal, Freshet, in New York with her long-time partner, Israel Halpern, and was awarded a spot at The Frost Place Conference on Poetry in New Hampshire.
Her poems have appeared in a variety of journals including Comstock Review, Concrete Wolf,Schuylkill Valley Journal, U.S. 1 Worksheets, Main Street Rag, Wordgathering, Barefoot Review, Flesh & Bone, Red Booth Review, and many others. In 2000, Becker received a first place award from the National League of American Pen Women, Simi Valley Branch, for her poem, "Honor the Stones." In 2012, her poem, "Sanctification of the Ordinary," was selected to be part of the James A. Michener Art Museum's (Doylestown, PA) collaborative art and poetry exhibition titled "Making Magic: Beauty in Word and Image." On September 27, 2014, Becker's poem, "A City Girl Feeds Country Cows," was selected and read by Garrison Keillor on Writer's Almanac.
She is predeceased by her parents, Edward and Roslyn Becker; she is survived by a brother, Paul, his wife Libby; a sister, Gail; three nephews, Josh Becker, Eddie Becker, Jake Becker and his wife, Gabby; and many dear and close friends.
A Memorial Remembrance service will be held for Ms. Becker at Bucks County Community College (Newtown) in Tyler Hall, Room 142, on Sunday, January 27 from 2:00 to 4:00 pm.
Donations may be made online in memory of Sandra Becker to the Bucks County (PA) SPCA, at: http://www.bcspca.org/support/donate-online/
Shuffling the Deck
For my father who died at age 42
This game called Speed appears simple
at first: flip of the wrist, dart of the eye.
past all sense of time, intoxicated gasp
and dash of hands, giving everything we've got.
The sideways gaze of the king, queen, jack
(they could not look me in the eyes).
and always the countdown from high
numbers to low, more to less, dwindling
sand where every second
counted until all was lost