Book Reviews for Writers: Linda Lambert reviews Linda Pastan



Reviews for Writers

by Linda Lambert


“Finding a new poet/is like finding a new wildflower/out in the woods. You don’t see/its name in the flower books, and/nobody you tell believes in its odd color or the way/its leaves grow in splayed rows/down the whole length of the page. In fact/the very page smells of spilled/red wine and the mustiness of the sea/on a foggy day—the odor of truth/and of lying.”

  –from “A New Poet” in Carnival Evening by Linda Pastan, p. 239


Linda Pastan has been on the PBS News Hour, read at the famous Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival, and won the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize of $100K—one of the largest prizes for poets. I hadn’t heard of her until Ron Leatherbarrow* came to dinner a few years ago and brought a gift: Carnival Evening by Linda Pastan.

He names her as one of his favorite poets, having heard her speak when she was the Poet Laureate of Maryland (1991-1995). He teaches her poems in Poetry (English 113) at Whatcom Community College where he is also the Vice President for Instruction. Now she’s my go-to poet. I feel lifted by her observations and metaphors that are everyday but transcend the familiar. Her endings, almost always, are unexpected. Her poems are immaculate in concept and concision.

Pastan began writing poems when she was twelve, sending them out to the likes of The New Yorker. Her teachers at Fieldstone School, associated with the Ethical Cultural Society “for free thinking Jews,” encouraged her writing. She graduated with a B.A. in English from Radcliff in 1953 and in her senior year received Mademoiselle’s Dylan Thomas prize. (Sylvia Plath was a runner up!) She continued her education with an MLS from Simmons (though I don’t know if she ever worked as a librarian) and earned an MA in English from Brandeis.

When she married Ira Pastan in 1953, a microbiologist, she stopped writing. “I felt that I couldn’t be the perfect wife and mother that I was expected to be, and commit myself to something as serious as poetry…It was all or nothing…I was very unhappy about it during those years. And my husband finally said he was tired of hearing what a good poet I would have been if I hadn’t gotten married.”[1] A Perfect Circle of Sun—the first of seventeen–was published in 1971.

Writers can relate to the title poem in Waiting for my Life (1979), when she speaks of “collecting scraps/of talk, setting them down like birdsong/in my notebook, where someday I would go/prospecting for my life.” We can also identify with these lines from “Block:” “I place one word slowly/in front of the other,/like learning to walk again/after an illness. But the blank page/with its hospital corners/tempts me.” Don’t you love the linking of a blank page with the precise corners of a hospital bed sheet?

For a generous sampling of Pastan’s work, go to and insert her name in the search box. Poetry Foundation has a great database of poems and poet bios. Then, I suggest purchasing Carnival Evening, available at Village Books for $16.95. Buy it from them because of the exceptional support they give writers.

Linda Lambert, a member of RWB, worked at the Whatcom Community College Library for 15 years and is currently completing a degree in Creative Writing through the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program.



Did somebody say poetry?

images (1)

so much depends

a group of plucky


beside their morning

V. Doerper


Happy spring Red Wheelbarrow Writers!

It’s almost April and here at RWB we’re getting excited as a pair of crows hanging out at a dumpster because National Poetry Writing Month, or NaPoWriMo, is about to begin!

Some of you may have already had the pleasure of participating in this delightful poetic adventure, but for those who haven’t here are some details.

  • NaPoWriMo was the brainchild of Maureen Thorson, a poet from Washington, DC, who was so inspired by NaNoWriMo, November’s National Novel Writing Month, that in 2003 she began writing a poem a day in April for National Poetry Month. Eventually, Maureen created for the project. And as they say, the rest is herstory.
  • Both Victoria and I participated last year, sharing our daily poems in emails and posting some of them on my blog, Victoria even went a few steps further and gathered her NaPoWriMo poems into a lovely book titled Every Day a Song: Poems of April.
  • When I announced recently at the RWB Bookclub that April was just around the corner and that Victoria and I would be writing 30 poems again this year, ideas began to snow down like cherry blossoms. Cami Ostman suggested that RWB writers might want to participate. Pam Helberg offered to set up a Facebook group to support participants (RWB NaPoWriMo). Some of us talked about sharing our poems at a Village Books event and possibly even publishing them in an anthology, and that’s why we’re writing to you.

We’d love for you to join us for a month of writing and sharing. You don’t have to be an established poet or to even think of yourself as a poet to be part of the fun. All you need to do is write one poem each day. That’s 30 poems, beginning on April 1, in any form you choose. Haiku, sonnets, free verse, prose poems, short as a heartbeat or long as the Amazon on any topic or theme. It’s your call. If you can’t think of an idea or form, has daily prompts to inspire you and they’re fantastic!

We’ll be chatting on the RWB NaPoWriMo group page on Facebook, and that’s also a place where you can share your work if you desire. You can join us by simply visiting the page and letting us know you’re on board.

Looking forward to NaPoWriMing with you very soon!

Susan Chase-Foster and Victoria Doerper



Writing and Yoga Coming to Fairhaven

Stephanie Renée dos Santos is a Red Wheelbarrow Writer from a distance. She’s been following us for years from her home in Brazil. This summer she’ll be coming back to visit Bellingham and to lead a writing and yoga workshop in Fairhaven. 


Writing & Yoga Workshops

By Stephanie Renée dos Santos

Writing and Yoga are soul mates. Yoga reveals insights; Writing is the recorder. Yoga balances rhythms of breath; writing surfs breath through oceans of language. Yoga taps the unconscious mind; writing transcribes the wisdom of the heart. Writing requires work; yoga is the assistant. Writing is an offering to the world; yoga eases the offering’s challenges. Writing is a solo act; yoga provides community.

Yoga supports our writing.

Why not join me for a workshop that combines these two generative activities?

yoga & writing

What are the benefits one gains and obtains from attending this type of writing workshop?  Writing and yoga workshops aim to kindle your creative fire and liberate your authentic voice and deepest truths. Writers need dedicated time to connect with the Muse, or to bring concentrated effort to begin or complete a project—time that can be hard to come by in everyday life. Everyone’s standards are raised in a community of writers. And getting outside of one’s everyday writing atmosphere can trigger new ideas and imagination. A writing workshop combined with yoga offers an ideal space in which to concentrate on writing without interruptions and to help you relax into your work. Yoga assists in opening space within you for your writing to: flow, burst, seep.

Writers often suffer from physical pain in the shoulders, neck, head, eyes, lower back and hips. Stress in the body can inhibit or block creativity. Yoga helps reverse and relieve bodily tension; when the body is eased, so are the tensions of the mind.

Yoga Benefits for the Writer:

§  Open your chest, bring your shoulders back, loosen up your neck, and increase circulation to your head. Improve your posture after long days at the computer and reading

§  Learn eye exercise to prevent or relieve eye strain

§  Stretch and awaken your mind

§  Open your hips, where creativity and emotions often get trapped

§  Learn to create and access the state that creativity likes to manifest into: A state of empowerment, focus, grounded intuition, strength, compassion

§  Learn to set intentions/goals for your writing and visualize/meditate on them

§  Create balance and develop concentration, which will increase your ability to focus clearly and develop the staying power to write through difficulties

§  Experience community

§  Release your mind and body and open the space for ideas to flow

Participating in a writing workshop is a public declaration of being a writer and demonstrates your courage and willingness to test your ideas—honing, sharing, and readying them for the world.  Yoga aides and eases the writing endeavor.

Stephanie Renée dos Santos is a fiction (with a passion for historical fiction) and freelance writer and certified yoga instructor. She leads “Saraswati Writing & Yoga Workshops/Retreats” in the United States, Brazil and abroad.


Next workshop: “Magic and Verve in Your Writing & Yoga” June 20-22, 2015 in Fairhaven, WA USA. *Early Bird Registration open until March 31st 2015…take advantage! For more information about this upcoming workshop:  Email Stephanie with questions:




Book Review by Laura Kalpakian

On West of Sunset

west of sunset

Every time I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished last novel, The Last Tycoon, I want to slap him. I want to say: why, why, why couldn’t you keep it together long enough to finish the book? At  least to leave more than these fragmented scenes draped gauzily around an enigmatic central character, Monroe Stahr. Stewart O’Nan’s new novel, West of Sunset, [Viking, 2015] provides an answer to that frustrating question.

Taking as its core, the last few years of Fitzgerald’s life in Hollywood before his death in December, 1940, West of Sunset paints a sad, unforgettable portrait of the artist as a self-destroying, raging alcoholic. It portrays his working life, and the women who loved him: his mistress, Sheilah Graham, his daughter, Scottie,  his mad, estranged wife, Zelda,  his accommodating young secretary, Frances Kroll, as well as friends like Dorothy Parker. (Parker, naturally, has all the good lines in the book.) The novel makes scenic Fitzgerald’s letters which have been published and republished in collections and in biographies. There, these episodes might merit a paragraph or a page; here they come to life.

Chief among these episodes is the Dartmouth Winter Carnival in 1938 where FSF went with young Budd Schulberg, a Dartmouth alum, son of one of Hollywood’s most powerful men. Ostensibly the two went to collect “atmosphere” for a frothy movie they were writing about collegiate antics. FSF’s collegiate antic days were long behind him. O’Nan makes scenically vivid this pivotal moment: the bitter New England cold (FSF having left his coat on the train) the colossal intake of alcohol, the freezing sleeping arrangements (their reservation had been lost, and the two were stuck in an unheated attic), the whole mad, crash-and-burn which left FSF in a New York hospital. Schulberg was a young man whose happy mantra, “Just one more,”[drink] made no inroads on either his health or his future, but “Just one more” was disastrous for FSF.  His reputation following this incident made him more or less un-hireable. Only then did he set to serious work on The Last Tycoon.

Within the steadily encroaching limits of alcoholism and ill health, the FSF in West of Sunset wanted to work, did work, even diligently, at various studios,  slaved away on dialogue and story lines, all of which were snatched from him, and either trashed, or handed on to other writers.  FSF and his ilk (and there were many) swung like monkeys from tree to tree, from one brief contract to another, hoping for a screen credit, hoping to eke out a living, if not a life.  For FSF the money paid for these contracts diminished steadily; the contracts themselves dried up.

O’Nan’s spotlight on FSF’s money troubles makes plain, and pathetic the author’s constant scrabbling and borrowing that soured many of his closest relationships. Rendering these woes as they actually affected FSF’s life and work, again, makes scenically vivid what a biography can only allude to if there is a footnote.  Though West of Sunset is not exactly A Day in the Life, the novel has that feel of everyday life, the grit and dander, the woes and meager wages, the uncertainties. FSF’s stories were declined by magazines that had once supported him on a great buoyant tide of money and acclaim. His books were out of print. The repeated blows to his pride in his work (and the blows administered by the studios as well) must surely have exacerbated the drinking, his diet of chocolate bars and Cokes, burning the candle at both ends.

For this reader, FSF’s lover, Sheilah Graham,  never achieved narrative girth; she seemed  a swooping, and (understandably) irritated angel to FSF. His strained relationships with Zelda and her family were given dynamic portrayal, and his affection for his daughter made plain and poignant.

More vivid than these women, however was the ghost of Monroe Stahr. In this novel with FSF himself as a character, the unrealized  Stahr beckons FSF, entreats him to write. One wishes the character had been more firm with the author.

Happy Hour/Open Mic Social This Saturday!


A Red Wheelbarrow in the Rain?

It’s true! Rain or shine, you’re invited to our monthly happy hour/open mic social, this Saturday, December 6, 4:15, at Uisce, the Irish Pub, 1319 Commercial St., Bellingham. Sign up to share 5 minutes of your writing, or just come, listen and be warmed by the glow of word lovers around you,

Bring some munchies, if you’ve got ‘em.

See you there!