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.” 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 http://www.poetryfoundation.org/ 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.