Thursday, April 22, 2010

Poet Linda Pastan

. . . there is no ease in writing. The job is to make it by the end feel
as if it flows easily. But each poem of mine goes through 
something like 100 revisions.
~ Linda Pastan*

One of my favorite poets is Linda Pastan, who was born in New York City and makes her home in Potomac, Maryland, not so far from my home in Arlington, Virginia. I had the great pleasure many years ago of attending one of Pastan's poetry readings.

Maryland's Poet Laureate from 1991 to 1995, Pastan has published 12 collections of poetry, among them Queen of a Rainy Country: Poems (Norton, 2008), Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems 1968 - 1998 (Norton, 1999), Waiting for My Life (Norton, 1981), PM/AM: New and Selected Poems (Norton, 1982), The Last Uncle (Norton, 2003), and The Five Stages of Grief (Norton, 1978); her 13th, Traveling Light (Norton), is due out early in 2011. Carnival Evening and PM/AM were nominated for a National Book Award. Pastan has been the recipient of the prestigious Pushcart Prize and, in 2003, of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for lifetime achievement.

What do I like about Pastan's work? Her clarity in brevity, the conciseness of her description that makes each word she uses necessary, her way of writing about what surrounds her with the understanding that surfaces mask tensions and the darker things below; her down-to-earth voice that makes her writing so accessible; the images that stick with you; the intimacy she has with her subjects: relationships, domestic tableau, aging, dying—the things we all struggle with, for, and against.

Here's one example of what I consider a marvelous poem:

Isn't the moon dark too,
most of the time?

And doesn't the white page
seem unfinished

without the dark stain
of alphabets?

When God demanded light,
he didn't banish darkness.

Instead he invented
ebony and crows

and that small mole
on your left cheekbone.

Or did you mean to ask
"Why are you sad so often?"

Ask the moon.
Ask what it has witnessed.
~ "Why Are Your Poems So Dark?" in Poetry, August 2003

Here, Pastan reads aloud that same poem:


* Quoted from Interview with Jeffrey Brown of Online News Hour, July 7, 2003.

Other videos of Pastan reading her poetry are here.  A Webcast of Pastan at Bookfest 04 is available at the Library of Congress Webcast site.

Hear Pastan read her poem "A Rainy Country" here.

Heat Pastan's "Love Poem" on The Writer's Almanac. Other poems are here.

Pastan is widely published; many of her poems can be found online; for example, go here, here, here, and here.


Kathleen Overby said...

100 revisions - daunting. I liked 'queen of a rainy country/powerless...."

Louise Gallagher said...

"Ask the moon."

and then... listen for its answer in the ebb and flow of the tides.

I love her poetry. thank you Maureen for introducing such a WoW!


Anonymous said...

wooohooo, linda!
you go girl!


here is another post i found on her, what a cute photo of her too.

i wonder why people read poetry with that one tone voice?

Jenne' R. Andrews said...

I remember Linda's earlier work I think in The Little Magazine where I was as well, back when.

Typically I write in a longer, lyrical line but am being influenced lately by poems like these, meaning a return to the notions of economy, compression-- intimating, rather than spelling out meaning in narrative or maybe hinting rather than narrating. One of the beauties of this poem is that its statement is accessible, yet the vehicle-- the couplets, the named dark things, drive to illuminate and do so with unity.

Much poetry these days wanders all over; the statements don't track with themselves. I'm sure I'm guilty of that. I would say that such a poem can arise when it comes together in the psyche and fall to the page with little revision, or must be given birth to in a long labor of love, clearly-- I too am daunted by the thought of so much revision.

BTW I do thank you immensely for the contribution you are making to the discussion at SW! xxxj

Hannah Stephenson said...

I love Linda Pastan!! Thanks for sharing so many links relating to her.

I really enjoy your blog, and am glad to have found it.

S. Etole said...

Thanks for the introduction ... I'll be reading more.