Linda Pastan: A National Treasure

Updated on May 4, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Linda Pastan

Source

Introduction: Simple yet Profound

In Linda Pastan’s poem, "Muse: After Reading Rilke," the speaker begins by making a self-effacing confession, "No angel speaks to me."

Muse

after reading Rilke

No angel speaks to me.
And though the wind
plucks the dry leaves
as if they were so many notes
of music, I can hear no words.
Still, I listen. I search
the feathery shapes of clouds
hoping to find the curve of a wing.
And sometimes, when the static
of the world clears just for a moment
a small voice comes through,
chastening. Music
is its own language, it says.
Along the indifferent corridors
of space, angels could be hiding.

But by the end of the poem, the speaker’s lack has yet produced a profound realization, "Along the indifferent corridors / of space, angels could be hiding."

Pastan Compared to Dickinson

Pastan bases many of her poem on close observation and fine details. Those observations often result in expressing human emotion and heartfelt experience. Her poems remain humble and demonstrate how something great may originate with something quite simple.

The Hudson Review said of Pastan’s style, "a poet of a hundred small delights, celebrations, responses, satisfactions, pleasures." The same has been observed about the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Both poets made careers of paying attention to the domestic scene, a place often overlooked by writers of all stripes.

Young writers are often encouraged to travel widely and look beyond the narrow wall of home and hearth, but Pastan and Dickinson are proof that great poetry can be gathered if the poet simply grows where she is planted.

Homemade Dessert Every Night

Pastan put her poetry-writing career on hold for many years after she married and started a family. Often called sacrifice, this strategy has paid off for this poet. About her sabbatical from writing, she explains that as a women coming of age in the American 1950s, she felt she had certain obligations.

Pastan has said she is a "product of the '50s." By that she means that after she married she felt she was expected to keep the perfect home, providing a homemade dessert for every night's dinner. Even though she was still attending college when she married, she felt obligated to be the perfect wife as well as the perfect student.

Because she felt being perfect at both roles was impossible, stopped writing poetry for nearly ten years. But then her husband got tired of hearing her complain unhappily that she could be a good poet if she had not chosen to marry. So her husband encouraged her to start writing again, and as they say, the rest if history.

After publishing some fifteen collections of her poems, Linda Pastan has earned many awards for her poetry, including the Pushcart Prize, the Dylan Thomas Award, the Bess Hokin Prize (Poetry Magazine), the Di Castagnola Award (Poetry Society of America), the Maurice English Award, the 2003 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and the Charity Randall Citation of the International Poetry Forum.

Not Reclusive

Pastan was also honored with a Radcliffe College Distinguished Alumnae Award. Her collections of poetry, PM/AM and Carnival Evening, were nominated for the National Book Award, and The Imperfect Paradise was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Unlike Dickinson, Pastan did not dedicate herself to reclusiveness; Pastan has given many poetry readings, and she served as Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1991 to 1995. Pastan also taught at Breadloaf Writers Conference for twenty years. The Washington Post describes Pastan as,"one of the real treasures in poetry of our time."

A Bronx Girl

Born in 1932 in the Bronx to a Jewish family, Pastan completed her undergraduate degree at Radcliffe College and then earned an M.A. at Brandeis University. Pastan currently lives in Potomac, Maryland. Hearing Linda Pastan reading her poems is a delightful experience: Linda Pastan poetry reading Library of Congress Webcast.

Linda Pastan reading 3 poems

Questions & Answers

  • What is the major influence on Linda Pastan's writitng?

    The Hudson Review said of Pastan’s style, “a poet of a hundred small delights, celebrations, responses, satisfactions, pleasures.” The same has been observed about the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Both poets made careers of paying attention to the domestic scene, a place often overlooked by writers of all stripes.

    Young writers are often encouraged to travel widely and look beyond the narrow wall of home and hearth, but Pastan and Dickinson are proof that great poetry can be gathered if the poet simply grows where she is planted.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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