Linda Pastan: My First Living Poet in the Flesh


Scene: the Brookline High School Library, many plastic chairs set out in rows for this special event.

It was 1973 or 1974 and there was a poet in the library! Could you be alive and still be a poet? I remember thinking that she looked like she could be someone's mother (she was) and I'll admit, I was a little disappointed by this realization.

That is, until she started reading her poems. 

I remember being amazed at how clear each poem appeared in the air, as in: shimmering with layers of nuance. Linda Pastan made it look so easy! I was sixteen years old and just beginning to consider poetry I might write (sadly, over my desire to be a novelist).

I met Linda Pastan again at the Breadloaf Writers Conference in 1993. Twenty years later I was still flirting with a life in poetry. She was the poet whom I asked to study with and she was the poet that I was lucky enough to meet one on one.

She also changed my life.But that's another story...

What I want to focus on for a moment is Pastan's incredible body of work. She has been publishing for over 50 years! When I look back at her poems, I see themes of the female body, of social anxiety, of grief, of a deep humor that are still alive and well today. However; Pastan was writing about "routine mammograms" and "an old woman" and "a visit to the gynecologist's" before these were cool subjects, before Sharon Olds....

I wonder why Pastan's poems are not as well known today as they once were. I keep coming back to her own self-deprecating humor and lack of need for a spotlight. Yet, when Linda Pastan came out to Seattle for the Seattle Arts and Lectures Series in 2015, already then in her early 80's, the theater was filed-up with love for this poet. If you are not familiar with her work, both the Academy of American and  the Poetry Foundation can get you started. Pastan published Almost an Elegy last year, after 50+ years publishing, and over a dozen books, she still sounds pitch perfect to me, still writes with fresh energy and unflinching honesty. 

Traveling Light

I'm only leaving you
for a handful of day
but it feels as though
I'll be gone forever—
the way the door closes

behind me with such solidity,
the way my suitcase
carries everything
I'd need for an eternity
of traveling light.

I've left my hotel number
on your desk, instructions
about the dog
and heating dinner. But
like the weather front

they warn is on its way
with its switchblades
of wind and ice,
our lives have minds
of their own.

Here is another one I am re-reading again and again, today.

all i want to say

A painter can say whatever he wants with fruits
or flowers, or even with clouds.
Edouard Manet

When I hand you this bowl
of apples, I mean:
here are some pink spheres of
love, or of lust – emblems
of all those moments after Eden
in which a hint of the forbidden was
like the seasoning of that first apple?
Or I just want to say: Forgive me,
I've been busy all day, and the only thing
for dessert is a piece of fruit.

And when you plucked
a single flower from the fading bush outside
our window,
were you telling me that I am somehow
like a flower, or worthy of flowers?
Were you telling me
something flowery,
or nothing more: here's the last rose
of November,
please put it in water?

But as for the clouds,
as for those.....To continue reading go to Poetry Foundation