Linda Pastan's Imperfect Paradise

Linda Pastan featured in: * The Best American Poetry: 2005, guest editor Paul Muldoon.

On Linda Pastan's Imperfect Paradise
by J. Zimmerman

* Linda Pastan. * Imperfect Paradise. * Structure. * Samples. * Links. * Books.

Linda Pastan.
Linda Pastan, author of twelve poetry collections, won the 2003 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

[The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize was established in 1986 to honor work the lifetime achievement of a poet writing in English. Its $100,000 value makes it one of the largest prizes given to American poets.]

Her first book was A Perfect Circle of Sun (l971). Her most recent was The Last Uncle (Norton, 2002).

She is one of 48 women poets whose work is in 100 essential modern poems by women (2008):

Imperfect Paradise.
Imperfect Paradise is Linda Pastan's 4th collection, published in 1988.

I love Pastan's poems for their clarity, that they are not striving to be cleverly obscure. They are simply, radiantly, giving poetry.

It is only in looking at a collection of Pastan's poems that I see how many of her poems have attracted my appreciation in the past.

Fans of simile may be interested to note that she uses it very little, at most once per poem. But when she uses it, it is significant.

The book is in 5 sections, with 12, 7, 9, 12, and 6 poems respectively.

Each section takes its title from a poem within the section. The last section uses the last poem in that section, and this title is also used for the book.

Of the 46 poems in the book, about a third are in a single narrow stanza of a page or so.

Many of the poems are in 2 or more sections with the same number of lines in each stanza. Specifically:

While Pastan does not often use traditional forms, the remarkable Something about Trees is a pantoum.

She also includes a single sonnet and a poem that is a 6-sonnet sequence.

Any poet can appreciate that Linda Pastan has paid her dues, from reading the wry Rejection Slip (part 3 of the 5-part Ars Poetica):
Darling, though you know
I admire your many
fine qualities
you don't fill all my needs
just now, and besides
there's a backlog
waiting to fit
in my bed.

Copyright © 1988 by Linda Pastan.

The poignancy of her work shines especially in Accidents, which ends like this:
Outside the hospital window
the first leaves have opened
their shiny blades,
and a dozen new accidents
turn over in their sleep
waiting to happen.

Copyright © 1988 by Linda Pastan.

Her care and compassion illuminate her work, as in The Descent, which ends with this view of her mother:
and in the leftover light
it is hard to see where
the descent will end,
hard to believe
it is death holding
her elbow with such care
guiding her all the way down.

Copyright © 1988 by Linda Pastan.


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