Immediate Family: Linda Pastan


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Linda Pastan grew up in New Jersey, the daughter of Jewish immigrants. She went to Radcliffe and Brandeis, then married a doctor and settled in Maryland to raise their family. That sounds mundane, but Pastan is the kind of poet who finds much under the surface of everyday business. “It may seem like smooth surfaces, but there are tensions and dangers right underneath, and those are what I’m trying to get at.”

She quit writing poetry to play the perfect fifties housewife until her husband couldn’t stand it anymore. Since then, she’s worked at it, and worked at it some more. She has said that each of her poems goes through at least a hundred revisions. Now a grandmother, she’s published around twenty books of poetry and won all kinds of awards.

Reading the Obituary Page
by Linda Pastan

In starched dresses
with ribbons
in miniature jackets
and tiny ties
we would circle
the chairs
at birthday parties and
when the music
stopped, lunge
to be seated. One
by one we were welcomed
to hard ground
and empty air.


My following still needs a title, plus about 99 revisions:

Once my grandpa killed a snake with a shovel.
It came too close to the house.
My grandpa crushed its head between metal and patio,
then lifted it in the cradle of the shovel
and carried it like a like bomb
to throw it down the back of the hill.

I watched from behind my mother’s legs,
behind the French doors,
as my grandpa framed in nicotine-colored curtains
made the garden safe
so I could go back out and play.

Memories walk as if on eggshells,
barely touching things long gone:
the grandpa, the mother, the curtains, the snake,
each memory contained by a square of glass,
each a receptacle for the child
who hides behind my legs now.

One response to “Immediate Family: Linda Pastan

  1. Commas around “framed in . . . curtains.” Otherwise, I think the first two stanzas are “there.” Images are not only clear, but also evocative of something bigger than the scene seems to be, some or most of it sexual. (Do you know D.H. Lawrence’s “Snake”?).

    Third stanza– I love the first line, and I’m OK with the rest, but maybe it’s trying too hard to tie it all up too neatly (as if in “a square of glass,” maybe, though I also like that picturing effect). For me, the stanza doesn’t quite have the power of the first two stanzas. I’m not sure why, but it I think it amounts to being “tamer.” There’s real danger and adventure in the first two, not so much in stanza three.

    Fourth line from end, how about omitting the 4 “the”s for more punch. Also, I’d go with grandfather instead of grandpa, or even make up a nickname for him that’s more singular and adult (say, “pappy”), never mind the personal, historical accuracy.

    I really like this poem. Good luck with it.

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