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PASTAN, LINDA (1932- ) Linda Pastan is most often recognized for what many consider to be "domestic poetry"—explorations of her roles as daughter, wife, and mother—as well as her fine eye for the nature around her. Her recurring themes of family and nature are lyrically interwoven with her recognition of the cyclical qualities of life, acknowledging this as the source of both life's pain and its wonder: "one exodus prefigures the next" ("Passover" ).
Pastan was born and grew up in the Bronx, New York. Despite her family's hopes that she would pursue a career in medicine like her father, she earned degrees in English and library science in the 1950s from Radcliffe, Simmons, and Brandeis. In 1958 won Mademoiselle's Dylan Thomas Award, after which she put her writing aside for 10 years to marry and to raise three children. Her first volume of poetry, A Perfect Circle of Sun, was published in 1971. Since then she has written nine additional books of poetry, spent four years as the poet laureate of Maryland (1991-95), and earned a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1972) and several other awards, including the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America (1978).
When she began writing poetry as a teenager, Pastan focused on religious and other familial tensions, and this tendency carried over into her published verse.
More than a cast of characters, her family members represent natural forces that shape the poet's world, from the baby whose wails of vowels seem to be "calling / for their lost consonants" ("Night Sounds" ) to the stern father who sits, "clearing / his throat of language" ("Silent Treatment" ). These descriptions contrast sharply with the recurring images of her home, set placidly among the trees of rural Maryland, under an "alphabet/ of silence" ("Blizzard" ).
Pastan is at her most lyrical when reveling in the intersection of these natural forces and her own relatively brief time on earth. In "Topiary Gardens" (1991), she laments that she will never grow leaves and berries, but she takes as consolation that someday "planted deep underground / [she] too will send up green" that will drape the gravestones sitting unchanging above her. This intertwining of loss with life, sorrow with happiness, imbues her work with a passionate love of the natural cycle. Pastan's poetry has an intimate quality that resonates, as if her words were memories, rather than poems, familiar yet "strangely new, words / you almost wrote yourself" ("A New Poet" ).
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