Introductions: Linda Pastan

On November 10, Linda Pastan brought her quiet but powerful literary presence to McCaw Hall for SAL’s 2015/16 Poetry Series. SAL Associate Director Rebecca Hoogs introduced her and moderated their conversation that night.

It is an honor and delight to introduce Linda Pastan, who is here to celebrate and read from poetry across her long career, including her 14th collection of poetry, the just-published Insomnia.

Born in New York City, Pastan has lived most of her life in Maryland, where she was that state’s poet laureate. She is a winner of the prestigious Ruth Lily Poetry prize and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. Like Mary Oliver or Ted Kooser, Pastan pays attention to the world in steady, quiet language. Kooser, in fact, has praised her work, saying she is “a master of the kind of water-clear writing that enables us to see into the depths.”

Her poems are driven largely by metaphor, and there is a moment in each when that device clicks into place and we suddenly have an enhanced view of the world—as if night vision has been granted to us, as if we are suddenly the owl in the trees with our sights set on a skittering heartbeat far below. Even when these poems take place in the daytime, there is a darkness to them, a nighttime, a November to them. Pastan’s work has always been meditative and elegiac, but in recent books, the poems have become darker still as mortality and the dead—“my dead,” she calls them—have crept closer. The poet and reviewer Grace Cvnalieri wrote that the trait that most defines Pastan’s work is “the tremble of dread below an otherwise tranquil surface.”

Yet the work is not without humor—you will laugh and cry tonight. Prairie Schooner wrote of her work that “Pastan reminds us that life is built on, and supported equally by, happiness and sorrow.” So please join me in welcoming our November poet, the quiet master of the last four decades of poetry, Linda Pastan.

–Rebecca Hoogs

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