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About this poet

On May 27, 1932, Linda Pastan was born to a Jewish family in the Bronx. She graduated from Radcliffe College and received an MA from Brandeis University.

She is the author of Traveling Light (W. W. Norton & Co., 2011); Queen of a Rainy Country (2006); The Last Uncle (2002); Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems 1968-1998 (1998), which was nominated for the National Book Award; An Early Afterlife (l995); Heroes In Disguise (1991), The Imperfect Paradise (1988), a nominee for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; PM/AM: New and Selected Poems (l982), which was nominated for the National Book Award; The Five Stages of Grief (l978), and A Perfect Circle of Sun (l971).

About Pastan's The Five Stages of Grief, the poet May Sarton said, "It is about all her integrity that has made Linda Pastan such a rewarding poet. Nothing is here for effect. There is no self-pity, but in this new book she has reached down to a deeper layer and is letting the darkness in. These poems are full of foreboding and acceptance, a wry unsentimental acceptance of hard truth. They are valuable as signposts, and in the end, as arrivals. Pastan's signature is growth."

Among her many awards and honors include a Pushcart Prize, a Dylan Thomas Award, the Di Castagnola Award, the Bess Hokin Prize, the Maurice English Award, the Charity Randall Citation, and the 2003 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. She was a recipient of a Radcliffe College Distinguished Alumnae Award.

From 1991 to 1995, she served as the Poet Laureate of Maryland, and was among the staff of the Breadloaf Writers Conference for twenty years. Linda Pastan lives in Potomac, Maryland.

Vertical

Linda Pastan, 1932
Perhaps the purpose
of leaves is to conceal
the verticality
of trees
which we notice
in December
as if for the first time:
row after row
of dark forms
yearning upwards.
And since we will be
horizontal ourselves
for so long,
let us now honor 
the gods
of the vertical:
stalks of wheat
which to the ant
must seem as high
as these trees do to us,
silos and
telephone poles,
stalagmites
and skyscrapers.
but most of all
these winter oaks,
these soft-fleshed poplars,
this birch
whose bark is like
roughened skin
against which I lean 
my chilled head,
not ready 
to lie down.

From Traveling Light, published by W. W. Norton & Company. Copyright © 2010 by Linda Pastan. Used with permission of the publisher.

From Traveling Light, published by W. W. Norton & Company. Copyright © 2010 by Linda Pastan. Used with permission of the publisher.

Linda Pastan

Linda Pastan

The author of many collections of poetry, Linda Pastan's book Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems 1968-1998 was nominated for the National Book Award

by this poet

poem
I married you
for all the wrong reasons,
charmed by your 
dangerous family history,
by the innocent muscles, bulging
like hidden weapons 
under your shirt,
by your naive ties, the colors
of painted scraps of sunset.

I was charmed too
by your assumptions
about me: my serenity—
that mirror waiting to be cracked,
poem
I'm only leaving you
for a handful of days,
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
poem

for F.

For Jews, the Cossacks are always coming.
Therefore I think the sun spot on my arm
is melanoma. Therefore I celebrate
New Year's Eve by counting
my annual dead.

My mother, when she was dying,
spoke to her visitors of books
and travel, displaying serenity
as a form of manners, though