Former Md. Poet laureate brings well-versed soul to art museum

April 06, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN -- Linda Pastan's poems are like pages from an ordinary person's diary.

There are thoughts about love and loss, children and spouses, and the mundane chores of the day.

Some musings are sad, some are flecked with humor, others are a little irreverent. But all of her writings come from the soul.

Pastan has been writing poetry since she was 10 years old. Now in her 70s, she has published 12 books, has won numerous awards, including, in 2003, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for lifetime achievement and was Maryland's Poet Laureate from 1991-95.

Saturday afternoon, Pastan appeared at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts to share her poetry and discuss a career she never thought was possible.


The program represented a partnership of the Washington County Free Library and the museum and was held in celebration of National Poetry Month.

Kathleen O'Connell, the library's assistant director, said Pastan's appearance was part of a national program, Poetry in the Branches, which is designed to bring poetry to libraries and make it accessible to everyone.

Pastan said she began a love affair with poetry as a child and had written quite a few poems by the time she was a teenager.

"But I didn't consider myself a poet until my first book was published," she said. "In fact, I didn't know this was something you could do professionally."

Pastan is famous for writing about everyday life in a simple and concise style.

"Often my poems start out long and heavy," she said, "but I chip away until they're very small."

Every poem goes through at least 100 revisions, she said. "So if you don't like revisions, don't become a poet."

Pastan said ideas for her poems come from all around her -- her family, the changing seasons, life and death.

"I have a notebook with me wherever I go," she said. "And I always have a piece of paper and pencil by my bed in case something comes to me at night."

Pastan said writing poetry isn't as easy as some people think.

"When I start a poem, I don't always know where it's going," she said. "Sometimes I have all this material and then I try to make sense of it. If I find I don't like what I've done, I tear it up and move on."

Pastan said poetry has always been an important part of her life. But when it came to picking a favorite poem she has written, she declined.

"It's like choosing one of your children," she said.

O'Connell said it was an honor to be able to host a former poet laureate "and very exciting to support Maryland poetry."

"To hear Linda Pastan read her poems aloud -- it was a wonderful experience. This is something we want to do more of," she said.

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