From pain to pizza, poet laureate shares craft secrets with students Linda Pastan wields poetic license at Severn School CENTRAL COUNTY -- Arnold * Broadneck * Severna Park * Crownsville * Millersville

September 23, 1993|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Staff Writer

You could tell the real poetry lovers by the way they leaned forward as Linda Pastan read at Severn School yesterday, by their intense looks and serious questions.

When did Maryland's poet laureate start writing? (Age 12.) Who were her favorite poets? (Yeats and T.S. Eliot.) Was she really as angry at men as some of her poems sounded?

At this question, the Potomac resident looked surprised and started to laugh.

"I've recently celebrated my 40th wedding anniversary," she said. While women have not always been treated with the quality they deserve and some of her poems reflect that, she said, "I clearly like men!"

Ms. Pastan is the author of seven volumes of poetry, including "Waiting for My Life," "PM/AM: New and Selected Poems," and her latest collection, "Heroes in Disguise."

She read free verse, the form she said she prefers, to the Upper School English Department at Severn. But she also read a few rhymed poems. She read poignant phrases about pain and an as-yet-unpublished light verse touting the origins of pizza -- in paradise.

Brown-haired and friendly, sitting on a stool with her one leg curled under her, Ms. Pastan made the students laugh with bits about her personal life and writing career.

She read a poem about making soup from stones, which concludes: "When he comes home/serve him a steaming bowlful/Then watch him as he bites/into the stone."

"That's probably the angriest poem I ever wrote. My husband was afraid to eat dinner for weeks after that poem," she said in jest.

Ms. Pastan said she began writing as a "very lonely" child growing up in the country in New York. "Writing was a way to respond to books," she said.

She told the teen-agers they could write poems about anything, "even mundane things like soup or football, even if it seems quite trivial." She uses these things, she said, to convey her main themes: "Loss, the fear of loss, the dangers under the tranquil domestic surfaces of life," she said.

But how do you write your poems? the students wanted to know, waiting for a formula, a key, some map to greatness.

Well, she said, first she writes everything down in some form on the page. Then she shapes the words into whatever is visually appropriate. "You listen for the rhythm of the poem you want. It's mostly instinctive."

Often, when writing about grief or some personal situation, Ms. Pastan said, she "gives it a mythic frame." Her works refer heavily to classical literature, including the Hebrew scriptures.

A context of myth "gives it a kind of distance from the story, it deepens the poem," she said. "Myth is part of everyone's life."

The students seemed to relate as Ms. Pastan spoke about sitting in ethics classes in high school, debating what to save if a museum burned -- the pictures or the people. She read her poem about this question, which concludes that "woman and painting and season are almost one . . . and all beyond saving by children."

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