November 20, 2008

Review by Alejandro Escudé

By Linda Pastan

W.W. Norton & Company
500 Fifth Avenue
New York, N.Y. 10110
ISBN 0-393-06247-3
2006, 128 pp., $23.95

Is there one way to judge a book of poems? In the case of Linda Pastan’s new collection Queen of a Rain Country, I immediately knew she was going to be one of my favorite poets after reading only one poem in the collection. Pastan isn’t the type of poet you need to fiddle around with too long. Her work is accessible (in a good way), intriguing, and relevant. Her lines contain that wonderfully bittersweet immigrant essence, which I’m familiar with being the son of an immigrant family myself, and they also reveal a kind-hearted yet fiercely independent woman, as well as a loving, playfully cynical, passionate wife and mother.

And it’s the poems about matrimony which I like the best— deceptively simple poems such as “Marriage,” which begins, “He is always turning the radio on,/or the stereo, or the TV news,/and she is always shouting at him/through the noise to turn them off.” Forget that overwrought intellectualism which is so popular today in poetry; this is the real stuff. You wouldn’t know it from the quoted stanza, but this is a very positive poem about marriage, an interesting take on marital longevity and happiness. But the best poem in the collection on the subject is “I Married You”: “I married you/for all the wrong reasons,” Pastan writes, then concludes this short lyric with, “How wrong we both were/about each other, and how happy we have been.” This, in my opinion, is the essence of matrimony, and I enjoy the fact that it goes against the longstanding belief that you should be absolutely compatible with your mate if you are to be truly satisfied in a marriage. Pastan’s poem reveals a great truth: happy marriages are unions between people who often have clashing ideals, goals, beliefs, and personalities.

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