Our Newsletter editor, Pat, recommended in April (2006) that we read Ms. Pastan's poetry at one of our Birthday Poetry events. Late in May, around the time of Ms. Pastan's birthday, nine River Junction Poets met to read poetry she had written. She lives in Maryland, but our group has decided it's fun to meet on the occasion of poets' birthdays and read poetry by them. We met at the Barnes & Noble in Saginaw (Michigan). We enjoyed her poems, and in particular the 'accessible' quality of them. We also enjoyed learning a little more about her - we learned, for instance, that she served as Poet Laureate of Maryland.
I was particularly glad to find this poet. I had not known of her poems before. It was a nice surprise for me to see on the cover of one of her books a comment by William Stafford, one of my favorite poets.
In addition to reading her poems, we bought a birthday card, signed it and mailed it to the addess Pat, our Newsletter editor, had. Ms. Pastan wrote back immediately with warmth and kindness:
Dear River Junction Poets,
What a lovely surprise your card and comments were! Sometimes I forget there is anybody out there reading my poems -- with thanks and best wishes!
Are you anywhere near Grand Rapids? I'll be reading there in March -- And I have a new book, Queen of a Rainy Country, due in the fall.
Ms. Pastan wrote her response on the back of a proof of an older poem of hers, to be published 'in a forthcoming issue of MSS.' Here's the poem:
At My Window
I have thought much
the mute pilgrimage
of all those flakes,
and about the dark wanderings
I have stalked
all four seasons
and seen how they beat
the same path
through the same woods
again and again.
I used to make a multitude
of trains, trusting
the strategy of tracks,
I sailed on ships
trusting the arbitrary north.
Now I stand still
at my window
watching the snow
which knows only one direction,
falling in silence
Pat included Ms. Pastan's response to the birthday card in the River Junction Poets Newsletter. We hope to receive more responses from other poets as a result of this fun activity which brings us closer together, broadens our metaphorical horizons and connects us in a poetical sense to friends we haven't met in person.
We thought it was particularly delightful to receive the note from Ms. Pastan early in June (2006), so soon after we had sent the birthday card, and then on June 8th to hear Garrison Keillor read a poem by Ms. Pastan on his daily radio show 'The Writer's Almanac.' He read her poem 'After an Absence.' Coincidences can so tickle the cranium!
To update this story, I wrote to ask Ms. Pastan specifically where and when in Grand Rapids (MI) she will be reading. She will be reading at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids on Tuesday, March 20 (2007) at 7:30p.m. Hopefully a few of us River Junction Poets will be able to travel to Grand Rapids to hear her read then.
And now for another update: in my kitchen, I have a poster measuring ~11x14 inches announcing Ms. Pastan's reading at the Wege Ballroom. I drove to Grand Rapids with Sandy and Marion for the occasion. Sandy teaches English at Central Michigan University and Marion is a tireless advocate for poetry in Saginaw, Michigan. In fact, she is one of the founding members of Saginaw's poetry group, the River Junction Poets.
Pam Luebke of Aquinas College and Ms. Pastan allowed me to videotape Ms. Pastan that evening. I am glad to have the event captured digitally because I have never personally witnessed so many people at a poetry reading. Apparently some of the teachers at Aquinas expected to see their students there. After I do some editing, the video will run on Midland, Michigan's public-access television station, MCTV-3. I will also send a copy to Ms. Pastan.
UPDATE: Unfortunately, the audio recording of this event was of such a poor quality that the video production was scuppered.
"It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued." River Junction Poets Mission Statement