by Linda Pastan
W.W. Norton & Company, $15
In Carnival Evening, a collection of new and old poems, Linda Pastan circles through several themes. Eve, the Garden of Eden, and death appear repeatedly, as do reflections on motherhood, nature, and the Bronx of Pastan’s childhood—all topics that she addresses with a gentle reverence. The collection is so wide-ranging that it is comforting to have these familiar touchstones as anchors throughout the book, which covers poems written between 1968 and 1998.
The poems are mostly those of daily life as woman, wife and mother, but they are informed by a familiarity with biblical figures and mythological ones. The pages bear witnesses to a life examined honestly and simply, even as Pastan looks at her subjects through a very sophisticated, even academic lens. References to Plato dwell in these pages alongside reminiscences of teaching a daughter to ride a bike and saying goodbye when she leaves home.
With more than 200 poems. Carnival Evening is substantial, filled with scenes from family life and laced with a tenacious melancholy. Still, the fresh, sometimes humorous imagery with which Pastan depicts her subjects makes the poems poignant rather than depressing, as in a meditation on the pain of childbirth: “Babies should grow in fields;/common as beets or turnips/they should be picked and held/root end up, soil spilling/from between their toes.”
Karen Prager is a book editor and freelance writer in New Jersey.