What could be a worse fate for a modern American female poet than to be lumped into a nebulous, chauvinistic and ever slightly misogynistic pool of cess stereotyped as a “domestic poet.” Anyone unfamiliar with the term coming across it from the first time in reference to a female poet might well believe that domestic poetry is sweetly rhyming verse taking as its subject situations like getting the kids into the van for soccer practice, making cookies for the PTA meeting and, of course, a litany of hatred expressed toward husbands who are never there to help with domestic issues.
Never mind that Robert Frost and Walt Whitman and Wallace Stevens have all at one time or another found a niche within the broadly defined movement or genre of domestic poetry. Which, for the same of brevity, shall be termed poetry dealing with the commonplace of everyday as opposed to epic tales, transcendental unity of man with nature, mysticism, avant-garde experimentation with form over content and various other assorted and sundry types of poems with which the average person cannot relate. Linda Pastan, in other words, writes poems in which she consistently returns to touch upon universal themes dealing with family and relationships and the difficulties of normal existence and the emotional distress of just getting up and living live as it comes.
The tension that always exists between members of a family regardless of the definition or connotation applied to the term “family” has been a great source of inspiration to Pastan from her earliest verse and throughout her development and maturation. By contrast, an equally concentrated examination of the tensions introduced by religious and spiritual expectations has tended to dissipate throughout that process of growing older and becoming more domesticated. In its place Pastan has created a body of work that is far more elegiac and meditative and, it must finally be admitted, less domestic. With the introduction of a more melancholic and reflective poetry that moves into a greater sense of isolation and a solitary contemplation of tactile nature rather than abstract spiritualism, Pastan succeeds in tossing off whatever chains may have been tied around her verse as a result of the unfortunate constriction of trying to pigeonhole her as merely a domestic poet.