Consider the Space Between Stars
by Linda Pastan • from The Paris Review
Linda Pastan's fourteenth book of poems, Insomnia, will be published next fall.
The Paris Review
Decade after decade, the Review has introduced the important writers of the day. Adrienne Rich was first published in its pages, as were Philip Roth, V. S. Naipaul, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Mona Simpson ....
"Midway through my freshman year at college, my roommate, Roger, asked if I would read a poem he'd written and tell him what I thought. I was pleased to be considered a literary person whose opinion might be valued. And my roommate, who would major in geology, had previously shown no interest in poetry. 'Of course,' I said.
"The subject of the poem was the death of Roger's father, and I felt a small shock in reading it, since no one I knew had yet lost a parent. Unfortunately, Roger's poem was a very bad poem. I don't now remember the various ways in which it failed, but there seemed no doubt in my mind. Given the subject, however, what kind of criticism would be appropriate or bearable?
"I began by expressing my condolences, and Roger interrupted quickly to say, No, his father hadn't really died. That was just the subject of the poem. 'But you can't do that!' I exclaimed. Perhaps I didn't actually exclaim, or even say it directly. But it was what I felt. This was wrong, a violation of some rule or code. You couldn't do it, or you shouldn't.
"But why not? What if the poem had been good? Would I have condemned it because it wasn't 'true'? Would factual truth have been transformed into a larger 'truth' (quotation marks intended), determined by literary value? This essay is an attempt to think about these questions."
—Lawrence Raab MORE
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