Our poetry editor, Michelle Watters, recently spoke with poet Linda Quinlan, whose poem “Chelsea, MA” appears in The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016. Here’s what Linda had to say about her work, her inspirations, and her approach to poetry.
Your poem “Chelsea, MA” reads like memoir. Is it?
Yes. It was about my favorite Aunt Evelyn. My mother was the oldest of seven children. My favorite aunt was the youngest. She was the wildest, she was a flapper in the twenties and drank way too much. I used to run numbers for her. In the old days, people would pick numbers in a bar and then you would bring them to a bookie. If your numbers matched the numbers at the bookie joint, you got paid. I brought the numbers to the bookie.
What was your childhood like?
My childhood was working class. My parents were factory workers. My mother worked in a rubber factory and my dad was a steelworker. I was adopted and I had an older brother who was also adopted. He was eight years older and a sadistic bastard. I belonged to the hip crowd in school, lots of friends, lots of fun. I enjoyed the social aspects of school, not the academics. I still hang out with some of my high school friends when I go home.
Was there a defining moment in your life where it hit you that you were a writer?
Yes, eighth grade English class. There was a class on poetry and I fell in love and thought this is what I am going to do. We read Emily Dickinson and Yeats and later Plath and Rich. I thought it was magical.
What are some other jobs you had before becoming a writer?
I have always been a writer, but I have had jobs along the way. I owned my own painting business; it was one of the first all-women painting crews in the country. I’ve also been a financial aid adviser and a grant writer.
Do you have a favorite poem that you have written?
Yes, it was called “A New Orleans Farewell” and it was published in The Women’s Literary Journal about two years ago. It was about a friend of mine who died after Katrina. His name was Mike and he had undiagnosed hepatitis C and liver cancer. He had used a needle in his twenties and had gone undiagnosed.
Who are your favorite authors/poets/books?
Adrienne Rich’s Diving Into The Wreck, Sylvia Plath’s Ariel. Martha Collins was my creative writing teacher in college. She is considered to be among the best top twenty American poets. Also I would say Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.
Do you consider yourself a feminist poet? And what does that mean to you?
I would say I am a feminist, but not necessarily a feminist poet, and even though I am a lesbian, I don’t say I’m a lesbian poet.
Where do you like to write?
I like to write at home in a small room, kind of a little cubby. I have a lot of poetry around me. I play music, blues mostly. I do a lot of pacing when I write.
Do you write anything besides poetry?
I do, but I don’t think I’m very good at it. Margaret Atwood made a statement that “if you throw water on poetry it becomes a novel.” I really identify with that because when I try to write nonfiction or plays, I just want to go back to poetry because I feel like I can tell the story better, more concise, more powerfully.
Where did you go to school/college?
University of Massachusetts, Boston 1970-1976.
You have been writing for a long time. What are some of the accomplishments you are proud of?
I was Poet of the Year in Wisconsin in 1989. I’ve also had lots of publications in literary magazines.
How do you think the BWW has helped you?
The BWW has enhanced the writing community for me and given me access to fellow writers.
Do you have any specific writing goals for the coming years?
I would like to get a chapbook published, but I guess I don’t put in the effort it takes to do that. I am very zen about this. I submit my poetry all the time to journals, but I just am happy with my life and enjoy it.
More about Linda
Linda Quinlan has been published in numerous literary journals, some of which include Pudding, New Orleans Review, Sinister Wisdom, and the North Carolina Literary Review. She was Poet of the Year in Wisconsin and had a play entitled When I Go to Sleep performed at the Players Theater in Waitsfield, Vermont. She lives with her partner in Montpelier, Vermont.
To hear Linda and others read their work from this year’s anthology, join us for the Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016 print launch party: Friday, April 29, 2016 6-9 pm at Burlington City Arts (BCA), 135 Church Street, Burlington, VT. RSVP now >
More about The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016
This book is the fourth installment in the Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop series. Founded in 2013, the annual anthology features work that is written, selected, and edited by BWW members. The mission of the anthology is to showcase the work of new, emerging, and established Vermont writers while offering Vermonters the opportunity to learn first-hand about the editing, publishing, and book marketing process. The 2016 edition will be available for purchase soon. Learn more or purchase a copy of past anthologies in the series >