Home News and Features Linda Quinlan Brings Her Poetry to Lake Elmore

Linda Quinlan Brings Her Poetry to Lake Elmore

Vermont Humanities Council Taps Montpelier poet for Words in the Woods series

Linda Quinlan. Courtesy photo.
In the Vermont poetry scene, Linda Quinlan stands tall. At 76 years old, she’s racked up a number of honors for her writing over a long career. Little more than 10 years after she graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1976, she was named poet of the year in Wisconsin. In 2019, she won the “Wicked Woman Poetry Prize” and in between — and since — her poetry won publication in journals such as Sinister Wisdom, New Orleans Review, and Black Mountain Press. Locals may also know her as co-host of All Things LGBTQ on Orca Media.

On September 16, she’s bringing her poetry to Elmore State Park as part of the Words in the Woods series put on by the Vermont Humanities Council. Begun online during the pandemic and moved to in-person in 2022, Words in the Woods aims to pair Vermont’s ample poetry talent with the state’s famed natural beauty — echoing a long and close relationship between poetry and nature. 

While no stranger to reading her poetry in public — at The Front gallery in Montpelier, as part of LGBTQ Poetry Month at the library, and at the Montpelier Senior Activity Center — this is Quinlan’s first time doing so for Vermont Humanities Council. 

“I think it’s a clever idea because people in Vermont are very outdoorsy, and you can bring a lunch … and be outside and enjoy a reading,” she says.

Quinlan will read a range of poems from her career over the hour, but she’s keeping the set list somewhat flexible according to the audience and the vibe. It will also include a mix of new and old work. “I’m not comparing myself to a rock star,” she explains, “but if you do a lot of reading … you might get a little bored with your own work and want to read a lot of new stuff. But then you have an audience who has been following you [and] they want to hear a lot of the old.”

There’s also the fact that much of Quinlan’s work tends to the dark side, featuring topics such as suicide, abuse, and more. “I don’t have a lot of really cheery ones,” she notes, but “I do have some kind-of funny ones and tried to put those in. 

One example of the darker humor is her poem “Popping Frogs in the ‘50s,” which she plans to read. 

“It’s about mostly class issues and how my cousins used to make a sport of throwing frogs under cars so they could hear them pop,” she explains. Later in the poem, she writes:

I saved as many frogs as I could,

but most weren’t quick enough

to hide in the summer grass.

They slipped in oil as thick as mud.

I sat down by the pond

making mud pies,

listening to my mother yell about polio

as if that were the only danger.

While these might not directly link nature and poetry in expected ways, Jacob Pelletier, community programs officer at the Vermont Humanities Council, sees a particular connection to nature in Quinlan’s work that echoes the series’ goals. 

“I think a lot of the themes in her poetry go back to kind of those emotions and the importance of connection,” he explains. “While the themes themselves may not directly reference nature … a lot of those things are our internal struggles with nature, especially kind of as we’re looking at climate change and the impacts of that. A lot of her themes about acceptance and overcoming bigotry are things that we’re battling within the environmental spheres, as well.”

Readings like this are fun for Quinlan, but they offer a practical kind of feedback not easily acquired without an audience. A positive response, such as laughing or gasping in the right places can draw her to a poem more, she says, or the opposite if negative. With new work, audience response and the reading experience may even help shape the final form. “If I read a poem that I wrote … five days ago … and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, that’s too long and this line …’ then I will [make a change].”

Turnout is equally important, as it helps ensure the series will continue. That’s not just good for Vermont poets, but also the parks themselves, which get additional attention and traffic, a secondary goal of the series. While the summer series has been successful, Pelletier envisions extending this into other seasons, even winter, with hot cocoa adding further warmth to the poetry.

Beyond that, attending poetry readings offers a great source of inspiration for anyone. As Quinlan points out. “I find it opens me up when I’m listening to other people or reading poetry. It opens me up to new ideas and new feelings.”

Quinan will read her poetry at the picnic pavilion at Lake Elmore State Park starting at 11 a.m. on Sept. 16, with a Q&A to follow. A limited number of tables are available; bringing lawn chairs or blankets is encouraged. Find more information at Words in the Woods at vermonthumanities.org or call 802-262-2626.