I can’t seem to wrap my head around the idea of our campus encapsulated by a bubble—reflective and self-important in the mid-coast light, bearing the threat of an imminent pop the moment a student stretches a toe past the barrier. 

Bowdoin is the most permeable of all the places I’ve called home. We depart—home for Spring Break, to a foreign country for a semester, to Katahdin for a weekend hike—and re-enter with such excitement and frequency that one could classify it as restlessness. If such a proverbial bubble were to exist, we’ve surely already punctured its soapy film.

Portland poet Linda Aldrich has a thing or two to say about place and metaphorical models that may resonate with Bowdoin students.

“Our lives are a series of concentric circles,” she started to tell me. “We have so many from which to draw. They expand out from the body, to homes of childhood, to schools.” 

I took a second and mentally plotted my own life in Aldrich’s terms, as circles on a graph. It already seemed more plausible than the bubble model. 

“Then, of course, as you grow up you move into new spaces: college, places of relationship, job places, travel places,” Aldrich said. “You might travel the globe, increasing your terrain.” 

I visited Aldrich in Portland, to speak with her about her first full collection of poems, “March and Mad Women,” which was published in 2012. Previously Aldrich’s poems had appeared in several journals and anthologies. She published a chapbook of poetry in 2008 entitled “Footholds.”

According to Aldrich, the poems in “March and Mad Women” are connected by emotional currents and by the idea of liberating the self from past places. 

“It’s about coming into one’s own, free of one’s DNA,” she said. “[It’s about] finding that place where you feel that you are actually transcending emotional shadows that once held you back.”
Aldrich grew up in Manchester, N.H., in a working class family, and attended the University of New Hampshire. She spent her junior year living in France. 

“That experience of transitioning from living in a mill town to living in Dijon, France is something I still write poems about today,” she said.

After obtaining her B.A. in English and French, Aldrich went on to Florida State University, earning a master’s degree in theater arts. She then worked as an actress and director at the Performing Arts Foundation Playhouse in Huntington, N.Y., and the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. 

Moving to Colorado and taking poetry classes at a local community college marked a crossroad in Aldrich’s career. 

“The theater part of my life fazed out and the writing part of my life started up,” she said. “I think the lesson to be learned is that as a creative person you never know what your life is going to evolve into.”

“March and Mad Women” is, in one sense, about evolution and moving between.

“I work out of past places where I have lived,” said Aldrich. “But when you’re writing about any place in particular, it’s colored by imagination.”

The moments that inspire Aldrich’s poems are spontaneous and often elude logic. 
“I was out walking and got the phrase ‘tree of no rhapsody,’” she said. “What does that mean? I don’t know. I just like the sound of it.”

Some of Aldrich’s other spontaneously formed phrases include, “Water, Tree, Rock,” “great bruise of you,” “rusted pin hinge,” and “particles grabbed by gravity.” 

The same intuitive sense that drives her images also informs the rhythm and shape of her poems. Although she occasionally writes in a more structured form, Aldrich said that she generally works in free verse.

“I have an internal sense of rhythm that is working, and I’m not sure why,” she said. “When I’m revising I revise aloud and listen for the right rhythms and the sounds.”

Free verse allows Aldrich to experiment with the visual arrangement of her poems. 

“I’m conscious of white space and of different ways the poem appears on the page,” she said. “I have to think of both how it appears and how it’s going to sound when I read it aloud.”

Reading her poems aloud is essential to Aldrich, and having been an actress, she is hyper-aware of her audience.

“It’s so important to hear your work aloud; there’s such a wonderful give and take between performer and the people watching,” she said. “Poetry audiences are particularly good listeners. The room can become dense with listening.”

Aldrich sees her interactions with listeners, with other artists, and with marketers as separate from what she calls her introspective, “writerly self.”

“Networking is crucial,” she said. “There are times when you need to go out walking and meeting people and talking about what you are doing, and then there are times when you need to be a hermit.”

“It’s hard to be an artist in today’s society,” Aldrich added. “All good art requires standing back and seeing. If we’re caught up in the minutia of our Facebooks and phones, that’s time that could be spent making art.”