Linda Quinlan reads from Chelsea Creek

At the Bureau of General Services Queer Division in November in New York City, Linda Quinlan read from her most recent book of poems, Chelsea Creek. I had gone to hear Vittoria Repetto read, so Linda Quinlan was an unexpected treat. I felt close to her immediately; we are about the same age and both from working class families who were involved in the unions. “My daddy was a miner, and I’m a miner’s son. I’m sticking with the union until the battle’s won,” is a song I sometimes sing to remind myself I actually was a miner’s son. When she reads “Popping Frogs in the 50’s,” I am there, her poetry a mix of image and language that is charming in the old sense of the word: I’m drawn into what she says and there I am.

“Linda Quinlan renders the rough terrain of working-class New England with a lush beauty that pulls no punches, letting the brute hardness of a place and its people coexist with longing and love, finding the tenderness hiding inside tragedy,” PEN Award winner Michelle Tea said of Quinlan’s work. “I love these poems.” Me too. A lesbian mother of two boys, and grandmother too, her motherhood is universal, and the nostalgia of her past is present on the page. Two of the poems she reads from the book are below. Enjoy.


Beside the Soldier’s Home
the knotted rope swing pulled
between our legs
as our bodies swung
and our toes touched the leaves below.
This was before
the boys opened us
like the names they carved on bark.
They gathered frogs from the pond
and threw them under cars
just to hear them pop.
Us girls
held each others hands
and tightened our roller skates with keys.
On the stoop
our fathers played poker
and laughed at the frog crackers
as the heat exploded into twilight.
The porch light and shirts went on.
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.


Thin as her February birth
my Aunt Evy swayed with every half tone
the spontaneous steps of a child
living outside Newfoundland
the fishing village of her family’s past.

This wasn’t New Orleans
where she might have had a chance
where anger and creativity collide.
This was Chelsea,
a city of bad daughters
and warlike sons,
where nothing grew
but immigrants and hunger.

Her father’s madness
beckoned him to an ocean death
but instead he crawled into dementia
soaked in beer and sadness
the smell of urine even when he slept.

My aunt married one summer
a man back from the war in Europe.
His pale violence
swelling out of every room
made her a ghost.

She danced at home
over the kitchen tile that curled in the corners.
She danced in circles
while her daughter slept.

Until her husband took their child away
punishing her dance
commanded a beat from the suburbs
and snapped his fingers
again and again
until even her suicide seemed clumsy.

Linda Quinlan won the Wicked Woman Poetry Prize for Chelsea Creek. It is published by Brickhouse Books. You can check them out here:

And you can find her on Amazon too:


An Interview with Linda Quinlan:


with Anne Charles

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