The departing Portland poet laureate is drawn to Fort Allen Park.
Photographed by Corey Templeton
Manchester, New Hampshire
Ballast, published in February by Maine’s Deerbrook Editions
Another Favorite Portland Place
The rounded window overlooking High Street in the stairwell of the Portland Museum of Art.
When Linda Aldrich learned in May 2018 that she’d been named Portland’s poet laureate, she didn’t shriek or jump up and down. Instead, the soft-spoken writer drove from her Back Cove home onto Munjoy Hill and into the horseshoe-shaped lot at Fort Allen Park. There, perched high on the Eastern Promenade, she had an unbroken view of Casco Bay. That day, she says, “I looked out at the ocean to celebrate inside myself the happiness I felt.”
The Eastern Prom, and Fort Allen in particular, have been touchstones for Aldrich since she and her husband moved to Maine in 2010. They’d spent 20 years in Colorado, then headed back East to be closer to Aldrich’s elderly parents. Their first stop was rural Vermont, where the couple (“perhaps mistakenly”) bought a house at the end of a long dirt road, which Aldrich says increased the difficulty of making friends and connecting with the community. Thus, the switch to Portland, where they initially landed in a third-floor walk-up on Munjoy Hill.
“I feel like this is my place,” Aldrich says. “It’s not only through the poets I’ve come to know — and I know a lot of them — but it is also the friendliness of the people who live here.”
After more than two landlocked decades, Aldrich was drawn to the water, to long walks along the prom with Simba, her border collie, and to writing sessions in her Honda Fit at Fort Allen, often fortified by coffee and a flaky croissant from Belleville bakery, on Congress Street. “The ocean is meditative for me,” she says. “Just looking at it calms me, helps me breathe and become more relaxed. I think the enormity of the water does that.”
It has also connected her to her history. Aldrich’s paternal grandmother grew up in Owls Head, the daughter of a sea captain named Thomas Ginn and his wife, Edith. “I’ve felt by going and looking out into the ocean that I’m linking into my past,” she says. A series of poems about the Ginns — “mostly imagined, because I didn’t really know them” — appears in Aldrich’s latest collection.
The new book comes out of a fruitful time, including Aldrich’s three-year term as poet laureate, which ends this summer. While her only official duty is to be an ambassador for poetry, she’s been busy giving readings, holding workshops, and talking to students — then transitioning these to Zoom during the pandemic. Through it all, she says, Portland “feels like a very generous and warm and welcoming place to be an artist of any kind.”