Linda Beeman’s poetry is set in the hard country of Idaho’s Silver Valley.
In her chapbook of poems simply titled “Wallace, Idaho,” the Wallace native writes about mine deaths and labor wars, the “Big Burn” of 1910, Bunker Hill, the Sunshine Mine. The Whidbey Island, Wash., resident will be visiting her old stomping grounds next weekend for a series of readings and book signings.
In this email question-and-answer interview, Beeman discusses her inspiration and her writing.
Q. You’ve said your poetry collection was inspired by your 2010 visit to Wallace for the Big Burn anniversary. Had you been back to town much before that?
A. I’ve been back perhaps a dozen times since graduating from high school and leaving for college in 1965. Most of those trips were visits with family or for high school reunions.
Q. What was it about going home that brought the ghosts back to life?
A. You know, I think anytime you return to a place that has shaped you, you feel like you’re tripping over memories … continually running into your former selves. Walking by the city swimming pool, for instance, I remember coming in second in the breast stroke competition as a teenager. Seeing Larry McGuffy’s (my adolescent first love) old house. Remembering your first kiss. The crack patterns in the sidewalks close to home. The cognac color of the rocks and creeks, and the taste of huckleberries.
Q. How did Wallace shape you as a writer?
A. Wallace taught me, by example, to be a little gutsier than I probably would have been otherwise. It took some courage to be drill team leader in parades when kids from other towns had a lot of disparaging things to say about Wallace. It’s a small town with an outsize influence given its size. It taught me to take calculated risks because I knew I’d be sorry if I never tried doing the things that scared me a little. As a writer, as a poet, you must reveal yourself in ways that are sometimes uncomfortable. Wallace played a large part in driving me to do that.
Q. How often do you write poetry?
A. Daily. I’m so grateful you didn’t ask, “How often do you write good poetry?”
Q. What’s your next project?
A. You know, I’m a closet science nerd. I love reading about astrophysics, cosmology, nanotechnology, bioengineering. Some years ago, sitting between an Anglican bishop and the director of the National Science Foundation at a lunch celebrating the opening of the Antarctic research season, I was groping toward common themes for conversation. It suddenly occurred to me that the big questions science asks – “What was there before the big bang?” “Why is the universe shaped the way it is?” “What is the point?” – are also asked in slightly different form by religious scholars. This is a VERY LONG way of saying I’m working on poems that find the nexus between science and spirit. Some of them are really funny.