An interview with Vermont poet Zoe Armstrong

Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop poet Zoe Armstrong
Zoe Armstrong will read her poetry at The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016 book tour event at Shelburne Vineyard, Sunday, September 25, 2016

Our poetry editor, Michelle Watters, recently had this exchange with Zoe Armstrong, who will be reading her poetry at the upcoming The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016 book tour event at Shelburne Vineyard. Here’s what Zoe had to say about her poetry and the inspiration for her writing.

How long have you been a member of the Burlington Writers Workshop?

Since June of 2014.

Do you feel it has helped your writing?

Yes, the BWW has helped me gain more confidence to be bold, silly, and controversial with my writing in a public forum. It has helped me think strategically about editing both of my own work and other people’s work. I have gained skills in hosting writing events and work-shopping.

In this year’s anthology, your poem “Wooly Worms” describes the narrator as “a huge alien in a big blue space ship.” Has there been a time in your life when you felt like an alien? 

Most days I generally feel modern humans have a disconnect with nature as much as we are connected to it. When I am on a highway in my car, a.k.a my spaceship, I observe the other space ships swirling around me on our tar pathways and I think the wild life would experience us as we would experience an actual alien in the sky from a space shape.

How long have you been writing poetry? 

I wrote my first substantial poem in fifth grade. I remember it vividly because my teachers were shocked because they liked it so much and had me read it to the class. I was a science nerd at the time and the poem was about astronomy and the constellations. Since then my teachers and my parents encouraged me to write.

Do you write in other genres?

Yes, I write nonfiction, creative nonfiction, travel writing, and political essays.

Do you have a handful of favorite writers you would like to share?

V.S. Naipaul, Graham Greene, Arundhati Roy, Alice Walker, and Glen Greenwald.

Would you say you gather inspiration from these writers?

Yes, I gather wisdom, emotional foment, magic, and bravery from them.

Where did you grow up?

Woolwich, town of 2000 on the coast of Maine. I grew up on 175 acres of forested land, harvesting green beans and howling at the moon.

What was your childhood like?

We tried to keep the coyotes from eating the cats. We tried to keep the hunters from shooting our deer. We harvested balsam greens, firewood, and other resources from the land for livelihood and creativity. I was an only child. My Dad is a forester, a naturalist, woodworker, an artist and antique car restorer. My Mom is also a naturalist, an artist really good with flowers and plants, interested in architectural design. My parents built the house I grew up in, it was two hexagons put together, designed after a beehive. I was raised to be very independent, self sufficient, and reverent of nature.

How do you see yourself as a writer in the next five years?

Oh you know, on the New York Times Bestseller list, millions of dollars, famous.

Any new poem you have been working on that you are excited about?

Yes, I have been working on a set of poems. One is trying to honor what Senator Bernie Sanders has accomplished in this last primary election. One is trying to deconstruct the dangerous comedy routine of Donald Trump and one is trying to explore Hillary Clinton, both her darkness and her potential.

Describe for us your favorite place to write, imaginary or real?

One time I was studying legong dance in Bali, Indonesia and I met a woman in a café who instantly became enraptured by my deep-hearted, struggling artist routine. She let me take a writing workshop with her for free, usually it was over $100 to join and I was broke, making money to travel offering massages—so it was a huge favor. In her workshop we meditated before we wrote and sometimes listened to subtle, expansive music tones. I found the state of mind to be very fruitful for writing meaningful, honest scenes with rich visuals and stimulating delivery. From time to time I try to recreate that space.

If you were an animal which animal would you be and why?

 A bat because then I could fly and I would never fear the darkness.

To hear Zoe and others read their work from this year’s anthology, join us for the upcoming The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016 book tour event at Shelburne Vineyard. Enjoy a glass of local wine while listening to some great local poetry. RSVP now >

More about Zoe

Zoe Armstrong is a spoken-word poet and essayist. Her work has been published in Wolf Moon Press, Curve Magazine, Peace Corps Northeast Blog, The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2015, HSU Matrix, and activist magazines. Her radio program “Patterns of Chaos” has been featured on community radio stations in Maine, Vermont, and California. She was raised by wooly worms in the Maine woods and is currently a Ver-mainer living in Burlington. 

More about The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016

This book is the fourth installment in the Best of the Burlington Writers Workshopseries. Founded in 2013, the annual anthology features work that is written, selected, and edited by BWW members. The mission of the anthology is to showcase the work of new, emerging, and established Vermont writers while offering Vermonters the opportunity to learn first-hand about the editing, publishing, and book marketing process. The 2016 edition will be available for purchase soon. Learn more or purchase a copy of past anthologies in the series >