Monday, July 12, 2010

Interview with Poet Jenne' R. Andrews (Part 3)

. . . they are made of pain and deep loneliness
 and the courage to see beyond into poems
of compassion and understanding. The result is
a poetry of intensity that has both delicacy and power.
~ Poet Thomas McGrath on Jenne' R. Andrews' Reunion

* * * * *

Parts 1 and 2 of my in-depth interview with Jenne' R. Andrews were published on July 5 and July 8, respectively. In Part 3 below, Andrews speaks with me about being published, teaching writing, writing memoir, and reflecting on her favorite poets.

* * * * * 

Maureen Doallas: Jenne', you published a small press book, Reunion; have been the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship; and have also published poems in various literary magazines or journals. How would you characterize your initial experiences of being published?

Jenne' R. Andrews: Well, it is wonderful to be published. You feel euphoric. Then, at least in my case, there was panic. How would I keep it going and live up to myself? There is an instantaneous pressure to keep being good and publishable.

MD: How did you feel on seeing a poems of yours and a collection of poems in print for the first time?

JRA: Wonderful. Then terrified! Robert Bly and I were scheduled to read together at Augsburg College in Minneapolis and In Pursuit of the Family, my chapbook from his and our collective press, was brought in in boxes. There was a big crowd. I was terrified. But in a good way.

MD: What is your favorite bit of advice for beginning poets and other writers?

JRA: Psychic and spiritual growth take  time; don't try too hard, don't take yourself too seriously in the beginning; don't ascribe your entire identity to being a writer; be human. Give yourself permission to fall short, to acknowledge that you just don't have it on a given day and shouldn't force it. Be willing to put things away rather  than sending them out into the world.

MD: What makes a poem "work" or not?

JRA: It sings and showcases a given writer's voice; it is unified and accessible.

Sometimes I am a light-bearer,
running on the hill past the old and great houses
of the great and lost; the families within families
who pattern themselves on the new year
like a trailing of vines on stone.

It is this life I light, running with the heart
as torch, the inflammation of the whole body.
It is a way to recover the memory of love.

Running, I hear the lost voices of the lamps,
unquenchable governesses with their moral light—
at times, in their burning in all weather,
thin women in an aura of certitude,
ready to abandon an old life.

Into my sleep
I take rooms lit by an abundance
of hair; auburn
or silver—those who sit nodding,
smiling in the chair while the year grows faintly worn.

In this work I am forever young; I uphold
the day, put the night to bed, dress
the autumnal stone.
My home is the swift foot; I live
in a city within the one seen.
I am readily lost
to the leaves rolling under the wind.
~ "Running on Ramsey Hill" in Reunion
© Jenne' R. Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

[Note: Andrews tells me that she wrote this poem on bar napkins.]

MD: Do you believe that a poem can bring about change in the way, say, that a photograph can incite or effect change?

JRA: Absolutely. Bly's "The Teeth Mother Naked at Last" [in Sleepers Joining Hands, 1973, Bly's third volume of poetry; out of print] galvanized a generation of students, thinkers, writers, academics, and others in between those categories. When he was here he led us down the main drag to a war memorial, and he had just read that poem. We were infused with rash courage and took over a building. The changes effected by that sort of thing were not immediate. I do believe the radical voice helped to swell public sentiment and bring an end to the Vietnam War.

MD: How, if at all, did your subsequent experience as a teacher influence or otherwise affect your writing?

JRA: Assisting my students in becoming better writers cross-pollinated; I always saw that I needed to take my own advice and particularly that I should do what I asked of them: work as hard, take the same risks. I also had a sense of purpose: I closely identified with being a teacher; I felt useful.

The hardest thing about the job I lost at the University of Colorado was a loss of a sense of purpose. I lost the community of students and colleagues, a whole way of life. I have written somewhere on my blog that the day after I was put on arbitrary medical leave for an "off day" I went out to the local feedlot and rescued some lambs; I needed something to do that would just take me over. That did; lambs are precious, weak, often sick, and need to be fed every four hours. Then, it was on to founding a bloodline and raising a dynasty of Golden Retrievers. At that point, I was utterly given over to care-taking and lost the writer me. I should say, the writer me went into hibernation.

MD: Who are some of your favorite poets and what makes them your favorites?

JRA: D.H. Lawrence: his passion and mythical sense of the sensuality of life. Thomas McGrath: language—I know of no one as lyrically brilliant as McGrath was. I find myself drawn to Sandra Beasley's work, around her glittering language, but I can't say that I fully grasp what she's getting at in a particular poem.

Some of the new poets seem to be so invested in sounding brilliant that they sacrifice accessibility. I have some kind of begrudging admiration for Linda Gregg, Mary Jo Bang, but I don't think we should enthrone Billy Collins—he is somewhat formulaic, I feel. Jorie Graham is brilliant but sometimes I think her work is a drawn-out intellectual exercise; i.e., the harder to experience this poem, the better it must be: no. I love Lyle Daggett's poetry—he is in Minnesota and is very good. I find many of your poems stunning in a variety of ways—craft, dimension, vision, depth.

Some poets are profoundly good with the language but emotionally cold. A poem, like an aria, should move the heart.

MD: You're working on a memoir, Nightfall in Verona, about an experience in Italy many years ago. What makes a memoir a success or failure?

JRA: A good memoir claims the heart and soul in some way. It brings experience to life with immediacy, in the intimate voice. Sensationalist litanies of abuse by themselves don't seem to work; the writing has to be brilliant, the subject captivating. And the dilemmas, issues, themes need to be universal.

MD: If you had to write copy now to market your memoir, what might it say?

JRA: "In the summer of 1973, an agoraphobic young poet meets two friends in Europe; the trio buys a VW bus, adventuring through the Tyrol into Tuscany. Fate then intervenes with a vengeance: She asks a Calabrian medical student directions to the nearest campground and within days finds herself alone on a train down the coast to the toe of the boot of Italy. Hilarious, tender, lyrical. Jenne' Andrews' Nightfall in Verona is a cannoli of a memoir."

Or something like that. . . .

Part 4, the final segment of my interview, in which Andrews talks about the challenges of reviving her writing life, will be published on Thursday, July 15.

Andrews' collection Reunion is available from Lynx House Press via Christopher Howell (e-mail to order a copy).

Andrews blogs at Loquaciously Yours.


Louise Gallagher said...

What a strong and loving voice.

"...there was panic. How would I keep it going and live up to myself?"

we have these thoughts, and then we do.

Thanks so much Maureen for sharing your time with Jenne with us.


Jenne' R. Andrews said...

Thanks Louise and thanks once more Maureen; we had fun, yes? Love, J

Kathleen Overby said...

Absorbing this. Listening intently.

sarah said...

she seems like a lovely and interesting person :-) good interview!