Thursday, July 15, 2010

Interview with Poet Jenne' R. Andrews (Part 4)

       Today we carry our defeat
        into the ancient light
        of nightfall in the fields.

       [. . .] This is how we account
        for living by the feverish order of need;
        In famine
        we walk apart on the evening hill.

        Then the act of cold blood—
        turning back
        to hold each other.
          ~ Jenne' Andrews, from "Kyrie" in In Pursuit of the Family

* * * * *

This is the fourth and final segment of my in-depth interview with writer Jenne' R. Andrews. Parts 1, 2, and 3 were published on July 5, July 8, and July 12, respectively. Today, Andrews speaks about her experience as part of the Minnesota literary scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s, influences on her development as a poet, and the challenges she faces now as she tries to get her current writing published. Andrews is finishing a memoir, Nightfall in Verona, and an as-yet-unnamed novella. Andrews writes at her blog Loquaciously Yours and networks at SheWrites.

* * * * *

Maureen Doallas: After years away from publishing your writing, you're trying to restart or revive your writing life. How would you characterize your efforts, Jenne'? For example, given the enormous changes in publishing, the proliferation of social networking, and the advent of nontraditional forms of publication (e.g., blogging), what are some of the artistic and personal challenges you're facing?

Jenne' R. Andrews: I've kept writing but not publishing, having written many poems on the fly and put them away. Some traumatic events around extrication of the M.F.A. fed into the erosion of my self-confidence as a writer. In any event, I believe that because of the proliferation of M.F.A. programs, someone like me is up against the currency of new voices more than ever before. Polished and committed writers—particularly excellent women writers—are everywhere.

I just sent my best work to Poetry and it was rejected. Perhaps what I write is not in favor: too much self-disclosure. There is something of an anti-autobiographical or first-person voice movement of some kind, I think, although all of the poets I mentioned [earlier, in other parts of this interview] seem to deploy the "I" at times. I also get the idea there there is more emotional restraint in the poems in favor than in my own work [as in] Linda Gregg's poem "The Apparent". . . and, to me, many of these are emotionally sterile—called brilliant but, to me, lacking vulnerability.

When [T.S. Eliot's] Prufrock was published, people said of it that it was brilliant because it captured the spiritual exhaustion of modernity and  the ennui of the sensibility at a dead end. I think Prufrock is a brilliant poem. I see a corollary in what appears to have favor at the moment: a kind of diffidence of voice, an ironic voice, a restrained yet brilliantly dissipated voice, even among women. I don't like to make generalizations; these are just impressions.

The Internet is a blessing and a curse. Now that I'm disabled, I depend on and deeply need to touch base with several women each day whom I've met online. No woman is an island. . . But I am not forced to leave my house and go out into the world and connect face-to-face with others. I have become very isolated, and isolation breeds depression. Many of us are aging, and we need each other. Many of us are alone, without families, husbands, grandchildren, and really need someone to do for and someone to watch over us. I have that in a close friend who is an ex-romantic interest; we have forged a 20-year bond but we have also had some very rough times, so that it is clear that our  times together are finite. We did things in reverse, we were discussing last night; we fell into bed, called it love, tried to build a life, and it fell apart. One thing and another kept us involved, mainly land and animals, and now we are getting to know each other. We have long twilight conversations and then it is clearly time to go. . . I am always relieved to go back to my place and he is relieved to be left to his.

The first thing I do when I come home is go online and go to "my places", blogs I follow, She Writes, e-Bay, here and there. Virtual interaction with the world is at least interaction with the world in some hybrid form.

If I had the money, I would buy an old school out on a beautiful road here—the first school house in the area—put up a barn so that everyone had a horse, and live there with three or four other women artists and writers my age; we would be each other's angels. We would each have own little suite of rooms and communal meals.

I spent time in a nursing home and I became very close to a host of people in the same "wheelchair universe" I was in. We were a community, a family of sorts. It was very hard to leave, and I mourned for some time. For those reasons, I no longer fear going back into a "facility". I know that despite the horror stories, there are caring people to turn to and people whose garrulity works in their favor; they are natural story-tellers and listening to them takes me out of myself.

MD: Jenne', you came of age during the late '60s, early '70s — a time of great political and cultural upheaval — and you also were part of the Minnesota literary scene of the time. What do you recall from that period that most influenced your development as a writer?

JRA: First and foremost, community. Several of us founded Women Poets of the Twin Cities, which became a very influential and helpful union of women writers. We met and workshopped each other and advocated for each other in getting readings and teaching gigs. I loved hanging out with other writers. We sparked off each other and supported each other. I deeply miss that. I did not do myself any favors in leaving that environment.

There were grants and gigs and poetry mattered in all mileau—the schools, the universities, the arts scene. Many of the women in our group have gone on to rich careers: Caroline Marshall, Marisha Chamberlain, Mary Karr, Patricia Hampl, Madelon Sprengnether, Kate Green, Peg Guilfoyle, Judith Guest, Phebe Hanson, others. 

The Loft Literary Center, above Marly Rusoff's bookstore near the University of Minnesota, began as a [place for] weekend poetry reading by a few of us. Marly went East and became a top-notch agent. Now [the center] is a huge place, awarding grants, publication prizes, holding classes. There are presses in the Twin Cities: Milkweed Editions [and] Graywolf Press. [Note: This last sentence has been edited, subsequent to Part 4's initial posting. I thank poet Lyle Daggett for his information about New Rivers Press, which, as he states in his comment below, is now elsewhere. For information about Coffee House Press, which is in Minneapolis, go here. ~ MED]

Then, this was the dawn of feminism and the feministic voice, as in Adrienne Rich, a laying claim to personal power and the personal as the political. This was very influential on many of us. We began to legitimize ourselves and give ourselves permission to lay claim to the whole self, and not confine ourselves any longer to the  things traditionally thought of as "women's subjects" and "women's themes". [Rich's] Diving Into the Wreck had a great influence on me; I saw it as very brave.

I think now some of our anger was misplaced. We had kept ourselves down to a great extent; we bought into our roles and half-lives. But being together and organizing for each other — Caroline Marshall and I started a popular reading series in an old theatre in St. Paul, and people flocked to it — fed us and sustained us, kept us writing and taking ourselves seriously, as in self-belief.

MD: Do you think the kinds of experiences you had then are possible or still exist today?

JRA: Now there's an open-ended question. I think you mean in the sense of community but I'm suddenly thinking of how I lived on the edge as a young woman. I glamorized one-night stands and drinking and writing in bars. I was never really cut out for that sort of life but I fell into it. I could never master having a one-night stand without my heart and my wistfulness getting in the way.

I imagine many young dilettantes live that way today. But I am exhausted. I value my privacy and freedom. I fantasize about the kind of relationship Vanessa Redgrave's character has with her husband's character in Letters to Juliet—a reunion and idyllic life with an old love, and in my novella I am exploring relationship. My character tries to balance her need for solitude with a very passionate relationship with someone who has the stamina to stick it out with her. Fiction is wonderful; it can offset and heal what one has not been able to find in life. I cannot imagine having the stamina to resume the kind of driven and desperate life I had before, not even to have dramatic things to rhapsodize about or lament in my work.

The last time I thought perhaps I should get a little excitement back in my life I posted on an Internet site. I felt like a dilapidated rose besieged by huge bumble bees out for nectar, even blood. I [was] anemic with hard living and hard loving and I deleted everyone. I do miss congregating somewhere at nightfall with a group of like-minded people. There are many pubs here in town [Andrews lives in Colorado] but I am vulnerable to relapse into my alcoholism. I would like to start a salon and may explore how to do that locally. In Fort Collins, there are gatherings of writers and bookstore readings but I have seceded from the community proper, even though I have a condo in the thick of it. If I were married, with a well-heeled husband, a professor—much different. The sense of looking into others' windows at the life I think I should be living is far too painful. I have adapted to solitude and the life of the imagination.

MD: If you were never to write another word, what would you like to be remembered for, and why?

JRA: You are familiar with my recent piece, "Second Person: L'Enfant Perdu", on my blog. I would like to be remembered for the courage it has taken to persevere and to give myself to my art as much as I can.

By morning your body sprawls out
like grapefruit spilled from a crate.

We had been sharing the heavy sleep
of after victory,
having time-traveled through the '50s,
dancing in the bar
like tumbleweeds
toward the impending mountain
of lying down together.

When sweat ran into our shoes
we left the music
for home, where the furniture was an angular
and dusty as props for a Western.

Dawn had the silence
of a widow in attendance
at a public ceremony. It was
the best possible hour.

With one taste of salt
you threw your 10-gallon hat in the air.
I bucked in deliverance
and our winter failures snaked off
over the floor
like film footage we were tired of.

Your shuddering yes
was the prize. We were
sweethearts having a rodeo.
~ "Western With No Losers" in In Pursuit of the Family
© Jenne' R. Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

Thank you, Jenne, for giving so generously of your time for this interview and for allowing me to quote from and share your published poems.

Monday Muse returns next week!


Louise Gallagher said...

Thank you Marueen for bringing Jenne and her remarkable vision and voice and ideas and spirit to us.

I love this line -- "I could never master having a one-night stand without my heart and my wistfulness getting in the way."

Ahhh, the 20's - those years when commitment only needed to last until dawn.


Great interview.

Jenne' R. Andrews said...

Maureen, I thank you profusely and from the bottom of my heart-- with whole heart, for the great opportunity you have given me to sound off on nearly everything on your terrific blog.

Interestingly, "Western with No Losers," which makes me blush to see posted, was one of Robert Bly's favorite poems of mine. Whenever we were together-- and once when he invited me to read with him at the Minneapolis Jungian Society, of all places-- he would ask me to read that poem, and he'd always crack up! I didn't need more encouragement in those days-- to pursue my follies.

all best and much love to you as we write and grow on....Jenne'

Anonymous said...

not just

Lyle Daggett said...

I've really enjoyed reading this, all four portions of the interview.

A couple of small corrections I'll offer:

In the excerpt from Jenne's poem "Kyrie" that you quote at the top of this post, there's an error in one of the lines. It appears you may have quoted the excerpt from the blogpost I did about Jenne's poetry sometime back, and it appears the error was mine when I quoted from the poem in my blog.

To wit: the third line from the end should read:

"Then the act of cold blood--"

(not "And the act...").

I've made the correction in my blogpost.

Of the small press publishers Jenne mentions in the Minneapolis-St.Paul area, only Milkweed Editions and Graywolf Press are here at present.

New Rivers Press used to be here, though (in the years since the death of the press's founder C.W. Truesdale) the press is now located at Minnesota State University at Moorhead (on the east side of the Red River across from Fargo, N.D.). Copper Canyon Press is in Port Townsend, Wash., and has never been here in Minneapolis or St. Paul. Possibly Jenne was thinking of Coffee House Press, which is here.

As in many places, the literary scene here has gone through multiple waves of flowering and fallowing. The most recent of the blossoming periods, to my kenning, was during much of the 1990's when there was an energetic open-mike poetry reading scene here. At its peak it was quite vital and lively, and thrived for four or five years, then (as tends to happen in such cyclical moments) little by little the people who were committed and serious about writing began burrowing underground to hunker down and write. These days I have my ear to the ground periodically, listening for whatever the next wave might be.

Maureen said...


My thanks for the corrections. The line in Jenne's poem has been corrected, as has the list of presses. I also added a note for the latter.

Thank you also for your comments about the more recent "scene". I have had the pleasure of getting to know a number of spoken word poets through SheWrites and am considering doing a piece on them.

It is through Jenne' that I've come to find your own work, which I look forward to exploring more. Congratulations on your contribution to Poets for Living Waters.

For those interested, Lyle's blog is "A Burning Patience" at
and I recommend you visit and follow it.

Hannah Stephenson said...

Hi Maureen,

Just wanted to thank you for your generosity--that is what strikes me most about all of your posts. A lovely and very enjoyable interview!

Anonymous said...


I love her idea about other artists of similar situations living together, being each other's "angels". A wonderful thought.

And Marueen - thanks for your thoughtful comment last night. I really appreciate you. You are very smart and genuine. And artsy, of course,

Lyle Daggett said...

Thank you, Maureen.

W: Home said...

At its peak it was quite vital and lively, and thrived for four or five years, then (as tends to happen in such cyclical moments) little by little the people who were committed and serious about writing began burrowing underground to hunker down and write. These days I have my ear to the ground periodically, listening for whatever the next wave might be.