Interview

Comprehensive Interview with Poet Jenne’ Andrews

Writing Without Paper –  The Blog

Summer 2011

Part I

A fourth-generation New Mexican now living in Colorado, Andrews has been mentored by poets Robert Bly, Tom Wayman, and Mary Crow; received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in literature; published a chapbook, In Pursuit of the Family (Minnesota Writers Publishing House, 1974), the still-available collection Reunion (Lynx House Press, 1982), and The Dark Animal of Liberty (Leaping Mountain Press, 1987); taught at the University of Colorado; published poems in Colorado Review, Dacotah Territory, New Mexico Humanities Review, Ontario Review, Seneca Review, and other literary magazines and journals; lived on a ranch where she raised Arabian horses; suffered a life-changing injury; founded a bloodline of Golden Retrievers; and, most recently, has “given birth” to a memoir about falling in love in Verona, Italy. Andrews’ life is the stuff of poetry and novels. It is a life lived passionately and sometimes stormily and always with deep awareness and ferocious honesty.

Andrews kindly accepted my invitation to “sit” for an in-depth interview. What follows is Part 1, in which I talk with Andrews about her early influences, her graduate studies in creative writing, and her mentors.

* * * * *

Maureen Doallas: Jenne, what led you to writing and, more specifically, to poetry writing as a vocation?

Jenne’ R. Andrews: I began writing as soon as I could print. The Oz books and other children’s books fired up my imagination and I began to spin stories and to “hear” poems. I loved words and language and had a very vivid, imaginative life. I’m certain that I escaped into my imagination often to [be able] to endure life in a dysfunctional family—to give myself  place to go within, where I was safe and involved in secret adventures with a secret identity. I was a little cowgirl and called myself The Rios River-River Rider. This persona had a horse and mediated disputes between the “Indians” and the “settlers”. I wrote of her adventures.

I was influenced hugely by [Robert Louis Stevenson’s] A Child’s Garden of Verses; in the beginning, of course, I wrote rhyming poetry. I had an assignment in junior high to rewrite [Longfellow’s] Hiawatha as a modern poem—quite the hefty assignment, and I took to it like a duck to water, catching my teacher’s eye. I kept going and had a number of encouragers in high school (our school district was big on the arts). As a senior, I ran the school paper but my passion was writing poetry. I was a romantic and found D.H. Lawrence early, and for years I harbored the idea that I would find some transfiguring grand passion that would take me away into another world. I wrote romantically, with great longing, and I’m sure with many cliches and trite turns of phrase.

I’m also sure that things happening in our family—my mother’s mental illness, my father’s deterioration from emphysema, my own loneliness—drove me to write, to give voice to my experience. It was a way of making sense of it and creating something of it that made something new out of all of the disaster: a poem, a little work of art.

MD: Your biography indicates you’ve earned both M.A. and M.F.A. degrees in creative writing at Colorado State University. What was behind your decision to pursue post-graduate study?

JRA: I should explain, a bill holds up having the degree [M.F.A.] in hand. . . But I’ve done everything, all coursework and exams, oral and written.

Originally, I felt I was destined to be a teaching writer, and I wanted the credential. I loved the life of teaching and writing and [especially] liked to teach at the college level.

MD: What’s your most memorable experience as a M.F.A. student?

JRA: Before I even finished a bachelor’s degree, I had became a poet “in my own right”. I had received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, been published in quarterlies, had a chapbook published, and been appointed Poet-in-Residence at St. Paul Schools [in Minnesota]. I brought these achievements into a fledgling M.F.A. program after completing the M.A. in Creative Writing and working to complete one additional year of thesis hours and various internships to apply the M.A. to the M.F.A.

Given that I had already begun a literary and teaching career, I think one of my most memorable experiences was my oral exams during which I was permitted to expound on my work, on my thesis, a volume of poetry, The Garden of Insomnia. My committee members were there, and it was a real rite of passage. Mary Crow asked me how I justified writing poetry after the Holocaust—a trick question: How do you answer that? I mumbled something about needing to continue to impart hope to humanity. I was asked about the “trajectory” of my work. I said I saw a movement from writing tight, emotionally safe poems that might appeal to male editors for their terseness and brevity, to opening up and “writing down the bones”, if you will. I began to write in an expansive and open line in graduate school—to see poetry more and more as a kind of singing. I also was asked if I saw myself as a regional poet, and whether I saw myself as narrative or lyrical, or both. Yes, I felt that I was a regional poet in the sense that my work has been grounded in the West for many years, and some of my work tells a story but within the lyrical and poetic line.

I greatly enjoyed answering those questions, although I found it daunting to be in the room with those whose minds and work I venerated, particularly my outside-the-department committee member Dr. Patsy Boyer. Patsy taught Spanish and she and Mary did a number of translation projects. She died in Madrid several years later, of traveler’s thrombosis, and I’ve missed her ever since. She was from New Mexico, and we had a real rapport.

The exam itself was a way of formulating my own ideas about my work.

Other memorable experiences had to do with the nature of the community of serious writers: we hung out together and read each other; I had the sense that I wasn’t writing in isolation. We were in this collective embrace. Sometimes the criticism in workshop was brutal but it gave me a tougher skin and skill in getting along even with people I wasn’t crazy about. For a time, I was very close to my mentors. It all helped me gain a sense of craft and become a better writer.

MD: Your principal mentor was poet Robert Bly. Tell us something about him we wouldn’t know from reading his poetry or biography.

JRA: Funny you should ask. I posted months ago at Red Room [a networking site for writers] an essay that I think conveys some idea of how Bly was, and probably still is: larger than life, opinionated, a testosterone-loaded human being.

MD: Patricia Hampl, author most recently of The Florist’s Daughter, also was a mentor. What did she show you about your writing that most influenced it?

JRA: Patricia worked most closely on a manuscript I began after finishing In Pursuit of the Family. She gave it a very close read and showed me where I was too wordy and abstract and syntactically confounding. I remember her as direct yet nurturing. She and James Moore, who ran The Lamp in the Spine, which they brought with them from Iowa City, published the title poem from In Pursuit of the Family, as well as the poem “After Reading Mother Goose to a Friend’s Children”, which subsequently was published in Reunion.

I have, overall, been influenced by how she gives herself permission to write richly, at the whole grand organ of language; she is not afraid to sing.

What follows is from Andrews’ Mother Goose poem:

Mother Goose did not teach us what to expect;

her songs did not make us powerful

against rituals that could say who we were.

But these books bled our raging

against the conspiracy of the West, sent us dreaming

to the dark side of the world

so that cardinals flew through our sleep

and the household morning sound of tortillas being made

became the endless rhythm

of a dream horse trotting around a flagstone dais.

Here the later days

of my mother’s absence are reopened;

how she was kept in a place called Nazareth

in southern New Mexico,

given volts every day by nuns in white linen,

made to love the male doctors

who came punishing and rewarding,

caressing her name with their voices. . . .

MD: What’s the most satisfying thing about being a poet?

JRA: Singing. Losing oneself in language, surrendering to song, imagery, the line, the heart, the line informed by the heart and tempered by the mind. . . spilling your guts and making it pretty, but not too pretty.

MD: What wold you most like your readers to know about you?

JRA: That when I write, I am committed to what [Virginia] Woolf calls the unburdening of one’s meaning—that I give myself completely to a given piece of writing and never write with diffidence or as an exercise.

Andrews’ mentor Robert Bly wrote of Andrews’ poetry, “… the achievement of the poems lies in  their ability to see pain as a fact… Pain is a breaking of the flow… [Andrews has] the ability to embody pain and grief without liking it or finding it dramatic, or wanting credit for feeling it….” Here’s one example:

The ‘t’ of the pole is someone

with folded arms, turning away,

rotated slowly into dark.

The ‘t’ of the pole

is the family,

standing on end in its coffins,

tilting into nightfall,

casting shadows like ridges,

set into rock.

These lives pass beyond reach

while the fetal human sleeps

on its delicate stem.

Out of sleep

the infant pursues the family.

First the grandmother

recedes, across the stretch

of midwestern darkness;

a farm tool corroded by wind,

bent over like a wagon wheel

half-buried.

At dusk she stands

on the road

with her braid of cinnamon hair.

The wedding gown

is like a sail, a winding sheet,

a cloud moving

with the long poles

over the prairie.

~ “In Pursuit of the Family” in In Pursuit of the Family

© Jenne’ R. Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

Join us on Thursday, July 8, for Part 2 of my interview with Jenne’ Andrews, in which she and I talk about her poetry.

POSTED BY MAUREEN AT 6:30 AM

LABELS: INTERVIEW, JENNE R ANDREWS, MARY CROW, PATRICIA HAMPL, POET, ROBERT BLY, SHE WRITES, TOM WAYMAN

13 COMMENTS:

M.L. Gallagher said…

“to see poetry more and more as a kind of singing.”

Thanks for this Maureen and Jenne’!

A satisfying read.

an inspiring voice.

JULY 5, 2010 8:46 AM

Joyce Wycoff said…

Thanks to both of you for this glimpse into the spirit of the creative process.

JULY 5, 2010 10:37 AM

jenne’ andrews said…

Lucky am I, to have been interviewed by you, Maureen– a wonderful, graceful, person, writer, and woman so clearly committed to the American voice! A wonderful Part the First and celebratory day for me! xxxx Jenne’

JULY 5, 2010 11:18 AM

sweepyjean said…

A wonderful interview. Thank you sharing this candid and instructive conversation between artists. I look forward to Part 2.

JULY 5, 2010 11:30 AM

P-A-McGoldrick said…

Thanks for sharing a link to this interview! lf possible I would like to ask a question–Jenne, you mentioned about “writing down the bones”; were you influenced by Natalie Goldberg?

Looking forward to Part 2.

Patricia

http://pmpoetwriter.blogspot.com/

JULY 5, 2010 3:23 PM

S. Etole said…

This was a very enjoyable interview … look forward to the next part.

JULY 5, 2010 3:33 PM

Nicelle C. Davis said…

“At dusk she stands

on the road

with her braid of cinnamon hair.

The wedding gown

is like a sail, a winding sheet,

a cloud moving

with the long poles

over the prairie.”

Ah man, Jenne can write!

Thank you for this interview. I will be back next week for part two.

JULY 5, 2010 4:17 PM

Maggie said…

I love the image of “singing.” I enjoyed reading this interview and look forward to Part II.

JULY 5, 2010 7:09 PM

Laura said…

How wonderful that you met through she writes!Maureen, I so admire the way you find these unique voices. Jenne’ sounds like a fascinating woman…I am excited to read part II on Thursday.

JULY 5, 2010 8:48 PM

Lyle Daggett said…

I’ve read the poem “In Pursuit of the Family” I don’t know how many times over the years. (I’ve had a copy of the book since something like 1974.) And it wasn’t until I read the poem here that I realized that it has no winter images in it.

Always previously, I’d pictured a winter scene, the t-shaped poles receding in the distance amid fields of snow.

It may have had something to do with the image, at the end of the fourth stanza, of “a wagon wheel / half-buried.” I’d always pictured the wagon wheel half-buried in snow, though reading the poem now, I realize it never mentions snow.

Funny about memory.

*

Regarding Mary Crow’s question, about “justifying” writing poetry after the Holocaust — when I read this here, the first thing that occurred to me was to ask “How could anyone justify not writing poetry after the Holocaust?

Crow may have been referring back to Theodor Adorno’s now-famous comment to the effect that after the Holocaust poetry is impossible. I’ve never read Adorno, though it’s my understanding that Adorno later retracted his statement. (My source on this is Adrienne Rich, in her essay “Poetry and the Forgotten Future,” which is included in her recent essay collection A Human Eye.

Very much enjoyed the interview, as much as you’ve posted so far. I look forward to reading more as it’s posted here.

JULY 5, 2010 11:52 PM

Dawn Potter said…

Very nice interview. Congratulations to you both.

JULY 6, 2010 10:41 AM

Word Actress said…

I, too, see my writing like singing. I have sung throughout my life, so I guess I hear the beats in my head as I’m creating a poem, short story or now my first novel. With a poem, it is so very clear to me how many words I need to finish a piece. I’m so glad I’m not alone in the way I process creativity. B-t-w, I’m very impressed w/ur bio.

SheWrites is an amazing community, the best example of how the Internet can connect us all…Mary Kennedy Eastham

JULY 7, 2010 4:34 PM

Ami Mattison said…

What a wonderful interview, Maureen! You asked some great questions. I especially liked the last two, which gave us an opportunity to hear more about Jenne’s take on writing and being a poet.

And Jenne’, I’m in love with “In Pursuit of the Family.” Such an amazing poem!

I’m a late-comer to this interview series, but I’m delighted that there are two more already published and ready to read!

JULY 12, 2010 9:17 PM

MAUREEN

I am the author of “Neruda’s Memoirs and Other Poems” from T.S. Poetry Press. I own a small art-licensing business, Transformational Threads, http://transformationalthreads.com; have many friends in the arts and publishing; enjoy attending theatre, dance performances, concerts, movies, poetry readings, and art museums and galleries; own two Westies; and have one son, four sisters, and two brothers. I made my living as a writer and editor for more than 30 years and retired in 2007. I’m not done yet, as you can see.

Part II MD Interview of Jenne’ Andrews

Reading her poems, listening to her read, I began to

understand something about the importance of

silence in and around poems. Her poems carry

great patience, allowing whatever the poem is bringing

to have the time it needs to arrive. I continue to be struck

—even after many readings, after more than 30 years—

by the delicate touch of the imagery in her poems,

how two or three or four lines will linger

and glimmer after reading them. . . .

~ Poet Lyle Daggett

I published Part 1 of my in-depth interview with writer Jenne’ R. Andrews on Monday, July 5. Today, in Part 2, I talk with Andrews specifically about her poetry and the act and art of writing.

* * * * *

Maureen Doallas: Jenne, how would you characterize your poetry?

Jenne’ R. Andrews: Well. . . lyrical, emotional, unrestrained, powerful, sad, and celebratory.

This poem, I think, contains all of the qualities of which Andrews speaks:

On the blackest day

of June

Betsy let me in,

sat me down,

and made a pie.

Clouds were swollen over

the Never Summer Range

and before rain

Betsy went outside and bent down,

her strawberry hair swinging

over the wide green hands

of rhubarb leaves.

She looked for gleams

of deep scarlet.

She broke the long stalks off

in a crack of kindling.

She stayed past the first

slow drops, then came into

the house

to slice it, hands gold

over its luster.

Then she threw it in a pan with honey

and boiled it up

into a soursweet mist

of flying flamingo hair.

At the table she pressed glistening

dough into the plate,

and heaped the furry pink syrup in,

flavoring all the afternoon.

Through the rain and thunder

she sat, waiting for the gift

to bake

that would bring me back,

part way, for an hour

which was all we could expect

then.

Now I remember how

when it was done, rain sang

on the windows,

salt rose to my tongue

and cream turned over

the brown pitcher’s edge.

~ “A Sweet Fear of June” in In Pursuit of the Family

© Jenne’ R. Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

MD: Jenne’, do you write with a particular audience or reader in mind?

JRA: I generally have a sense of an omnipresent listener, a presence. It seems that lately when I write, I have a more powerful sense that several of us are communing with each other when we write poems; we are making love to each other’s sensibilities—an effusive statement but I don’t know how else to put it.

I feel that poets writing cryptically, probably the so-called Language Poets, are anti-communion. They shut out the world by being so hermetic and unto themselves, dissing a reading public that needs healing words and to lay hold of the power of language.

MD: Do you employ any particular writing principles or techniques or formal methods in writing poetry?

JRA: I seem to be big on “show, don’t tell”, although I love the beauty of some abstract words and the power of their connotations; I try to ground abstraction in concretion. An example: I did a derivation of a Linda Gregg poem. She had written a line — “splinters in the mind’s confusion” — and I immediately thought of “bone-shards in the heart’s profusion”. I think that says to me that I favor writing from the heart, and not the mind. You might say, perhaps, that Gregg and Jorie Graham and several other poets whose work glitters with unexpected juxtapositions and clever enjambments are hard to read, because it takes acts of mind and will rather than being able to take the poems into the heart.

MD: What theme or subjects do you most like to write about?

JRA: At this point, the richness of life and beauties of the moment, the gifts of the moment. In memoir, I seem focused on the past and antiquity, but the poems seem to well out of the present.

MD: How much in your poems could be called “fact” or “personal” information?

JRA: A great deal. [My poem] “We Hear the Whisper of the Perfect” in Reunion is about our family madness; when I wrote that poem, it came as a kind of incantation of witness. A sense of witness or giving testimony seems to inform the language.

At the daylight’s edge

there is a river of sound in us,

some voice

scribbling itself on bone,

in cuneiform singing.

You are scimitar, scimitar,

eohippus

my mother,

the cryptic, the ghostly.

And in the night restlessness of women

where the unicorn gallops in the inner tree

it is the thin, spiny radiance you are,

one foot on tin, one on earth, one hand in the water

of your womb,

now sleeping toward death

in the plant-thick property

of illness.

When I walk out of the old hotel in evening

there is a music in me like Gaelic,

an excited cluster of birds

among the tendons, the roots supporting my head.

There are faces that rise

in the trudge back after dark,

following the show’s tracery.

But a blocked ardor accumulates

at the base of the mind, like honey;

a rain-torn garden

in the memory.

We have booked passage as plum-sullen women

of waiting;

Japanese madonnas in an ivory-cut plate

leaning into their embossed lives.

I took disclosure of personal information to new lows in publishing “Exultations in Late Summer”, also in Reunion [and] in The Seneca Review, but they [the editors] wrote back and said that I write “like an angel”.

MD: You live in Colorado now but have lived elsewhere, including Minnesota. Does “place” occupy a particular or special place in your work?

JRA: Absolutely. Geographies are so rich with history and their particular physical flavor—lakes, seas, mountains, forests, horizons, red bluffs. A red bluff is so stark and beautiful. A cluster of maple trees in Vermont laden with snow evokes a kind of tenderness and cold but exhilarating privacy.

Minnesota gave me so very much. It is a vast and diverse place, having spawned [Patricia] Hampl, [Garrison] Keillor—quite a range there—Tom McGrath, although he was mostly up in the north and in the Dakotas—same region. Given places have a pulse, their own heartbeat and circulatory system that keeps offering up imagery, referents.

I also seem focused on the familiarity of place; certain places here [in Fort Collins, Colorado], such as the feed mill, the 19th Century facades of Old Town, the river that runs through town, are comforting; they remain unchanged and anchor the spirit in certain ways.

MD: How much rewriting or revising do you do? Do you abandon your poems for a while and then return to them?

JRA: I think of revision as doing what it takes to make a poem better and then very good. So I tend to write several versions and move stanzas around. I think it’s absolutely essential to put a draft away. We fall in love with a line that seems clever or interesting at the time and hours or days later we see that it doesn’t work at all.

I used to write things and pop them in an envelope and hit or miss. Some poems worked in the long run and some didn’t but I regretted that—as I look back at Reunion, I wish I’d put the whole manuscript away for about 10 years!

MD: Do you “workshop” your writing and, if you do, how do you make use, if at all, of others’ opinions of your work?

JRA: We workshop on She Writes a little. I miss regular feedback. I read things out loud to my companion, who is also a writer, and then give him hard copy. I would return the favor if he were motivated. There is a reciprocity in helping each other, a good kind. I believe another’s eye and ear can do wonders but also, at times, a given reader may want the poem to sound too much like his or her own poems. I had quite a bit of “love-struggle” with Robert Bly [one of Andrews’ mentors]. If I hadn’t held my ground, In Pursuit of the Family would have turned into Silence in the Snowy Fields [Bly’s first poetry collection, published in 1962].

MD: How would you describe the “voice” of your poems?

JRA: The universal first person seems to be the best way to characterize the function of the “I” in contemporary poetry, and it seems apt in my work.

MD: What do your poems or other writings reveal to you about yourself?

JRA: So very much: an epiphany a day. Example: The memoir I wrote recently [during which I] uncovered that in all of these years I haven’t been able to believe that I have been loved. I discovered it as I brought this rich and amazing experience back to life, and when my lover asks me why I’m leaving, the real answers come. But it took 37 years to get honest or to see, perhaps.

MD: What do you hope that people will take away when they read a poem of yours?

JRA: A sense that their lives have been enriched and that their inner lives have been given voice. I don’t know who wrote that “a poem should stop time with its beauty” but I hope that my work, at its best, does that.

MD: Do you believe in inspiration and, if yes, what are your sources of inspiration?

JRA: Yes. Things I see and hear trigger a line or an image, a way into a poem or an essay. I’ve written a lot on my blog about the foals being born on a road I travel every day; they are emblematic of new life and life’s continuance to me. Each one is an epiphany and ever astounds me as the perfect little genetic package it is. I often don’t like what I see or hear: a drunk, at dawn in the snow, collecting cans. The pelicans slathered in oil. But a poet is driven, compelled to articulate what he or she sees.

The West is so vast and rich and mythic, it inspires me. Recently, I’ve been reawakening to Italy, especially southern Italy, where centuries of civilization and strife have brought so much character to an already staggeringly beautiful place. In my novella, my two characters take a room in Scylla, a fishing village. I find myself writing a great deal about the sea, the tide.

MD: What surprises you about the poems you wrote years ago and the poems you write now? How has your work changed?

JRA: I  think of my serious work as beginning in ’70 or so, and then I had seven years in Minnesota. I was extremely lonely and had difficulty feeling safe. I am distressed by the pain in my poems—the loneliness and the longing. They tell me how much trouble I was in. But I didn’t think I was very good, despite the early affirmation and kudos. I looked at my work the way I looked at myself: quite negatively. I am seeing them differently, more charitably. I hesitate to admit—but I will—that I  think that I am very good and, one hopes, getting better.

My work has changed a great deal. I believe, as much as anything, it is richer and more powerful by virtue of having survived all this time. Some of my themes are the same, often impossibility, often the tenuous nature of life, the cost of intimacy, the cost of solitude—but I think time has made me a better writer. [See, for example, “An Amphibian Speaks of Morning. . .”] I believe that I have enough mastery of craft and language to have written of the experience of finding myself changed and needing to adapt and transcend despair.

MD: How would you describe your typical day for writing?

JRA: Four hours gangbusters in the morning, on the blog, a manuscript, an essay, a poem—then I rest. Sometimes I write for a little while in the evening.

MD: Do you need particular conditions (a particular time of day, solitude, a room of your own, music playing, etc.) to write?

JRA: I’ve written my memoir while listening to opera, to help me feel elsewhere and connect me to the richness of falling in love in the moment; in a sense, to replicate the feeling of being in a cafe surrounded by people coming and going and things happening. I’ve begun to feel nourished by opera in particular; the great operas abjure their principals to soak up life, to live fully in the now and to live in the eternal present that is art. I seem to need to hear that message and to write about it.

I used to write in coffee shops, on buses, in bars, everywhere. I would be happiest living as an expat writing in the cafes.

MD: Does your faith in any way inform your poetry and, if yes, how?

JRA: I have to admit that I have gone far afield of what I  thought of as my faith. In recent months, I have called everything into question. I currently feel strongly that there are mysteries to be honored about existence, but that organized and institutionalized religion is humankind’s invention: a political tool par excellence, particularly in terms of assigning women the role of helpmate and an extension of a husband. I would say that the position of “not knowing” has rendered me agnostic in a sense. I miss the belief that I had.

Perhaps I have become a cynic, and it will all change again. A metaphor that will become something else perhaps: I cherished and kept with me a brass crucifix I bought at Good Will. I strove to connect to the presence it intimates. It comforted and sustained me to do this. The crucifix fell and broke and I wired it back together many times and rehung it, never to my satisfaction. Meanwhile, I began to comprehend that what I had thought of as spiritual experiences around the Church may have been projections, wishful thinking. This was very distressing to me. Shortly after that epiphany, as it were, I could not rewire the crucifix. It is emblematic for me that I have stopped trying to fix it. It lies in a drawer and it is a challenge for me to leave it there.

I am trying to sustain myself by “living into” the universe, opening to it, feeling one with it, paying attention to the moment. My intellectual position is that we cannot know certain things and that the certainties of faith have left me.

Here is Andrew’s poem “Wife” from In Pursuit of the Family:

After the cracked screams

of our argument

we sit waiting.

The day goes on without harder noise

than the soft rush through the walls

of cars passing;

of the dogs turning over in their sleep.

You have asked me about silence;

how to make decisions, muzzle creditors.

I can think only of things to eat

and speak to you of supper.

But silent in your chair

you are dim with shadows

wanting me to die, leave

or hold you.

© Jenne’ R. Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

Andrews’ collection Reunion is available from Lynx House Press via Christopher Howell (e-mail cnhowell@ewu.edu/ to order a copy).

Next Monday, July 12, I will publish Part 3 of my interview with Andrews, in which we talk about publication of her poetry, her advice to poets just beginning their vocation, what makes a poem “work”, the influence of poetry in life, and the writing of  Nightfall in Verona, Andrews’ memoir.

Andrews blogs at Loquaciously Yours.

POSTED BY MAUREEN AT 5:45 AM

LABELS: INTERVIEW, JENNE R ANDREWS, JORIE GRAHAM, LANGUAGE POETS, LINDA GREGG, LYLE DAGGETT, PATRICIA HAMPL, POET, POETRY, POETRY WRITING, REUNION, ROBERT BLY, TOM MCGRATH, WRITING, WRITING LIFE

6 COMMENTS:

jenne said…

Maureen– a fabulous job. Thank you!~xxxJenne’

JULY 8, 2010 10:08 AM

P-A-McGoldrick said…

Part 2 just as interesting as Part 1. Love the comments about the places and foals.

Patricia

http://pmpoetwriter.blogspot.com/

JULY 8, 2010 10:57 AM

Patti said…

Yes, thank you, Maureen, and Jenne as well for being so real. I look forward to receiving a copy of “In Pursuit of the Family” soon and reading more of your work.

JULY 8, 2010 9:43 PM

Lyle Daggett said…

Just dropping by to leave my footprint and say I’ve been here reading. Continuing to enjoy this.

JULY 8, 2010 10:43 PM

M.L. Gallagher said…

Love her comments on ‘religion’ and the story of the crucifix is transformative.

Thanks!

JULY 9, 2010 3:30 PM

jenne’ andrews said…

much hesitation over including the story of the crucifix. Somehow leaving it “broken” creates a window of opportunity of some kind. thanks for weighing in, everyone! xxxJenne’ and many thanks again, beautiful M!

JULY 11, 2010 2:24 PM

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Interview with Jenne’ Andrews by Maureen Doallas  Part III

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 cnhowell@ewu.edu/ to order a copy).

Andrews blogs at Loquaciously Yours.

POSTED BY MAUREEN AT 6:30 AM

LABELS: BILLY COLLINS, JENNE R ANDREWS, LINDA GREGG, LYLE DAGGETT, MARY JO BANG, MEMOIR, POETRY, POETRY WRITING, POETS, ROBERT BLY, SANDRA BEASLEY, TEACHING, THOMAS MCGRATH, WRITING, WRITING ADVICE

4 COMMENTS:

M.L. 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.

Louise

JULY 12, 2010 8:49 AM

jenne said…

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

JULY 12, 2010 11:10 AM

Kathleen Overby said…

Absorbing this. Listening intently.

JULY 12, 2010 12:27 PM

sarah said…

she seems like a lovely and interesting person 🙂 good interview!

JULY 12, 2010 2:13 PM

Post a Comment

Interview of Jenne’ Andrews by Maureen Doallas Part IV

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 feminist 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!

POSTED BY MAUREEN AT 6:30 AM

LABELS: JENNE R ANDREWS, MEMOIR WRITING, POETRY, POETRY WRITING, SMALL PRESSES, WRITING

9 COMMENTS:

M.L. 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.

Hugs

Great interview.

JULY 15, 2010 8:18 AM

jenne 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’

JULY 15, 2010 11:31 AM

n. davis rosback said…

growing

not just

older

but

angles

looking

sheding

adjusting

different

thankful

grow

on

JULY 15, 2010 12:23 PM

Lyle Daggett said…

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

A couple of small corrections I’ll offer:

1.

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.

2.

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.

JULY 15, 2010 8:43 PM

Maureen said…

Lyle,

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 http://aburningpatience.blogspot.com/

and I recommend you visit and follow it.

JULY 15, 2010 9:52 PM

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!

JULY 16, 2010 2:11 AM

shrinkingthecamel.com said…

Fascinating.

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,

JULY 16, 2010 6:31 AM

Lyle Daggett said…

Thank you, Maureen.

JULY 18, 2010 7:13 PM

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.

JULY 22, 2010 2:57 PM

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In July 2010 the wonderful poet and literary and art aficionada Maureen Doallas, whom I had the great fortune to meet earlier this year, did a four-part interview with me– An Interview with Poet Jenne’ R. Andrews– at the wondrous blog Writing Without Paper.  Thank you once more, o beauteous Maureen, for so much press!

Maureen sent me over thirty pointed and fascinating questions to do with my resumption of my career many years out from its beginning in the early seventies.  Here are the links to my response and examples of my work

Interview with Jenne’ R. Andrews

Part I is here
Part II is here
Part III is here:
Part IV is here

Please make it a point to add Writing Without Paper to your blogroll and keep in touch with this wonderful blog and blogger.

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