Interview with Andrea England

Enjoy another installment in an ongoing series of interviews with contributors to The 3288 Review.

Andrea England is the author of Inventory of a Field (Finishing Line Press, 2014) and Other Geographies (Creative Justice Press, 2017). Her poems have appeared in Fourteen Hills Review, Harper Palate, Hayden’s Ferry Review and many others. She teaches at Western Michigan University and online for Southern New Hampshire University COCE.

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3288 Review: What words of wisdom would you offer to writers still struggling to find their voice or platform?

Andrea England: I think that we as writers often struggle to find our voices, and that is a bit about us a collective whole, so I’m going to answer the last question first. For me, voice is different than platform. Voice is what naturally takes over when the poem (not the poet) begins to speak. Platform feels more like a niche. There are many niches we can seek out or push ourselves into, but when we do this (in my opinion) our voices become less authentic.

As to words of wisdom, beginning writers often tell me they are only reading the genre in which they write. This to me is one of the most prevalent and disastrous things I encounter as a teacher of writing. Each genre is a hybrid of the previous and the next. Each benefits all. Historically there have been times when a particular genre or style of writing was more popular—I’m with T.S. Eliot’s, “Four Quartets” here, “time present and time past” (Burnt Norton, 1). If you haven’t read Eliot, well…

3288 Review: Interesting point, regarding the difference between voice and platform. In your work, how do you back yourself out of the poem so the poem itself speaks? How is it possible for the creator to remove her fingerprint from her creation?

Andrea England: As with any work of art, poets leave traces of their DNA behind. In Lawrence Raab’s new book, Why Don’t We Say What We Mean: Essays Mostly About Poetry, Raab poses that in poetry, “the fictive immediately calls attention to form, the autobiographical is essentially shapeless.” Voice is a trait that comes with practicing but occurs when the poem chooses its perimeters. The perimeters include line length, point of view, shape (whether real or imagined), revision, and the unconscious decision to make a pair of shoes purple because there is some intrinsic repetition going on in the poem that needs exploitation (here, conveyed by alliteration). I think the most difficult impetus to control as a poet is surprise. I can tell in my own work if I’m “trying” to surprise the reader, and this is no good. Denise Levertov calls this “easy spontaneity.” A poem should be like the body, a continuously morphing animus.

3288 Review: What are you currently working on?

Andrea England: Like many other writers at this time in history, I’m an adjunct. Fortunately, I also have the wonderful privilege of being a Writing Specialist for WMU’s Athletic and ED departments (these of course in addition to mothering daughters, hens, dogs and other such animals). This probably wasn’t the answer you’re looking for, but it’s an honest one. Poetry-wise, I’m putting together a chapbook that examines the beginnings, middles and ends between two similar identities: those of daughters and lovers. I’ve always enjoyed exploring these two items in my work, but studying D.H. Lawrence during my PhD sparked the idea to explore them exclusively. I published my first chapbook Inventory of a Field in 2014 and am soon to have my second, Other Geographies, in hand in the next month or so.

3288 Review: Who are your three greatest influences as a writer?

Andrea England: My greatest influences as a writer change on the turn of a dime. My writing at the moment is heavily influenced by Haruki Murakami, Elizabeth Bishop, George Eliot, and Ada Limon. I know you asked for three, but I couldn’t help myself. I’ve also got to mention my students here. Reading and giving feedback on their work informs my craft, my images—All of it, on a daily basis.

3288 Review: You mention Murakami, who also joins my influencers list. Which of his works spoke most strongly to you, and why?

Andrea England: It’s almost impossible to narrow down a single Murakami influence, but let’s see… After I finished A Wild Sheep Chase, I felt taken. Well, hadn’t I been on a literal wild sheep chase? Indeed, I had. This isn’t my “favorite” book of Murakami’s, but what it does is epic in poetic proportion. The speaker is forced to go on a journey. He believes that he is being forced, anyway. Yet, the journey itself is one of self-exploration, exploration of external geographies and imagined constraints. Murakami’s characters take on a momentum that like the best poems, traverse across subtle detail, music, and momentary truths, never quite achieving exactly what they thought or returning to exactly where they began.

3288 Review: Describe the best and the worst experiences you’ve had as an author. How have these situations shaped your growth as an author?

Andrea England: My worst experiences as a writer. Here it goes. AWP is a soap opera. It’s the best bookshop in the world, but with it comes every memory, possibility of exile, friendship, and heartbreak to be had as a creative writer and human being. Other than that, I’d say being told that I was a finalist for a prize but disqualified because I submitted too many poems—The evidence that I should’ve read the submission guidelines a little closer.

3288 Review: Tell us more about AWP. More serious literary types migrate to AWP (or BEA, or, or, or) at least once in a career. Should they? Is AWP overrated, or a necessary rite of passage, or both? Or neither?

Andrea England: Regarding AWP, yes, I think it is a right of passage. As I’ve said before, it is truly the best and biggest bookstore in the world, and on the last day, books go cheap. However, AWP is a privilege. This is one of the angles I dislike about it. After you’ve booked a place to stay, paid for “city” eating and transportation, the cost equals most people’s family vacation cost. Those who can afford or receive grants present, sell books, mingle with the “rich getting richer” and those who can’t, don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I like getting my back patted and patting back, so I’m complicit in this. It’s also true that many of us writers have a little anxiety—so imagine thousands of us together. Anxious yet? All that said, if you haven’t gone once, go!

3288 Review: Tell us a bit more about who you are—what have you studied? What have you written? Any fun anecdotes that will help our readers better understand your perspective or motivation as a writer?

Andrea England: Who am I and what have I studied? I think I’ve answered those a bit in the other questions with some room to wiggle. I like wiggle room.