Earlier this week my university hosted award-winning poet Andrea Hollander as part of the spring Georgia Poetry Circuit. Hollander is the author of several chapbooks and poetry collections. She is a recipient of the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize, the D. H. Lawrence Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, and several poetry fellowships from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Arkansas Arts Council. She currently resides in Portland, Oregon.
Hollander is one of the premier voices in American poetry and I was fascinated to learn that she taught herself to write poetry by actively reading poetry, setting writing prompts and assignments, and working tirelessly to discover what she loved most about poetry and how to translate that into her own work. Hollander began writing at the age of 23 after her mother died. She said that the poems she was reading “articulated a language I didn’t have.” After her mother’s death Hollander began apprenticing herself to the craft of poetry.
Her most recent book, Landscape with Female Figure, new and selected poems, 1982-2012, works backwards in time. Her newest poems are toward the front of the book with earlier poetry in the back sections. Hollander decided that for this reading she would read chronologically. The earliest poems she read included, “Snow White,” “Beginning and Ending with Lines from Shakespeare,” “When You Hear His Name,” “Weeds,” and “Therapy.” Then she read two poems inspired by the work of other writers. First “Those Summer Sundays” after Robert Hayden’s poem about his father entitled, “Those Winter Sundays.” The newer poems she read included “Tiny Spider in the Bathroom Sink,” “Living Room,” “Every Time her Husband Climbs a Ladder,” “Blue,” “Question,” “Anniversary,” and “Overture.”
I appreciated that Hollander continued to discuss craft and encouraged the attendees to write poetry. She emphasized that one should never plan a poem, but rather, “sit down and find a way to play with language and you will find your way into a poem.” Her reading underscored that even very talented and gifted writers have to be open to learning more, read widely, pay attention to the world around them, and to put in the time and effort to put pen to paper. She recommended reading Dylan Thomas, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Anne Sexton, Robert Frost, James Wright, William Carlos Williams, and Robert Bly, but she also stated that she loved reading poems from emerging and contemporary poets. In fact, she said some of the money she earns from poetry she puts back into the art by purchasing books of poetry and subscribing to literary magazines.