Poetry takes on many voices, not all of them the voice of the poet. Andrea Hollander’s poetry, contained in several volumes for the last three decades or so, is written unapologetically from her own natural voice. Often, mundane objects and situations cast a dark shadow of her grief — a shadow that, as we are led along, reveals itself to be more like a penumbra, casting the subtle light of recovery. Hollander was born in Berlin and lives in Portland, Ore., but spent a good deal of her life in Stone County. In “Arkansas to Oregon” — a poem from Hollander’s newest collection, “Blue Mistaken for Sky” — there is a sentiment central to Hollander’s entire body of work: “I’d sing it loud/as if every word was mine.” This is poetry of movement and migration — geographical, syntactical and emotional.
Your new book is called “Blue Mistaken for Sky.” What was the preparation for it? How long did it take to write?
Because I write mostly what could be called memoir poems, one book unfolds from the previous one. I began to draft poems for “Blue Mistaken for Sky” in the fall of 2012, after the manuscript for my previous collection, “Landscape with Female Figure: New & Selected Poems, 1982-2012” (Autumn House Press, 2013), went to press. I suppose the new book took about five-and-a-half years to complete.
It is an interesting continuity — the way one’s life can unfold serially through a sequence of memories. Could you explain what you mean by “memoir poem?” I have an idea of what you mean by the form, but why, then, write autobiographically in a poem as opposed to a sustained book of prose?
The narrative-lyric poems in this collection, if read from first poem to last, trace the journey of a personal experience, namely that of being the victim of marital betrayal. An examination of this kind of loss ignites the memory of other losses. By the time the book comes to a close, the reader has journeyed with the poet-speaker to a place of acceptance and healing.
As to your question about my not writing “a sustained book of prose,” I am a poet, first of all. This is my medium. It is the way I explore experience and the way I hope to evoke such experience in readers. In this book, it is my intention that each poem be able to stand alone without its neighbors. But placed alongside them in a carefully arranged sequence, I explore the nuance and complications of feeling over time.
There seems to be a lot of grief over the breakdown of relationships in these poems, yet some semblance of resolution in the form of epiphany. Often that grief and those epiphanies are brought about through the sensual detail you find in ordinary objects. Could you discuss the relationship you have to objects and your memory?
Yes, reviewers of my four previous full-length poetry collections have also noticed the epiphanic nature of my work. I believe that a poem is an act of discovery and that such discovery occurs mainly through the senses. This is also the way memory is evoked: We walk through an unfamiliar neighborhood, for example, and spot a mimosa tree in someone’s yard; immediately we are reminded of a childhood visit to a beloved relative who had such a tree in her yard.
One inventive poem early on in the sequence is “As If Written by the Other Woman.” I like the “as if” in the title. It invokes you attempting to see your own grief from the other side of adultery, seeing pain from the “near” opposite perspective. It’s kind of an early revelation for the whole book, or at least it was for me. Could you talk about this poem’s place in the sequence?
Galway Kinnell has said that for him, “poetry is somebody standing up and saying with as little concealment as possible what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.” For me, the most important part of his statement is “with as little concealment as possible.” I wrote “As If Written by the Other Woman” in order to put myself in the place of one of the other women in my ex’s life, to try to empathize with her. What surprised me when I drafted the poem was how much compassion that other voice has, not for the husband, but for the wife.
As the book opens, the betrayals have already occurred and the marriage has ended. What follows the opening poem, which makes these two facts clear, is an attempt to answer what I assume might be some of a reader’s questions, so I placed poems as if each were an answer, one following the emotional logic of the next.
Another poem that struck me as a moment of clarity and objectivity was “Arkansas to Oregon.” It has a sense of music as exorcism. What’s your relationship to Arkansas and Oregon?
I like your notion that particular poems express “a moment of clarity and objectivity.” With every poem I write, I try to be as clear and objective as possible. This was especially important in this book, which focuses on very emotionally charged experiences.
My relationship with both Arkansas and Oregon is intimate. Although I left Arkansas in 2011 after the divorce, my love for the state will continue for the rest of my life. When I moved to Stone County (15 miles south of Mountain View), I was 30 years old and six months pregnant with my now 41-year-old son. His father and I bought 80 acres of land, built our own house, and several years later restored a derelict hotel in town and transformed it into the Wildflower Bed & Breakfast, which we ran for 15 years. During my final 22 years in the state, I served as the writer-in-residence at Lyon College in Batesville.
I visited Oregon in the mid-1990s and thought then that if I ever left my beloved Ozarks, Portland would be my next home. And it has indeed become exactly that. I was attracted to this city’s relatively small size, its excellent and extensive public transportation, and its friendly citizens, who remind me of Arkansans. The poems throughout “Blue Mistaken for Sky” take place in both locales, as well as in New Jersey, where I spent the bulk of my childhood