By Eithne Cullen
Andreena Leeanne writes about difficult subjects and about difficult moments in her own history. “Writing is my therapy,”she says. It’s easy to see how the journey through the poems can be seen as a journey through some of the lightest and also the darkest moments of her life. She talks about her own abuse in a clear, no-holds-barred voice. She speaks her truth and uses that phrase several times during our conversation: “Speak the truth about difficult subjects. This allows others to speak their truth, especially with abuse. Poetry is a great way to do this.”
Andreena’s book, Charred, is a volume of poetry and she has brought along a prop to our Zoom meeting: a piece of charred wood. She points out that, although it is charred, it is still a piece of wood. This strong image relates to how the poems in the volume are about her and her life. Whatever has shaped or damaged her doesn’t mean she’s any less of a person. She explains: “I legally changed my name in July 2020 from Andreena Leeanne Bogle-Walton to Andreena Leeanne in order to claim back my identity.” In doing so, she gave up the patriarchal names of her father and ex-husband.
The title of the book and the charred wood image gives us the opportunity to talk about something else she’s gained from her poetry: “My poems are about resilience and there are both happy and sad poems in the book. Life is like that; we can’t be happy all the time.” The volume expresses a variety of emotions: some are very positive and forward-looking, while others reflect on the experience of abuse in a very forthright manner. Andreena speaking her truth again, though it has often been difficult. She explains: “I often write when I’m upset. When I was typing things up, it was painful. In fact, it could take me three to four weeks to do. But there are happy poems in the book, too.”
Prior to our chat, I attended a workshop with Andreena. She read a poem called Happiness, telling us that, in her opinion, happiness was short-lived. She also included a coming-out poem: I’m Free. We use our time now to talk about this. She shares she’s been through two coming-out experiences. The first, when she came out to her family as a lesbian, raising lots of questions about secrets in families and whether or not she met with disapproval; the second, when she came out as an abuse victim. The latter being something her family, her mum in particular, didn’t want to talk about. However, the strength of Andreena’s inner voice helped her deal with both. She tells me her writing allows her to: “Speak truth about difficult subjects. This allows others to speak their truth – especially with subjects like abuse and especially through poetry.”
The other thing that stayed with me from the workshop was her emphasis on self-care. In our interview, I remind her of this and she goes on to tell me why, in her collection of 54 poems, she has added a little guide to self-care and left room for readers to write their own notes: “Self-care may be selfish but that’s OK. It’s OK to treat and pamper ourselves, because it means we can be present in the moment. I want my writing to sprinkle happiness, because I feel it contributes to this.” She also tells me about the ‘Wheel Of Care’. We end up Googling it together so she can better explain its affirming and positive power. Andreena tells me it is helpful when dealing with stress and that she uses it in the LGBT poetry and survivors group she runs.
I remember a phrase Andreena used in her workshop: “Poetry found me, not the other way round.” It stuck with me, so I ask her to tell me more now. She shares that, despite her partner telling her she’d like poetry, she didn’t touch it until she found herself at a poetry event. Finding herself enjoying it more than she ever thought she would, she asked one of the organisers for a pen and paper. She wrote her first poem and performed it that same night!
Her realisation that poetry was ‘her thing’ sounds loud and clear when she tells me about her belief that: “Writing is for everyone, not defined for the elite or by class.” It’s important to Andreena that her writing is accessible, holding within it an appreciation for what really matters: “Appreciate life and the small things, like gratitude, not big cars.”
She has brought along her journals to show me. As she pulls them out, she tells me that, in the past, she engaged in behaviour that was harmful: smoking and drinking, for example. Making and performing poetry holds a similar buzz for her but, luckily, is not damaging! As well as holding her collection of work, the journals remind her of this. She shows me the journal containing that first poem and is proud to tell me that it also has a number of fliers for open mic events and readings she’s been part of. Andreena is a woman of action: hands-on and positive. This is never more in evidence than when she shows me the many things she’s pasted into the two journals, including an autograph and message from ‘George The Poet’.
Another thing she shares with me is a ‘Birthday Box’. She describes how, in order to help people celebrate their birthdays during lockdown, she and her daughter have been making up boxes to take to food banks. The contents include balloons, banners, badges and bubbles. This attempt to spread good cheer and good feelings has seen them give two hundred of these away over a nine-week period. This way of practically connecting to hope is also strong feature of her writing.
We start talking about labels. As a young, black, lesbian woman she tells me she often has to deal with being labelled. Her feelings are strong on this subject: “Labels can be problematic and divisive. Go out and see other people, meet and share. It’s so important to be our authentic selves – to just be! London is a great place for that.”
In a way, we’ve come full circle, with Andreena talking about the need to be true to ourselves: speaking in our authentic voices and speaking our truth. As both a reader and a writer, I, for one, will be taking this to heart!
Connect with Andreena on Instagram: @survivor.andreena.leeanne
Speak the truth about difficult subjects. This allows others to speak their truth, especially with abuse. Poetry is a great way to do this.