An Interview with Andrea Potos

Prize-winning poet Andrea Potos is the author of nine poetry collections including ‘Marrow of Summer’ (Kelsay Books), ‘Mothershell’ (Kelsay Books), A Stone to Carry Home’ (Salmon Poetry) and ‘Yaya’s Cloth’ (Iris Press). Several of her books have received Outstanding Achievement Awards in Poetry from the Wisconsin Library Association. For many years, she worked as a bookseller in independent bookstores. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
Andrea, tell us something about your background and how you first became inspired to write poetry.

I grew up mostly in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Like many future writers, I gravitated to reading and to books. I loved any and all books by Louisa May Alcott, the Bronte sisters, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Maud Hart Lovelace, to name just a few. From Louisa, I learned to love Emerson and Thoreau as well. I started writing when I was about seven–terrible poems and stories mostly haha. It wasn’t until my late 20s that I began a daily practice of poetry. At the time, Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” really got me going and set me on a path. I learned that I needed to make a space for inspiration to know where to find me.

What moves you to write? What subjects are you most passionate about?

Compelling subjects for me have been family stories, particularly my Greek-American heritage; family bonds, particularly with my mother, my grandmother and daughter. I also love to view art and artists through the lens of poetry. Particularly inspiring to me are the works of Renoir, Cassatt and Matisse. Travel also gives me an enormous creative boost, particularly when I leave the country. I have been so fortunate to visit Greece three times, Italy, and also the U.K. and Ireland several times. To be in these new environments brings such energy and refreshment to my work!

In your collection ‘Marrow of Summer’ several poems revolve around a single colour. Do you have a favourite colour and, if so, what is it? Do you know why?

I love placing color in my poems; color is part of the sensory detail I want to include to help make a piece come alive. If I had to name a favorite color, I might say yellow, gold, pink and blue. Lapis blue like the Greek sea. . . . Yellow/gold like the color of illumination; and pink like the color my beloved mother wore so often. . . .

When you set out to write a poem, do you have a specific purpose in mind or do you follow your instincts and write out of the heat of the moment?

When I set out to write a poem these days, I usually begin by reading other poets. I will pick an anthology or a single volume or two for each morning. Two poets I turn to often are Joseph Stroud and Mary Oliver. Just reading others’ words often helps to spark something for me. I may not write for a long time and just sit there. But something always ends up arriving. . . I have made space for it. So I don’t have a specific purpose in mind usually; I wait to see what comes up.

What aspect of writing do you find the most challenging?

The aspect of writing I find most challenging is when I find myself trying to use too much of my intellect or trying to force something onto the page. The resulting poem inevitably ends up rather flat or uninspired. And I believe the reader can sense where the poet was straining somehow. . .

Many of your poems are joyful. Would you say that you have a positive outlook on life?

My forthcoming book from Fernwood Press is titled Her Joy Becomes, which is taken from a line by the wonderful poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer. So, joy has been a consistent theme in my work, either the actual experience of joy, or looking to find joy. I’m not sure if I have a positive outlook so much as a determination not to reside in despair or negativity, at least not for too long. . . Searching for joy and writing about joy helps me to stay balanced. I love what C.S. Lewis wrote: “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” (an actual epigraph for my upcoming book). I believe that is indeed a truth about joy. So, in my mind some roles of a poet are to illuminate these places and potentials in ourselves; and also to pay miraculous and daily attention to the world.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

As for what I am working on now, there isn’t any specific project, though I have written some new poems on the Brontes, after a trip to Yorkshire this past spring. Most of the time though, I wait and see what comes; I love to be surprised.
The following is a poem from Andrea’s forthcoming collection Her Joy Becomes (Fernwood Press), printed with the author’s permission.

Another Anniversary of My Mother’s Passing

                 Her joy becomes my joy. --

                             Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

This June morning, flickering light and shadow
on the spread pages of my book
while somewhere above me in the arching
and waving branches of the beeches, one cardinal
keeps throbbing an unceasing song.
And the sky--did I mention the cloudless sky?
The softest blue, as if created
with the pastels of a master, then brushed across
with the gentlest sweep of her arm.



Return to:

[New] [Archives] [Join] [Contact Us] [Poetry in Motion] [Store] [Staff] [Guidelines]