THE POET – Interview with Andrea Carter Brown

An Interview with Andrea Carter Brown

Thank you for your time chatting to the POET Andrea. Where in the US were your born, and where do you live now?

I was born in Paterson, New Jersey, where the great poet William Carlos Williams wrote and practiced medicine, and grew up in small nearby suburban towns. One of these, Glen Rock, features prominently in my new collection, September 12, having lost 11 residents on 9/11. Most of my adult life, I lived in New York City (mostly in Manhattan), with interludes in France, England, Ireland, Rome, and Germany, until 2004, when we moved to Los Angeles as a direct result of 9/11, where I now happily live.

Do you remember writing your first words of poetry?

As much as I revered poetry as a teenager – Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and Baudelaire were and are favourites – I was too intimidated by their words to write anything myself. Instead, I studied French literature in college and graduate school, especially poetry, a love which has endured to this day.

Did you have any early poetry influences?

Although my mother was not well-educated and never read anything but women’s magazines, she worked as a clerk in the town library and started taking me there as soon as I could read. Most visits we left with an armful of books, only to return the next day, literally, for more. Around that time she started giving me a book every Christmas, all of them inscribed “For Andrea with love, Mother” with the date, most of which I still have. One of the first was A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, which I remember reading out loud. Little did she suspect that her encouragement would lead me to actually writing poetry, but late in her life she thanked me for telling truthfully “our stories.” Here is one poem about her from my 3rd collection, Domestic Karma.


At Disney Hall, the Welsh baritone famous

for playing Wagnerian heroes ends his encore

with The Lord’s Prayer. Seeing me scowl,

my musician husband whispers Can’t you

➡️ Xem thêm: Bài thơ về tình bạn tri kỷ, bạn già, tình chị em ngắn hay

get past the words to the beauty of his voice?

But he doesn’t hear my aunt practicing it

for weddings and funerals, those Sundays

I stood next to Mother as she belted it out.


I must have sung it dozens of times myself

in the decade I believed. Hours we discussed

the relative virtues of different recordings:

her favourite, Marian Anderson’s. We debated


which words to emphasize, which syllables,

and why; the merits of trespasses versus debts,

which art or who. When I wake the morning

after the concert, I cannot get the words


out of my mind – Our Father, as I brew coffee;

Hallowed be, in the shower; Give us, making

the bed; Forgive us, as I fight with my husband

over who should order Thanksgiving flowers


for his parents; as we forgive, reviewing yet

another incorrect bill from the City of Hope;

and Lead us, as I sit down to write these lines.

For as much as I believe Thine is not the power,


the glory, here I am, hijacked by the past. This

coming Wednesday, the first in Advent, will be

the fifth Yahrzeit of her death. In this way I keep

faith with my mother. For ever and ever. Amen.

What, or who, started you writing poetry?

In the late 1980s, a friend invited me to a poetry reading at the 92nd St Y. Mary Jo Salter was reading from her first award-winning collection, Henry Purcell in Japan. Within a few poems, I stopped listening and, letting her words wash over me, started scribbling my first poem. On the margins of the program. The hall was dark; when I got home I could barely decipher my words.

A few years before I had travelled extensively in what was then East Germany. Because contact with Westerners (from Drüben) would have been hurtful to the people I had met there, all those experiences stayed bottled up inside me. But hearing Salter’s poems about living among strangers in a foreign culture released all those pent-up memories and experience. In a white heat, I quickly drafted a dozen poems in the next few days — my first poems. Most of these have still not been published, but they will be in my next collection, American Fraktur. Here is one, The Crock, which was recently published.

➡️ Xem thêm: Những câu thần chú linh nghiệm nhất giúp bạn dễ dàng có được chiến thắng trong các trò chơi cá cược.


Dig a hole in a sunny corner of the backyard.

Shred the homegrown heads with the guillotine

now hanging in a granddaughter’s kitchen,

rusty angled blades still sharp. Layer the pale

green ribbons of cabbage with fine salt, a pint

for each bushel, pressing down to pack. Tie

a clean dish towel tightly over the top, weigh

down, ask the men to lower it into the hole.

In two weeks, depending on weather, when

the towel is stiff and crusty with mould, hoist it

onto the back porch. Scoop out as needed, an

excellent source of Vitamin C through winter,

as Captain Cook discovered from the Germans

only after of several boatloads of his sailors

succumbed to scurvy. His crews hated this

sour-kraut but ate it until limes were found.

If something inanimate can be said to look

lonely, the crock does. It sits under a fig tree

across a continent from the house where it

last was used, a single rose with four petals

stencilled in cobalt blue against its ivory glaze,

the number 12 at the centre. Twelve gallons

were enough to keep a family of four healthy

when fresh fruits and vegetables were dear.

Winter rains find their way under the lid;

spiders like the dark cool damp. I dump out

the water: don’t want to give mosquitoes

a place to breed with Zika on the way. No

one in the family will take it; I hate the idea

of throwing it away. Where will it go after me?

Perhaps someone shopping on Ebay dreams

of making sauerkraut the old-fashioned way.

How did you develop as a poet?

Coming to writing poetry late, and already having a career as an accountant, I was not inclined to get an MFA in Creative Writing. Instead, I took a number of workshops, of which NYC offers a rich selection. Among the poets I studied with are Brooks Haxton, Nicholas Christopher, Gjertud Schnackenberg, and Katha Pollitt. Eventually, I wanted more a sustained learning experience and found Molly Peacock and the late William Matthews, who took me on and with whom I worked for years. I count myself extremely lucky to have had two such excellent and generous mentors.

Tell me about your book September 12.

The morning of 9/11, I was in our apartment one block from the WTC. A phone call from my sister at 9:03 alerted me to the attack. When I looked out our my living room window, I could see the North Tower on fire and people jumping from windows. I knew immediately the tower would come down. Within 5 minutes, I fled. By a circuitous route – on foot, by boat, cab, truck, and car through Staten Island, New Jersey, and Rockland County – I was finally reunited with my husband twelve hours later in a friend’s house in Westchester. Many of the experiences of that day remain as vivid to me twenty years later as if they were happening now.

Although it was months before I could write anything about that day, I felt very early on that my story, a domestic odyssey prompted by a terrorist attack, unique in its own way, needed to be told. Later I learned the small New Jersey town where I grew up, Glen Rock, lost 11 residents that morning, one of the highest victim counts among the surrounding suburban towns. The layers of grief kept rippling outward. As they do to this day. I wanted to honour those memories and that grief. Here is a poem from September 12 which tries to show just that:


Where is the man who sold the best jelly donuts and coffee

you sipped raising a blue Acropolis to your lips? The twin

brothers who arrived in time for lunch hour with hot and cold

heros where Liberty dead ends at the Hudson? The courteous

small-boned Egyptian in white robe and crocheted skullcap

in the parking lot behind the Greek Orthodox shrine whose

bananas and dates you could always count on? How about

the tall, slim, dark brown man with dreadlocks cascading

to his waist who grilled Hebrew National franks to perfection

and knew just the right amount of mustard each knish wanted?

The cinnamon-skinned woman for whose roti people lined up

halfway down Church, the falafel cousins who remembered

how much hot pepper you preferred? Don’t forget the farmers

who schlepped up from Cape May twice each week at dawn

to bring us whatever was in season at its peak: last August,

blueberries and white peaches. What about the lanky fellow

who sold green and red and yellow bears and fish and snakes

in plastic sandwich bags with twist ties; his friend, a block

away, who scooped still warm nuts from a copper cauldron

into palm-sized wax paper sacks he twisted at the corners

to close? The couple outside the post office with their neatly

laid out Golden books, the shy Senegalese with briefcases

of watches except in December when they sold Christmas

trees? The Mr. Softee who parked every evening rush hour

by the cemetery to revive the homeward hurrying crowd?

I know none of their names, but I can see their faces clear

as I still see everything from that day as I ride away from

the place we once shared. Where are they now? And how?

➡️ Xem thêm: 50 bài thơ về mùa Xuân ngắn (2 câu, lục bát, 4 – 5 chữ) hay

This body of work continued to grow over the twenty years since 9/11: from a single sonnet crown, to a narrative sequence of double sonnet crowns interspersed with half-sonnets about the victims from my old home town, to what it is today – an extended sequence of prose poems and a central section of sonnets about Glen Rock and its victims, both of them surrounded by lyrical, found, and concrete poems about before, the aftermath, and the present. At its longest, the collection was 178 pages of poetry, more than double its current length, an impossible length for most publishers, and readers, of poetry. Needless to say, a lot of material ended “on the cutting room floor,” but September 12 is the book I wanted to write from the beginning. It tells the story I always wanted it to tell, as it has evolved in the two decades since.

Will I ever stop writing about this subject? Probably not. At one time I hoped the project would be finished, I longed for it to end, but now I realize that was unrealistic. Having been present at a world-changing event, and having been lucky to survive it, I feel impelled to bear witness to that day and its continuing aftermath.

Poets which influenced this writing include, first and foremost, Homer, and — in no particular order – Simon Armitage, Louise Glück, T. S. Eliot, Guillaume Apollinaire, Derek Walcott, Martha Collins, Galway Kinnell, Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, Walt Whitman, Brian Turner, and a whole raft of others. The September 12 page on my website has a list of suggested further reading, which is far from complete.

Being a terrible typist (my apologies for any typos in this interview), I write the first drafts of my poems by hand in a 5 x 8 notebook which I keep near me all the time. I’m partial to the spiral notebooks of Clairefontaine grid paper from France, but will settle for Fabriano. For a long time I did all the subsequent revisions by hand until the poem was almost done. More recently though, I began quickly transferring the first complete draft to my computer, which gives me a level of freedom and allows me to play more easily. I say play, because I like to invent nonce forms. The title poem in The Dishevelled Bed, shown here, is an example of where that playfulness can lead.


The birds are back. I like to think

the first two, singing in the pines

four years ago, five floors below,

mated, gave birth, migrated, and came

back with their young, who also bred

and whose descendants, and theirs,

now pair up and nest, a new generation

every year we’ve lived here, one extended

and extending family for the one

denied us, the random yet orderly

rise and fall of their songs rising as high

as our high-rise home, as you brush

out my hair and we straighten

together the dishevelled bed.

What subjects mostly inspire you to write?

In the words of Marilyn Hacker, I’d describe my poems as being largely about “Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons.” So, a lot of love poems, though it may not be immediately apparent that’s what they are. I also often write about rivers and geology. I enjoy research and love to include information in my poems, an impulse I try to control. An avid birder, you will find a lot of birds in my poems, also a lot of numbers. Which makes sense coming from a former accountant. An example of this is the penultimate poem in September 12, An Auspicious Day, shown here.


For Johanna Keller

Writing 8/10/20 on a check, I realize

this day next month will be 9/10/20,

a noteworthy sequence — two integers

in a row, the second then doubled — to

someone who loves numbers as much

as words. More memorable might have

been nine years ago — 9/10/11 — although

truly auspicious would have been ten years

before, that momentous “day before” —

not that we knew it at the time — 9/10/01

simply an entry on a calendar to meet a friend

for tea, our conversation so satisfying, it

sustained me through the difficult months

to come. Neither of us has lived in that city

for years. Was that café still in business

before the pandemic? Is it today, storefronts

boarded-up with plywood proliferating

as they did after 9/11? I write these words

in praise of numbers, of friendship. Their

power to restore, redeem, console, endure.

Do you have a favourite writing space?

Over the years I learned to write anywhere an idea comes to me; on a subway platform, in a coffee shop, driving a car (Don’t worry, I pull into a gas station or rest area first!). Since moving to Los Angeles, I’m lucky to have a studio that overlooks our small backyard. Little lizards come and go; oranges ripen on a tree, the climbing rose puts out dozens of blooms a half-dozen times a year. In this room I wrestled with writing the poems in September 12, surrounded with beauty as I revisited hell. Here is one example from September 12:


Let’s not romanticize bodies

falling. Others may use float

or dance; I refuse to pretend.

They were not graceful, quiet.

They fell unbelievably fast.

Straight down. Head first.

Some screamed. The sound

they made landing? Forget

thud. Louder than the wind.

What advice can you offer aspiring poets?

Never give up on yourself, on a project you believe in. Keep stretching yourself creatively. If you’re a late-bloomer, as I have turned out to be (Brook & Rainbow, my first chapbook, was published when I was middle-aged), it’s never too late to embrace, to dedicate yourself to what you love most and always wanted to be. In my high school year book, when asked what I wanted to be, at 17 I wrote the word “Poet.”

What are your future plans as a writer and poet?

So far, I think I have three more poetry collections, at least. The first, currently titled American Fraktur: Dowry of a Soldier’s Daughter, explores my father’s experiences as a WWII soldier in the context of mine as a survivor of a terrorist attack living in a time of constant war and natural disasters. This manuscript is under consideration and will hopefully be published in 2023. Then, during the pandemic I very quickly wrote a collection titled En-during. After that, I’ve always wanted to write an ABCDiary. Beyond that, who knows? When you come to writing later in life, for me in my late 30s, the pressure cooker of an already full life spills out in a wealth of ideas and projects.

Thank you again for your time Andrea. We wish you the very best with the release of September 12, and we look forward to reading a lot more work from you in the future.

➡️ Xem thêm: 50+ Thơ về mùa hè hay cho trẻ mầm non (ngắn 4, 6 chữ)


Andrea’s fourth collection of poetry, September 12, has just been published by The Word Works for the 20th anniversary of 9/11. A former resident of downtown Manhattan who lived a block from the World Trade Center, Andrea’s harrowing eyewitness account of the attack and its aftermath has won numerous awards, including the James Dickey Prize from Five Points, the River Styx International Poetry Prize, the Puddinghouse Press Chapbook Competition, and The MacGuffin National Poet Hunt. Cited in the Library of Congress Online Research Guide to the Poetry of 9/11, her poem The Old Neighborhood has been featured on NPR and widely anthologized. Split This Rock chose her poem After the Disaster: Fragments as their Poem of the Week for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Andrea is also the author of three previous collections of poetry: Domestic Karma (Finishing Line Press, 2018), The Disheveled Bed (CavanKerry Press, 2006), and Brook & Rainbow (winner of the 2000 Sow’s Ear Poetry Review Chapbook Contest). In 2018, her manuscript, American Fraktur, was chosen by Jane Hirshfield for the Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award from Marsh Hawk Press. Andrea’s poetry has also won the Gustav Davidson Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America (PSA), the Thin Air Poetry Prize, and the River Oak Review Poetry Prize. Featured on Poetry Daily, her poems have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Ploughshares, Southwest Review, Five Points, River Styx, Atlanta Review, Crab Orchard Review, Mississippi Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and Miramar, among many other journals and anthologies.

E: [email protected]


FB: @andrea.c.brown.731

Instagram: @andreabrownpoet

Twitter: @AndreaBrownPoet

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