Name: Courtney Mary Andrews
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, poet, guitarist
Current release: Courtney Mary Andrews recently published her first collection of poems, Old Monarch via Andrews McMeel Publishing. Her latest album Old Flowers is still available as well.
Recommendations: Jack Gilbert - The Dance Most of All; Marc Chagall - The Enamored
If you enjoyed this interview with Courtney Mary Andrews, visit her personal website for more information. She is also on Facebook, Soundcloud and Instagram.
When did you start writing- and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about literature and writing that drew you to it?
Writing came early on, and I used it as a tool to escape into another world or adventure. I’ve always been a daydreamer, and literature was a soft bed for my dreams — a place I could always lay if I felt a sense of displacement or sadness. When I was a kid I’d write poems and short stories, and eventually poems led me to songwriting.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Developing your own voice as an artist is often an ever-blossoming process. When I was young, I didn’t even identify the ways in which I was emulating — I just wrote. Over time, I’d stand back and assess. Obstacles would come and reveal ways in which I needed to grow, then I’d blossom a little more. It’s hard to pinpoint how or when. Eventually one day you write something that feels so true, it can’t be denied.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Identity seeps in through your work whether you like it or not. Even if your passing identities are filled with imposter-syndrome or doubt — that’s the mark of who you were at the time. Creativity and identity walk hand in hand, because we are the orators transmitting art through our own lenses.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
It’s easy to get in your own way and be your own biggest critic. This can be a helpful tool, showing you how to progress, but it can also be detrimental if you let it grow too big. Over time I’ve learned to let go of preconceived stories, and just let the muse speak. You can always go back and edit later.
How do you see the relationship between style, form, plot and storytelling – and how would you rate their importance for you, respectively?
I see all these things as a partnership. Some work requires a little less, some a little more, but their importance resides in their togetherness.
Observation and research are often quoted as important elements of the writing process. Can you tell us a bit about your perspective on them?
Observation is one of my favorite tools in the toolbox. For me, that skill comes first, and research follows. If I’ve observed something, then I have an intuitive perspective on it. The research follows, but first I like to get to the heart of the matter.
How do you see the relationship between conscious planning and tapping into the subconscious; between improvisation and composition? When dealing with the end of a story, for example, do you tend to minutely map it out or follow the logic of the narrative as it unfolds itself?
I try to tap into the subconscious when beginning a poem, then use my more conscious brain to edit it, and excavate the story. If a poem has no logic, then I leave it completely up to the subconscious to craft the narrative. I believe in serving each poem or story in the ways I intuitively feel it asking me to do so.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do writing and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
In my writing life, I like to start off my mornings with a poem or song. It’s the first thing I do. After my sleep my subconscious brain forms some words, I really will take a long walk. On the walks, I often self-edit or think through the work.
I often do what I call chunk writing. I’ll write for a month straight everyday, then take a few weeks off. Though I never limit myself if an idea presents itself.
Can you talk about a breakthrough publication in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Writing and releasing my new collection Old Monarch felt like a milestone to me. They say a writer writes for all the years leading up to their first book, and that’s how I feel with this set of work. My motivations were to get philosophically and spiritually closer to my core. Writing the book felt like a journey I needed to take.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
My ideal state of mind is clear, and surrounded by nature. I don’t like complete solitude for writing. Writing residencies tend to be perfect for that — solitude in the mornings and stimulation at night. I have trouble writing at home. Being somewhere unknown stokes a sense of wonder that turns my creative brain up high.
Words can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for literature and poetry as a tool for healing?
Oh, yes. Sometimes when you get too close to the truth, words can hurt the most. There’s no telling whether getting close to that truth will hurt or heal someone, no matter your intentions behind the words. Poems are the greatest healers — a way to dig deeper into your own psyche and get a little closer to your own truth.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think it’s important to have a certain level of self-awareness as a writer. Words are powerful, and appropriating other cultures is harmful. It’s a delicate balance, and it’s important to attain a level of awareness when you’re sharing work, in my opinion. That is where observing with a compassionate heart is crucial.
Literature works with sense impressions in a different way than the other arts. How do you use them in your writing? From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Human senses are deeply complex. Literature can create a feeling or memory just by describing all the senses one might experience along the way. Senses dig up memories, build longing, and guide us towards love. They are mysterious, yet so innately human.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Art is love. It is spiritual. Being an artist is one of the most important roles in society. We look back on the work of DaVinci and Shakespeare and it reflects on our lives in powerful ways. Great art inspires people to feel into the world more. It is therapy. Life without art is life without the heart and soul of it.
What can literature or poetry express about life and death which other forms of art may not?
Literature can dive deep both into the heart and philosophical intellect of life and death. In one sentence you can cry, then reflect.