Monday, November 9, 2015

Blog of the Week ~ an Update with Audrey Howitt

 This week, my friends, we are swooping down the spectacular Pacific coastline, to visit Audrey Howitt, near San Francisco. Audrey, who blogs at Audrey Howitt Poetry, Alive and Well, is a long-time member of Poets United. We last spoke to her in 2013, so I thought it was time we stopped by to see what she’s been up to recently.





Sherry: Audrey,I am so happy to be speaking with you! In our interview   in 2013, you  told us about  life in your farmhouse in Alameda, near San Francisco, with your musician/composer/teacher husband.  And you were writing, singing, performing, and teaching voice. What does life look like at your house these days?



Me and my husband

Audrey: Well, we are inching our way toward retirement. I will be turning 60 in January, and this seems to be a very introspective time for me. I am trying to develop a vision for what I want in the back half of my time.  My husband, David, is 62. David retired in June from teaching full time music in an elementary school, and is now teaching two days a week in a small school here in Alameda.  He is still half-time music director and organist at St. Joseph’s Basilica, here in Alameda, and he is teaching some piano lessons at home. We split the time in the music studio between his piano lessons and my voice lessons.   

Me and some friends at music camp this summer -
my goofy side

Sherry: It sounds like a wonderfully creative life! Life goes better with music! How are your daughters doing?

Audrey: My older daughter, Amanda, got married in June, to a great guy. I am so happy for her. She and Danny make a great team, both in their personal and professional lives.  It is a joy to see your children bloom in life! 




My husband David and daughter Amanda
on her wedding day

Both daughters and me 
on wedding day

Sherry: It certainly is. You have a beautiful family, Audrey.

Audrey: Katrina is in Hungary this year, studying at the Kodaly Institute. It is a challenge, and I think her brain hurts sometimes, but she has been there a month now, and so far, so good.  She will be there until May, if all goes well.

Sherry: They do both seem to be thriving. And do you still have Sasha?



Audrey: Sasha just turned 13 and seems to be doing well for her age.  We go out every day.  She has arthritis in her back legs due to two knee surgeries in her earlier years, so doggie “advil” is a must, but she still loves going out and chasing the squirrels. Fall is the season for that, so we spend a fair amount of time chasing squirrels from one tree to another most mornings right now.  She is a joy!!

Sherry: Wow, two knee surgeries and she still chases squirrels. That is wonderful. She looks like such a sweet girl. Are you still performing as a mezzo-soprano? Tell us a bit about this.

Audrey:    About two years ago, I dumped all of my mezzo rep and started retraining as a soprano.  I am singing the spinto soprano rep these days and am much happier vocally. This has been a big change for me, and I like it, but I am late to the soprano game. I am a bit old for casting as an ingénue! But that being said, the entire instrument seems healthier, and I am more happy in the rep. 




Me as Grandma Tseitel in Fiddler on the Roof

I do get out there and sing as often as I can. And I practice just about every day. Practice usually lasts an hour to an hour and a half, sometimes split up over two sessions during the course of the day.  Singing remains the thing I do most—that and teaching singing. 

Sherry: Singing daily, what a joy! In our interview, you spoke of some serious losses you experienced in your younger years, the deaths of your brother and then your father. I am as impressed now as I was then by your statement “I made a decision to keep loving”. That is very brave. Would you like to talk a bit about keeping one’s heart open after devastating loss? That is very inspirational.

Audrey: It’s funny, but I don’t think of it as brave. It was a process that I embarked on—maybe I am still walking down that road—I sure hope so.  I think loss teaches us about what is really important to us. 

When I lost my father and brother, I didn’t really have the tools yet to cope with it. I was a lost puppy for a long time.  But I was lucky in some ways.  The really bad things that can happen to young people out there on their own – well, I had people around me that helped me through.  Those were some of the most important friendships I have had over the years.
 
It was because of them, that I learned to open my heart again. Learning to love is a process that we engage in and get better at over time. The other choice is unthinkable really—at least for me.
       
Sherry: Well said, my friend. Thank you. Are you happy with how your writing is coming along these days?

Audrey: I think it is getting better. I am still in awe of the work that I see others produce on a daily basis. Some of the best poetry out there is out in the blogosphere—So, I hope that I still have something relevant to say—and I keep trying to say it--

Sherry: And you say it well, kiddo. I still really love Grace After 50, from our last interview. It resonates deeply. Are there three poems you would like to share with us this time? And maybe explain how each one came to be?

Audrey: Here are three that I like:


1.
you make me see lines of grace
in streets of pain
etched in sepia.
my heart cannot bleed when it is empty.

2.

your hair sweeps the garden
in glossy gold
ringlets curving to meet the sun
as I hold my breath
and try to remember.

3.

words fall out of ether
each stroke
a poem
each word 
a tree.

4.

i thought i could discern your face
in the body
of light you left behind
but it was only a shadow.


This piece was written on an afternoon when I knew that my younger daughter would be heading back out into the world again. She is in Hungary right now studying. I miss her.



Singing  trio with my daughters


Sherry: How very poignant, that golden curl. I love “each stroke a poem, each word a tree”. And love "my heart cannot bleed when it is empty." The grace that accompanies pain.  Wow! We do miss our babies when they fly the nest. 

Audrey: This is the second piece:


i seldom think about you now,
the burn
extinguished
in a box of parliaments long ago.

your fingers stained
with the dye
of his hair
in some alley

brilliantine
on black.

so many colors
there before i closed
my eyes to you
or was it you to me?

when it took you down,
that disease we didn't have a name for--
not then,

i sat on your bed
and fed you ensure
and told you about the
daughter i was pregnant with,
the one you wanted.

you died that night.
i saw the blinking light,
a message on a piece of tape.
but i knew
when i saw the light.

did i tell you
that i loved you then
i think i did.

i still do.


This piece was written as a response to one of Kerry’s prompts over at the Toads .  This was written about a person very special to me then and now. AIDS was just starting to rear its head when he died.  Before he died, his partner called me to say goodbye.  

I was pregnant with my younger daughter at the time. I drove down to Los Angeles and saw him in the hospital.  Shortly after that I had a dream about him. He told me that he had to go and that I would be here for a good long while yet. Then he turned and walked away. When I got home later, I learned that he had died that night.

Sherry: Oh my goodness, Audrey, you could write an entire compendium about loss! How very moving, this poem, and the story of it. Thank you so much for sharing this.

The last piece: 59 and Counting:

i look for bits of me
under beds
in drawers.

dust bunnies run amok.

there was a time
i knew who i was,
it was clear.

on tuesdays
i taught.

on sundays
i slept in,
held your love between my teeth
and inhaled
your scent off my pillow.

fifty nine.
i say it
over and over.

it feels old.

maybe it is.

i look for the youth
i left
stubbornly clinging
to boxes of lace,
afraid to let myself go.

if i opened
the lid just once
would i know myself
in the things
i placed in there
so long ago. . .

fifty nine
years, losing bits of me
i would cry
but i can't find that part of me.


I think often what it means to grow older.   My dreams when I was young and my dreams now are so different.  The person I was then and the person I am now—again—so different.  Somehow, we sow seeds of who we will become in the midst of laundry and cooking and driving kids to swim practices.   It is amazing, what comes out of us if we just let go a bit.

Anyway, these are the pieces that I wanted to share today. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity.

Sherry: Wow. How these words resonate with me - the pieces of us we leave behind, the integration of what's left........Audrey, I am 69, my body is feeling the impact of those many hard-working years - but in my soul I am confused at how I can possibly be that old?  59 and 60 seem young to me, still, with 70 breathing down my neck.

You have shared some very moving pieces with us today, my friend. Thank you! You have posted so faithfully through the years, Audrey. We so appreciate our long-time members, who have stuck with us. Is there anything you’d like to say to Poets United?

Audrey: I feel lucky to have found a place like Poets United, and to feel embraced by some of the kindest and most skilled poets I know.  I look forward to continuing to hone my skills – maybe even pick up some form---and I look forward to learning from all of you.  Thank you!

Well, this feels to me like an especially wonderful visit today, kids, how about you? Thank you, Audrey, for the writing you share, and for being loyal and a true friend of Poets United. Do come back, kids, and see who we talk to next. Who knows? (I often don't even know, LOL!) It might be you!

33 comments:

  1. Audrey, what beautiful and meaningful poems you shared. Clearly, your heart if full of love. I can already tell that your 60's and beyond will be great.
    Sherry, I'm 69 too. When we're 79 we'll thing 69 is young. Ha.
    Thank you for always bringing us glimpses of such interesting people.

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    1. Thank you Myrna! I am hoping so! Life is so interesting!!!

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    2. I hope I get to where 69 seems young. LOL. I am definitely willing!

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    1. It was my pleasure, Audrey - thanks for being willing! I enjoyed every minute!

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  3. I enjoy your poetry so much, Audrey! I'm happy you are singing soprano, happy that you are looking forward to the next half of life. (I smile a lot at things I saved from long ago when I was a different person.) Thank you for the update, Sherry.

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    1. Thank you Susan--It is such a joy to be here writing!

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  4. Your heart cannot bleed when it is empty will not be a line I soon forget.

    A fantastic interview. I have followed your words, Audrey, although sometimes it's close to stalking since I do not always speak.

    Sherry, this was great!

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    1. Thank you Gail! This was fun to do--I started reading yours last week and got caught up in some legal writing--so need to get back--how is life on the farm???

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  5. Sherry and Audrey, this was truly a wonderful article/interview. Audrey, I admire you for continuing to follow your passion with voice - both performing and teaching....and even changing to a soprano. Your poetry is excellent. "Love at 19" touched me greatly. I appreciate poetry that deals with something REAL, and that poem definitely was THAT. I liked "59 and Counting" too. I think it deals with feelings many of us experience when we reach that age. Interesting to reflect on the person one was 'then' and the person one is 'now.' Our dreams may be different, but truly I think it is important that we still DREAM! I always enjoy it when you share poetry with us, Audrey. Thanks for being a part of Poets United.

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  6. Hi Audrey,

    So nice to see you here. I have read some of your lovely poetry. I think in the journey we are always searching for pieces of ourselves it is what makes us feel whole. I didn't realize you were a singer. How wonderful is that a voice of words and song.

    Sherry another great interview. Thank you both!

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  7. Audrey, thank you for share the 'pieces' of you...the last poem very much resonates with me and inspires too....the theme just waiting to be written about...glad you're enjoying the life in the music way (close to me too), optimistic no matter what...happy for your daughters growing through the interesting experience...always like to read your poems, wise and warm....wish you keep it up! ~ Thank you, Sherry for inviting Audrey today to PU.

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    1. Hopefully I will keep writing--I hope I don't run out of poems

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  8. I have great admiration for music and songs. More so for you and hubby, a perfect combination. Having a hobby as a calling must be lots of satisfaction. You put your singing prowess into your poems makes the blogging community all the richer.Thanks Aufrey and thanks Sherry!

    Hank

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    1. Thank you Hank! I wonder how many of us poets have a number of creative things we do?

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  9. I so enjoyed reading this interview. It was so interesting and inspiring. I am down with a nasty cold today and treated myself to bed rest. (I had been pushing myself along - as most of us do - until my body refused to be pushed any further.) When I finally rose - drained and dazed - from my sick bed, I came upon this lovely - uplifting - story. It was a treat to read. Thank you for such a wonderful share, Audrey and Sherry.

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    1. Hi Wendy! Hope you are feeling better. The cold that is going around here is quite nasty--Take care of yourself!

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  10. I'm happy you all enjoyed this warm and interesting update, my friends. Wendy, I almost envy you your day in bed, as my day was hectic........hope you get better....but dont get better too soon....enjoy some more rest while you can, LOL!

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  11. I really enjoy Audrey's work. Great to see her featured again. I would so enjoy seeing you as Grandma Tseitel, Audrey, as Fiddler on the Roof is one of my favorites!

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  12. Thank you Audrey and Sherry....what an fun visit. I enjoyed catching up with your singing and family Audrey...the last poem, 59 and counting, is such a wonderful read as it resonates so strongly with so many of us as we age....I often look in that box of my yesterdays.

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  13. Thank you. I find your poetry divine and your life inspiring! The one about the dying touched my heart deeply!

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  14. Lovely to see you showcased here Audrey - thank you to both - and your singing as well as poetry - wonderful!

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    1. Forgot to say your blog banner/title makes me pause for thought even before reaching your poems

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    2. Thank you Jae Rose--so is that a good thing or a bad thing that the banner makes you pause???

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    3. Good - it suggests that something good came after somethings bad - survival and a little more maybe

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  15. Lovely interview and beautoful poetry! Thank you both so much.

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  16. A lovely interview! I loved all that you shared and your poems touched my heart. My nest is empty and I see and since these threads in her words~ I wish we could hear you sing~ I love how much music elevates your world~

    Thank you Sherry for sharing Audrey and her gifts with us~

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