Monday, February 4, 2013

Life of a Poet ~ Audrey Howitt

Kids, today we are heading along one of my favorite highways, Highway 1, along the stunningly beautiful West Coast of the USA, to visit our friend, Audrey, whom you will  find  writing regularly at Audrey Howitt Poetry, Alive and Well. Audrey and her family live in the San Francisco area. Smell that fresh sea air, and pull on a sweater. The fog can be chilly. I believe Audrey has the tea on.

Poets United: Audrey, thank you for allowing us to visit. What is life like at your house, my friend?

Audrey: First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to ask me these questions. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the community, and to share what little I know.

Poets United: It is our pleasure, kiddo. 

Audrey: My husband, David, and I live in an old farm house in Alameda, near San Francisco.  The house across the street was the original farmhouse, ours was the guesthouse, the yellow house at the corner was the hand house (where the farm workers lived) and across from that is the old pump house.

David and I have been married for 15 years now. He is the kindest man I know and a lot of his loving presence has made its way into my work. He is a music teacher and a musician. Some of the nicest moments we have together are when I am writing and he is composing.

Poets United: That sounds so lovely: two artists, creating their art. And the old farm sounds teeming with history.

"My lovely and goofy daughters,
Amanda and Katrina"

Audrey: I have 2 daughters who are grown now, one is 23 and finishing college at the University of Oregon in Eugene. My other daughter is the one who was recently sick. She and her boyfriend are tromping around South East Asia with a couple of back packs. She will be 26 soon.

Poets United: It must have been scary that she was so far away. I recall how worried you were when her fever was so high.

Audrey: I have a dog, Sasha, who is 10 now, and a constant companion.

My day is divided up between singing, teaching, writing, walking (playing, romping, running with) the dog and slouching with my husband at the end of my day.

Poets United: It all sounds wonderful. You describe yourself as a poet, a singer (wow!), a “recovering Attorney” and a psychotherapist. What is your current occupation, and do you enjoy it?

Audrey: Mostly these days, I sing and teach voice, and I love doing both.  I sing classical music, mostly soprano repertoire, although I have sung quite a bit of mezzo-soprano material over the years. I love performing, although I think of myself as more of an introvert than an extrovert. Singing is actually quite meditative, especially the daily practice involved.  It is a turning inward and outward at the same time, and it is a uniting of the mind, body, spirit and emotions. 

A recital. My daughters sang the last recital piece with me--
it was a lullaby that we had all sung together many times.

Sometimes, I am able to really move someone emotionally. I love that. And I love how it feels to sing well. I feel the most free when I am singing. There are times when I can get into that zone where time slows down and there is nothing but the music and me. It is something like flying.

"music is the language of the soul"

And I love teaching voice. I love to see a person’s skill and confidence increase. I love to see a person’s love for music grow, and to see a person grow in their ability to connect with the music and the text.  Music is the language of the soul, I think. And the human voice has the unique ability to convey music and text simultaneously. No other instrument is able to do that.

Poets United: I never thought of that before. That's so true! Was being an Attorney your dream? What changed your mind about it?

Audrey: Being an attorney was not my dream, but it was a job that allowed me to raise my two children on my own for a number of years after a failed first marriage.  It allowed me to feel powerful at a time when I needed to feel powerful. 

That being said, I must say that I love the law. I love how it pieces together and how it is, at its core, a statement of what a society values or fails to value. That is its beauty and its ugliness.  My forte in the legal field was always researching and writing. I loved that part of the practice of law. But I hated billable hours and I hated the amount of contention and posturing that is endemic within the profession. 

It was also not a very hospitable work environment for a single mother.  When I was in trial, I often awoke at 4 am to prep for the day. Then I got the kids ready for school, dropped them off and stopped by the office to drop off work for my secretary, before making a 9 am trial call. At the end of the day, I would stop by the office to check mail and bring home work for the evening. Then I would pick up the girls from day care, and do a bit of work before bed. It was gruelling.

"The Girls" at a family picnic
(including David's mom,
who is 91 and still teaches piano lessons)

Poets United: It sounds like you worked very hard.

Audrey: All that aside, I found ultimately, that it did not involve enough of me. It is primarily a brain game, and since I process from my emotional side first, I found that the emotional side of me was somewhat undernourished. So I started looking elsewhere. I transitioned out to music and psychotherapy.  I miss the money though.  And sometimes, though I hate to admit it, I miss the power. Power can be a very seductive thing.

Poets United: Did you grow up in California? 

Audrey: I did grow up here, on the Monterey Peninsula, of Russian parentage.  My parents emigrated to the U.S. in the flood of immigration after World War II.  I grew up with my father and step-mother, and visited my mother weekly.  My father never lost his accent and taught Russian for the Defense Language Institute. I remember one year he had his students translate Hamlet into Russian and perform it as a school assignment.  Students were a regular feature in our house: playing chess, and completing various assignments in Russian in front of us kids. I grew up speaking both languages and I still sing in Russian quite a bit.

Poets United:  Wow! That knocks my socks off. What a cool house to grow up in. When did you write your first poem? 

Audrey: Funny, I didn’t really write any poems until about three years ago.  I had been struggling to write a longer work of fiction (I am still struggling with that), and was carrying around a notebook to write in, in between students. I bought a new one, fully expecting that my novel would come out when I started writing, but what came out looked more like poetry to me.  So I started reading more poetry to try to figure out where my pencil was taking me. I’m still not sure that I am writing poetry. And I am ashamed to say, that I am still trying to figure out what poetry is and what it isn’t.

Poets United: No shame. Poetry writing is an ongoing process. And trust me, you are a poet! 

Audrey: I feel as though poetry  chose me, actually.  Sounds odd I think. But that is the way it feels to me.  I sat down to write and there it was. Something just started spilling out. When I look back at some of the earlier pieces, I realize that I really wanted to be heard, and to leave some sort of mark in the world in my back half. 

Something shifted for me when I turned 50.   My youngest went away to college, and I was left alone much of the time. I think things started rumbling around inside my writing brain about then.

For a while, I just wanted to see if I could write pretty poetry. I feel as though things have deepened for me since then. I am starting to write about more difficult things - things from earlier in my life, difficult relationships. Very little of that has made its way into my posts as of yet, but my notebooks have some of that work in it.

Poets United: Wonderful, Audrey. Keep 'em coming! As you are a singer and lover of music, is there a connection between music and poetry for you?

Audrey: I think my sense of rhythm grew out of years of singing poetry set to music. I sing classical music and so much of that poetry has been in languages other than English.  The average time for an aria to ripen is somewhere between 6 months and a year, depending on the complexity of the piece. The average time for an art song to ripen is somewhere between 2 and 3 months. Some arias and art songs stay in your rep for years. So, as a singer, you spend lots of time with the texts, coloring them, bringing them to life. Over time, nuance grows more refined, and deeper levels of meaning emerge. I think of poetry in much the same way. It should have complexity and levels of meaning that are relevant to the reader.

Poets United: I can see the connection. Well said! Do you have a poem that you feel best expresses who you are that you might like to include?

Audrey: Perhaps The Disposition of a Crone when I am feeling feisty, and Thoughts In The Glass of Time when I am sitting with myself.

"A backyard meal with the typical goofing off by kids and cousins. 
Goofing around, family, food--they all seem to be themes in my life."

Poets United: You have a fun family, I can tell. Audrey, I went browsing and found this gem from 2010. It is so moving.

Grace After 50 

A river gently washes the tears of women over 50
Inexorably cleaning the crevices under sagging skin
Drenched in gravity’s reality.

We are the ones left behind
By children grown
Whose schedules press unceasingly.

Outlived our usefulness,
With fingers intimate with
Cooking, laundry and the drying of tears.

A river of Grace seeps through us
Binding old wounds
Salving new ones,
Its sweetness clearest to those
Most intimately acquainted,
Whose wounds sharpen as days unwind.

Let my hand touch the ragged edges of you,
For mine are similar.
Compassion lies in the knowing,
Such knowledge binding us
As we let the river enclose us,
Hold us fast to one another.

Copyright All rights Reserved 2011

Poets United: So lovely: "Compassion lies in the knowing." Are there any forms in poetry that you find difficult, or tend to avoid?

Audrey: I tend to write in free verse in large part because I feel so clumsy when dealing with form and rhyme.  As a writer, I find myself drawn to the way words feel and sound, so I think I feel the rhythm of words. As I become a more confident writer (braver might be a better word actually), I would like to start to play with form more. I am floored sometimes when I read work that feels really spontaneous, but which is also really well crafted, where the form is subservient to the emotional impact but is still very present. I am reading more of that type of work and am playing more with meter and form and rhythm.

Poets United: You have said you are a “romantic at heart”. Tell us more.

Audrey: I guess I mean that I believe in love as a vehicle that can bring out the best in us.  I had a difficult childhood in some ways. There was a fair amount of deprivation, some emotional and some physical.  I flailed around in my late teens and early twenties in a fair amount of emotional pain.  Around the same time, I lost a brother in a drowning accident, and my father, of a broken heart basically.  Had it not been for my father, I think I would have had a much different life. He had saved me in so many ways. So, when he died, I lost a lot of love in my life.

"I made a decision to keep loving"

I made a decision to keep loving then.  As I look back on that decision, I realize that those people who approach the world through an open heart, are the brave ones. They are the ones who continue to love in spite of the pain that often accompanies love.  This was the gift that my father gave to me and this is the gift that I have tried to pass on to my daughters.

"Me and my husband, goofing around"

Poets United: "A decision to keep loving." There is no better gift.  When you're not writing, what other interests do you pursue?

Audrey: I am a voracious reader, mostly of fiction.  I love peoples’ stories.  I love the inner worlds of people, those worlds they create and those worlds that are created for them.  This is what drew me to psychotherapy.  Some of the times that I have felt most truly connected to others have been in the midst of the psychotherapeutic relationship.  

It is a privilege not often accorded, to be able to see and hold another’s inner world.  We do not live in a society that values the inner world. We tend to value extrinsic measures of accomplishment more.  And yet, the experiences of the inner world are really what we can most readily share. These experiences cross the separateness of the body and move into the realm of the spirit. For me, poetry is another way to share this experience of the inner world.

"A family event in the music room I teach in.
The quilt on the piano was made by my sister."

Poets United: What  causes are you passionate about? 

Audrey: There are a number of them. Hunger is high on the list. I live in Alameda County in California. 1 in 4 children in this county is hungry. 1 in 10 adults here are hungry, including those working part or full time. In a land where we have so much, that is obscene. Every dollar that is donated to Alameda County Food Bank is translated to seven dollars of food.  Volunteers of all sorts sort food and prepare bags; some volunteers receive food.  We all need to do something to help.

The mistreatment of animals is also high on my list. Your local ASPCA is a wonderful place to volunteer and donate. They save thousands of animals from mistreatment of all sorts. 

Also really high on my list is the need for quality mental health services to be made available. Somehow, we have decided that either it isn’t necessary, and/or that only the wealthy should have access to it. I have sat with the chronically mentally ill and know how much mental health services help people lead happier and more fulfilling lives.

Poets United: Services fall short in Canada, too. I love that you devote time to helping, besides caring. Way to be! Have you traveled, Audrey?

Audrey: I have traveled a little. This last summer my husband and I took two backpacks to Europe and tromped around for three weeks and that was loads of fun. Outside of that, I lived in Japan for about a year in my early 20s and that was very interesting.  I would like to go back to the south of France and tromp around for a while. I would also like to bike through northern Italy (and eat my way through there as well!)

Poets United: It all sounds wonderful! Imagine living in Japan! I hope you manage that bike trip around Italy. How has blogging impacted your writing?

Audrey: I am writing more these days, and I think having a blogging community helps.  It also really helps me connect with other writers and to read more poetry in general. On the negative side, sometimes I really feel the disparity between the level of my work and the level of more accomplished writers.  Maybe that is not all a negative. It hasn’t stopped me yet. But I am really in awe of the artistry of others.  The other possible negative that I sometimes feel in regard to blogging, is the need to produce tons of work.  I have made the mistake of posting some things before I thought they were ready just to get something up, but for the most part, I haven’t felt too much pressure to post all the time.

The Poet, at her computer

Poets United: I felt the same way when I started blogging, that my work wasnt up to the caliber of other poets. But people told me then what I will pass on to you: that every voice, including yours,  is unique and valued, and makes a contribution. I've come to understand that is true. Who would you say has been the biggest influence on your writing?

Audrey: The answer to this is maybe a “what”, not a “who”.  I speak Japanese and my time in Japan and my language studies after I returned have colored my poetry world, I think. I love the beauty and the brevity of the Japanese shorter forms when they are done well.  More than anything outside of music, these forms and the clarity and color of that language have touched my writing.

Poets United: That is so intriguing, Audrey. It's awesome to have that background to draw from for your poems.  Are you happy with how your work has developed over the past year?

Audrey: Yes and no. I feel as though I am still struggling to understand what poetry really is. I like the deepening that I feel is starting to happen. I would really like to be more conversant with form in general. I have given up on the idea of using rhyme—I just can’t get my head wrapped around that at all.
I am not sure what to expect really, but I am happy to be writing.

Poets United: What are your goals for writing in 2013?

Audrey: I would like to feel more comfortable with form, so I guess that means I will have to delve into it and feel uncomfortable for a while.  I have noticed Kerry’s challenges, and I think I am ready to delve in. I would like to continue to deepen my understanding of the art. I also want to join a local poet’s group here in Alameda.  I think it would be good to mingle with some actual people.

On the prose side, I have a first draft of a novel done. So I need to plant myself and start my first edit. I dislike editing and am not particularly good at it, so this may be an exercise in discipline for me.

Poets United: But the first draft is done! The hardest part is over. I hope you start that edit! And let us know when  the book comes out, okay? Anything else you’d like to share with Poets United?

Audrey: I have been the lucky recipient of much kindness from some fellow writers early on in my writing journey, and I just wanted to acknowledge and thank Bren at Daydreamertoo and Neva Flores at Changefulstormpoetry for their kindness and encouragement. Without it, I don’t know if I would have found my way here.

Poets United: We are very happy that you did. Thanks for allowing us this visit to your wonderful family, Audrey. And for  being a part of Poets United.

Isn't this great, kids? We just keep meeting one wonderful poet after another. I love my job! Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It could be you!


  1. Thanks for this wonderful interview Sherry. I really enjoyed getting to know more about you Audrey. The little 'About Me' snippet on your blog always has intrigued me to know more about the poet I read. So this was cool to be able to fill in some blanks. I enjoy your poetry and outlook and I would so love to hear you sing!

  2. Another great interview of a very intriguing and interesting poet Sherry.
    I think I first stumbled upon you over on Hub pages? Can't remember now but, asked why not enter some of your work to some of the prompts. Thanks for the mention Audrey. I think poetry is what we ourselves enjoy and if it touches us, it's good poetry. You always write beautifully.
    Such a full and happy life you have too. So blessed with a great husband and children. Your happiness, glows in positive auras from you all. Glad to have met you and shared this interview with you which allows us to glean so much more about you, behind the words.
    Great interview Sherry. I don't know when I'll be back. Need more time.

  3. Replies
    1. The pleasure is all mine, kiddo. I loved our visit!

  4. Wonderful interview again, Sherry. Audrey, so great to learn more about you. Fascinating to read about all the 'hats' you have worn in the past & your varied life experiences. How neat that you teach music. So often it seems poets create or perform in more than one arena of life. Loved reading your 'story,' which will definitely help me appreciate your poetry more. Thanks, Sherry, for finding yet another fascinating poet to share with us.

  5. Audrey, I loved learning more about you! You have a fun amazing family and you are so talented! I love how music opened your world and all that you shared~ Wonderful interview ladies :D

  6. Sherry, as always, thanks for asking the right questions and including so many pix! Audrey, I had no idea we were in the same situation: Empty Nesters who really began to grow in a different direction once we were simply US. It's a privilege to raise kids, especially silly ones (I can tell how lovely your daughters are by their fooling around in photos and not being scolded! You take them as they are, and your whole family seems delightful.). I'm a jazzer and had NO idea you were a classical vocalist. I loved your description of how long it takes and aria or art song to "open," as though to flower, or like a wine breathing. Even in jazz, I understand that, but in a foreign language, that's a real challenge.

    Wonderful interview. I will keep visiting you, Audrey - and Sherry, I'll haunt you forever, dear friend! Peace, Amy

  7. Audrey: I am gobsmacked to see what you have packed into your life so far. And I am sure there is more excitement to come. In addition you seem to be able to remain a teenager in spirit and liveliness throughout ups and downs. Your poetry is beautiful and reads like a song quite often.
    Sherry: that was a beautiful interview once again.

  8. I really enjoyed reading the interview. Your poem Grace After 50 is so beautiful.

  9. What an interesting life story thus far. A "recovering attorney" made me giggle and oh, how I wish I could sing. I too started poetry over two years ago (Oct 2010) and I often feel like a duck out of water. I like your voice very much. Your comment " people who approach the world through an open heart, are the brave ones" would make a wonderful idea for a poem. Thank you both for a very nice interview.

  10. Thank you for sharing so much of your self and your story with us, Audrey. I am ever amazed by both the similarities and differences amongst the members of our online community, and learning more about Audrey added to my amazement. Such talent! To sing like that is a gift. Joy emanates from the photos and show us the lovely personality we have only before heard.

  11. A great interview...I love your poetry Audrey, it is what I aspire to. If my work is half as good as yours then I'm happy!...It was good to get a little insight into your life, you are clearly a very talented lady, and you have a lovely family. :-))

  12. Yes, Sherry, this is great. Audrey's writing has intrigued me all year, though I have seen it less since I cut back on the number of blogs I visit. Your interview filled the gap!

    Audrey! Pleased to meet you. I love how you speak of music, especially: "Singing is actually quite meditative, especially the daily practice involved. It is a turning inward and outward at the same time, and it is a uniting of the mind, body, spirit and emotions." and as I read on, I noted how your relationships, psychotherapy and poetry also come to that place: "Sharing the experience of the inner world." Happy to meet the woman behind your poems, and love the two you picked as revealing you, especially the Crone Poem!

  13. Great interview of an interesting and unique poet - another home-run Sherry! Thanks to you both for such a good time ... and Audrey, you made me itchy to visit one of my favourite places once more - San Francisco, surely one of the most beautiful cities on earth! Lovely poems also.

  14. Excellent interview.

    I look forward to Howitt's every Sunday.

  15. How lovely to see and read about your journey and challenges Audrey ~

    I thought it was neat to have a strong Russian family/influence and to have lived in Japan ~

    The poem you shared resonated with me very strongly ~ Please keep on writing and sharing your words ~


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