Ginger Andrews
June 1999

 

Ginger Andrews was born in North Bend, Oregon in 1956. Her poems have recently appeared in The Hudson Review, Poetry, River Sedge, Fireweed, and The American Voice. In 1997, she received the Mary Schierman Award at the Coos Bay Writers Conference. She is the winner of the 1999 Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize from Story Line Press, which will publish her book An Honest Answer in the fall. She cleans houses for a living, and is a janitor and Sunday school teacher at North Bend Church of Christ.

A WHOLE LIFE: GINGER ANDREWS' AN HONEST ANSWER

The presiding spirit behind Ginger Andrews' first book An Honest Answer must be William Carlos Williams. When he said he wrote in the speech of Polish mothers, he could have included the American working class anywhere. The sinewy resilience of Andrews' individual poems honors the tradition of his free verse lyrics. She listens for the poetic measure in American speech and reproduces it in unique forms. I would venture to say that the poetry of Ginger Andrews is as close to the tradition of Williams as American free verse has ever been.

Where Andrews' poems seem fragmentary at times, like those poems of Williams which Robert Frost called "snippets of things," they are in fact parts that stand for a whole; as Frost himself said, any poem was a part that stood for a whole. In Andrews' case each part stands for a whole life. That life in An Honest Answer follows a narrative arc: the early death of her mother, the illness and eventual death of her father, and the effect of these losses on herself and her surviving siblings. The operative word here is survivor. That word, used loosely twenty years ago about upwardly mobile young people, applies to Andrews: she's a survivor, saved, apparently, by her faith and her poetry. She is never just marking time, never boring, never setting herself a mere exercise. She is acknowledged among her family and friends as their poet, recorder of life and hard times in the lumber towns of the Northwest, where astounding natural beauty is no remedy for the grim facts of joblessness, alcoholism, crime, disease. Andrews shows how poetry breaks through the dank fog of these troubles, as surely as her profound and durable faith.

As for the voice speaking to us in these poems, it is as fresh as Ray Carver's seemed 25 years ago. Another poet who comes to mind is her fellow Northwesterner Vern Rutsala, himself a descendent of Williams who, like Williams, has kept his eye on the working poor throughout his career. Andrews is a working class, born again Sappho, an Ahkmatova who cleans houses and teaches Sunday School. These figures come to mind not for the sake of hyperbole, but to help understand the originality of this new and remarkable poet. We glimpse one vital source of her imagination in the opening of "Home Alone":

     Cigarette smokers,
     sweet tooths,
     alcoholics, teetotalers,
     bad cooks, good cooks,
     food stamp recipients,
     low blood sugar & type 2 diabetes,
     depression, codependency, cancer,
     high energy, low self esteem,
     nap takers, neat freaks, control freaks,
     carpal tunnel syndrome,
     strong arms, skinny ankles, pot bellies,
     public speakers, introverts, braggers,
     blue eyes, long legs, red necks,
     enablers, naggers, whiners,
     pride, guilt and honesty all run in my family.

And she adds, "There's never a dull moment, though I'm praying for one." Ginger Andrews speaks to us genuinely and passionately from firsthand experience, and in doing so, she speaks for others who share that experience and share it every day.

MARK JARMAN


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