Poet Andy Levine
Despite spending the last 20 years writing and publishing my thoughts and ideas, talking about myself is not something I find easy. In each collection of poetry instead of including a formal about the author, I have opted to write an Open Letter that I hope gives context to where I am at in my life at the time when I am releasing a book. I do hope the actual contents of each book accomplishes that as well, but these introductions are an opportunity to express parts of my process and mentality that may not come through as apparent from reading these poems. Below are the Open Letters from my most recent poetry books. As a writer, it is not where I have been or what I have done… it is what I have to say and how I choose to communicate that thinking.
The Four Roles
The question haunts me; what is my motivation? It is a soul searching inquiry requiring daily consideration in
order to maintain a level mental state. Finding the strength to endure with humility determines so much of
how one defines success. It is with this ambition that I strive toward my creative goals.
In this quest of sharing beliefs, I have come to realize that this process is navigated through a series of four roles. All of these facets are crucial and depend on the proper effort being put into each level in order to advance toward a project’s completion. If one phase is rushed or not respected with the needed amount of passion and patience, the end result will suffer.
When I started writing and publishing as a teenager, it was born out of raw emotion. I never considered if any of it was quality work. At that age, I thought I knew everything. What I know now after 20 years of writing, is that there are a tremendous amount of factors that separate someone who writes and someone who is a writer. Picking up a pen or firing up a device to record your thoughts can be done on a whim, but taking those theories and then building them toward a clear arrangement of thought requires energy and management.
The first role I engage in is that of an Observer. This is a fluid stream of listening, absorbing circumstance and constantly evaluating what is before me. Subtleties occur during every second and in the distance of each inch. At 38, I am able to decode the layers of personal interaction easier than at 18. This comes from careful development of intuition and awareness.
Seeing the world around you and making connections between complexities is really where an artist finds their motivation. Personally, what has inspired me the last decade has been less what is going on in my own life and more focused on the issues and trends shaping society. My inner struggles do not compare to the perils that the leaned-on inhabitants of this planet face without relent.
The second role comes in the form of a Translator. The sequence of taking fierce sentiments of electrical signals and converting them into coherent expression is perhaps the most important action of creation.
Without these moments of conversion, none of the mental critiques matter. Concepts live in the air and corralling them into a tangible form often drains oceans of effort. If there is any sense of magic in creation, this is where the conjuring takes place. If the translation is frail or false, the text will be the same. If the art is thoughtful and formed with integrity, only then is there a chance that a specific work of art can become a legacy.
Like language, these interpretations are altered by the ages. This essay was written using keys and various amounts of screens. Neanderthals painted on walls. Warriors and religious zealots inscribed stones and scrolls. Children of industry utilized ink to its potential.
How we think and communicate cannot help but be shaped by exactly how someone manifests this expression. It is for this reason that the advances of knowledge and technology have made the creative arts equal parts more open and closed off. That is why this phase of capturing what is merely an idea into a format for the senses holds with it a crucial part of the approach.
The third role is as a Craftsman. This is where the grind of development takes hold. Depending on the artist, this period is either a coast to cruise on or an avenue to an unending struggle of decisions and details.
This is my least favorite part of the journey, but I understand its importance, perhaps now more than ever. The challenge I have found after going down this trail a few times is looking at the steps and seeing where I can make improvements. Impact and efficiency are what drive me as an editor and publisher.
For this collection, I pondered quite a bit on how I could endeavor along this progression more effectively. If I am fortunate to keep sharing my poetry, I hope I never fail to adapt and improve these methods. The moment I assume I don’t have to put in a lot of labor will be the start of my downfall as a creative. I believe in the notion that by working hard in the present, you prevent regret in the future. Finally, this adventure reaches the point where I need to become a Conductor. So far, I have chosen the path of self-publication and artistic freedom. This role has, in some areas, been the most challenging. The feel of a book from the design elements on the cover, the font choices throughout a layout or how poems are arranged to construct a narrative flow are all very meaningful decisions. The goal is to establish a symphony of language and these choices are the notes accenting each poem.
My true aim is to share thoughts and ideas. I do not wish everyone saw the world like I do, but I would hope that during the time when reading or considering some of these words, a reader would, at the minimum, recognize my point of view. What I do is nothing extraordinary or new. Humans have always shared their experiences. I simply hope to carry on that tradition of communication in the best way I know how. These are the four roles of a process in my personal evolution as an artist.
I feel my way through this life. It is the only method that makes sense. Tradition has never seemed to resonate with me. I do have great respect for everyone and everything prior to my experiences, I just don’t feel an inherent reverence to such things. History is essential for perspective, but we should define ourselves. Letting others set the standards for our soul invites a hailstorm of square pegs into round holes.
There was a time when I didn’t understand that I was failing as an artist. I was blinded by youth, praise, and inexperience. I arrived at a moment where I reviewed all the work I created up until that point and something in me changed. My writing was shallow and flawed. From that point on, the process of constantly breaking through the vanity of a fleeting poet became a lifelong quest.
When you are passionate about something, instinct often takes hold and you just know an idea feels right. The title of this book, Outside the Complex, is no exception. I was taking a walk when the phrase just hit me. I was living in a neighborhood with an informal entrance leading to the street. It was a good day for some exercise and I took a left instead of the right I normally do. I thought, ‘this is a new way to get outside the complex.’ Immediately, those few words became like a tattoo that would help characterize a journey that was in an early stage of creation.
The more I thought about it, other meanings came to the surface, further cementing the idea to use that phrase as the title of the my next book.
Additionally, the title conveyed another important quality of the work it would contain. My goal is to write with simplicity. This is easily the most important ambition behind expressing an idea throughout the process. A lot of poets write in an overly complicated, vague, or intimate nature. That is fine; it is their style and right as an artist. That’s not me though. I’ve spent years making creative mistakes to try and humbly present notions in a modest style.
Often, the original lines within a piece start out dense and twisted. The editing stage is a chance to untangle the threads of a concept. The effort that goes into molding a broad belief into an efficient set of verses tests every fiber of my artistry. At times, these works may still be difficult to understand, but that is never my intention.
In closing, I hope you recognize that this letter and these poems were created with the purpose of enjoyment for whatever audience they find. These are honest words. Anything else would be a waste of a life’s work and the appreciation you may have for all I am as a poet.
It is truly overwhelming when you reach the final steps of a pursuit to see the distance you've traveled in getting there. Perspective is not an easy thing to corral. It doesn’t come without failure and it’s not easier to understand with success.
For me, poetry is the ultimate challenge of efficiency. It is the translation of grand ideas and specific actions into a calculated arrangement of emotion. Often, the desire for simplicity quickly becomes discouraged in labyrinths of intricacy. Ideas have a way of spiraling down a staircase of control. It is only after exploring the depth of these valleys can you begin to ascend with clear purpose.
Today Then Tomorrow would not have been completed without attempting everything I could to grasp these realities. As this book is released, I am twenty-nine years old. After writing for fifteen years, this is my third formal collection of poetry. With every trial, error, and conclusion I have grown in all aspects as a poet and publisher. Many mistakes have been made and countless lessons have been learned from them.
To truly appreciate any art form is trying to understand both the body of work and its creator. This letter is an effort to do that. There are complex layers of inspiration that go into an artist's work. Each individual portrayal is not a vigilante fighting for survival. It is backed by an army of a thousand moments. Everything we do is a result from the life we have lived. Events mold the surrounding landscape as instinct navigates us through this world.
Since I last wrote an introduction like this, I have experienced enriching times of poignancy that have influenced my drive to create. I've seen new life arrive as well as others pass on. There were solemn nights dominated by loneliness and vibrant passion re-energized by love. There have been gratifying professional triumphs along with absorbing the rigors of a career. Friends have come and gone for all types of reasons and in all kinds of ways. I have seen society sink amid hopeless rages of cynicism and then at occasion, rise together with cautious hope.
The rate of movement and growth of a person serves as the core of everyone’s personal evolution. This crucial sense of perception provides the confidence to be able to look at yourself critically. It is difficult to fully mature until you embrace the tempo at which you learn. It takes this methodic pace so circumstance can properly materialize for reflection. This can only be done a day at a time, and often it takes months or years for tangible results.
There is something noble about consistency. To be there everyday with the proper ambition to succeed can serve as the fire that warms the doubts in our soul. We all need to keep moving in whatever direction we feel will benefit not only us, but the others in our lives. Look forward and move ahead. Live for today with an eye on tomorrow and don’t let yesterday anchor you down.
As an artist goes through their life, a piece of art created at any given moment, usually stands as a reflection of where they are emotionally. All the moments and experiences before that process of creation, goes into each composition in either a subtle and quiet manner or in a beautifully overt display of creativity.
After the initial phase of creating a work of art, the challenge for an artist is to then use their skill to develop those raw ideas and loose fragments of inspiration, and transform them into a lucid expression of the original thought.
Independent follows this method of conception and refinement. As I enter the different stages and situations in my life, the art I create transitions accordingly. Each line of poetry not only holds the words to express a theory or notion, but a snapshot of how I react and feel about life around me at that moment.
When working on a poem or a book, I always find that deciding on a title allows me to shape what I want to say more effectively. For this collection, Independent, and the subtitle, self-evolution towards constant life amendment, gave me a direction on how to approach writing, editing, and publishing this effort.
Every poem, in either its subject matter or underlying tones, has a hint of that ideal in its lines and style of language. The title and subtitle were essentially the foundation of thought this book was built upon. Independent stands as an accurate description of how I feel as a man, artist, and publisher. The very definition, free from external control, lives as a core value in my belief system.
The subtitle is also a theme common to my work. We should always try to evolve on all levels of self, toward a change for the better and the advancement of our own personal existence. It is that driving motive, which should improve and help us gather a stronger understanding of the world that immediately surrounds us.