Getting to Know Audrey Henderson and Her New Book Airstream

Audrey Henderson was shortlisted for the 2015 Saltire Society First Book Award and was a 2014 Hawthornden Fellow.  Her collection Airstream was a finalist for the Homebound Publications Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in Magma, The Midwest Quarterly and Tar River Poetry.  She was a finalist in the Indiana Review 1/2 K Award and won second place in the River Styx International Poetry Contest.  She is originally from Scotland where she was a contributor to BBC Radio Scotland. Her nature writing has just come out in the anthology Wildness, Voices of the Sacred Landscape from Homebound.

Audrey Henderson was shortlisted for the 2015 Saltire Society First Book Award and was a 2014 Hawthornden Fellow.  Her collection Airstream was a finalist for the Homebound Publications Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in Magma, The Midwest Quarterly and Tar River Poetry.  She was a finalist in the Indiana Review 1/2 K Award and won second place in the River Styx International Poetry Contest.  She is originally from Scotland where she was a contributor to BBC Radio Scotland. Her nature writing has just come out in the anthology Wildness, Voices of the Sacred Landscape from Homebound.

Available now by Homebound Publications

When did you first encounter poetry?  How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
There are about half a dozen salient memories I have of the house we left when I was five.  One of them is of my mother reciting Wordsworth’s Daffodils.  I remember the exact moment, the apron she was wearing, the green paintwork.  The words blew my mind: glee, jocund, milky way.  The images blew my mind.  I think that speaks to the value of memorization.  After that, a doctor who rescued me from a near fatal asthma attack gave me the gift of A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson in exchange for some alpine plants we gave him when we moved. That sealed the deal as far as poetry was concerned.  I know the book was significant to the child me, because I wrote my name and the date inside and taped it when it got ripped.  In elementary school I had to write down what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said “an author”.  The urge to write poetry visited me a few times in college, but it was a long time before I gave that impulse serious attention.

Do you have a writing routine or favorite place to write?
I am enormously envious of people who have routines. Long car trips have given me a great deal to work with in the past, unfortunately those are few and far between.

Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
Driving home once, an entire poem seemed to emerge, hover rather, to the right of my head.  I was incredulous and addressed the poem directly saying, can’t you see I’m driving!  I rushed home and got it onto paper before it was too late—that’s the poem Oases in Airstream.  Several of the poems in the book emerged whole like that, which is always thrilling and mysterious.  Sometimes events are heavy with impending poetry, then some words combine to trigger it.  Often it’s a combination of all of these stimuli—something read, something remembered, an incident, the light.

Which writers, (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most.
When Seamus Heaney discovered the word thole in Beowulf, it gave him a way into the text, because thole was a word that was part of his own lexicon.  My mother and grandmother also used the word thole. I mention this because I felt the observation linked me to Heaney and our shared language, going a long way back in time.  Similarly, when reading Alice Munro, I noticed that her language felt almost eerily familiar and I do mean familiar, as in family.  It turns out that Munro’s forebears came from the same part of the Scottish Borders as mine, almost to the valley. I think what I respond to with both these writers, in addition to their obvious excellence, is a sense that I’m revisiting some common linguistic wellspring.  They and RLS (see above) have influenced me the most.

Tell us a little bit about the collection: what’s the significance of the title? Are there over-arching themes? What was the process of assembling it?  Was it a project book?
I think Julian Barnes said something like “writers don’t write about their subject, they write around it.”  This is especially true for poetry.  Poems arrive one at a time over years and so assembling a manuscript is an act of discovery.  The poems get to converse and you see interests and concerns across the body of work.  It’s very exciting and somehow awe-inspiring, because you know that your conscious mind is not in charge. I found it very helpful to tape the poems to my wall in a line, to see how they behaved together, to see if they belonged together. 

There’s a lot of travel in the book, and travel as pilgrimage—going out as going in, to quote John Muir.  The title Airstream, in addition to referencing the cool RV, has metaphysical, even biblical associations. A lot of the work tries to reconcile the reverence we experience in nature with inherited religious traditions.  It boils down to the question: does Jesus go hiking?  He did a lot of walking, so I think the answer is yes.

Read a sample poem from Airstream here:

Monarchs

We counted five monarch butterflies
going buddleia to buddleia on the way
to Mexico, via Alveston Street.
I had seen them in a National
Geographic magazine, all licking
salts and minerals with their
butterfly tongues, millions
of them, from 1967 and I thought
about the flap of a butterfly
wing in Tokyo affecting
the weather in Rome,
I think it was Rome,
so it’s no wonder that they go
to all the trouble—that’s a big
responsibility for a butterfly.
Who knows what apocalyptic

thing might happen if they
don’t get to the Yucatan,
the Nile might never flood
again, the ring might
slip from Neptune.