[Interview_3] Alice Lenkiewicz

Alice Lenkiewicz is an artist, a writer and a poetry and art magazine editor.

She is also the author of a collection of poems, Men Hate Blondes (origional plus, 2009) and a novella, Maxine (Bluechrome Publishing, 2005).

In earlier interviews, she spoke about the series of events that led to her setting up Neon Highway, the magazine she edits with Jane Marsh and about some of the ways in which she approaches her work as a writer.

In this interview, Alice Lenkiewicz talks about the factors that inform her writing:

In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

This is not an easy question. I have read a number of authors who inspire me in various ways. However, I think there are certain authors who write in such a way that the impression they leave on you never quite diminishes.

For instance, Nadja by Andre Breton was always interesting to me for its semi-autobiography, its non-linear structure and references to Paris surrealists and their preoccupations and attitude toward everyday life while exploring notions of love and physical passion.

I admire Margaret Atwood. Her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale impressed me as well as Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time. I have always engaged with the idea of women’s struggle to survive and achieve.

I am interested in the idea of victim and matron. The Handmaid's Tale provides strong imagery and reference to the idea of male dominance but also female dominance. I am always very aware of the female ‘matron’. I think this idea has been misinterpreted and undermined in our society. The idea of female gaolers. I have been a victim of male dominance as well as female power and it is not a pleasant experience. Atwood writes this well along with Marge Piercy who also draws attention to society’s prescriptive attitudes towards female madness.

This leads to my other interest, the Victorian novel and Jane Eyre, one of my favorite books along with Wide Sargasso Sea, its sequel by Jean Rhys. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is another novel that also explores the idea of Victorian female madness and Kate Millets’s The Loony Bin Trip is a fascinating read.

I am also interested in the outsider. Camus and his novel The Outsider along with Kafka’s novel, The Trial fascinates me because of the looming authority and unfairness of society and how it can falsely misjudge people.

Anais Nin interests me. I find her work, although primarily sexual also fascinating for its freedom and references to her travels and unusual experiences.

I lived in New Mexico for a year and it was there that I absorbed a new culture and read a variety of books from Latin America and the US such as Isabelle Allende and Toni Morrison. I also enjoy Angela Carter’s interpretation of the traditional fairytales. Throughout this time I lived in Los Cerrillos, New Mexico with my future husband (although I did not realize he was at the time). We camped in the canyon lands, through Utah, Nevada, on the edge of the Great Basin desert. We travelled through Seattle, Oregon and went to live in Idaho. These were all fascinating and existential experiences for me where I dropped all my links with everyday normal living and went to live in a very free and natural way without any rules or schedules. I just painted and wrote every day. It was here that I wrote my fairytales that I am now editing as well as painting many images based on the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Icons and the Virgin Mary have always been a fascination to me, their healing and the idea of beauty and compassion are powerful elements in influencing my work.

These books and experiences have all influenced me because they are about life, travel, emotions, struggles, violence and love . They make you see other cultures, other lives, other communities, suffering happiness.

It is this subject matter that interests me. I draw this into my poems and use a variety of techniques to convey my ideas. Usually I use either free verse or prose poetry. Sometimes I create more formulaic poetry depending on the kind of effect I am interested in. Men Hate Blondes, my first full collection of poems is a mixture of prose, formulaic and free verse.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I was brought up in an unusual family. My father was an artist, the Plymouth artist, Robert Lenkiewicz and his attitude to parenting was somewhat . . . different. I had a close friendship with him and he inspired me a great deal. Everything he introduced me to while I grew up was interesting. Looking back he gave me a gift and that gift was to love life and to try to make my life as interesting as possible. He was a magical person and looking back I feel very honoured to have had this kind of experience as a child, to be painted, to be tutored, to be shown an array of artistic opportunities and skills. I used to watch him paint. He used to like talking while he painted so often he would give a kind of unplanned commentary on his working process. I used to love listening to him talk about colour and tone, moods and allegory in painting. He was a very clever man, he knew what he was doing. His main love was to collect antique books and he used to show me the spells, some of which were centuries old. I used to bind his books and we talked for hours about art and our lives.

I was brought up originally in Cornwall. Robert and my mother Mouse rented a cottage. Life changed, they divorced and Robert formed his studio on the Barbican. We moved to Plymouth. My mother was poor and we lived quite a rough and meagre lifestyle moving from one flat to another. I think they were desperate times for my mother.

She and my father had both come from middleclass upbringings, my mother from Maidenhead with her own boat and parties and my father brought up in Golders Green in a hotel for Jewish refugees. My mother had come from a simple world to a bohemian whirl of misfits and now she and my dad were left to pick up the pieces. My mother did not do so well. It was difficult for her with three children and a single mum in the late 60s and early 70s. She needed support but didn’t find this for a long time.

We lived in Plymouth in a council house in a posh area which was kind of strange but life changed for the better and we made many friends who used to drop by for cups of coffees and tea before the days of internet and mobile phones. We all socialised, watched old movies and went for long walks and had our dreams.

I met my first proper boyfriend when I was 17 and moved out of home. We found a flat in a big house in Plymstock near the beach. It was beautiful there.

We drove to Cornwall often in John’s open top car. They were fun times. He was into film and often we would climb Cornish hilltops with equipment dressed very avant-garde and then he would film me in an old ruin or church, that sort of thing. We loved each other but most first loves don’t last. We moved to London and our relationship became rocky.

I had a few violent incidents in London that affected the rest of my life. I had just moved away from London with John to Brighton. Things were still a bit up in the air so we arranged to meet in London for the day and talk. Things happened that day that created a strange fate that I won’t go into but I ended up alone and wandered to my old flat in Harlesden. I was only 19 and had no idea how to look for places properly. I was attacked by a stranger when I visited my old flat badly, dragged into a room and raped and beaten. I almost died had it not been for a neighbour who heard me scream and decided to call the police.

I spent some time in counselling. For a while it ruined my life. I remember asking Robert what I should do. I said I could not forget it. I remember him turning round to me and saying, “You must forget it Alice, you must!’. I remember the look in his face and it gave me strength. I enrolled on to a kung fu course, Wu Shu Kwan Chinese boxing group in Burgess Hill. I was taught by a good man called Nurul from Bangladesh. He and his brother had started the group to help defend others who had suffered from violence. It was kind of a hobby for me at first but became more important as time went on. I trained for four years and became very fit. I passed my black belt after doing my exam in London under the examination of Mr Chang and his wife, Trish. My anger had become manageable and I was finally free to be myself again. I have them to thank for that.

Different cultures have always interested me. I have always loved to travel and meet people from all over. When I first moved to London to Harlesden, I met Anita who shared my flat. She was the same age as me about 17 and from Ghana. She and her friends opened up a new world for me. They took me to parties and cooked for me. It was great fun. She introduced me to a new world of people in London.

Later, when I lived in Lewes, East Susses outside Brighton I also met Valerie and Christine who were French. We had many years of fun in our early 20s where we travelled and were creative. I worked in the Anne of Cleves Museum in Lewes. My life was idyllic. Valerie and I would dress up and go to parties and clubbing in Brighton. We walked across the Sussex Downs and I would paint and life was really wonderful.

One day my sister, Valerie and I were sitting on Brighton beach. We decided to go to America. I had wanted to go to Russia but we ended up in the US. We started off in New York, went to Boston and down to Chicago, over to Dallas, down to New Orleans, and then up to the Grand Canyon. However our lives were changing and we ended up going our separate ways. Suddenly our differences became magnified and we all wanted different things.

Valerie went to Florida, Becky went to San Francisco and I got on a coach and decided to go where fate took me. It was very exciting. I ended up getting off the Greyhound in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This was the beginning of a new era for me in terms of how it affected my whole life. New Mexico was a magic portion creatively. I fell in love with the area and it inspired me for many years.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

This is a difficult one and it is a mixture of a few things.

In general I am quite happy with the way I am going. I enjoy the freedom I have with my work. I can write when I want and how I want to. I enjoy publishing other writers and providing other writers with a chance to be published. Some of the writers I have published are doing some great things and now have their own collections out etc so that is a really good feeling and makes me realise just how important Neon Highway has been in contributing to help poets climb the publishing ladder.

I think if I have any concerns then it is sometimes a sense of exhaustion, in terms of the aftermath of my work. Poetry needs publicity but it is not the easiest of things to publicize. Poetry is a difficult genre to get out there. I feel few people outside the small press scene know who I am so often there is sometimes a sense of where do I go next and what is it I want? Do I want to aim to publish beyond the small press and why?

When I first began writing, the idea of being a successful writer was always associated in my mind with the big publishers but having been part of the small presses and spoken to so many talented writers and critics involved with the small press scene over the years, these two boundaries have blurred for me. You start to see a very different side of writing and publishing when you produce a magazine. Small press is not about amateur writing. I have read some exceptional poetry and prose. Small presses are there to provide an opening for poets to be heard and read and if they were not there it would be very difficult for poets to find this opportunity, as poetry is kind of a closed world and is not always the easiest genre to be accepted in.

Basically, there are just so many unknown poets who deserve to be interviewed and published. I feel there needs to be more support and opportunities for up and coming poets, more radio station opportunities and far more variation in people’s level of understanding in this day and age of what constitutes poetry because poetry is fun and it’s there for everyone to enjoy and learn.

I want to carry on publishing poets and writing and illustrating my own work. Neon Highway is not only a poetry magazine serving a function to publish but it is also an art performance. It is part of my poetics. Jane Marsh, my assistant editor (my fictional alter ego) provides the link of poetry into art and of creating an ongoing timeline of poets, art and prose in print. The printed magazine is the beauty of it all, especially in this day and age where printed matter is so unfashionable.

The main challenge I face is that I am both an artist and a poet. I also curate and edit and I am a mother of two children. I have to find time to devote my energies into these areas..

Some people have suggested I work towards getting an agent but then Jane Marsh is already my agent. Sometimes I feel we both may need an extra helping hand but it’s not vital.

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