Andreena Leeanne is a poet, inspirational speaker, and the founder of Poetry LGBT Open Mic Night. Andreena’s first book of poetry, ‘Charred: A Survivor Speaks Her Truth To Inspire’, was published in 2020 by Team Angelica.
Andreena was shortlisted for the Positive Role Model Award for LGBT at the National Diversity Awards in 2020, for her dedication to the LGBTQ+ community since coming out as a lesbian in 2003.
We spoke to Andreena about stumbling across poetry by accident, the impact of Poetry LGBT nights, and her advice on how to get started writing and performing poetry.
How did you first begin writing and performing poetry?
In February 2014, we (Andreena and her fiancée Germaine) went to my very first open mic poetry night in Dalston, Hackney. I was queuing for the toilet at the event, and someone said, “We have spaces on the open mic if you want to have a go?” And I said, “No! No way!” At the time I was thirty-three, and I said to him, “I haven’t written a poem since I was about twelve years old!” But as I sat down and was enjoying the night, I found the guy again and said to him, “If you can find me a pen and paper, I’ll write something. And if I think whatever I’ve written is good enough, I’ll have a go on the open mic.” So I wrote my poem – I actually wrote about the night, and then I performed it on stage that same night. I just remember getting a massive round of applause, and feeling really accomplished. I felt like, for once in my life, I was appreciated.
“I want my poetry book to let people know that there’s resilience in the face of adversity. That everyone is courageous.”Andreena Leeanne
What a way to start! Where did you and your new-found love of poetry go from there?
That one decision to go to the event has changed the course of my life. I spent the whole of that year going to all these poetry events in London, trying to get that feeling again. I’d write some more poetry, go on the open mics – I even tried a few slam poetry events. I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing, to be honest. Looking back at it now, I went on stages with some really well-known poets – and there was me, just writing how I feel. I didn’t write in a particular style; I just wrote however it came out from the heart.
I was comparing myself, thinking, “Actually, my poems aren’t really good enough,” – but I felt the fear and did it anyway. Because along the way, it was helping me; things that were annoying me, I’d write about. So if I was angry at something, or if I was upset at work, I’d write about it. It became a coping mechanism to help me deal with my feelings.
You published your book of poetry, ‘Charred’, in 2020, six years after you first started writing poetry. What was it that led to you putting your work out into the world?
I was going to all of these events at the start of 2020 before lockdown, and every time I went to these events where I’d read a poem, people would always come up to me and say, “Where can I find your work? Where can I find your poetry?” And I didn’t have anything to show or give them. I made a list of what I needed – a LinkedIn profile, business cards, a website, and a book. And an Instagram account! So when lockdown came it was the perfect time for me to focus on a book, so that when I do go to events when lockdown is lifted I have a physical copy to give someone.
Because if someone wants my book, they want a piece of me – they want something that I’ve written that can encourage them. That’s why it’s not just a poetry book – it’s almost a self-help book, or some people have described it as a journal-type book, because at the back I’ve got a space for people to write their own poem if they feel inspired by my poetry, and then I’ve got some notes on what I do for self-care, and useful organisations to contact if the reader feels triggered by what I’ve written. I’ve never seen those things in a poetry book before, so it was quite unique in that way.
Your poetry in ‘Charred’ focuses heavily on deeply personal and traumatic experiences. What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
I want people to feel free to know that they can write their truth, because it’s theirs. Everyone has a journey, and a story. They have things that affect them, and writing is one of the ways that can help to get those feelings out on paper. I want my book to let people know that there’s resilience in the face of adversity. That everyone is courageous; we all are, we’ve all been through stuff. And we’re not alone in our struggle.
My poems appeal to lots of people because I write about my sexuality, my struggles with my family, friends, mental health, homelessness, and childhood sexual abuse. People who have read it have contacted me to say, “Oh my gosh, I remember when I went through that”, or, “That happened to me.”
“Don’t worry, “Is it right?” or, “Is it any good?” It doesn’t matter. Who’s the judge of that?”Andreena Leeanne
The idea of putting your creative work out there can often feel intimidating, particularly when it’s personal. What advice would you give to those who want to start writing?
Write it down in a style that feels comfortable to you – write down how you feel, and how it impacts you. It’s all about you. Don’t worry, “Is it right?” or, “Is it any good?”, or anything like that. It doesn’t matter. Who’s the judge of that?
I don’t follow what other people write, and the style that they write. There are different ways of writing in the creative writing world, and I don’t care about that, to be honest. I don’t want anyone to think they can’t do it because of any barrier. I never left school with any qualifications, and that hasn’t stopped me. I haven’t said, “Oh, I haven’t got a GCSE in English, so I don’t think I can write.” I think I appeal to people who don’t usually write – people like me, who stumbled across poetry by accident. People who haven’t got a degree in English Language or English Literature.
When we go through life, we go through with all our stuff. We’ve got loads of stuff that we carry around with us, and that all has an impact. If we find an outlet to express ourselves, then it helps. Creativity is really important – I’m sure we’re all creative at something, and inspiration can come from anywhere.
You set up Poetry LGBT Open Mic Night in 2015. Why did you feel that you needed to create a dedicated space for LGBT poets?
I felt it was really important to set up Poetry LGBT, because I spent the whole of 2014 going around lots of poetry events and open mic nights in London, and I found that there weren’t any LGBT events specifically; other than a poetry event that I later discovered called INCITE, which was run by Trudy Howson. I thought we needed our own space, where we can write and share our experience; because there were some events I went to where I didn’t do any of my LGBT-related poetry, because I didn’t feel safe or comfortable enough to be outwardly gay in a straight space. So, we needed an event where we could write whatever we wanted, and just be ourselves.
In January 2015 we were in a basement bar in Hackney, and we had 125 people come to our first event. It was massive, and it was definitely needed. We charged £5 on the door at our physical events, and we run our virtual events on a pay-what-you-can basis. We’ve never applied for, or received, any funding. It’s one of those events that always had a big audience – because it’s non-judgemental, it’s welcoming.
Poetry LGBT has been running for six years now – what has the impact been on the poets of having that safe environment?
As much as Poetry LGBT has helped me, it has helped others immensely. The feedback I’ve got over the past six years is that it’s helped people feel a sense of belonging, it’s helped people to feel like they’ve got a chosen family, it’s helped with relationships – people have got into relationships as a result of coming to the events and meeting people. It’s helped people to start writing, or continue and develop their writing. It’s helped with confidence and self-esteem. It’s helped people to say their words to people – strangers – for the very first time. Even though we do get quite established poets, we also get a lot of people who just write in their bedrooms and don’t want to be on stage. They might not want to have a poetry book or anything in the future. They just want a place where they can express themselves.
“There’s nothing that should stop you from doing what you want to achieve – and if writing poetry is what you want to do, then do it!”Andreena Leeanne
For those who want to try performing poetry, but might not have the confidence or know how to start – what would you suggest?
I’d say come to Poetry LGBT, because it’s a welcoming space! I’d also say search for LGBT events on event sites – Outsavvy is a really good place, as it’s an LGBT platform for events – or search poetry groups on Facebook. Nowadays, there are lots more spaces to be able to be heard, to share your work and get inspiration.
Go to poetry events, see how it is, and then pluck up the courage to do it. Because we spend so much time making excuses as to why we shouldn’t do stuff – but do it, and see what happens. Then decide whether you want to do it again. If you’re thinking, “I’ll wait until I get better,” you’re wasting a life. There’s nothing that should stop you from doing what you want to achieve – and if writing poetry is what you want to do, then do it!
You can find Andreena on Instagram at @survivor.andreena.leeanne.
Poetry LGBT events are via Zoom on the first Sunday of every month, as well as the Clubhouse app every Wednesday at 7pm. Follow Poetry LGBT on Instagram at @PoetryLGBT to keep up to date with their latest news and events.
‘Charred’ is available on Amazon.