Andreena Leeanne is a poet, an abuse survivor and a truth-speaker. I interviewed Andreena about her writing and creativity, her childhood experiences, being black and gay, and her LGBT Open Mic sessions.
Leslie: Can you trace where the creativity in you comes from and what has nurtured and sustained it from childhood to today?
Andreena: I have always been creative. I was one of those children who watched Blue Peter and made things from cereal boxes before the cereal was finished. I think being left-handed has also helped.
I found poetry in 2014 after my girlfriend Germaine introduced me to it and fell in love with it. After opening up to her about most of my issues, she bought me a journal to start writing things down. Germaine is now my fiancé; we have been together for 8 years. I now have 2 journals filled with 85 poems and a poetry collection being published by Team Angelica Publishing in October.
Leslie: Could you talk about how you survived the extremes of your childhood, please. Somehow you must have seen yourself as more than just a helpless victim – can you describe where that strength came from?
Andreena: Several aspects of my childhood were traumatic but for the purpose of this blog I would like to focus on the sexual abuse I suffered as a child at the hands of my mother’s husband, my stepdad, as I have recently started speaking my truth to inspire others. It has taken an immense amount of courage to speak about this after being silent for over 30 years. This courage has come from knowing how much my truth can help others who have experienced sexual abuse.
NO LONGER KEEPING SECRETS
I was sexually abused from the age of five
Yes, the innocent and tender age of five
Not long was I alive on this Earth
When my mum met that six-foot sex offender in Jamaica
That’s when I learned to keep secrets
I was his little secret
At 7 I begged her not to marry him, but she did and years later
Had the cheek to blame me for ruining her marriage
When we returned to England, she sent for him soon after
She said I should have told her
I said, How could I? I was just a child
Leroy Channer is his name and today at 38 I am no longer ashamed.
To this day that woman still carries his last name
Knowing what that man did to me for 5 years
At 9 he tried to pass me to his friend whose name I think begins with M
Looking back, it makes me cringe to think I was almost part of a paedophile ring
She could never say she didn’t know because it was her who caught him in the act
He could not lie or deny because she saw me on top of him with her very own eyes
It was her who called the police
He was arrested, convicted and spent a short time inside
She accepted a wooden prison gift handcrafted by him
She saw him when he was released
She had him in her car within 3 miles of our street
His punishment far from fit the crime as it’s me who is doing the time
Throughout the years I have tried to forgive and forget
This I will never forget
Live and let live yes and maybe with time forgive
Years ago, Mum told me to forgive him and move on and that’s when I decided to keep quiet
I decided not to speak even when others confided in me what had happened to them
How can I ever forgive a man who almost ruined my life several times?
I’m not just talking about the times I tried to end my life
I’m talking about the times I could not be touched by the people I claimed to love
I’m talking about the times I slept around so much I was labelled a slut
I’m talking about the times I drank so much I got ridiculously drunk
I’m talking about never fully knowing who to trust
The time I’ve lost thinking about this I will never get back
I’m talking about watching my own daughter like a hawk and teaching her from birth to tell me if someone ever touched her here, here or here (pointing to private parts)
At times I relive the physical, psychological and emotional pain and I’m aware it will never fully go away
Some of my relationships have really suffered over the years
I will always be scarred, charred
It has been traumatic to say the least
To say I’ve been through a lot in my life is an understatement
I have been through heaps
Hours of lost sleep
Wide awake night after night counting sheep
Over time I have been able to see the wood for the trees
Statistics show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are affected by this
I am a woman
I am resilient
I am courageous
I have achieved amazing things
Despite my circumstances I remain strong
I now know full well what he did was wrong
I am not to blame
After telling mum I’m now speaking out
Her response is still to keep quiet and move on
He has 5 children she said
What are you after, revenge?
I know she’s only trying to safeguard herself
Don’t silence me – I will no longer be silent
The silence is broken, the worms have been released from the can
You failed to protect me, mum and now you’ve washed your hands
I am nobody’s little secret; I no longer keep these kinds of secrets
I will speak my truth
It’s my truth to speak no matter how much havoc it wreaks
I’m done protecting you, I need to look out for me
I can’t turn back time, but I can spend my time fighting for what’s right
To ensure others can speak of their plight as I continue to write.
Leslie: What have been the challenges of adulthood and how have you kept everything together/been successful, please? What have been the key incidents/turning points for you?
Andreena: There have been many challenges as mentioned in my poem. Keeping myself consistently busy helped me to stay focussed and driven for many years as I did not want to allow any quiet time to set in as this would cast my mind back to the abuse and significantly negatively affect my mental wellbeing. Although this focus allowed me to achieve various levels success it was also extremely exhausting.
In October 2019 I spent 10 days in Germany at a 5-star Ayurvedic retreat with very limited internet access. This experience forced me to be still and listen to the universe as I was massaged, ate plant-based food and did yoga & meditation every day. It was during this time that I knew I had to quit my job and start speaking my truth to inspire. Looking back, I would call it a spiritual awakening.
Leslie: Who have been the main inspirational figures for you? Why them?
Andreena: Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey have been hugely inspirational throughout my life. I have many of their books and religiously listen to Oprah’s podcast. I remember first reading one of Maya’s books in the 1990’s and remember crying my eyes out after reading about the sexual abuse she experienced.
Leslie: Can you describe your work with ‘Spoken’ and ‘Poetry LGBT Open Mic’ please. How did these initiatives start and develop? What did you bring to them and what have you learned from them?
Andreena: I started Poetry LGBT Open Mic Night in January 2015 after spending most of 2014 going to poetry nights in London. I recognised the urgency to create a space for the LGBTQ community to share and express themselves through poetry and creativity. The event took place on the 1st Sunday of every month until the recent government sanctioned lockdown which forced our event online. This has been a blessing as we are able to connect with people all over the world and still provide a warm and welcoming space on Zoom on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of every month. You can follow @PoetryLGBT on all social platforms.
The Spoken collaboration came about because they recognised and appreciated the work I was doing and asked me to facilitate a weekly writing workshop online for 4 weeks to help their regulars to feel connected during this difficult time. They know that my style of writing is very free, flexible and from the heart as I have not had any formal training. I left secondary school in 1997 with zero GCSE’s. I encourage everyone to write in this way and they were still willing to work with me and pay me for my time. The group has been well received and appreciated by the participants.
I have learned that I am extremely resourceful, resilient and good at networking. People feel connected and appreciated in spaces that I create.
Leslie: Can you tell us about any other significant experiences or creative areas I’ve missed out that have been important for you?
Andreena: After spending many years working in retail. I spent 13 years working in the NHS. I started as a band 2 administrator, spent 10 years as a band 7 Specialist Smoking Cessation Practitioner and 1 year as an Occupational Health Business Manager. I took a leap of faith and left the NHS in December 2019 to pursue a new career as an Inspirational Speaker and Poet as I have a lot to say and want to inspire many people by speaking my truth.
Leslie: Give us a feel for your poetry collection please, including its subject matter, qualities, highlights and how it hangs together. Where can we buy it?
Andreena: There is strong correlation between childhood trauma and mental health issues. I have used poetry to write honestly about the multitude of issues I have experienced in my 39 years.
I want the readers of my book to find the courage to speak their truth, to in turn inspire others to speak their truths, just like I have.
The collection is called Charred. Think of a piece of wood that has been through a charring process. You may think of this wood as damaged – burnt and blackened – but it is actually quite resilient and much stronger after going through this process. Think of me as a piece of charred wood.
You can order a signed copy of Charred – A Survivor Speaks Her Truth to Inspire here. All orders include free delivery. You can buy an unsigned copy from Amazon here. Join the book launch on Oct 9th here.
Next week I interview Iranian-born artist Maliheh Zafarnezhad about her transformational East-West art focussing on women’s feelings and experiences in exile.
ABOUT LESLIE TATE’S BOOKS:
- Love’s Register tells the story of romantic love and climate change over four UK generations. Beginning with ‘climate children’ Joe, Mia and Cass and ending with Hereiti’s night sea journey across Oceania, the book’s voices take us through family conflicts in the 1920s, the pressures of the ‘free-love 60s’, open relationships in the feminist 80s/90s and a contemporary late-life love affair. Love’s Register is a family saga and a modern psychological novel that explores the way we live now. A signed copy of Love’s Register is available in pounds sterling here. Paperback in other currencies here. (Don’t worry if you see ‘shipping rate £10.00’ in your basket – you’ll find it’s much less when you pay.) Ebook available here (all currencies).
- Heaven’s Rage is a memoir that explores addiction, cross-dressing, bullying and the hidden sides of families, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. “A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage” – William Blake. You can read more about/buy Heaven’s Rage here.
- The Dream Speaks Back, written by Sue Hampton, Cy Henty and Leslie Tate, is a joint autobiography exploring imagination and the adult search for the inner child. The book looks at gender difference, growing up in unusual families and mental health issues. It’s also a very funny portrait of working in the arts, full of crazy characters, their ups and downs, and their stories. You can buy a signed copy of The Dream Speaks Back here.
- Purple is a coming-of-age novel, a portrait of modern love and a family saga. Set in the North of England, it follows the story of shy ingénue Matthew Lavender living through the wildness of the 60s and his grandmother Mary, born into a traditional working-class family. You can read more about/buy Purple here.
- Blue tells the story of Richard and Vanessa Lavender, who join a 90s feminist collective sharing childcare, political activism and open relationships. You can read more about/buy Blue here.
- Violet is about late-life love. It begins in 2003 with Beth Jarvis and James Lavender on a blind date in a London restaurant. Attracted by James’s openness, Beth feels an immediate, deep connection between his honesty and her own romantic faith. From then on they bond, exchanging love-texts, exploring sea walks and gardens and sharing their past lives with flashbacks to Beth’s rural childhood and her marriage to a dark, charismatic minister… Signed copies of Violet can be bought here.