Poetry Out Loud: Meet Andie Francis Lenhart

With Poetry Out Loud just around the corner, we're excited to introduce you to some of the people who make this exciting program run! First up is Andie Francis Lenhart, who serves as the regional partner for the Northern Arizona region.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Andie Francis Lenhart (she/her) and I am a poet and educator. I live in Flagstaff, Arizona with my two children and my spouse. I am originally from Sacramento, California, but I have lived in Arizona since 2011. In addition to the creative arts (writing, visual art, DIY, zine-making, music, design), I enjoy hiking, landscape photography, and travel.

Tell us about your work at Northern Arizona University.

I have worked at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in the Departments of English and Teaching and Learning since 2016. I am also a doctoral candidate at NAU in the Curriculum and Instruction program.

NAU began as a teachers’ college (once called the Arizona Normal College) with the first graduating class of four women teachers in 1901. I am currently a University Supervisor for English teacher candidates at NAU. Our teacher candidates are placed with Cooperating Teachers across the state; at their placement schools, they get the chance to refine their skills in preparation for their teacher certification. In the English Department, we offer interdisciplinary and maker-centric courses designed to engage students across the curriculum and within the community. I have taught in the creative writing, literature, and composition and rhetoric areas within the English Department. This year, we welcomed our seventeenth University President, José Luis Cruz Rivera, and we are looking forward to what his tenure brings for NAU.

What is your Poetry Out Loud role?

I am the regional partner for the Northern region. I interact with our Poetry Out Loud students and teachers from Northern Arizona. It’s fun for me to help our Teaching Artists develop programming with Northern Arizona students in mind. I also get to plan our regional semi-finals, usually held at the Native American Cultural Center at NAU.

When did you first learn about Arizona’s Poetry Out Loud program? How long have you participated in the program?

I was a graduate student in creative writing at the University of Arizona. While in my second year of my MFA, which was in 2013, the Poetry Center asked me to judge a Poetry Out Loud contest at a high school in Tucson. Since then, I’ve enjoyed following Poetry Out Loud. My friend and fellow poet, Dr. Will Cordeiro, initiated and shaped the Poetry Out Loud program in Northern Arizona. He helped me transition into the role of regional partner in 2019.

What do you enjoy most about Poetry Out Loud?

My favorite aspect of Poetry Out Loud is listening to students recite poetry they love from memory. It is an amazing and inspiring experience to hear a striking poem artfully read, and it doesn’t always happen that way, even from the poets themselves when they read their own work aloud.

What is your favorite poem from the Poetry Out Loud anthology?

Last year, one of our regional semifinalists recited Ada Limón’s “How to Triumph Like a Girl,” and it was a standout for me. It’s the first poem in Limón’s full-length poetry collection, Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions). I love how this eighteen-line poem packs a punch. There are subtle changes in the tone with the exclamation in the sixth line and the question as the hinge of the poem in the fourteenth line. Also, with so many words that feature the ‘g’ sound like “grass,” “swagger,” “big,” “dangerous,” “huge,” and “genius,” I feel like the recitation can emphasize Limón’s powerful lyricism. Finally, there’s parallelism (“giant with power, heavy with blood”) and repetition (“I like…” and “Don’t you want to…”) in the poem that will help with memorization. I hope someone from Arizona decides to recite Limón again this year!

What are you looking forward to this year’s Poetry Out Loud program?

I’m most looking forward to finding out which poems students are going to choose to learn. Our POL teachers send me a list of their school winners and which three poems they will memorize for the semi-finals. I usually look up those poems right away, think about how they are structured, and I consider how the recitations might unfold depending on the tone and mode of each poem. Also, with that decision-making process each year, you can get a sense for students’ personalities and the socio-cultural moment they’re apart of (and contributing to) during this year’s programming.

Tell us about your artistic practice. Where can we find your work?

I mostly write poems, though I have a distinct interest in what poetry can look like beyond the page. This usually manifests for me through literary citizenship and interdisciplinary collaboration. I tend to think about the ways in which my writing can be in conversation with other forms of art and/or the community. For instance, with Kristan Hutchison of the Museum of Northern Arizona, I’ve helped curate an ekphrasis exhibit, collective zine, and poetry reading for National Poetry Month. I’ve also done collective zine-making in collaboration with Outspokin’ & Bookish, and I’ve designed literary programming with the Northern Arizona Book Festival. I am also starting a tiny-house writing residency at the Arboretum in Flagstaff, Arizona. All of these ventures connect artists through a common vision and mission, and I believe we need as much connection as we can get these days.

As far as my on-the-page practice, which is often solitary and introverted, I have a full-length poetry book coming out in Fall of 2022 with Finishing Line Press called A Fresh Start Will Put You On Your Way. I also have a hybrid chapbook with CutBank Books called I Am Trying to Show You My Matchbook Collection. I have work in literary journals like Berkeley Poetry Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Greensboro Review, Harpur Palate, Portland Review, and TAMMY among others. Visit my website for more information about my work or if you would like to contact me. I would love to hear from you!