Charred: A survivor speaks her truth to inspire by Andreena Leeanne

It’s a little while ago now that I ‘met’ Andreena Leeanne at an online event and I was thrilled when she sent me a copy of her poetry anthology Charred: A survivor speaks her truth to inspire in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share my review of Charred today.

Charred: A survivor speaks her truth to inspire is available for purchase here.

Charred: A survivor speaks her truth to inspire

There is strong correlation between childhood trauma and mental health issues. I suffer with PTSD and depression, and use poetry to write honestly about the multitude of issues I have experienced in my 39 years. I have found writing to be hugely therapeutic. While I recognize the value of professional therapy, my poetry has helped me to come to terms with some of these issues.

If they’re not already doing so, I hope to inspire the readers of this book to speak and write their truth. We don’t have to be qualified writers to write down how we feel – honesty is the only qualification for this kind of work – and we don’t have to share it unless we want to.

This collection is called Charred. Think of a piece of wood that has been exposed to the flames. You may think of it as damaged – and it’s true it has been burnt and blackened – but it is still resilient, and much stronger after going through this process.

Think of me as a piece of charred wood. – Andreena Leeanne

My review of Charred: A survivor speaks her truth to inspire

A collection of personal poems.

In a sense, I don’t feel I have any right to review Charred. Andreena Leeanne’s writing is so gut-wrenchingly honest, raw and powerful and so far outside my sphere of experience that it feels almost impertinent to write a review.

The poems in Charred are remarkable. Stylistically there’s a mix of rhyme and free verse that fits the themes and content perfectly. I loved the use of enjambment as it illustrates the chaotic life Andreena has survived and her thought processes as she uses poetry as a cathartic tool. Sadly, the poet’s experiences echo those of so many and I truly feel her writing can enable people to connect, understand and begin their own healing journey. Her use of repetition, the variety of line length, rhetorical questions and, above all, of honest reflection are so effective. If the intention of Charred is to inspire others, Andreena Leeanne has done just that.

The themes in Charred are universal and often disturbing. Andreena Leeanne explores difficult issues through her own experiences of sexual abuse, lesbianism, love, homelessness, belonging, hope and despair. Her ostracism in Jamaica, for example, illustrates how those who don’t fit conventional expected ‘norms’ are impacted. This is not to say that Charred is a depressing read. Far from it. A whole gamut of emotions is here, from expletive filled, white-hot rage, through extreme physical passion, to tenderness and joy. I found these poems shocking, thought provoking and educational. Reading Charred made me want to know more about Andreena Leeanne, not least because her humanity shines through these poems.

I loved the way the anthology is closed with space for the reader to write their own thoughts, with the offer from the poet to share and connect and with a list of self-care suggestions, because Andreena Leeanne is providing the opportunity for readers to ‘speak their truth’ too. I also thought the inclusion of helpful contacts was a practical and caring touch.

It’s quite hard to review Charred because it’s not really an anthology you merely read and write about. Andreena Leeanne’s words are far more visceral than that. These are poems that are felt, experienced and that alter the perspective of the reader. I thought Charred was a stunning collection.

About Andreena Leeanne

Andreena Leeanne is an out and proud Black working-class Lesbian Poet, compère, inspirational speaker and mother to a teenage daughter. Born in Edgware, London, Andreena was sent to live with her grandparents in St Ann, Jamaica from age 1. At the age of 7 she returned to London and lived in several London boroughs with her mother. Andreena returned to Jamaica at age 17 to find herself, coming back to the UK at age 18 with a man she married at 19. Having left home at 18, after experiencing a period of homelessness she eventually settled in the London Borough of Waltham Forest where, to cut a long story short, she currently lives with her fiancé, Germaine, and her 18-year-old daughter Renée. Andreena hopes to one day return to Jamaica, to challenge the extensive homophobia and culture of childhood sexual abuse that exists there.

Andreena writes and performs poetry to come to terms with and speak out about her personal experiences with abandon-ment, homelessness, mental health, childhood sexual abuse and the many other challenges she has faced in her life. By speaking her truth, she hopes to inspire and empower others to speak their truth and take action.

In January 2015 Andreena founded Poetry LGBT Open Mic Night. Poetry LGBT is a warm and welcoming space for the LGBTQ+ community to come together to share their experi-ences through poetry and spoken word. It is a vital and much needed space for the LGBTQ+ community to share, create and express themselves. Andreena facilitates these sessions live at physical venues and online via Zoom. Andreena delivers writing workshops online and in person, and often performs her poetry at community-led events, Labour Party events, and for local authorities such as the London Borough of Hackney during LGBT History Month, the Greater London Authority, and at International Women’s Day events; and has had her work published in the anthology Sista! (Team Angelica, 2018). In 2018 Andreena was one of Stonewall’s Black History Month role models. Most recently she was delighted to be shortlisted by the National Diversity Awards as a Positive LGBT Role Model.

For further information, find Andreena on Instagram or Facebook and follow her via @PoetryLGBT Twitter or visit her website.

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