Doing Some ‘Lightwork’
The first poem Andrya Allen remembers writing was about NASA’s Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion in 1986 while she was still in elementary school processing the tragedy with her classmates.
Her ability to turn serious subject matter into poetry started early. She recently released her debut poetry collection, “Lightwork: Words from an Activator,” and it, too, came from a place of healing, in this case from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“What I really discovered is that writing and expressing yourself—even if you’re talking about your hardest moments and your greatest joys that come from growing from those moments—that poetry is the best tool I’ve found to really make me come back to myself, my happiness and my gratitude for life,” Allen said.
After writing poems every day for a year, Allen sat down with her best friend and editor, Lena Ibrahim, to see the results of her writing therapy. Seeing poets with books at poetry events made Allen wonder if she had enough material for her own.
“We went and looked at the work over the past year as a body, and we found there was this story of self-discovery and healing and joy after childhood adversity,” Allen said. “It felt wonderful to put it all together, and I really felt like I should share it with people.”
Allen explained her childhood adversity was reflected in her ACE score, a study that evaluates different types of abuse, neglect or hard experiences faced during childhood.
“Your ACE score is correlated to a lot of school outcomes, life and health outcomes, happiness outcomes,” Allen said. “I found out my ACE score is like an eight. If your ACE score is more than a five, you’re going to need some extra support.”
ACE scores can include issues such as violence in the home or in the neighborhood or physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect. The subject material seemed relevant. Allen sees the issue of child adversity becoming more common in the news.
“Kids are talking more about trauma and the issues they have, especially with things like school shootings and really high poverty rates,” Allen said. “Just this month, the CDC marked childhood adversity as a public health issue. If you experience a certain number of really challenging events as a kid, it makes your risk of mortality much higher. It’s definitely a public health issue, and I felt like it was time to bring that to the public.”
“In my book, the poetry pieces have themes that center around this but also around really positive things like healing and growth and joy and empowerment.”
The title of the collection, “Lightwork,” reflects spiritual healing and Allen’s ability to be an activator.
“My greatest strength and maybe the reason why I was able to— and am still—conquer a lot of challenging things in this life is because I have a gift of shining light on things in a way that makes people take action,” Allen said. “When I share things about the hardest times in life with friends in conversations, what I find is we all go through these similar hard things, but it’s really about moving forward and activating yourself, looking at yourself and saying, ‘I can move forward from this.’ That’s what ‘Lightwork’ was for me. I really believe in shining light on the self, even in places you have a hard time looking at. That kind of light can be very healing.”
The collection features long and short pieces. Some are meant to be funny, and some are meant to spark ideas or a picture in your mind, Allen said.
Being vulnerable is the hardest part but a necessary one.
“The whole point of healing is to be seen and heard and know that other people out there are like you,” Allen said. “I had a really positive experience in the local community sharing my poetry, even though it’s very vulnerable.”
And Allen hasn’t done it alone.
She and Ibrahim have written together for 10 years. The two poets met on a speech and debate team at the University of West Florida and later co-founded the company Crossland Communications.
“We have really found a rhythm together in bringing out the best of ourselves in the ways that we see are best and not stepping on each other’s toes, always trying to listen and have a positive critique that helps them grow,” Allen said. “We write together. We are best friends. We work together. A lot of our lives are intertwined, but I wouldn’t really have it any other way.”
“It’s been a fun, cathartic experience to work with one of your best friends on some of the most important work,” Ibrahim added.
Allen’s poetry does a good job of bringing a story of transformation to you, Ibrahim said.
“I think it’s highly relatable regardless of what perspective you have in life or what adversities you might have dealt with,” Ibrahim said. “I think it’s a really moving body of work.”
Allen and Ibrahim will both perform their original work at the spoken word performance Thursday, Dec. 5, at From the Ground Up Community Garden. Allen looks forward to previewing her collection with five pieces.
“The first one is a fun take on social media and what it does for thoughts and how we can be more positive about how we approach that,” Allen said. “There’s another piece about the water and the tides and how connected we are with our earth through that. One final piece I’ll be doing is called ‘Lightwork.’ It’s the title poem of the book. It’s really about how you can learn from your life experiences to have transformative joy and spiritual growth.”
Allen focuses on imagery and storytelling at performances.
“My goal is to really bring the audience into what it felt like for me in a moment,” Allen said. “I am a very visual and sensory person and think abstractly but still very in the moment. My poetry really tries to bring people into that experience as closely as I can.”
ANDRYA ALLEN’S “LIGHTWORK” BOOK RELEASE
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5
WHERE: From the Ground Up Community Garden, 501 N. Hayne St.