Tom Andrews (1961–2001) was born and grew up in West Virginia. He graduated from Hope College and earned his M.F.A. at the University of Virginia. In his lifetime, Andrews published three books of poems and a memoir, Codeine Diary, about his coming to terms with his hemophilia and his determined refusal to let it circumscribe his life. He also edited two collections of essays, The Point Where All Things Meet: Essays on Charles Wright and On William Stafford: The Worth of Local Things. In 2002, Oberlin College Press published Random Symmetries: The Collected Poems of Tom Andrews, a posthumous volume comprised of two previously published books of poetry, The Brother's Country and The Hemophiliac's Motorcycle, two unpublished manuscripts, 25 Short Films About Poetry and The Temptation of Saint Augustine, and two late uncollected poems. Charles Wright wrote of Andrews, "The leaves just burst from his fingers. He had that odd stance to the world and its language that made whatever he wrote seem new and undiscovered, like treasure hauled up into the sealight from the ocean floor."
How to Love the World: Remembering Tom Andrews
He always signed his letters, “Dumb ole Tom.”
When Tom was a junior at Hope College, he was in a play writing class. One day I mentioned to him that I thought he might like to try his hand at writing poems. He was surprised. “I’ve never written a poem in my life,” he said. He thought it over. Then he said, “What would you recommend I do to learn how?” I told him that over the summer he should take an anthology of contemporary American poets and choose 25-30 of them and write a poem in the manner of each. He said, “Ok.” That fall when he showed them to me, I was dumbfounded. It was as if each of these poets he’d selected had written their next poem. It was uncanny. It was the stuff of prodigy. “Now what should I do?” he said matter-of-factly as if what he did was what anyone could do. “Well, now all you have to do is compose your own poems,” was all I could think to answer. He enrolled in Introduction to Poetry writing. We’d talk for hours after class. During that fall term, Tom and I went to Kalamazoo College to a reading by Gwendolyn Brooks and David Young. Young was the editor of the prestigious literary magazine FIELD at Oberlin College. Half way through the reading, I asked Tom if he’d be interested to going to Oberlin to be an intern at FIELD if David took interns from outside the college. Tom whispered an enthusiastic, “Wow! Yeah!” After the reading, I asked David if he’d be willing to take a student from another college as an intern. He said no; they’d never do that. I said, “If I sent you poems by this student, would you be willing to say no again?” and I laughed. And David laughed, too, and said, “Yes, I’ll say no again. Send them to me.” I sent them to him. He called and said, “Send Tom Andrews here for the second semester.” Oberlin is one of the colleges that annually awards a student one of the prestigious prizes from The Academy of American Poets. Tom won it. The Oberlin students all agreed that he deserved it. Tom graduated Summa Cum Laude from Hope College and won the Hoyns Fellowship to the University of Virginia where he studied with Charles Wright and Gregory Orr. After that, he went on to become the brilliant writer he was, published in the finest of places and winning critical acclaim and prestigious awards for individual poems, as well as for his collections and for his prose memoir and for his edited editions of definitive work on William Stafford and Charles Wright.
Hope graduate and founder/editor of Dirty Goat Press, Barry Hendges wrote to me soon after Tom’s passing, “Barely knowing him, I feel a great sense of loss. I remember when I was a freshman or sophomore at Hope going to a Hope football game with my roommate at the time and seeing Tom and turning to my roommate and saying, ‘Hey look, that’s Tom Andrews, the poet.’ I guess Tom was a bit of a rock star/celebrity to me. I think Tom heard me; I remember he gave a shy little amused smile. That was Tom Andrews, the poet.”
Tom’s temple was inclusive. Two of his favorite poets were William Stafford and John Ashbery. Now, in the poetry world these two are seldom if ever mentioned in the same admiring conversation. Tom could gently convince you in about thirty seconds that they were nearly exactly alike. He was right, of course. Tom would watch a British drama on PBS and then switch to ESPN for the latest NASCAR updates. He would carry around Wittgenstein’s philosophy, a catalogue for motorcycle parts, and Mad Magazine. He’d work for the most esoteric of all the mathematics journals, Math Reviews and then go play pick-up basketball. He’d come into the house performing a new yo-yo trick and while doing so, ask if I’d seen the poems Marianne Boruch had just published. St. Augustine and the Marx Brothers were religious figures to him. He had the lightest touch with the heaviest material of anyone I’ve known. He could juggle.
Tom Andrews was once a champion motor cross driver. However, he found out that he had hemophilia. “I then retired,” he said. “A hemophiliac motor cross racer is somewhat of an insurance risk.” He held the record for continuous hand clapping for which he was published in the Guinness Book of World Records. He won the Iowa Prize and the highly prestigious Rome Fellowship and wanted to be a stand-up comedian. His work was selected for The National Poetry Series and he was awarded a Guggenheim. He edited the Opus at Hope College and was a fellow dreamer of a visiting writers series. We dedicate this year’s series to him. His poems were selected for Best American Poetry and he’d just as soon write for a motorcycle magazine. His publications include “Hymning the Kanawha”(Haw River Books), “The Brother’s Country” (winner of The National Poetry Series, Persea Books), “The Hemophiliac’s Motorcycle” (Winner of the Iowa Prize, University of Iowa Press), the memoir “Codeine Diary” (Little Brown), “On William Stafford: The Worth of Local Things” (University of Michigan Press) and “On Charles Wright: The Point Where All Things Meet” (Oberlin College Press). He was amazing. While at Hope College, he published in OPUS and in The Wallace Stevens Journal. Tom could do a handstand on a skateboard that was sitting on another skateboard while rolling downhill. Yes, he was amazing.
Guy Davenport, one of this country’s most powerful critics wrote of Tom’s poetry: These are not poems about illness. They are about the dominion of the spirit when it is rich in imagination and courage.
Poet Jean Valentine wrote: He is a true poet, loving, tough, ecstatic.
And David Young, who had said, “Yes, I’ll say no again,” later wrote: [Tom] is wise for his years, perhaps because he knows how to love the world.
We hope that you will take a renewed or a new interest in Tom’s work. I know that everything he wrote he wanted to give to us all.
Hope College, Holland, Michigan 49423
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