An Interview With Jan Hutchison

Jan Hutchison was born in Petone and educated at Victoria University and the New Zealand Library School. She has worked in the Justice Department, spent time overseas, and been a librarian in Wellington, Dunedin and Nelson.

Jan lives in Christchurch with Hamish and says that poetry is a significant part of her life. She wrote constantly as a child and she returned to writing poetry after her own children left home. David Howard encouraged her and she joined the Poetry Collective where she appreciated meeting others with similar interests. She belongs to a poetry group which meets regularly and values its lively exchange of views.

She writes for Amnesty International and at present is improving her skills in Maori language.

Her poems are represented in many anthologies and publications and more recently in Snorkel and Quadrant (Australia). Steele Roberts published her three collections: The Long Sleep is Over, Days Among Trees, and The Happiness of Rain. Recently, she won first prize in The Takahe International Poetry Competition, 2011.

Tim adds: The title poem The Happiness of Rain was my Tuesday Poem this week.
Jan, why did you choose “The Happiness of Rain” as the title of your latest collection of poetry?
I chose the title The Happiness of Rain as I wanted one which connected with New Zealand landscape and, despite the precarious environment, would reveal joy in the present moment. I remembered, in particular, a day I spent at Stewart Island and many visits to bush on the hills of Wellington. 

How is the collection organised? Is there a unifying theme, or are there unifying themes, which run through it?
Much of the first part of the book is concerned with experiences in Canterbury, and in particular, visits to Darfield and Banks Peninsula. The second part of The Happiness of Rain includes poems which show the creativity of the human or animal spirit under adverse circumstances.

I don’t write the poems in a systematic order but try to arrange a collection of poems – after I’ve finally completed them – in a way that allows them to engage with others on the page opposite or near by. Nor do I plan a particular poem.  I stop what I’m thinking and expecting and stay present for the poem as long as it takes.

My poetry is an expression of faith in the integrity of the senses and faith in the imagination.  I want my poems to be connected with the natural world, with myths and animals, dreams and erotic life. 

Do your three collections represent a continuum, or will readers familiar with your first two collections notice a different Jan Hutchison when they come to read The Happiness of Rain?
I think The Happiness of Rain differs from the earlier books but I’d prefer others made their own comments.
Do you write in forms other than poetry, or do you concentrate solely on poetry?

I write solely poetry.

This is probably a question you are getting sick of – so please feel free not to answer! – but what has been the effect of the last two years of earthquakes and disruption on both your own writing, and on the poetry community in Canterbury?

The earthquakes have had a major effect on me and everyone I know.

I have three poems on our September and February quakes in the first part of The Happiness of Rain. As well, I’ve included a found poem on the telephone book which was written a few years earlier and published in JAAM in 2007.

Which poets have been a strong influence on your own poetry?

Nearly all my reading, one way or another, influences my poetry. I think of stories collected by Grimm, and as well, many myths and legends. I like poems in translation. I admire Chinese poems from the T’ang Dynasty. I like work by Rilke, Anna Akhmatova, Mandelstam and Chekhov. I’m influenced by poets such as Stevens and Elizabeth Bishop. I often read W. S. Merwin.

Others whom I read and reread are John Clare, Hardy, the later Yeats, Edward Thomas, Charles Causley, Kathleen Jamie, Michael Longley, many contemporary Irish poets – the list never ends. Poets in New Zealand who spring to mind are Fiona Farrell, Michael Harlow, Cilla McQueen, Bill Manhire, Jim Norcliffe, Gregory O’Brien, C.K. Stead and Brian Turner.

Finally, and if you don’t mind me asking, what are you working on at the moment?

I am working on another collection with the working title “Sand and River Time”.

Book availability details

The Happiness of Rain can be ordered from book shops or from Steele Roberts’ web site:

2 thoughts on “An Interview With Jan Hutchison

  1. I'm glad to see that there are other poets who don't plan things out, but arrange their poetry after it is written. A very interesting interview.

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