Reading the signs. Our exclusive Janis Freegard poetry reading

I am blue. I am a deep, electric shade of blue and I sound like waves crashing. My colour is so intense it has substance even though it lacks mass.”

Except from by Perhaps the spider on my pillow is spinning me a dream by Janis Freegard

Editors note: – this blog is from Neil Johnstone our fiction specialist who also works as an artist and supplied the artwork for Reading the signs.  

Photo by James Ogle

Janis Freegard is regarded as one of the most unique and distinctive voices in the New Zealand literary World at the moment.

Known for her works as both a poet and as a novelist, Janis moved to New Zealand when she was aged twelve and has degrees in botany, plant ecology and public management, the first two of which very clearly influence her writing and certainly her interest in spiders!

She was the winner of the 2001 BNZ Katherine Mansfield Short Story Award.

And in 2014, she held the inaugural Ema Saiko Poetry Fellowship at New Pacific Studio in the Wairarapa. Which is where she commenced work on her current prose poem sequence Reading the signs.

Janis was also the winner of the 2019 Geometry/Open Book National Poetry competition.

Her work has been in numerous poetry collections and three previous solo collections Kingdom Animalia: The Escapades of Linnaeus, The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider and The Glass Rooster.

“I first met Janis when I emigrated to New Zealand three years ago and was thrilled when Madison Hamill her editor at Cuba Press suggested that Janis included some of my artwork in Reading the signs. We both share some common themes and interests in our recent works.” says Neil.

We were delighted when Janis invited us along to the launch of her latest collection Reading the signs to record the first ever recitals from the Reading the Signs collection . Enjoy!

Kingdom Animalia : the escapades of Linnaeus / Freegard, Janis
“The poems in this first full collection from New Zealand’s Janis Freegard are categorized by Linnaean taxonomy: the six sections Mammalia, Aves, Amphibia, Pisces, Insecta, and Vermes are interspersed with a seven-part poem on the topic of Carolus Linneaus himself. Here Freegard catalogs the various fantastic and artistic, anthropomorphic and objective, rational and self-serving ways that humans draw on the animal world: as symbol and allegory, food and friend, ravening enemy, and sacred icon. From surreal prose poems to gorgeous lists–featuring a stuffed Maori dog, murderous magpies, and cake-shop cockroaches–Freegard’s verse reflects the diversity of the animal kingdom and its light-hearted fancifulness belies a strong commitment to conservation.” (Catalogue)

The glass rooster / Freegard, Janis
“The poems in The Glass Rooster explore the spaces inhabited by humans and other creatures–from natural ecosystems to cities and even to outer space. Our guide on this journey is a glass rooster–observer of stars and lover of hens–who first popped up in Janis Freegard’s poetry years ago and wanders unchecked through the book. Each of the eight sections (or “echo-systems”) in the book–the Damp Places, Forest, Cityscape, the Alpine Zone, Space, Home & Garden, Underground, and In the Desert–is introduced by a triolet: a French poetic form with repeated lines. Other poems are arranged in pairs, each echoing something about the other, whether desert plants, the presence of balloons, or the dangers of working in a mine. The result is a tremendous, riotous exploration of an interconnected world.” (Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.

The year of falling / Freegard, Janis
“When the porcelain dolls start turning up on Selina’s doorstep, she knows it’s a bad sign. Shortly afterwards she embarks on an ill-judged affair with a celebrity TV chef. Both events, and the lies an untold truths at their heart, precipitate a spectacular fall from grace for high-flying graphic artist, Selina.” (Catalogue)

Specimen : personal essays / Hamill, Madison
“A father rollerblading to church in his ministerial robes, a university student in a leotard sprinting through fog, a trespass notice from Pak’nSave, a beautiful unborn goat in a jar . . . In scenarios ranging from the mundane to the surreal, Madison Hamill looks back at her younger selves with a sharp eye. Was she good or evil? Ignorant or enlightened? What parts of herself did she give up in order to forge ahead in school, church, work, and relationships, with a self that made sense to others? ” (Catalogue)

 Reading the Signs / Freegard, Janis
“Reading the Signs is Janis Freegard’s most recent poetry collection. The work is a prose poetry sequence which explores our inner and outer world’s through various means such as divination and the rich diversity of life as viewed through a poet as biological scientist lens. The core themes behind this  often humorous  but also serious collection are loss and recovery, climate change and gender fluidity not to mention spiders, piglets and Tasseography (tea leaf reading) . The publication includes accompanying art works by Neil Johnstone” ( Adapted from catalogue)