Janis Freegard and Reading the Signs: Poetry and soundscape performance recording

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.

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

The acclaimed Wellington-based poet, novelist and short story writer Janis Freegard is regarded as one of the most unique and distinctive voices in the New Zealand literary World at the moment. Recently, she gave a live experimental poetry reading at the Twin Rivers Bookshop in Miramar, accompanied by soundscape visual artist and Wellington City Libraries’ Librarian, Neil Johnstone.

Janis is known for her works as both a poet and as a novelist. She moved to New Zealand aged twelve and has degrees in botany, plant ecology and public management. In 2001, she was the winner of the 2001 BNZ Katherine Mansfield Short Story Award, and in 2019 she won the Geometry/Open Book National Poetry competition. Her work has been in numerous poetry collections and she has so far published three solo collections — Kingdom Animalia: The Escapades of Linnaeus, The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider and The Glass Rooster.

In 2014, she held the inaugural Ema Saiko Poetry Fellowship at New Pacific Studio in the Wairarapa, and it was here that she commenced work on her prose poem sequence Reading the signs, which she read at Twin Rivers Bookshop in Miramar. The finished collection of poems took many years to complete.

We were absolutely delighted when Janis invited us along to record this very special reading from Reading the signs. We wish to extend our most heartfelt thanks to Twin Rivers Secondhand Bookshop and Janis Freegard for making this very special event happen.

You can watch the video of the reading below or visit our You Tube channel:

Below is a selection of titles from both Janis Freegard and Neil Johnstone available to borrow for free from the library:

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)

 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)

Shearwater drift / Alistair Fraser, Neil Johnstone and Steve Burridge
“Shearwater Drift is a vast sonic collage that explores real and imagined landscapes.Over 18 tracks,it features Taongo Puoro within soundscapes created by synthesisers, percussion, treated samples and other instruments that is not an easy listen, at times it can be quite eerie, but the dark and ethereal ambient atmosphere is the perfect vehicle by which the mystery of these ancient instruments can be experienced.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Panthalassa / Alistair Fraser, Neil Johnstone and Sam Leamy
“Panthalassa was the super ocean that surrounded the super continent Pangaea during the Palaeozoic-Mesozoic era. Panthalassa, the album, is an abstract and impressionist work in which conceptual ideas are explored through the luminous ngā taonga pūoro playing of Al Fraser, the evocative atmospheric soundscapes of Neil Johnstone, and the virtuosic drones and textures created by guitar player Sam Leamy. And Ocean Harp from Erika Grant. The album explores a unique sound world through the use of hydro-phonic recordings of migrating marine animals from Cook Strait/Raukawa. These recordings, made and supplied by NIWA, present a very rich and diverse sonic environment, which may change in the future due to the diminishing of native marine species.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Arriving in the oceans of different views / Johnstone ; Winterwood
“This is the first recorded collaboration between Wellington based, Scottish visual artist and musician Neil Johnstone, and Winterwood. The music takes inspiration from a series of paintings by the artist Robèrt Franken. ‘My River Styx was inspired by an image I saw of Charon as a kid. A skeleton with a cape on. I took that information and changed it around.  I like to create works that make one wonder or even feel lost. But possess the quality to enthrall’ – Robèrt Franken. While Johnstone and Winterwod began piecing their sounds together the material began to take on the surreal and colourful elements to be found in Robèrt’s paintings…” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Chalk dogs / Johnstone, Neil
Neil (Librarian and featured artist): Willfully arty and experimental. Obviously a work of genius.
Mark (Music Librarian): I listened to the first song & it made me feel anxious. Even the cover is scary. Listen to an exclusive video on our Wgtn Music YT channel if you dare.

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