Jan Owen

Jan Owen

b. 1940

Nature is Owen's alembic. She writes with delicacy and strength, passion and intellect. - David Gilbey, Australian Book Review

About Jan Owen

Jan Owen, born in Adelaide in 1940, traces her lineage back through generations of Welsh seafarers and Cornish miners. She studied arts and librarianship and raised three children before claiming time to write and travel. From her prize-winning first book Boy with a Telescope to her CD, Laughing in Greek, her work reveals a wide-ranging intellectual curiosity and a sure command of line and voice.

Owen writes with a pervasive musicality in both formal and free modes. Her work is characterized by sensuous imagery, vitality and unpredictability, turning readily from wit and word-play to elusive meditations on the mysterious links between beings and things. As Louise Oxley writes, 'Owen is alert to the paradoxical, the equivocal nature of all things apprehended [and to] the way transience defines existence.' Her poems explore the natural world, relationships, history, culture and science, moving easily from the microcosmic to the cosmic, from physics to metaphysics. Thus, a cloud of gnats evokes the process of thought as well as the uncertainty principle; a trellis fence opens onto an alternate universe; and water-colour guavas reflect on their own evolution.

Art is a common subject, as is language, whether treated playfully, as in 'Parts of Speech' where 'gerunds are just present participles with delusions of grandeur' and 'joining words don't practice the Kama Sutra', or explored more seriously, as in 'Brass' where Owen asks 'Does language despair of us? Inexpressible unlikelihood's the bottom line/ to all the strangeness of our quarantine.' Trees, fruit, flowers, birds, insects and children also flock into her verse, and childhood itself is the theme of Blackberry Season, a discontinuous narrative largely in sonnet form. In her fifth book Timedancing, bats and fireflies come in under the eaves, the cempedaks 'dangle like killer jokes by Damocles', a pangolin appears 'out of the neat fit of the dark', and monsoon rain comes down 'like a sheet of Maugham.' But, as Lisa Gorton has commented, 'For all its detail and rapture, this is metaphysical poetry; full of things, certainly, but also full of abstract and fantastical images of time and music and memory.'

The poems recorded here are from Owen’s audio CD Laughing in Greek. This reading shows her fine sense of play and rhythm: in 'The trellis fence' she propels the words along with a lively clarity, the upbeat engagement with sounds and language delivering an impetus to the poem’s inquiry, while in ‘Young Woman Gathering Lemons’ her well-modulated pacing and warm tone resonate with the poem’s reflective empathy. This recording was made by Carol Jenkins in Mosman, January 2010 for River Road Press.

Take Five, edited by Adrian Caesar, Shoestring Press...

Poems 1980 - 2008, John Leonard Press 2008

Blackberry Season, (2nd ed) Picaro Press 2007

Timedancing, Five Islands Press 2002

Eating Durian, Picaro Press 2002

Night Rainbows, Heinemann 1994

Blackberry Season, Molonglo Press 1993

Fingerprints on Light, Angus & Robertson 1990

Boy with a Telescope, Angus & Robertson 1986


1986 Harri Jones Memorial Prize 1986 Harri Jones Memorial Prize

1987 Anne Elder Award 1987 Anne Elder Award

1987 Dame Mary Gilmore Award 1987 Dame Mary Gilmore Award

1992 Wesley Michel Wright Poetry Prize 1992 Wesley Michel Wright Poetry Prize

2000 Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize 2000 Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize

2007 Max Harris Poetry Prize 2007 Max Harris Poetry Prize