Q&A with Janet Sutherland

  • Wed, Sep 21, 2022

  • Janet Sutherland is a poet, author and editor with an MA in American Poetry. She also won the Kent and Sussex Poetry Competition in 2017.  Acclaimed poet Gillian Allnutt said, ‘There is a tact, a tender truthfulness, that leaves language alone and lets everything touched on speak for itself’ about Janet’s most recent collection, Home Farm. WORD!'s Abigail Willock caught up with her for an exclusive interview…

    Abi: Where does your love of poetry come from?

    Janet: I went to a small convent school for a couple of years when I was nine and handwriting practice was copying out poems “in best”. I remember puzzling over and copying Kipling’s The Way through the Woods and The Snowflake by Walter de la Mare. Our class production that year was on The Song of Hiawatha by Longfellow and the next year we had an enthusiastic trainee teacher who taught loads of poetry including The Golden Road to Samarkand by James Elroy Flecker. And then add in the poetry in the hymns and carols.

    Abi: Can you remember the first poem you wrote?

    Janet: It was a couple of stanzas on the bright blue spring flower called Scilla. I attempted rhyme, got distressed and had to ask Dad for help. I was nine.

    Abi: Can you tell me about the process of writing and editing a poetry collection?

    Janet: This is a big, big question! My collections have tended to be conceived of as whole book projects. For example, my last collection, Home Farm, Shearsman Books 2019 is about growing up on a dairy farm, the one before that, Bone Monkey, Shearsman Books, was about a trickster character and the one I’m just finishing now which will be called The Messenger House, out from Shearsman next spring, is about my great-great-grandfather’s travels to Serbia with a Queen’s Messenger in 1846 and 1847. I’ve been working on the new collection since 2013 and it’s a hybrid – a mixture of journals, mine and my ancestors, poems – set then and now, historical evidence sourced from the family and from the archives at Kew. The process began with transcribing my ancestor’s journals, looking up things I didn’t understand, trying to unpick his handwriting and his character, visiting some of the places he went to. The process of editing has been about following seams of evidence and then piecing them together where they naturally fit, which can be intuitive or practical. I love the editing part of things, arranging and rearranging, gradually understanding an overall shape.

    Abi: Who is your favourite poet and why?

    Janet: I have many favourites – but to name one – Lee Harwood. Look here for an introduction to his work, if you don’t already know it: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet-books/2016/12/a-real-though-pleasant-surprise-on-lee-harwood-john-ashbery-ft-prince His final collection The Orchid Boat (Enitharmon, 2014) is stunning.

    Abi: What are you reading right now?

    Janet: I’m reading Ocean Vuong’s Time is a Mother.

    Janet will headline WORD! at Attenborough Arts Centre on Thursday 22nd September 2022. To book your ticket ring the Box Office on 0116 2522455 or head to https://www2.le.ac.uk/hosted/attenborougharts/whatson