Janet Charman is a poet. Her writing has been published in a range of journals and magazines, and she has completed several book length collections of poetry. Her writing is often dense, elliptical or complex in expression, and displays considerable emotional range. She has been the recipient of residencies and awards, and she won the Best Book of Poetry award at the 2008 Montana New Zealand Book Awards for her collection, Cold Snack.
FROM THE OXFORD COMPANION TO NEW ZEALAND LITERATURE
Charman, Janet (1954– ), Auckland poet, published in AND and Wominspace Journal in the 1980s. Her first collection, with Marina Bachmann and Sue Fitchett, was the Spiral publication Drawing Together (1985). She has subsequently published 2 deaths in 1 night (1987), red letter (1992) and end of the dry (1995), and her work has appeared in more specialised anthologies such as The New Poets (ed. Murray Edmond and Mary Paul, 1987) and Yellow Pencils: Contemporary Poetry by New Zealand Women (ed. Lydia Wevers, 1988).
Charman shows stylistic affinities with Auckland poets like Murray Edmond and Michele Leggott, and ideological ones with feminist poets like Heather McPherson, Roma Potiki and Joanna Paul. Democratic features of her style reveal her agenda: limited capitalisation, lower-case pronominal ‘I’, and minimal punctuation. She focuses on women’s concerns: caring for others, victimisation, literary heroines, female sexuality including lesbianism, heterosexuality, childbirth and motherhood, vocations such as midwifery and nursing.
Often dense, elliptical or complex in expression, her writing displays considerable emotional range extending from sexual innuendo, to the erotic, to tenderness, or a playful wit: ‘we have to pull our poems on one leg at a time’. Charman projects a distinctive voice, a living presence engaged with others, seldom at rest; her poems are unadorned, conversational, political, yet there’s music in her subtle twists of perception: ‘elbow heel bow / line angle jaw bone / slim scar red car loading / the baskets getting the provisos …’ She trained as a nurse, has worked as a receptionist, and now teaches English at Auckland University.
Note: Charman no longer teaches English at Auckland University.
After several years as a tutor in the English Department of Auckland University, Charman was in 1997 named Writer in Residence. She currently writes full time in Auckland.
Rapunzel Rapunzel was published in 1999. Cath Kenneally in Landfall writes '[Charman's] field is always the domestic, that is to say, the world. Her scope is dazzling. She writes from a liberated intelligence that wanders free-range over the territory of knowledge. Her voice is one of the most compelling I know.'
Snowing Down South (2002) is Charman's fifth collection of poems. Here she recalls her childhood, full of voices and stories, and in writing preserves bits of New Zealand's past as well as her own and her family's.
In her sixth collection of poetry, Cold Snack (Auckland University Press, 2007), Charman explores the challenges of becoming a school teacher in mid-life, remembers the 1980s from the eyes of a receptionist at a television station, and explores ordinary life with acute observation and lyricism. Cold Snack received the Montana Award for Poetry at the 2008 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.
- Janet Charman's Poetry at Best New Zealand Poems 2005
- Janet Charman's Poetry at Best New Zealand Poems 2007
- Janet Charman’s writing on the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre site (see also Seeing Voices page)
Updated June 2022.