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Kemp, Jan
Writer's File

Jan Kemp

Kemp, Jan
In brief
Jan Kemp is a poet, short story writer and accomplished public performer of her work. She began writing and performing with the FREED group in the late 1960s and in the late 1970s toured New Zealand as the only woman in the ‘Gang of Four’, the others being Sam Hunt, Alistair Campbell and Hone Tuwhare. From 1975 – 1999 her career was mostly expatriate, as again from 2007. She was awarded a PEN-Stout Fellowship at Victoria University in 1991. In 2005 she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature. She was a Writer in Residence at the Chateau de Lavigny, Switzerland in September 2008. Kemp lives with her husband in Kronberg im Taunus, Germany.
  • Primary publisher
    Puriri Press, The Poetry Archive UK
  • Rights enquiries
    Puriri Press - John Denny,, or The Poetry Archive,
  • Publicity enquiries
    As above


Kemp, Jan (1949 –), is a poet, short story writer and accomplished public performer of her work, whose career has been mostly expatriate.

Born in Hamilton and graduating in English from the University of Auckland in 1974, she has since lived in Canada, the Pacific region, Hong Kong, Singapore and Germany, writing and publishing poetry and teaching English as a second language.

She was first published by Arthur Baysting in The Young New Zealand Poets (1973), and was the only woman among nineteen poets from the Freed group.

In the late 1970s she toured New Zealand, once more as the only woman, with the ‘Gang of Four’, the others being Sam Hunt, Alistair Campbell and Hone Tuwhare.

She became known as a warm and lively public reader of her verse. Yet despite her public prominence at a time when this was still relatively rare for women poets, she has never been an overtly feminist writer. With their unmistakably feminine voice, many poems are confessional and concerned with discovery of self and the world through engagement in les affaires de coeur.

By making herself vulnerable to love’s dangers, she projects a personal drama of sexual desire and disappointment. But the ultimate message of her verse is optimistic—less about the failure of love than about the illuminations that the challenge to discover intimacy can bring.

Her public poetry is often flamboyantly exuberant; showing an ear for mimicry and an ability to incorporate into a distinctive rhythm, fragments of other languages, street cries, animal noises, the diverse sounds of exotic environments.

Her volumes are Against the Softness of Woman (1976), Diamonds and Gravel (1979), The Other Hemisphere (1991) and two pamphlets, Ice-breaker Poems (1980) and Five Poems (1988).

Known more recently for her prose readings, she has published a number of short stories in journals and anthologies. She was awarded a PEN-Stout Fellowship at Victoria University in 1991.


Jan Kemp’s first volume, Against the Softness of Woman (Caveman Press) was published in 1976. This was followed by Diamonds and Gravel (Hampson Hunt, 1979), Ice-Breaker Poems (Coal Black Press, 1980), Five Poems (1988), and The Other Hemisphere (1992).

Kemp's poetry collection, Only One Angel (University of Otago Press, 2001) comprises 32 poems that move around the theme of a personal journey towards an intimate relationship. In the preface to the book, Mac Jackson writes: 'Kemp, though absent, has not been silent, and now she is back. Only One Angel shows the maturing of a highly original talent.'

In 2002, Kemp released The Sky’s Enormous Jug – Love Poems Old & New (Puriri Press). She was on the Book Council's Words on Wheels tour of the Waikato the same year.

Kemp was the chief instigator of the Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive, launched at the Going West Festival in 2004. The archive is housed in Special Collections at the Library of the University of Auckland and in the Alexander Turnbull Library, and features recordings of 171 New Zealand poets reading their work. It comprises 2,100 tracks collected onto 40 CDs and is accompanied by corresponding textual files, photographs and bibliographical notes about the poets.

Jan Kemp was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature at the 2005 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Kemp's collection, Dante's Heaven (Puriri Press, 2006) is available from Puriri Press, contact details in the 'profile' section.

Working with Jack Ross, Kemp edited Classic New Zealand Poets in Performance (2006) which includes 27 of New Zealands most celebrated poets reading their works in more than two hours of recordings. Since then, she has edited two further collections with Jack Ross of poetry in performance, entitled Contemporary NZ Poets in Performance (Auckland University Press, 2007) and New New Zealand Poets in Performance (Auckland University Press, 2008)

Jan Kemp reading from her poems was released in 2008 by The Poetry Archive, U.K. Samples of her poems can be heard and read on their website.

Kemp is a long-standing member of the NZ Society of Authors (PEN), and since she moved to Germany in 2007, has become a member of PEN-Germany.

Jan Kemp's 2006 collection Dante's Heaven was translated into German by Dieter Riemenschneider and released at the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair. It was published as Dantes Himmel in a bilingual edition with a CD of the poet reading poems in English and German.

A bilingual edition (English- Italian) of Dante’s Heaven was publishedin 2017 from Edizioni del Poggio as Il Cielo di Dante translated by Aldo Magnanino, available from as well as the publisher.

Her collection of poetry, Voicetracks, was published in New Zealand in 2012 by Puriri Press & Tranzlit. It was launched in London at the NZ Studies Network Inaugural Conference at Birbeck, Univ. of London on 6th July.

In 2017 a new bilingual (English-German) edition of Dante’s Heaven retitled as Dante Down Under translated by Dieter Riemenschneider will be available from Tranzlit