Jan Colville’s poetry is varied, direct and affecting. She has an eye for the absurd, the tragic, and that which is magical. Her mind is inquiring and philosophical and attuned to more than just the world of humans. Her ‘small universe’ is grounded in the ‘hereness’ of her present life in lutruwita-Tasmania, yet it spans the globe and even reaches towards the stars.
As Terry Whitebeach has suggested (below), a small universe is like a compass by which we are invited to navigate Jan Colville’s life. Doing so, we are drawn by various lodestones – mother, father, neighbours, a wider community of people, creatures, things, memories, sorrows and yearnings. In charting this course, the poems nevertheless reveal the author’s unswerving committent to ‘paying attention’, especially to what connects us. She writes of ‘here’ because, beneath the glittering promises of globality and mass-production of cultures, she perceives isolation, rupture and disintegration. Reading Jan Colville’s ‘small universe’ is a welcome antidote to these. Her writing is a reminder that who we are matters and deserves to be shared.
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“Jan Colville’s ‘small universe’ rests on calm, understated knowing that earth and all its dwellers are star-stuff, and that the poet’s job is, as Mary Oliver wrote, to ‘pay attention/be astonished/tell about it.’ “a small universe” is the work of a mature mind and spirit, created by one who knows well the vicissitudes of life and has experienced both salad days and stormy seas, and survived to map her journey. The poet does not look away when confronted with suffering and loss, but transforms it. Her poems invite the reader into a world of friendship and shared pleasures, a small universe both accessible and satisfying, one which subtly but unerringly ripples out into wider realms.
Jan Colville’s work is restrained but not restricted. Her crafting is unobtrusive and its ‘burthens’, subjects and forms a robust and varied feast. Examples of both found and prose poems, historical narratives, haiku-like vignettes, reflections on art and life, joy in the present, as well as the gatherings (and intrusions) of memory, make this a rich and satisfying collection. We need books like these.”
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Jan Colville’s poems have been published in Prospect, Australian Poetry Review, Famous Reporter and Blue Giraffe. She has written several published collections of poetry:
The persistence of song, with Tony Brennan, Lorraine Haig & Kate Tongs (2013)
This is just to say… a life in poetry (2014)
Otherwise – wise poems and others (2016)
Choosing Tasmania (2017)
Jan Colville was invited to join the project ‘Poets and Painters, Celebrating the Big Punchbowl’, in 2017 a collaboration with the Tasmanian Land Conservancy and the Bett Gallery. In 2021 she joined a group of poets in ‘The More Than Human Poetry Project’ curated by Kristen Lang, which enjoyed six months of learning, experimentation, and sharing poems. This culminated in readings and discussions, and sharing the outcomes of the project with the broader community at two sessions that were part of the Hobart Writers’ Festival in 2021.
Jan also once spent six months as poet in residence at Jam Jar Café, as part of Australian Poetry’s Café Poet program. She celebrates Australian Poetry Week each year by placing poems under sugar bowls at her local coffee shop. She attributes her mantra for writing to Mary Oliver’s “instructions for living a life”:
Tell about it.
From “Sometimes”, Red Bird, Beacon Press, 2008.