Jane Arthur is one of New Zealand’s upcoming, award-winning poets. She is a co-founder of online magazine The Sapling focused on children’s literature, and she was a judge at the 2019 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, and convening judge at this year’s awards.
At the heart of Jane Arthur’s approach to her professional, personal and creative life is the famous quote of former US President, Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy”.
“I can’t express enough how profound a realisation it has been to let myself just do my thing, my way, without worrying about how others may have done it,” she says. “Without fail, this has been the lesson that’s unlocked any success or happiness I’ve had. It’s not a new idea by any means, but it is one I think we all need to realise for ourselves.”
Jane grew up in New Plymouth, and moved to Auckland for university in 1999. She did a BA and then an MA (Hons) in English Literature and says the
University of Auckland made her see local literature in a way she hadn’t before.
“I remember reading a novel in my first year that was set around Symonds Street and Grafton Bridge, and that was the first time I realised that art could reference a real place – one I knew and had touched – and just how cool that was for me as an 18 year old. It made me realise, in a roundabout way, that each of us has as much right to read and write about our stories as anyone on the planet.”
Years later, when trying to reconnect with the poetry-reading part of herself, she recalled Professor of English and leading NZ poet Michele Leggott lecturing, and especially the way she read poems aloud “so very, very slowly – slow enough for even my brain to take in the sounds and meanings of the words.
“I’ve never forgotten how useful it is to just slow down – right down – and hear the words”.
After ten years of living in Auckland, Jane did a Diploma in Publishing at Whitieria Polytechnic and then got a job with Wellington’s Gecko Press, an independent publisher specialising in “curiously good” books for children.
In 2015, she was accepted onto the Master of Creative Writing at Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters, and specialised in poetry. Recognition came soon after when she won the 2018 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize judged by prominent American poet Eileen Myles.
Victoria University Press published Jane’s first poetry collection Craven in 2019. This won the 2020 Jessie Mackay Prize for Poetry (and MitoQ Best First Book Award) at the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. Judges said Jane’s poems “did that thing that the best lyric poetry does: they showed us an emotional interior, an individual human heart (often a literal heart, a stubborn, durable, hidden muscle) by way of a patient, alert attention to the world beyond the self”.
Jane is now finishing a novel for children –“a literal lifelong dream” – and in spring she is launching a bookshop in Wellington, with another writer, and a couple of shareholders.
“Opening and running a new shop – which has a very dedicated aim of encouraging more people to read New Zealand books - feels like a really logical (slightly terrifying) step in my career,” she says. “In theory, this is my “day-job” career taken care of for the next however many decades!”
Jane’s career has constantly circled words and books and, “I suppose, touched on ‘social justice’,” she says “meaning I need to leave the world in a better place with whatever I do”.