Biography of Jan Owen
Jan Owen was born in Adelaide in 1940. She received a BA from the University of Adelaide in 1963 and qualified as a librarian in 1969. She has three children and has worked as a librarian, teacher, editor and translator. In 2016 she was awarded the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal and in 2017 received a Multicultural NSW prize for her translations of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal.
Jan Owen's Works:
Boy with a Telescope, Sydney, Angus & Robertson,1986
Fingerprints on Light, Sydney, Angus & Robertson,1990
Blackberry Season, Canberra, Molongolo Press,1993
Night Rainbows, Melbourne, Heinemann,1994
Timedancing, Wollongong, Five Islands Press,2002
Poems 1980 – 2008, Melbourne, John Leonard Press,2008
Take Five, Nottingham, Shoestring Press,2009
De Kus, [trans.by] M. Elzinga and J. Veenbaas, Maastricht, Azul Press,2010
Laughing in Greek (CD) , Sydney, River Road Press,2010
The Offhand Angel: London, Eyewear Publishing,2015
Charles Baudelaire: Selected poems from Les Fleurs du Mal, translated by Jan Owen, Todmorden, Arc Publications,2015
Wicked Flowers, Nottingham, Shoestring Press,2016
Jan Owen Poems
Mondays Began with one plait loose, a pip in your teeth and late for Geography, lined and blank, facts to the right, tall stories left. To sail the heat in a weatherboard classroom boat with banana and vegemite colouring the air sargasso green. To ship ten thousand things on cursive seas to the edge of the known page —coffee, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves. To import small desires and grown-up needs in little packets of time for show and tell. To carve your name on the prow. To wait for the bell. In the Parlour only the French clock answered back. They sat cross-legged on the Persian carpet; destinations flashed by the smell of Marveer, lavender, dusty velvet. They opened their eyes in the olden times to fossick under the coffin flaps of the jarrah window seat for proper advice from disheveled magazines: nose straighteners, recipes, posture improvers, the runt who smoked and the chap who rowed. They didn't see foresight's guarded smile, they didn't hear hindsight howl like a dog; the riddles were wordy, the clues were dumb: lopped head of a doll, silk wedding sleeve, gilt volumes, silverfish, and in the glass case, untouchable figurines locked away as grown-ups always seemed to be: shepherd and shepherdess on their marks, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Limoges? The real thing? Almond Trees cover Willunga Plains: like the misty breath of winter children, the blossom hovers. Dearth, says the black bark, splits to let scent through with open questions where when why what who? As for that earliest aroma fear, she'd smell it, taste it, anywhere, one part in a million, pungent as coffee or smoke, already there in her mother's milk. Against its grey unbeing she caught at talismans - black stones on a white plate, concrete nouns clattering out of thought. Marking time down the dead-end street to morning. Why was it always dark in the quiet hall? Through a memory crack of light an edge squeezed round the door: regret to inform stop missing in stop the air elliptic with tracer fire, familiar eyes glancing away, prismatic as flies'. Voices crept and huddled, where's Daddy's girl? He did come back, but who? They could not tell. Collections began. The tang of foreign coins lent her a lingo and currency for the unknown; Brother stuck down squares of expedited love with serrated edges. And they were invited to a fancy-dress ball with games of us and them. Father could not come for he was lame and Mother had to watch and wait not play so they learned dolls and trains and night and day and Snakes and Ladders and Hide and Seek. Knight's gambit. Castle your king. Check. And when the black door opened and they knew threshold was famished, Brother stepped through. Now fear had her ID and her address. Best send an invitation. Tell her guest the lightest thing she served would ward off harm - a stick, a stone, a cloud of white perfume, thought itself, needing a go-between to say ‘this fragrance is like newborn skin, these quickening trees, like Mary's aging cousin conceiving all baptism out of season'. She Collected Dictionaries as other women take up men and shelve them: manuals, grammars, Teach Yourself German, Malay, Italian, Swahili, Welsh, like a passion for clothes that would hang unworn in the dark, for peridots, garnets, amethysts, pearls in a shut case, nouns declined. Each unknown word shone with delicious fire and the alien phrases silked her skin with their genders and connotations. She might have been the end house on the waterfront of Macau welcoming every sailor in. But the longing for many tongues to part her lips - si, igen, ja, ah oui, yes, yes - was departure's smile, a leaning to the wind that sweeps a glitter of light across the sea and sets a silvery chill at the neck. Quick, to those books guarding the mantelpiece, ISBNs snug as a span of days; to bread and fruit and sparkling wine. She had been given a cyclamen with scent, some new trick that married violet and rose, as if a flower should yearn to sing and the pink timbre tremble into quietest words. She touched her flesh and knew that it would fade as speech did and did not. And yet it was not language that she sought, nor the music of any meaning. An old allegiance drew her on beyond the first ground of thought and the idea even of silence to the fifth season which must at last return with its weather of recognition and its lost ends.
Titian's Young Englishman with a Glove, circa 1530 It happened in Physics, reading a Library art book under the desk, (the lesson was Archimedes in the bath) I turned a page and fell for an older man, and anonymous at that, hardly ideal - he was four hundred and forty-five, I was fourteen. ‘Eureka!' streaked each thought (I prayed no-one would hear) and Paradise all term was page 179 (I prayed no-one would guess). Of course my fingers, sticky with toffee and bliss, failed to entice him from his century; his cool grey stare fastened me firmly in mine. I got six overdues, suspension of borrowing rights and a D in Physics. But had by heart what Archimedes proves. Ten years later I married: a European with cool grey eyes, a moustache, pigskin gloves.
The Torinomachi Pilgrimage
After the woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige Sunset always makes her think of blood.
The Offhand Angel
Five haloed numbers on her angel chart are guarding the stick-figure self at elbow, neck and knee. Clashing symbols, she calls them,
Eating Durian With Chandra
Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur We stopped round midnight at a hawker's stall of durian mobiles and braided mangosteen
Although we loved the gentle horse whose nose of worn-out velvet nudged us for rye-grass, Antarctica come to the suburbs was what drew us through the heat; we trotted by its slow
An earlier pitch of light had turned all edges halo―tree, rock, child― contained the change a moment then withdrawn.
‘Twenty-nine years ago. And only yesterday, ' says Balázs, slapping at a fly. We sit beside a bottle underneath his vines and watch the football arc between our sons.
Alias Lunaria: silver dollar or silver shilling, it travels well: hold it up to the light and see frugal savings for a rainy day.
for Mona Lisa in the fifth lane Lips straight from the Quattrocento, at each end a secret curlicue on a face as poised and round
Although we loved the gentle horse whose nose
of worn-out velvet nudged us for rye-grass,
Antarctica come to the suburbs was what drew
us through the heat; we trotted by its slow
and straining bulk or swung on the creaking cart.
Only the iceman galloped―through each gate,
bent double over the hessian-covered block
that weighed him down the side, around the back
and in with never a knock, boots puddling mud