Owl & other answers: an interview with Jen Hadfield

July 23, 2009

Jen HadfieldIt’s a treat to have our Poet of the Month Jen Hadfield dispensing some Sweet Old Etceteras behind the scenes with us, particularly after her lovely performance here at the SPL on 2 July. She sandwiched a fascinating discussion about language and home with Robyn and the assembled between readings from her work, beginning with the eponymous poem in Nigh-No-Place and ending on ‘Paternoster’, and all while perched atop a bar stool from the Waverley Bar. 

She lives in Shetland. Of her two books published by Bloodaxe, Almanacs was written in Shetland and the Western Isles in 2002 thanks to a bursary from the Scottish Arts Council, and it won an Eric Gregory Award in 2003. Nigh-No-Place, written in Canada and Shetland, was shortlisted for the Forward Prize in 2007 and won the T S Eliot Prize for poetry in 2008. 

How is it with you now?

Trying to hang onto the good example of the lasses I was swimming with yesterday at Bannaminn Beach. It’s not as cold as you think, raised and set down by the waves. Beautiful bright water like laughing gas, jaggedy cliffs, and midget plaice scooting about in the shallows. 

Who or what got you writing?

Places usually, place-love…the here-and-now, as if the present tense is always an apprehension of loss. 

What I love…

Walking when the air’s the same temperature as my skin and feels like second skin, oversleeping and waking up in a pre-linguistic state, and so, writing; Owl, my slubby cat – a part of my identity…um…the surprise of a pipefish, fluttering barnacle; watching the garlic grow; my dear folk; trying to photograph hummingbirds. Singing lessons.  Taking on too much.

What I hate…

Taking on too much. Putting non-work before my dear folk. Cabbage-root fly, the buggers.  Being a fretter.

Where’s your native home?

In an ideal world, in the here-and-now, writing. Or in the kitchen of our Lil.  


Tell us more about your art.

Can I tell you more about my cat? Wee shouty fella when it comes foodtime, but so courteous that when once he growled at me by mistake, he came over all remorseful. Sort of oval shaped, in his famous furry grey pyjamas.

The art. Not art just now. I keep trying to paint, I don’t know why, I’m rubbish at it. What seems to come easy is making shapes in wire; or puppets out of broomhandles. The trick seems to be not to try. Whatever I make seems to tie in with the writing about homeplace.

The fancy dress theme is ‘Come as a Poem’. Which poem would you come as and how?

‘I Will Lend You Malcolm’ (W S Graham). In snow-goggles, hello and goodbye like someone who’s not spoken in a long time.

How many seas?

More than I’ll ever visit, unlike my sister…probably…

What’s your poetry for?

That would be the prescription to keep me in the here-and-now. Making me wonder where I am when I’m not writing.

Best impression of Owl?


Describe yourself as a bird; a cake; an item of clothing.

Um, a frumpy little snipe, brink of spring;  nakedness. Not in any salacious way; but clothes ARE perplexing. I’m not really a cake person. A suet-dumpling, or wishbone, I’d say.

What were you meant to do?

Just this, thanks to my very brave and generous family. 

Where to now?

To hang out the washing I think, and answer some emails.

6 Responses to “Owl & other answers: an interview with Jen Hadfield”

  1. Wonderful as ever.

  2. Alex Brunel Says:

    A lovely portrait of the far North. You sound like Shetland to me. Best to you Alex

  3. I like the owl impression. None of that clichéd 2whit2whoo.

    You should have an owl impression competition.

  4. Oh, and is there an actual owl somewhere called Cat? 🙂

  5. […] sense of place) I like a lot, really ought to be known to more than three Americans: you can read a neat new interview with her at the Scottish Poetry Library […]

  6. […] discusses the difficulty of the simple line and blackbirds in Glasgow, among other things, with Jen Hadfield, and music is brought to you by Lise Sinclair from the Fair Isle. A little treat from the far […]

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