Janet Sutherland

Hangman's Acre by Janet Sutherland 2009. Burning the Heartwood by Janet Sutherland 2006.

Janet Sutherland was born in Wiltshire and grew up on a dairy farm. She has an MA in American Poetry from the University of Essex. Bone Monkey (April 2014) is her third full length collection. Her poems are widely anthologised: from The Virago Book of Love Poetry and The New British Poetry 1968-88 (Paladin) to The Apple Anthology, Nine Arches Press 2013. Her essay Reznikoff and his Sources appeared as an afterword to the recent Black Sparrow (US) and Five Leaves (UK) editions of Reznikoff’s Holocaust.  A founder member of Needlewriters writers cooperative, she lives in Lewes, East Sussex.

"Janet Sutherland prefers a pared-back, uncluttered, free verse for the poems in Hangman’s Acre.  The understated tones and hewn forms create a careful performance ..... she is a gifted and observant nature writer .....There are many delicacies in such an approach: deftness of image, delays of space.  Elizabeth Bishop’s attentiveness of voice hangs over this whole collection but the influence is one of tone.  I can’t help but admire the fact that this poet can yield such music, movement and scent from a rebounding flowerhead and a slowed-down spondee-sprung myrtle."

(David Morley in Poetry Review Volume 100:1 Spring 2010)


Bone Monkey is Janet Sutherland’s third collection, a subtle and finely tuned handling of archetypal materials that takes its unlikely bearings from Robert Bly. But is her mischievous mimicking monkey, who reels from bloody impaling to murderous mayhem, a figure of vanity who evokes tenderness but feels none, a grinning war-mongering vacancy who appears to die but is perhaps eternal, really what the author of Iron John intended by way of a celebration of masculine virtues? Maybe not. It’s fun though, and Sutherland appears to like him, although she is meant to be subverting rather than celebrating male mythologies. She circles her subject making faces at it. Reading on, we discover a gently probing wit, a great variety of miniature lyrical forms with off-rhymes, traditional sonnets, ballads and rumbustious dark historical narratives, and the bone monkey reappears in still more guises: a ruthless solver of crosswords, a sonneteer who subverts the cliché about monkeys and typewriters by tapping out lines on his laptop that ‘seize the flaming substance of the world’, a care worker tending a dying old woman:


when she wakes

he soft-boils an egg

and parts her lips with a spoon


yolk lines a lip crease

he loosens the edges with his nail

picks at the oily flakes


he puts three spoons of sugar in her tea

clips on the beaker lid

and offers her the straw

                                                          (‘Vespula Vulgaris’)


Spooky, complex, resistant to careless reading, Bone Monkey is a book that repays a reader’s patience. Janet Sutherland is a fine poet.

(John Muckle in PN Review 222, Volume 41 Number 4, March - April 2015)





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