Lorenzo Reading Series: Janet Fraser Shares Shiftless

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On Thursday, Oct. 16, UNBSJ’s own Janet Fraser read from her book of poetry, “Shiftless.” With over 30 fans in attendance, Fraser captivated her audience with poems about her family and their history, as well as poems that focus on characterization.
Fraser read five of her poems from her newest book, each of which addressed different topics and persons.
While explaining what her poems are about, Fraser explained that while she focuses on her character’s and their personalities and experiences, this is an unusual trait for a poet to possess. Most poets focus on the mood of the story, or the themes, but Fraser said that she feels the need to be more in-depth with her characters, and that is what makes her poems so unique.
In “Shiftless,” Fraser explores human nature through specific individuals, writing character sketches that take in depth looks into said characters and their personalities. Fraser delves into what makes a person the way they are, and focuses on the drama of daily life. It is very appropriate that many of the poems in “Shiftless” are based in Saint John, since Fraser is located here, and even more appropriate that the poet was able to share her poems with family, friends and fans at the reading.
One of the most influential writers for Janet was American author Raymond Carver. She stated, “I’ve always loved Raymond Carver, he had a poem called Shiftless and he’s not known for his poetry certainly… he always dreamt that some interesting person would look deep into his eyes and say ‘Don’t I know you’? And I guess there’s something about that where I identify with Raymond Carver.”
Fraser explained that for her, writing was not always easy and at times often felt oppressed in a way, “For me I really identified with writers as a kid like William Somerset Maugham who was very very shy… I felt really silenced and I felt I couldn’t say what was true and I could never say the things I felt and be honest about anything. And that continued my whole life.”
When asked if there was a specific moment in her life when she realized that she wanted to write poetry, Fraser commented, “I think of myself as a story teller and I started telling stories that people seemed to really enjoy from the time I was a little kid… I loved poetry from an early age but I wasn’t interested in rhyming, but in grade six I read Stopping by woods on a snowy evening… I think that poem made a very deep impression of me because I realized you could write a poem that felt very natural and real and colloquial… I was really bored in math class and I started writing poems.”
Fraser was asked if she feels like there is a specific audience that her work is tailored towards, to which she responded, “I don’t presuppose things, but I have found from reactions from people that I get a lot more enthusiasm and passion from other women, not as much interest from men. And also I’ve had a lot of fantastic reactions from younger women, which makes me think maybe I’m childish… women in their twenties.”
The advice Fraser has for aspiring poets, is this: “Well, everybody says to read a lot… I really believe in losing your inhabitations and being really honest, but there are lot of fine successful writers out there that that’s not necessarily a priority.”