Jean Kent (1951 - )
Dogs thrive, and boyhood’s school needs painted rooms, And small-town culture fashionably booms When tenors or pianists challenge provincial ways And step from Progress into stand-still days. Oh, somebody keep this hometown not unchanging But ever memorable, that when the heart is ranging Beyond its citizenship and the old-pensioners, The droll and the dear may make eminent the years. ‘Hometown’, David Rowbotham
Jean Kent was born at Chinchilla on 30 August 1951 and was educated at the Glennie Memorial School in Toowoomba in the mid to late sixties where she started filling exercise books with poems under the spell of Dylan Thomas.
This is the country
Where feelings stay unspoken.
In the home paddock of the head,
Harvesting is private. Between the ripening
Thoughts and the reality of speech,
there is always this silence
this space between warzones
bordering us as the verandah
boards the deep space
between the heart of the house
and the world.
'Verandah Poems: Under a Roof of Rippled Tin,' Jean Kent.
She spent her youth in and around the Darling Downs and began publishing her writing while taking a degree in psychology at the University of Queensland. She has worked as a counselor and now lives on the New South Wales north coast, which is a feature in her verse, as well the memories and experiences formed in youth and childhood in South East Queensland.
Down the length of this country like a zip
Connecting inland to coast, mountains lie-
And we are locked in the neat teeth, in this city
Going nowhere, fast. As the morning rises I walk,
weighted, through my dreams of leaving. White fog
'In a Provincial City, Cycling to School,' Jean Kent.
In 1989 she wrote:
'Most of my poems seem to be about very ordinary things. I believe anything related to our humanness can become a poem… Of course I do like to take words for a walk … I'm always searching for a word which will let a phrase off the leash or set an image free. Perhaps because I grew up in rural Queensland, nature keeps recurring as part of my view. I like to use physical details to bring out emotional resonances, but also for their own impact. Something as ordinary as an ironingboard can be breathtaking if it's rediscovered. Amusing, too.' [i]
Kent has published stories in many of Australia's quality literary magazines such as Overland, Westerly, Outrider, Imago, Australian Short Stories and Meanjin as well as in the American based Antiopodes. The verse has also appeared in numerous magazines and collected into three books: Verandahs (1990), Practising Breathing (1991); The Satin Bowerbird (1998) and The and the Wagtail pamphlet The Spaghetti Maker: And Other Poems (2002).
(How far can you see? How far?)
But always … the same smalltown reply:
I can see Toowoomba. I can see the Range. And here
on the other side of the creek in 1963
Old Jack behind a draughthorse
is ploughing a paddock
'From the Bottom of the Range, The View,' Jean Kent.
She has won numerous awards including the Josephine Ulrick National Poetry Prize (1999), Wesley Michel Wright Prize for Poetry (1998), the Association for the Study of Australian Literature's Mary Gilmore Award (1991), FAW Anne Elder Poetry Award (1990), Henry Kendall Poetry Competition (1988 and 1989) and the National Library Poetry Competition (1988).
Beyond a window, its bottom tier hitched
Like a skirt at a beach, this verandah waits.
Pretending no absence, resting on this reef,
Will I find at last my life floating out
Like a dream just this side of sleeping?
Here between the house and the world:
A space, stripped, open to air
A room, rippled above and below
A home like a safe, dry hollow in the heart
Of an ocean.
'A Dream of Refuge,' Jean Kent.
[i] Jean Kent, 'Statements : Jean Kent.' Poetry and Gender: Statements and Essays in Australian Women's Poetry and Poetics, Eds. David Brooks and Brenda Walker, St Lucia: UQP, 1989, pp. 48-50.
Barbara Bursill, 'At the Centre of My Life: An Interview with Jean Kent,' Imago: New Writing 11.1 (1999): 63-79.
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