California-based Canadian poet and surfer Janne Robinson creates stirring and inspiring poetry that has captured the attention and minds of women and girls worldwide, allowing her to find viral success with a number of her poems and art-pieces.
Her recently published book, the namesake of her arguably most famous poem, This Is For The Women Who Don’t Give A F*ck, has created shockwaves online, placing Janne amongst a number of avant-garde female poets reimagining poetry for the modern day reader.
We chatted about travel, love, self belief and more to the surf obsessed, modern day beatnik....
Hi Janne, tell us a bit about where you are from...
I was born In Whitehorse, in the Yukon near Alaska. At age eighteen I left to travel all over the world, then at nineteen I lived for a year in Australia. After that I lived for a time in a cabin on the Sunshine Coast in Canada, then rented a place on Vancouver Island and started to surf. For the last seven years, I've also spent half the year in Costa Rica.
What inspired you to start writing your own poetry?
My grandma tells a story about how I discovered poetry while visiting her in Vancouver, when I was seven or eight. I spent the whole afternoon writing 'roses are red, violets are blue', la la la poems. I sat there and wrote fat, cat, sat, rat, bat, just trying to rhyme the words.
I started to write the poetry style that's in my book about three years ago. I was writing journalistic, blog style pieces at the time and then discovered the writers Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, and started to read a lot of their poetry. I really loved the authenticity and simplicity of beat poetry, as well as how crude Bukowski was. That’s kind of the style that I’ve embodied in the year since, more beat, simple, short structures, with some prose essays as well.
Your poem 'This Is For The Women...' has found viral success and developed into somewhat of a global movement. Did you ever envision that this could happen?
I wrote that poem in a parking lot of a ferry terminal. I’d just returned from being an extra on a music video and there had been this woman on set who was a stylist, a makeup artist, and a photographer - also she was a mum and had brought her kid. I was so inspired by her that I started to write about her, but the poem is written about a lot of different women that I’ve met, as well as some women that I probably don’t know. Some of it is about the woman that I am and some of it is about what I want to walk into.
That piece took off like wild fire, it’s terrorising in a beautiful way, I’m so grateful people connect to it. If I connect with something in my belly, then I think there’s a good chance other people will find that connection too. I get excited about it and I can feel the energy of it, and it feels like it’s just going to take the world in its hands.
Do you think that your work is influenced by your love of travel and surfing?
There’s probably aspects of travel that really influence my writing. Through travel I've had a vast number of experiences, like going to a surf spot at three in the morning and ending up in Peru in some random village fishing, stranded.
There’s actual experiences and a lot of my stuff is around love. My boyfriend always tells me that I’m so friendly, talking to people in the water and kind of putting myself out there. He thinks that it’s from travelling, because when you’re travelling alone, you have to make friends. So now, I do that everywhere.
I think I write about life whether I’m travelling or not travelling, but when you’re out of your comfort zone it’s more raw and draws different things from you.
'I Am A Woman Of Distinction' is a beautiful mini-short film shot in Costa Rica, showing you surfing and stoking out on life with your tribe. What was the process of creating this actually like?
I really wanted it to be visually stunning. We did two days of pre-production, and it was really intense and beautiful.
Two years ago on my last spoken word video I directed "I will never be a well behaved woman" I realized that I was starring other women in my films because I was hiding. I was working with a coach at the time who told me I needed to be in it, front and centre in my art and really embody it moving forward.
I think that we have to be comfortable being a public figure, being a writer, being in the face of our message. I was kind of shying away from that because I was afraid that being in the spotlight of my films would be self absorbed or something.
I pushed myself in "I am a woman of distinction" my third spoken word film I directed, to get over the fear. I starred in this one, front and centre. It was hard but also beautiful, as it challenged the parts of me that want to hide.
So much of of your work exhibits you laying yourself raw, do you find that difficult?
I’ve always written non-fiction and it’s always been personal, but I definitely think I was less brave before with what I chose to speak to. For about the first six months of writing and publishing online, I wrote pretty, fluffy, sweet, safe love poems and quips about creativity. They were vague and romantic and felt nice, but like they didn’t have the heart and soul and the authenticity of what my work is now.
In the same time frame that I was starting to be published more online and had moved to the Sunshine Coast, I had an abortion. I wrote this piece the morning after called Aborting Shame; One Woman’s Experience Within Abortion. It just came out of me and I remember after writing it feeling that I really needed to check in with why I wanted to share it. . It just came out of me and made me realise that I really needed to check why I wanted to share it, because I didn’t want to do it for attention.
I realized this is a really sacred piece of sharing and I need to be really clear with why I am sharing it--I didn't want to share it for attention. I sat on the piece for a couple of months without even looking at it. Then, I revisited it and decided to share it because I feel that when it comes to abortion, there is so much shame in this world.
"A lot of my art I create for myself, because it’s a side of me that wants to come out. The fact that so many women connect to something that I’m creating in my own process is so beautiful"
I wanted to get it out there to give an experience for women who might have to make that choice. I made the choice no matter what was said, that no one could alter the light within me, that I was at peace in my choice. I also decided that I would always process things like that that were big.
When I shared that I was like, 'whoa, this is like meaningful, this really touched people'. It touched me to have this experience, and I decided from then that I wanted to exist in that space of vulnerability, openness and rawness. That was all I wanted to write.
Your poems are charged with your interests around activism, particularly around feminism.
I really think that with feminism and women’s empowerment, a lot of women, including myself for a while, try to have power and find empowerment through embodying the masculine. Trying to heal parts of the world that are drowned in the patriarchy with more masculine energy, so it’s not actually effective in a lot of ways.
I think the way to radically shift, heal and bring in more of the feminine is to do it from a place of softness and joy and play, and to be brave enough to create art that is rooted in that softness.
I finally feel that personally, I’m in a state of real happiness and play. I’m excited to write and speak to different topics, creating from a place of joy, rather than suffering.
I think there’s a trend online right now to share our authenticity only through sharing our suffering, because it's humble and people can connect to it. I want to write poems and books full of love and joy. I’m looking forward to discovering my writing voice in that capacity as well.
What is bringing you the most joy and play right now?
I have a new boyfriend [laughs]. I haven’t had a boyfriend in a really long time, we met surfing. I started to take singing classes to work on public speaking and I actually just love singing so we’ve been writing songs together. It’s been really great and as I’m currently based in California, it feels so good to be in one place and see the same people, and coffee shops, and grocery stores. Right now, my joy is in roots and experiencing a relationship, and a relationship that’s based in a lot of playing.
What can your avid followers expect from your recently published book?
I took my favourite poems, a lot of my really strong fiery work. I really wanted to go in with a left hook, so the book has definitely got a lot of strong pieces. It’s so great because it’s a little collection of haikus, longer prose pieces, shorter style pieces, there’s such a mix. You can open it anywhere.
What has it been like to start the e-commerce business This Is For The Women?
I’m having lots of fun right now. This Is For The Women is turning into its own baby. It's dedicated to empowering women to walk tall like an old Cyprus tree and to exist with confident fire in all that they are. It comes from a conversation I had with one of my first mentors, Dianne Whelan. I was talking to her one day and asked, "do you ever feel that when you walk into a room everyone looks at you? Sometimes I feel like shrinking and crouching, and being small." She looked at me and said I would have never guessed that, because you walk tall like an old Cyprus tree to me. I love that, it feels like my healing in this life. What’s cool is that now my healing is healing others when they connect to it.
You are an inspiration to a large number of burgeoning writers, how does that feel?
It's humbling and flattering. I really feel that when I write, I pretend that it’s just me on the moon, and there’s been a zombie apocalypse and everyone’s been eaten. I just speak to what needs to be spoken to, and a lot of the times it’s my healing, my redemption, and how I process those things.
A lot of my art I really do create for myself, because it’s a side of me that wants to come out. The fact that so many women connect to something that I’m creating in my own process is so beautiful. I see It as a big fat bonus that people want to read it and care about it, because I know that it’s just me on the moon, my life.