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Jazzy Australian poet takes amateur scribblers to school in writing workshops


“Monogamy, spadogamy.
Do you mind if I bring a friend with me,
Two is nice, but it’s healthier with three.
Monogamyyyy... Spadogamy!”

That ditty was the theme of Jan Cornall’s performance last Saturday night at the monthly Poetry Jam and Open Mic session at the Java Gallery and Cafe.

But Jan has been far from monogamous with her line of work, flitting between prose, poetry, songs, poetry-songs, and writing workshops.

The Australian writer published Take Me To Paradise in 2006, a novel about a woman who catches a plane to Bali instead of the bus to work, and explores Indonesia. She also penned At the Crossroads, a play published by Ginninderra Press in 2004.

Now she performs, teaches and talks her way around the world, and is in the Kingdom to share her experiences and recite her work.

“The first thing I ever wrote was poems. I liked rhyming,” Jan told 7Days. “Then I wrote songs, and then poem-songs.

“Sometimes I think I should stick with and master just one discipline, but I don’t. I started as a song writer, moved to poetry, but I like the challenge of taking on a new art form. I wanted to see, could I write a full length play? Could I sustain that character throughout the whole thing? Could I write a feature film? I can’t help myself, I’ll just dive in.”

When she isn’t teaching at universities or flirting with different art mediums, she keeps herself busy with writing workshops around the world. Jan’s stop in Phnom Penh is part of her writing workshop tour of Cambodia.

She will host two free courses at the Cafe Kinyei in Battambang on December 20. “The Zen of Zine Making”, from 11am to 3pm, will allow participants to write Haiku poetry before switching to the “Creative Writing Workshop” at 6.30 to 8.30pm. She will return to Phnom Penh on the 22nd to do a workshop for kids.

Her fascination with Southeast Asia was sparked by a visit to Indonesia. “I found an incredible creative freedom there,” she said. “Once I hooked into the arts community, I found that I’d arrive, and we’d just create performances or collaborations on the spot!”

Her interest in Southeast Asia is reflected in her work – she is researching a literary travelogue following the life of Marguerite Duras, a French writer and film director born in Vietnam in 1914.

In her recent publication, How to Write a Book in a Weekend, she points out “we spend more time avoiding writing than we do actually writing, it’s the avoidance that takes up all the time.”

But Jan has a solution. “If they actually had someone to say ‘That doesn’t work, but this is really fantastic, go ahead in this way,’ they would save a lot more time.”

Her nomadic way of life has led to some interesting experiences. When travelling across America, she ended up going on a road-trip to the border of Nevada with the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young road-crew.

“We were on the freeway at sunset, this shady guy had just dropped us off at a very isolated place,” she said. “These huge semis came screeching to a halt, so we jumped in, they were like ‘oh yah, where ya’ headin?!’ turns out they were driving across the country!”

For those who are unable to attend Jan’s workshops, she has one final piece of advice: “Have a book, where you write all the things you can’t write about. You might burn it, but your bestseller will probably be in that book. Because that’s the thing, we censor ourselves and we’re afraid, but that’s where the powerful work is.”



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