Each year the International Institute of Modern Letters invites leading international writers across a range of genres to teach masterclasses for current students of the MA in Creative Writing, and appear in public events in Wellington. Recent international guests have included Guillermo Arriaga, Andrew Bovell, Brian Castro, Santo Cilauro, Teju Cole, Robert Dessaix, Mark Doty, Aminatta Forna, Richard Ford, Janice Galloway, Chris Gavaler, Lavinia Greenlaw, Lee Gutkind, Joy Harjo, Michael Hofman, Michael Hulse, Uwe Kolbe, August Kleinzahler, Hari Kunzru, Ben Lewin, David Malouf, Glyn Maxwell, Andrew Motion, Brigitte Oleschinski, Michael Palmer, Mal Peet, Richard Powers, Ron Rash, Christopher Reid, Nicholas Roe, Mary Ruefle, Ulrike Almut Sandig, Robert Shearman, Karen Solie, Terese Svoboda, Scarlett Thomas, Christopher Vogler, Linda Vorhees, Eliot Weinberger and Lesley Wheeler.
Our first guest for 2014 is the Scottish poet Jen Hadfield.
In 2008, Jen Hadfield became the youngest person to win the TS Eliot Prize, with her second collection Nigh-No-Place (Bloodaxe Books). Judge Tobias Hill celebrated her 'sheer joy of poetry', while fellow judge Andrew Motion commented: 'she is a remarkably original poet near the beginning of what is obviously going to be a distinguished career.'
In 2003 she won an Eric Gregory Award for the manuscript of Almanacs; published by Bloodaxe in 2005. Three years later, at 30, she won the T S Eliot Prize for Nigh-No-Place. The poems in both books, she writes, 'are united by my fascination with spoken language and by themes of wildness and subsistence; fretting over what it means to be "no-place" and what it means to make yourself "at home".'
Born in Cheshire to Canadian and English parents, she developed a deep love of Shetland and the Western Isles while travelling there, with funding from a Scottish Arts Council bursary, during the writing of Almanacs. A residency with Shetland Arts Trust followed, and she now lives in Shetland where she is currently Reader in Residence at Shetland Library, having also been a Scottish Poetry Library Poet Partner at Shetland Library in 2007-10. Alongside the residencies, prizes and bursaries she has supplemented her income with work ranging from framing pictures to gutting fish.
Her third collection Byssus was published by Picador in 2014.
Hadfield's work has increasingly been described as nature poetry, where 'nature' means not simply a description of the natural world, but the changing ecology and the challenges of how we adapt to living in the landscape, as well as being impressed by its difference: 'for me it comes down to being honest about the present tense that you live in and looking as accurately and intently as possible at one place'. Her poems also invoke the sounds of liturgical language; in her hands, a combination of natural subjects, secular idioms and liturgical forms make a complex, enriched idea of a contemporary nature poem.
Alongside poetry, Hadfield is a member of the artist's collective Veer North and works in painting, photography and sculpture, exploring salvaged materials, and making artists books. In 2007 she received a Dewar Award to research Mexican devotional folk art and to create an exhibition of Shetland 'ex-votos' - devotional miniatures incorporating illustration and 'sacred' text.
Jen Hadfield will visit our MA in Creative Writing students for a reading and Q&A session on 20 February. A public event is also likely; details will be confirmed soon.
Rogue Seeds: Jen Hadfield's blog