Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Moment with Janine Canan

Tell us about your most recent release.

Ardor: Poems of Life (Pilgrims, Varanasi, 2012) is the most recent of my ten collections of poetry, and I believe the best. It has received good reviews and lots of excitement from like-minded souls. My author friend Linda Johnsen described it as “Inspiration dressed as a poet.” It contains poems about God, art, women, the earth, and the human condition. A new collection in the same vein is underway, Majesty. I have never felt more inspired than I do today.

What else do you have coming out?

Garland of Love, 108 meditations by the renowned Indian humanitarian Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma), will be available this Fall, 2013, at and A video by that name will appear on Utube simultaneously. In 2014, John Hunt’s Mantra Imprint in the United Kingdom will published a more substantial collection of Amma’s sayings & teachings: Love Is My Religion: Essential Teachings of Mata Amritanandamayi, also edited by myself.

Is there anything you want to make sure potential readers know? 

You can stay in touch and find out more about my work, new and old, at Facebook and

What is the most demeaning thing said about you as a writer?

Long ago but unforgotten, an acquaintance said, “What is the point of this?” And then there was journal editor Michelle Cliff, whose words were so cruel I have completely repressed them. On the other hand, when the editor of another journal wrote: “Your poems have passion but lack form,” I was pushed to take a workshop with the poet Carolyn Kizer on revision which taught me a great deal about form.

How do you react to a bad review of one of your books?

Fortunately I have never had a really bad review. But of course any lengthy review will contain some criticism. I appreciate the fact that my work is not perfect and there is always something to criticize. Respectful criticism can often be quite useful.

When are you going to write your autobiography?

I have already written a series of autobiographical stories entitled Journeys with Justine (Regent Press, Berkeley, 2007, illustrated by Cristina Biaggi). My essays are often quite autobiographical, as in Goddesses Goddesses: Essays by Janine Canan. And there is nothing more autobiographical or naked than poetry, which tells the story of the soul.

Are the names of the characters in your writing important? What about the titles?

Names and titles are very important, and very magical. I feel very strongly about them.

Are there any occupational hazards to being a writer?

The worst one is probably what happens to your back. The second may be seen as either a blessing or a hazard: long hours of solitude.

What's your favorite fruit?

I love persimmons and bananas and berries and ripe figs. There is no one as generous as Mother Nature.

Have you ever been in trouble with the police?

Only when I was arrested during a student protest at the University of California in Berkeley during the Sixties. For laughing loudly, I and my friends were put into solitary confinement, which was sobering. The bright overhead light bulb was never turned off, the toilet was a few feet away, and I spent the night reading the graffiti on the walls and the Bible (one always has the right to the Bible).

If you were going to commit the perfect murder, how would you go about it?

Since killing is wrong, I would bend over backwards to avoid it.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Fully aware of my own divinity and the divinity of all other beings.

What is your favorite bedtime drink?

Herbal tea or hot milk with nutmeg and honey.

Do you ever wish that you had an entirely uncreative job, like data entry or working in a factory?

Of course not.

Do you believe in a deity?

Yes, all of them.

Do you ever write naked?


Who would play you in a film of your life?

Cate Blanchett.

What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?

Remaining sane as a human being. And that entails strength of character, courage, humor, discrimination, hope, spiritual awareness, and a deep love of life.

Have you ever read or seen yourself as a character in a book or a movie?

No, I am trying to become more and more real.

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing?

Accepting that nobody cares.

What do you consider your biggest failure?

The times when compassion fails me.

Do you research your writing?

Yes. Gratitude to Google et al.

How much impact does your childhood have on your writing?

It has enormous bearing on all writers, indeed all people.

What was the greatest thing you learned at school?

To work. And keep learning.

Do you laugh at your own jokes?

Sometimes gleefully.

Do you admire your own work?


What are books for?

To transmit the important teachings; to add to the beauty of creation; to console; to entertain—in that order.

Are you fun to go on vacation with?

Probably not.

How do you feel about being interviewed?

Not bad.

Why do you think what you do matters?

I do not think that it matters, I only hope so.

Have you ever found true love?

True love is divine love. Human love is always a disappointment. I have found plenty of both.

How many times a day do you think about death?

Death is always with us whether we know it or not. Fortunately, I have always had a friendly relationship with Death, who will transport us one day into that greater unknowable Realm.

Are you jealous of other writers?


What makes you cry?

The pitiful condition of our world. The ever expanding ignorance of humanity. And I also cry when someone is truly human, able to tap into the extraordinary potential that we have been given as human beings.

What makes you laugh?

I wish I could say myself.

What's the loveliest thing you have ever seen?

The loveliest thing I have ever seen is the great soul Mata Amritanandmayi, who is called Amma, or Mother.


JANINE CANAN is the author of 20 books including the award-winning anthologies Messages from Amma: In the Language of the Heart and She Rises like the Sun: Invocations of the Goddess by Contemporary American Women Poets; acclaimed translations of two Belle Époque poets, Francis Jammes and Else Lasker-Schüler; two illustrated storybooks, Journeys with Justine and Walk Now in Beauty: The Legend of Changing Woman (part of the Navajo Literacy Project); a collection of essays, Goddesses Goddesses; and many volumes of poetry including Changing Woman, a Small Press Review pick, her NEA grant-recipient first book, Of Your Seed, and most recently, Ardor: Poems of Life. Janine lives in California, graduated from Stanford with distinction and NYU School of Medicine, is a psychiatrist and consultant for Indian humanitarian Mata Amritanandamayi. Her writing has appeared in hundreds of journals and anthologies. For more information, visit or Facebook.

1 comment:

  1. Wow - inspirational !! Beautiful words - beautiful soul

    Thank you