Interview: Janne Robinson On Feminism, Being A Girlboss, And How Writing Is Healing The World
Your first poetry book from This Is For The Women Who Don’t Give A Fuck (published by Thought Catalog Books) is a bold book that is already highly anticipated by all of your loyal readers. What inspired you to write the book?
I think that books are the point. They have always been my point. Our world has moved in a frenzy to exist online — magazines and newspapers are going out of business but when I think about being a writer, it is still the same as when I was a little kid — writers write books. Books that you can put round coffee cup stains on, fold the shit out of the pages, cram with sand that pours out in your bed as you hold it above you.
They are the why and the because. They live forever. So many people comment upon my poems on Instagram saying, “I love this caption” and in my head exasperated I reply, “It’s not a caption, it’s a poem. It’s my flesh and blood and soul. It’s not meant to be something you scroll past for a stimulation hit, it is something that you are meant to savour in your hearts mouth forever.”
I am so grateful for the extension of social media to blast art conveniently into this world, but for me, books have always been the point. And physical books, books that people can date and put their names in, books that someone will hold 100 years from now in a second hand store as they flip through lines that have been underlined with a blue pen and loved by those before them.
No one thing inspired this book. I burst from the womb spitting ink. My first words were published about a hamster with three wishes when I was in Grade 3. I’ve always written, I guess I just finally felt ready, whatever the fuck ready means. It was just time.
You are no stranger to viral media. With poems garnering over 1.8 million views across the internet, how does it feel to write such personal, and vulnerable, content for an audience that is so eager to digest it?
Vulnerability is like a muscle in your soul. The more you flex it, the easier it gets. The very first real slab of my heart I shared was an article called “Aborting Shame: One Woman’s Experience Within Abortion” that was a step by step dialogue of my journey within my choice to have an abortion. Before that I had just shared fluffy love poems and nothing with sustenance of my soul. I was living in a cabin all alone on the Sunshine Coast, I think I knew about 3 people out there, and was pretty isolated. I remember waking up in the morning to see an email that said, “Congratulations your article has been published!” and walking down the stairs from my loft bedroom and staring out the window in my kitchen as the kettle howled looking at my wood shed, I decided in that moment that no matter what anyone said, if I was the hero or the villain, that I loved myself and was at peace with my choice and that they couldn’t alter the light within me. It was a silent confidence, like the roots of an old cypress tree. I was called everything from ‘Woman Of The Year’ to an ex christian boyfriend and the first man I ever had sex with calling me a murderer on a facebook comment feed.
We don’t control the feelings, actions or thoughts of anyone. We control our own actions, feelings and thoughts.
With writing non-fiction, my job is to make sure I am at peace with whatever guts of my soul I share. I can’t control what happens after that — as long as I have peace inside of me, that’s all that matters.Because you know some mother fucker is going to comment and always say what you are afraid to hear, and you have to just kind of laugh at it. That, or make internet troll voodoo dolls and put pins in their faces. If being a writer fails, I think that would be a lucrative business endeavour.
It is very clear that you use your poetry not only to express yourself, but also to express your interest in activism, and to empower people to take an interest in the state of the world. What are some causes you hold close to your heart?
Growing up with two gay moms, gay rights and the LGBT communities’ rights have always been personal for me. I had acupuncture today and on the way home in the uber there were people protesting Trump and I unrolled my window and screamed and cheered and hooted. Human rights make sense to care about because we are all humans.
My mom is a huge feminist and I have always grown up aware that although in many places in Canada and the US women have better rights than we once did, that in many countries women don’t have a voice or a leg to stand on. There are not countries for me, there is just one planet and until every woman and sister and child has equal rights, feminism will be relevant and worth speaking to.
I am also wildly passionate about animals. I am incredibly empathetic and have always been overwhelmed by animal energies since I was little. When I began travelling at 18 to Thailand, I saw the street dogs and my heart broke. As I continued to travel and realized that it was a worldwide problem. I became focused like a steam engine in contributing to and working with a non-profit that was a voice for animals.
I believe activism is seeing the pain of this world and funneling it into change.
I still remember this one white dog in Heraklion that had a disease where its nervous system breaks down, its head was bobbing. It was trapped in this yard full of garbage, and I would walk by it everyday. I was plagued by it. I would stay up at night crying. I felt helpless.
In 2010 myself and my coach, Rae-Ann Wood-Schtaz ,started throwing annual fundraisers in Edmonton to send funds to support an annual rabies and educational campaign in Todos Santos, Guatemala for an organization called The Global Alliance for Animals and People (previously Veterinarians Without Borders). We contributed to the work The GAAP is doing for 4 years by sending funds to help support projects in Guatemla and I flew down two years to volunteer in the actual rabies clinic in Guatemala.
The Global Alliance for Animals and People (The GAAP), works in communities where their presence is welcomed and requested, to improve the quality of animals and people in marginalized communities in the Americas. One of their main objectives is to really foster a strong bond between people and their animals so that they learn how to care for them properly, and protect them from the hazards they face when they are left to roam by themselves, free in the streets. One of the ways they get there is to focus on the kids, through education about what animals need to be healthy and happy, and that animals’ needs are really similar to their own.
I resonate deeply with the work The GAAP is doing, for it focuses not just on sterilizing and vaccinating but also on education which I personally believe is the key to change.
My friends joke with me that this book should be retitled to, “This Is For The Women Who Give All The Fucks.”
You’re not only a writer, you are also an entrepreneur, with your company This Is For The Women. What is one thing you have learned about running your own business since opening up shop?
Two important things — 1. That I am supported wherever I jump. That’s a pretty cool feeling. The universe wants to make shit happen for us. I paused my coaching and retreat practice about 3 months ago to focus on my book and my company. To be honest, I was winging it. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to support myself off my new company, but I matched my coaching salary the last two months with my sales at This Is For The Women. We did $19,000 in sales last month. It blew my mind beautifully. Always supported, just have to jump.
2. Integrity doesn’t have a price tag. I have a friend who has a made in Canada apparel company, Anian, and I remember really admiring and respecting his integrity. I think he influenced how I saw the apparel world and walked forward. He was one of the first people to encourage me to make apparel and since I began, having clothing that is made in the USA has been paramount for me.
I’ve definitely been tested by many business savvy people, as your profit margin is inevitably going to take a hit with made in USA goods, but I have stuck to my gut. When I was just getting started there was one manufacturer who used the wording “printed in the USA” which isn’t made in the USA, and I had a moment where I had to decide if I was going to re-source all my apparel after just investing about 4-6 months in product creation, design and a $2000 brand photoshoot or move forward with it.
I asked a bunch of people close to me I respected. My friend Justin looked at me and said, “Human rights are different in China,” and I remember knowing in my gut right then that I couldn’t do it. I care about the energy in which something is made and is passed on. My mugs cost $8.50 a pop, and a mug made in China costs $1.50 but I am proud of it when it gets shipped out, and that’s worth more than $7 to me. All we have is our integrity.
What is one thing you have learned about yourself?
I am a powerful fucking manifestor. There are not many ceilings in my world. I believe in myself and this world enough to jump pretty high. I also came out of the womb with my umbilical cord wrapped around my neck, black and blue not breathing — I have always been resilient and a fighter. So when life doesn’t flow, I am okay. This last year when things don’t work out, I don’t get upset anymore. I know its happening for us, not to us — but some other smart mother fucker said that, don’t give me credit.
So many writers have specific morning, or daily, routines when they are creating. Bukowski religiously started his writing day at 9:30pm and wouldn’t stop until 2:30am. Hemingway on the other hand, would start writing before dawn even cracked. What was your daily routine like while writing This Is For The Women Who Don’t Give A Fuck?
I hate routines. Ever since we have been kids we have to wake up to some beeping miserable alarm clock and digest forced educational material that we will probably never use. Who the fuck ever used Chemistry? We had to eat carrots out of plastic lunch boxes with a bunch of other kids we tried to find stuff in common with when we just wanted to lay in the grass and play with lady bugs in the sunshine.
I’ve been a non conformist since day one. I write when the words come — sometimes it’s first light, sometimes it’s 2 AM and sometimes it’s when I’m having my morning poo. Boxes are what I write to break in the first place. I thrive as a writer with freedom.
Who are some of your strongest literary influences?
The first poet I fell in love with was Charles Bukowski. I was dating a man who gave me a book called “Letters” that was full of Bukowski’s personal letters to people in his life. He was hilarious. I loved the man before I loved his art. He was dry, honest, real and most importantly you understand what he is saying.
I always hated poetry because you had no clue what the hell Shakespeare was saying, or any of the other poets we read in school. Bukowski wasn’t always the most eloquent — he wrote poems about balls, racetracks and prostitutes but at least you knew he was talking about balls, race tracks and prostitutes. I discovered Allen Ginsberg and Kerouac shortly after and then fell in love with Tyler Knott, who I consider one of the greats of our time, and learned that poetry could be soft and just as sweet inside my heart. I loved poetry because it was simple and it broke all the rules of other traditional writing — you can do whatever you want. It’s freedom.
How do you want the world to receive This Is For The Women Who Don’t Give A Fuck ? What are you hoping to inspire, or empower, with this book?
One of my mentors on this book, James Dewar, shared a quote with me that rocked my world by Irvine Layton: “A poet has only 3 jobs. Your first job is to state that you are a poet—and do it without apologizing. Your second job is to write poetry. Your third job is to deliver it to the world, because as a poet you are speaking out for many, many people who cannot speak for themselves.”
I have marvelled in front of paintings or at the note of the saxophone in my favourite songs and been so grateful that those artists not only created but put forth their work for me to marvel at and grow from in this world. To create and share are two different things. I have always written for myself, and will always write for myself. If you write for other people your work becomes people pleasing crap. Writing has always been my medicine–I’ve already healed before those pages were bound. It’s already full circle in my soul.
But, I think about if Gustav Klimt wouldn’t have shared “The Kiss” with this world — what a disservice that would be to the millions of us enlivened by his art, healed by his art. I would be pissed. You would be pissed, right? Art is medicine. Therefore to share our art with this world heals both ways, really.
Learn more about Janne Robinson and her soulful poetry book ‘This Is For The Women Who Don’t Give A Fuck’ here.