Thursday, June 22, 2017

Janet Frame typescripts on display at Hocken

FREEFALL:  treasures from the Hocken library

A current exhibition at the Hocken Library in Dunedin features a 1947 fan letter Janet Frame wrote to fellow New Zealand poet James K Baxter. Frame sent the letter from the Occidental Hotel in Christchurch where she was working as a live-in maid.


Not a performing monkey

Apparently this was not strictly the first contact between the two. A mutual friend of Frame and Baxter had attempted to manipulate Frame into a surprise meeting with Baxter in Dunedin the previous year. Frame was confronted with Baxter's presence at a private meeting without expecting it, and she consequently ignored him. This kind of ambush meeting never went well with Frame who had a fierce sense of her own agency. She was particularly stubborn when it came to people trying to trick her into a situation without having respect for her free will. Stories about these disastrous attempts to ambush Frame are almost always told in a pathologising way, as though she was incapable of the social occasion, but those of us who knew Janet well would recognize her anger when anyone tried to bully her into something she would rather not do, or do under her own steam. Anyone who tried to trick Janet into meeting someone who had begged to meet her ran the risk of losing her trust if not her friendship. And if somebody did manage to force their way into her presence uninvited she did deliberately give them the silent treatment. She reached out to people under her own terms and was very annoyed if any of her associates tried to show her off or treat her like a performing monkey. Janet's friend Bill Brown learned this lesson for himself many years later (she never changed this strategy.) Bill amusingly used to tell of the time he invited friends over to meet the famous visiting author, without asking or telling Janet, and she stayed stubbornly silent for the whole ambush visit, later fuming about the imposition. "I never did that again!" he used to say with a laugh.

Also on display in the exhibition 'Freefall' is the original typescript of Frame's poetry volume THE POCKET MIRROR (1967). Another myth-buster, this original manuscript is skillfully typed, tidy, with all the poems numbered in sequence. There is a story going around that these poems were roughly thrown together in no particular order but the Hocken manuscript shows that, as was her custom, Frame had put together a coherent and well-presented document.

By 1967, 20 years after she first wrote to him, Frame and Baxter were now close friends and The Pocket Mirror contains a verse letter to Baxter called 'The Reply', reminiscing about a winter outing Frame had been on with the Baxter family.

Excerpt from 'The Reply', a poem Janet Frame addressed to James K Baxter in 1967, published in The Pocket Mirror.
Many other wonderful items are on display in this exhibition, which closes on the 1st of July.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Janet Frame in Baltimore

A new Janet Frame poem poster

Introducing the latest Janet Frame poem poster to be produced by Phantom Billstickers ‘Baltimore, November’ was first published posthumously in The Goose Bath (2006) and has been reprinted in Storms will Tell: Selected Poems by Janet Frame (Bloodaxe Books, 2008) ©Janet Frame Literary Trust


A powerful political poem

 The theme of child poverty in this poem is typical for Janet Frame who often chose to highlight political issues in her poetry as in her other writings.

Sadly, in 2017 as I write this, child poverty is now a pressing election issue in Janet Frame's homeland of New Zealand. Poverty also still afflicts the East Baltimore Janet Frame knew so well. The area later became the setting for the brilliant TV series 'The Wire'.
Janet Frame with friend, East Madison Street,  Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Janet Frame (1924-2004) is New Zealand’s most internationally acclaimed author. She won numerous awards for her novels, short stories and poetry, and her bestselling autobiography An Angel at My Table was adapted for the big screen by Jane Campion in 1990. Janet Frame travelled widely and lived for periods of time in England, Spain, France and the USA. In 1986 the American Academy of Arts and Letters made her an Honorary Foreign Member at a ceremony she attended in New York. The photograph above by John Money shows Frame in the back garden of his house in East Baltimore where she made extended visits over several decades.

Janet Frame's Phantom Billstickers Poem Posters



Celebrating a long and happy partnership between the Janet Frame Literary Trust and Phantom Billstickers POETRY ON THE STREETS project.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

RIP George Braziller

Janet Frame and George Braziller
Central Park, New York
Photo: Pamela Gordon
I was very sad to hear in March this year of the death of the remarkable American publisher George Braziller at the age of 101. As his New York Times obituary notes:

Mr. Braziller’s most enduring publishing relationship was with New Zealand’s Janet Frame. It began with her first novel, “Owls Do Cry,” which he published in 1960, and continued for 30 years with eight more novels and volumes of short stories, poetry and an autobiography.
I met George several times in Janet's company, in New Zealand and in the States. He was a gentleman, with a powerful presence, a rich, emotional voice, and a great love of the finest things in life, surrounding himself with the best in literature and art - and if he couldn't find it, he published it!

Among my own most loved treasures are a couple of exquisite George Braziller editions of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves and of the Duke de Berry (I love illuminated manuscripts), and for me one of the highlights of my visit to New York in 2000 with my aunt was a guided tour George gave us around the Morgan Library, a place where he clearly felt so very much at home.

As I have described before, it was very moving to witness the tenderness and depth of George and Janet's relationship - his fierce admiration for her work and her fierce loyalty to him in spite of many efforts on the part of many people over the years to persuade her to move to a larger publishing house that in their opinion would have been 'better for her career'. Janet Frame had her own ideas about that.

My sincerest condolences to George's family, friends and colleagues for their loss.
He will be irreplaceable, and his death feels like the end of an era.

ArtForum obituary

Publishers Weekly obituary

Washington Post obituary

Wall Street Journal obituary

Friday, May 26, 2017

"Read Local": Dunedin's Lilliput Library #99

Little boxes full of books have been cropping up all around Dunedin as part of the Lilliput Library Scheme. Each little library is positioned on the fence line of the Guardian of the box. The project is an initiative of Dunedin poet Ruth Arnison who also coordinates the Poems in the Waiting Room charity.
The idea is for members of the surrounding community to borrow or take a book and return it or swap it for another one. All the boxes I have seen have had a good selection  of children's books as well as light recreational reading and a handful of more meaty fare.
Dunedin's latest Lilliput Library #99 has been decorated as a tribute to three local literary stars: Janet Frame, Hone Tuwhare and James K. Baxter.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Laurence Fearnley: NZSA Janet Frame Award 2016

Novelist Laurence Fearnley has been awarded the NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award 2016
For a period of ten years the NZ Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award of $3,000 has been awarded biennially to an author of literary or imaginative fiction or poetry with the purpose of supporting a mid-career or established writer in furthering their literary career. The award was made possible by a gift of $15,000 from the Janet Frame Literary Trust to the NZSA in 2007.  Past recipients have been: Emma NealeTim JonesDiane Brown and Elizabeth Smither. Late last year the last in a series of 5 awards was made to Laurence Fearnleynovelist and non-fiction writer.

Laurence Fearnley lives in Dunedin, a UNESCO City of Literature. She plans to use the award developing her current project – writing a series of short pieces structured in such a way that each story responds to the traditional development and dry-down of perfume. That is, the volume will open with ‘top notes’, develop through the ‘heart notes’ and end with ‘base notes’. She says:

 “I have long been interested in landscape and ‘place’ and have explored aspects of both in novels such as The Quiet Spectacular, The Hut Builder, Edwin and Matilda. But I am also interested in perfume and scent, and over the past year I have been thinking about ways to approach landscape through smell, rather than through sight (or sound). I believe that by taking notice of the scent of my surroundings, I have come to appreciate a more detailed, intimate relationship with the places I visit.”

Laurence Fearnley was selected from a very strong field of applicants and the quality of her fellow shortlisted authors speaks for itself: Riemke Ensing, Siobhan Harvey, Tina Shaw and Tracey Slaughter were all highly commended.

 Selection Panel Convenor Owen Marshall congratulated Laurence Fearnley and the other shortlisted writers, and also wished well all those writers who applied.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Janet Frame was not as shy as you think

Janet Frame pictured at the Fifth International Festival of Authors, Toronto, 1984, where she appeared with other international literary stars including Susan Sontag, Margaret Atwood, Homero Aridjis and Yevgeny Yevtushenko.
An interesting article on literary festivals in this week's New Zealand Listener quotes novelist Emily Perkins on her experience of hearing Janet Frame perform her work at a Wellington festival:

 “She read a story but basically knew it by heart – it was the most electrifying experience. For all that she is said to have been shy, she had the room in the palm of her hand.”

Janet Frame was indeed shy when she was young, as so many young people are. Even young animals are 'shy': it is a natural phenomenon. But for some reason Frame's shyness has been grossly exaggerated to the extent that when her shyness is referred to these days the speaker often finds it necessary to add some adjective like 'pathological' to the word 'shy', just to enhance their story, to make it more shocking, more sensational. 'Shy' just doesn't seem to fit the bill given all the other outrageous gossip one has heard over the years about Janet Frame. People imagine that she must have been so shy she was scared of her own shadow, surely. (Perhaps influenced by demeaning fictional portrayals they may have encountered.)

So they just make it up. They add 'painfully' or 'pathologically' or even the egregious 'cripplingly' shy and with a stroke of the pen Frame is made to be 'other'. She is not permitted the run of the mill 'shyness' that describes so many of us, including our other heroes such as Edmund Hillary and almost every rugby player ever. Their shyness is acknowledged and accepted as part of the self-effacing  New Zealand character while Frame's is exaggerated and pathologised.

But even for a shy person, Frame went a lot of places and did a lot of things, and met a lot of people. She mixed easily in all levels of society and she was not as shy as you might have been led to believe, and she certainly was not pathologically shy.

Emily Perkins seems to have realised all this from observing the control Frame had over the huge sold-out audience at the Wellington Town Hall. ("For all that she is said to have been shy.") As a young person Frame had, after all, been a prize-winning speaker in her school years and was on the high school debating team. Hardly an indication of an 'agonisingly' or 'inordinately' or 'deeply' or even 'very' shy person.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

15 Minutes of Frame

15 Minutes of Frame is an event being held today at the Dunedin Public Library, organised by Dunedin City Council staff as part of 'Book Night', an initiative of New Zealand's Book Discussion Scheme.

15 minutes of Frame! So witty! I wish I'd thought of it. ("You will, Oscar, you will.")

'15 Minutes of Frame' is being held today, Tuesday the 23rd of May 2017, at Dunedin Public Library, at 5pm, on the ground floor. There will be a display of Janet Frame books and an invitation to the public to read a favourite piece from Janet Frame's work. There is plenty to choose from!

I heard about this event when I received a request for the use of a portrait of Janet Frame on the poster, which of course I was happy to supply for such a good cause. Unfortunately I can't attend this event but the concept of Book Night means that one can participate in any of the dozens of registered Book Night events around the country from home as well, by taking a selfie of oneself reading and sending it in to the Book Discussion Scheme's Book Night website:
Dunedin Public Library


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Janet Frame's Angel in Turkish translation

To be published later this month in Turkey: Soframda Bir Melek, a first edition of Janet Frame's autobiography in Turkish translation. (Yapi Kredi, October 2016)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Janet Frame Memorial Award - last call for applications

The New Zealand Society of Authors is calling for applications for the
Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature 2016.

The deadline for applications is 21st October 2016. Recipients of the award must be members of the NZSA. For further criteria and details about the award please see the NZSA website.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

The 10th Janet Frame Memorial Lecture

The 10th Janet Frame Memorial Lecture will be delivered on Friday 16th of September 2016, at Auckland Public Library, 44-46 Lorne St, Auckland, from 5 to 6 pm.

The venue is the Whare Wānanga, Level 2 of Auckland Central Library.

The Janet Frame Memorial Lecture will be delivered by Joan Rosier-Jones, 2016-17 President of Honour for the New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc).

Her subject is:

‘Authors, an Endangered Species: Changes in copyright and contracts.’

This event will kick off the inaugural NATIONAL WRITERS FORUM to be held on Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th of September.

Observant readers may recall that there has already been a Janet Frame Memorial Lecture earlier in 2016, delivered by the previous President of Honour Philip Temple.

The JF Lecture has been a moveable feast for the last decade, being delivered in various cities and associated with several different literary events and festivals and it is to be hoped that it has now found a permanent home as part of the new WRITERS FORUM.

All the best for a successful and memorable weekend!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A poster for Janet Frame's birthday

'Before I Get into Sleep with You' by Janet Frame
Phantom Billstickers have produced a new Janet Frame poem poster to celebrate her birthday, the 28th of August. It's a short and very sweet piece.
Happy Birthday, Janet!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Mount Helicon

Mount Helicon, a school book of poems (1937 edition)

An excerpt from Janet Frame's first volume of autobiography To the Is-Land:

I began to explore the poetry book, and to my amazement I discovered that many of the poets knew about Myrtle’s death and how strange it was without her. After the funeral was over the visitors had gone and my new lessons arrived, the everydayness of life had returned; yet in each day there was blankness, a Myrtle-missing part, and it was upon this blankness that the poets in Mount Helicon were writing the story of my feelings.

I could scarcely believe their depth of understanding. Mother, who revered all poets, was right, as usual, and her habit of murmuring from time to time ‘Only the poets know, only the poets know’ was now explicable to me; I understood also why she wrote so many of her verses about poets: there was the one I had recited at school.

He was a poet, he loved the wild thunder
as it crashed in the Universe. Now he sleeps under,
under the grass he loved. Stilled now his hand
only a poet’s heart could understand.
He heard the whispering of the pine trees.
Always within his heart, sweet melodies.
Glories of morning awoke in his heart.
He was himself of nature apart.
Softly he slumbers. Does someone care?
Nature showers o’er him leaves from her hair.

Mother sought the poets not necessarily for their poems but for the romantic idea of them, as if they might be a more tangible Second Coming, and when she began her familiar praise of them, Dad became jealous, as he became jealous of her references to Christ, and his jealousy always resulted in scorn.

A long poem in Mount Helicon, ‘The Lost Mate’ from Sea Drift by Walt Whitman, told everything I was feeling – the two mocking birds, the disappearance of one, the long search by its mate, with all the false alarms and pondered might-have-beens, the anger and regret and the desperate reasoning that enlisted the help of magic, ending in the failure to find what was lost and the letting go of all hope of finding it. I understood all the deceptions of thought and feeling which tried to persuade the mourning bird that there’d been no loss, that its mate would soon be home, had simply ‘gone away’ for the day or had been delayed and would be home some time, ‘you’ll see’. I read the poem to my youngest sister, Chicks, who also understood it. She and I read the poem again and again. I was amazed that my book should contain other such poems about Myrtle – ‘Annabel Lee’ – ‘It was many and many a year ago / In a kingdom by the sea . . .’ A kingdom by the sea! Oamaru, without a doubt. Oamaru with its wild sea beyond the breakwater and the friendly bay safe within, with the sound of the sea in our ears day and night.

There was yet another poem, ‘Evelyn Hope’:

Beautiful Evelyn Hope is dead!
Sit and watch by her side an hour.
That is her bookshelf, this her bed;
She plucked that piece of geranium-flower,
Beginning to die too, in the glass . . .
Sixteen years old when she died!

What marvellous knowledge of the poets who could see through my own life, who could be appearing to write poems of people in Oamaru, which everyone knew was halfway between the equator and the South Pole, forty-five degrees south, and which yet was not nearly so well known as Auckland or Wellington or Sydney or London or Paris, any cities in the Northern Hemisphere where many of the poets (who were dead) had lived!

(From 'Once Paumanok', Chapter 20 in To the Is-Land by Janet Frame)


Monday, July 11, 2016

CK Stead Is The Only Solipsist Here

"Stead is the only solipsist here."

Denis Harold has reviewed CK Stead's new collection of 'reviews, replies and reminiscences' in Landfall Review Online (1st July 2016). In Stead's new tome there is an excoriating attack by Stead not just on Janet Frame's last published novel In the Memorial Room, but he also uses the soapbox to cast aspersions on Frame's personality as well as on the integrity of the charitable trust she founded to care for her work after her death.

Now, the vicious undermining of the work and character and heritage of a woman Stead once affected to call 'friend' is no surprise to anyone. He is known to be that kind of backstabber. The smiling assassin type that is apparently so beloved by some of the New Zealand public for some sad reason.

As usual, Stead has had a go at a lot of other targets too, including Ted Hughes and Eleanor Catton. And yet the publicity around his book calls it 'less controversial' than his previous offerings. Bizarrely, this fraudulent claim seems to have been swallowed by most reviewers. On the whole, Stead seems to be taken at his own estimation as he wallows in his own small pond.

In his review, Denis Harold picks out a couple of the false claims Stead makes about Janet Frame. First, Stead says of In the Memorial Room:

 "This is a looking-in-darkly rather than a looking-out-bravely novel … which makes surprisingly little, nothing in fact, of the visual lift offered by its Côte d’Azur setting."
"nothing, in fact" !!

Apart from Stead's missing the fact that the protagonist of the novel is actually going blind during the course of the novel so that his not spouting great swathes of purple prose about the delightful scenic environs might in fact be appropriate, it is not true that Frame misses the surroundings. They are there on every page, described as artfully and thoughtfully as ever. The bitter old reviewer is the only one who is blind to the charms of the prose. His aim in calling Frame a 'solipsist' is clear: to discourage anyone from even approaching a Janet Frame novel to find out for themselves what is really there. At least one reviewer has shown himself to take Stead at his word and assume Stead's criticisms of Frame's novel have been 'justified' despite not having read it himself!

And again the question of Frame's Buddhist leanings arises. These leanings are on the record and well authenticated. But it all appears to enrage Stead. I can only laugh at that. He fictionalised her many years ago as a Buddhist and now he regrets that it makes her seem too sane - so he tries to deny it! And claim himself as the Buddhist! If he really did not know of Frame's interest in Buddhism then it shows that he wasn't much of the friend he used to like to claim he was. Or perhaps he has just forgotten.

 Links to further reading:

A brief excerpt from Janet Frame's novel In the Memorial Room

Pamela Gordon's response to CK Stead's latest attack on the Frame estate

A collection of quotes from international reviews of In the Memorial Room

'Judge Time' Landfall Review Online

"the rich-looking famous and the famous-looking rich"

Excerpt from In the Memorial Room by Janet Frame:

I had been in Menton for two months. It was now March. The winter in its final convulsive display of life had arrested all transport to and from the mountains and through the country. Deep drifts of snow, gales, high seas, floods, once again became the chief actors in the drama outlined, criticised and photographed by the newspapers; once again tenants were forced to leave their immobiliers, threatened by yet another déroulement. Snow, it was said, had never fallen so low on the slopes of the mountains, so near the sea, nor had so many pleasure-boats been lost on the Mediterranean, nor had the Mediterranean been so treacherous in its impulsive apparently changeling storms of no visible origin.

Nor had the citrus crop been so abundant, and faithful in taste and colour. Behind special screens in the city’s garden square, preparations were being made for the annual lemon festival, the artistic display of lemons, oranges and all other fruits of the region; everyone waited anxiously for the counterfeit winter to admit its nature; on the slopes and in the valleys of the mountain, the arrière-pays, the scent of the flowering mimosa hung in the air; the grey lavender buds began to open even from as low as the rock where they grew, to prepare the change in the colour of the sky that in three, four, five weeks would be challenged, rivalled, enhanced in its colour by the blossoming trees and flowers.

Everywhere, every year there is weather described as unusual, not by the visitors but by those who know best, the inhabitants. The old blind man, one hundred and fifteen years old, who lived away up in the mountain village of Sainte-Agnès and spent his day, if the weather were fine, on the stone seat in the sun outside his small house, watching the people, mostly tourists, come and go through the narrow cobbled streets, was reported as saying he had never known the snow so deep. He was not afraid to go out in it, he said; indeed, on the day he was interviewed by the newspaper, on his birthday, he was standing out in the snow, with an old straw hat pulled tightly over his blind eyes, wearing a bright blue nylon raincoat (buttoned), though he nevertheless kept raising his face to the light. The winter had been terrible, he said, authoritatively from his one hundred and fifteen years. And he knew. He might be blind – the bandits had come from the mountains, attacked him and blinded him, his family had descended upon him and carried off all his belles choses – but he knew how to assess the seasons from one year to another. His authority gave the city a sudden sense of pride in the unusual weather. The mayor, on a visit to Paris, remarked about it to a newspaper reporter and his remark appeared in both a morning and an evening Paris newspaper and was reflected back to the local Nice-Matin, like the effortless journey of a satellite swinging – as far as we on earth know – soundlessly through space.

Then, suddenly, for the opening of the lemon festival, the sun shone, the snow melted, and people flocked to the city – very old mountain-people, their mountain gait strangely unbalancing them on the wide, level promenade; guests from the many villas, pensions and hotels; visitors in fast cars from Italy and north and west of Monte Carlo, the rich-looking famous and the famous-looking rich, the unsuntanned and the suntanned; and the crooks, les escrocs, the pick-pockets, malfaiteurs, cambrioleurs.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Stupid, stupid Wikipedia.

Wikipedia Entry

More and more I am seeing around the internet (and not just on the internet) the wrong claim that Janet Frame's real name was Nene Janet Paterson Clutha and that Janet Frame was just a 'pen name'.

Where are they getting this rubbish from?

I went to have a look at Wikipedia. Yep, that is where they are getting it from.

Some ignorant know-nothing know-it-all put it there.

Janet Frame was born Janet Paterson Frame in 1924 and for her whole life she used the name Janet Frame for her writing.

In 1958 she changed her name by deed poll to 'Nene Janet Paterson Clutha'. She lived anonymously under the pseudonym, if you like, instead of writing under a pseudonym as so many authors do.

She continued to use the name 'Janet Frame' for her writing.

So Nene Clutha was her 'real name' if you like, or rather her 'legal name', but that isn't what innocent readers take from it. They take it that she was born Nene Clutha.

And Janet Frame was indeed her 'pen name' - but only from 1958 onwards. And it was also her original 'real name'.

It is complicated. The Wikipedia biography, such as it is, never mentions the deed poll change of name. It is very easy for ignorant people such as the busybodies who tinker with Wikipedia, when faced with the two names, to make incorrect assumptions.

On Wikipedia, random factoids are presented as if they all have equal significance, which in the real world, they do not.

Thanks to the confusion and misrepresentation on Wikipedia, the contagion spreads out beyond. (And there are more errors there of fact and bias than just her name!)

Wikipedia is toxic as well as stupid

Of course there are not just ignorant editors on Wikipedia, there are malicious ones as well, and they have also had free reign with the Janet Frame article.

As an example of toxic interference with an article on the life and work of Janet Frame, there are in fact MORE words in her article devoted to a novel written about her, than to any of her own works.

In the last section concerning 'Posthumous works' there is MORE SPACE devoted to Janet Frame's greatest enemy Patrick Evans and his various derogatory fictional treatments of her, than there is space given to her OWN works.

Word count in Janet Frame's 'Death and Posthumous works' for her own TEN posthumous titles (not all are even mentioned there)
= 197 words

Word count within that same section for her obsessed academic stalker Patrick Evans and his ONE exploitative novel he wrote completely changing the facts of her life
= 236 words


Everything they say about the misogyny of Wikipedia is true. Women novelists are particularly badly served. Janet Frame is grievously unfairly treated.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

LitHub: Excerpt from Janet Frame's JAY TO BEE

An excerpt of five letters from Jay to Bee
can be read online at:
 >all kinds of mentionable, unmentionable, tangible, intangible, monostitched, laconic, desperate, deliberate, makeshift, conclusive, unanswerable, goatish, porcine, mulish, zoomorphic, dovelike, recoverable, conservative, waterproof, bloodsucking, unauthorized, fictitious, authentic
from me and Thesaurus<