Monday, November 24, 2008

A bro'Town at my Table

A wonderful surprise for me today - in the mail I received a gift box containing the 4-disk set of DVDs of all four bro'Town hit series.

The New Zealand TV phenomenon bro'Town has often been called "The Simpsons of the South Pacific".

It's a uniquely Kiwi satirical animated show put together by some of NZ's best comedy talent. It is at times edgily non-PC, but always lovably so, and full of local references. Among the in-jokes are lots of allusions to the milestones of New Zealand literary and movie culture.

The guys at bro'Town read my blog post A Catch Phrase on My Table and noticed that I cited their use of the new language pattern that has grown out of the iconic status of An Angel at My Table. The first four series of bro'Town include episodes called "A Maori at My table", "A Chicken Roll at My Table" and "An Alien at My Table".

They were delighted - so much so they sent me the DVDs to enjoy, and also a framed poster of the cover art of 'A Maori at My Table" to add to my collection of examples of the catch phrase. It's already up on the wall over the back of the TV set.

Sweet as!

* sweet as = New Zealand idiom meaning "that's fine"

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tribute to Helen Clark

Dear Helen Clark,

I want to thank you for your inspired advocacy for the arts community in New Zealand, and in particular I want to acknowledge your personal support for Janet Frame over the years. I remember how you came out of your way to Dunedin for the launch of Michael King's Frame biography, obviously enjoying the occasion with Janet and Michael and the rest of the gathering. Overseas guests couldn't believe how sociable and approachable - and knowledgeable about the arts - our PM was!

Again, at the opening of the John Money Wing at Gore, I'll never forget how you sat in the sun with John and Janet and chatted and joked like an old friend.
And Janet was so proud when you went to Oamaru for the opening of 56 Eden Street, cutting the typewriter ribbon at the door and planting a cabbage tree in the garden of the house where during her childhood the pride of place went to the portrait of Michael Joseph Savage, one of the other great NZ Prime Ministers.
It meant such a lot to Janet that you awarded her one of the inaugural Prime Minister's Awards for Literary Achievement. At the end of her life she was gratified to be honoured in such a way.

And our family was comforted by your insistence on a State Memorial Service and by the fact that you made the effort to attend and to speak in praise of Janet Frame's contribution to NZ 's cultural life.

Writers have traditionally had to scramble for the crumbs of remuneration and recognition; under your leadership both their mana and their material reward grew. You'll be missed, but I'm confident that whatever you turn your hand to next will give you a chance to keep making the world a better place.

Pamela Gordon - Chair, Janet Frame Literary Trust

Posted on Sunday 23 November to a tribute page for Helen Clark, departing New Zealand Prime Minister, and Minister for Arts & Culture. The tributes have been solicited by
The Big Idea (which is an online community for people working in the creative arts in New Zealand).
Yours truly pushing the wheelchair while Mum (Janet Frame's sister June Gordon) takes Prime Minister Helen Clark on a tour of 56 Eden Street, November 2003.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Happy Prince

This week's Saturday Poem in the Guardian (22 November 2008) is "The Happy Prince" by Janet Frame. I love this poem, and it's proving to be a favourite for editors as well.

The poem appears in the anthology From Women's Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English (eds Eva Salzman and Amy Wack) to be released later this week by Welsh literary publisher Seren.

This is an anthology which "showcases the range, craft, intelligence and skill of women’s poetry over the last century".

"Arranged by thematic chapters that touch on various aspects of modern life, this anthology aims to be a touchstone of women’s thoughts and experiences; to be entertaining and relevant as well as inclusive and representative of some of the best poetry published now."

The blurb on the Seren website asks the obvious question: "In these ‘Post-Feminist’ times, is there a need for such a book? Is the literary establishment still as dominated by men as it once was? Who gets to decide the canon?" Apparently there's a lively introduction to the book, making the case for a woman-only collection. I look forward to reading it.

The poem "The Happy Prince" was first published in the New Zealand Listener on 28th August 2004, and later appeared in the posthumous collection The Goose Bath. In the UK, The Goose Bath has been published along with a selection from The Pocket Mirror, in the volume Storms Will Tell published by Bloodaxe Books in January 2008.

Random House NZ Editions

With the publication of PRIZES: Selected Short Stories next February, Random House New Zealand will then have all Janet Frame's published work back in print in beautiful new editions.

The work on the editing of PRIZES is almost over. This will give me some time over the next few weeks to post some comments on each of the published volumes, one by one.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Photo of the front bedroom at 56 Eden Street Oamaru,
taken from outside the house,
the window reflecting the flower garden and houses on the hill across the street.

I beg your pardon

I never promised you a rose garden.

I've been told that there is a post card from Janet Frame for sale on the auction site Trade Me.

The front picture is of a rose garden near Levin.

I was approached and asked to "authenticate" the postcard, but of course I'm no more able to vouch for its authenticity than anyone else. It was written to a stranger, nobody I have ever heard of, and signed with the formal writing name "Janet Frame" - a clear hint that if it is genuine, Janet was just generously giving an autograph to someone whose fan letters had moved her in some way.

She did that kind of thing. She couldn't reply to all her fan mail, but sometimes she did reach out to someone who had touched her in some way.

"Many thanks for your perceptive letters" is written on the card, all in a style and presentation that does look very like Janet's.

I know she favoured that particular Levin postcard, because I received at least one of the same model from her myself. In fact every time she found a new rose garden postcard she sent it to me. And when she found a postcard she liked she bought a stack of them, so it's possible lots of other people got rose garden postcards too!

Janet often used to sing the song "I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden". I think I've already mentioned in an earlier post that the first time she sent me a post card of a rose garden, she had written on the back "I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden!"

That was in 1972 when I was working part-time at the Auckland University Library, and I was very embarrassed by the fact that Janet had addressed the postcard to me care of the Library. Just a humble shelver getting mail at the Library! I was very shy, and was mortified that one of the Librarians had to come looking for me up in the European languages section where I worked, to deliver the postcard. I was told quite sternly that it was inappropriate for a casual student worker to be receiving mail at the Library.

The message "I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden" was very apt on that occasion, and over the years it became somewhat of a theme. As she used to gleefully warble:"Along with the sunshine, you gotta take a little rain sometime."

But the only person who could "authenticate" the Trade Me rose garden would be the late author herself, and possibly the recipient, who sadly seems to have also passed away (the card was found in an estate lot of books).

In any case the Frame Estate has a firm policy of discouraging any request for authentication of memorabilia that is destined for private sale. This is not our business or our duty at all. If an item doesn't have a clear provenance then we are not going to be able to speak with any authority anyway.

Apparently there are organisations in the USA that offer an autograph verification service for a fee, but they don't harass Estates for an imprimatur - they use digital recognition technology and ink diagnosis and so forth.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Question from a translator was in between the second and third parts of her novel 'in progress' that the weekend intruded itself; it stuck in the gullet of her novel; nothing could move out or in, her book was in danger of becoming 'a foster child of silence'.

Therefore she applied literary surgery to free her characters for their impelled dance or flight; she wrote the story of the weekend.

One of the translators currently working on the text of Towards Another Summer was able to spot a potential problem on the first page of the novel. In the passage above, the translator wanted to be reassured, did the word characters refer to the people in the novel, or the letters of the alphabet making up the text of the novel?

Now that's a very perceptive question from someone who obviously is very familiar with Janet Frame's themes!

And doesn't that query exemplify a very Framean characteristic?

I've always wondered how it is possible to translate a writer like Janet Frame, whose work is so redolent with layers of meaning. She often employs the multiple meanings of words and phrases simultaneously. And even if she didn't intend the ambiguity in this individual case, the force of her command of language makes her words seem to take independent life and start waging their own battles.

How can that kind of rich text ever be translated?

And yet I can read Jorge Luis Borges in English, and appreciate some of the complexity.

I'm really in awe of translators.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Other alphabets

With the advent of Towards Another Summer, that beautiful 'new' posthumously published novel by Janet Frame, that has won hearts all around the world, there has been a flurry of interest in foreign rights for this title, along with many of the backlist titles not currently spoken for.

So far the Frame Estate has had requests and offers for rights to Towards Another Summer in more than ten languages.

The first foreign edition of Frame's 12th novel will be the Spanish Hacia Otro Verano from Seix Barral. Seix Barral are also to publish a new edition of their translation of the autobiography omnibus.

Janet enjoyed and treasured the translations of her works - her author copies of different editions easily filled a whole room of her house. When she moved from Auckland back to Dunedin in the late 1990s, I heard one of the moving men, who had the job of putting the books on the shelves in the new house, ask that classic incredulous question that moving men everywhere ask of those of us who move from place to place bringing vast libraries along with us: "Have you read all these books?" Janet's answer was slightly different from the usual. "Actually," she said, "I wrote most of them!"

Obviously she couldn't read all the languages her books were translated into, but she used to like to give away her spare gratis copies as presents, whether the recipient of the gift could read the language or not.

It always seemed that the foreign covers were more intriguing too. In the past many of her English language covers had been quite dull, although there certainly were some remarkable ones as well. Or maybe it was those mysterious foreign titles that made the foreign editions seem so exciting.