Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Learned elder of the tribe

Am looking forward to seeing this new book by Peter Simpson, on Leo Bensemann, New Zealand artist, printer, editor and publisher.

It will be interesting to hear some more details about the internal politics of the Caxton Press where Bensemann was a key figure.

It wasn't until the gifted but dissolute Denis Glover left Caxton Press in November 1951 that Janet Frame's now legendary collection The Lagoon and Other Stories (currently listed on a prestigious educational syllabus in France as one of the classics of English language literature) was finally published (in 1952) after the accepted manuscript had languished on Glover's desk for several years.

Peter Simpson, Emeritus Professor at the University of Auckland, is an important cultural commentator for New Zealand, and there's a fascinating interview with him by Scott Hamilton on the blog Reading The Maps.

The interview includes amongst its riches, a description of the founding of the Holloway Press that recently published the edited correspondence between Charles Brasch and Janet Frame.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

These I have loved

New Zealand poet and anthologist Harvey McQueen has just released a treasure of an anthology.

Harvey McQueen has chosen his favourite 100 poems, and many of my own favourites appear in his list, and I've met a few new ones, so I'm really enjoying comparing his choices across New Zealand poetry in time and space, to mine. If I ever had to choose 100 NZ poems myself, say for my exile on a desert island, many will be the same.

He's selected several poems each from the "greats" of NZ poetry, such as Curnow, Baxter, Frame and Tuwhare.

As usual, some of my favourites (poets and poems) are missing, but I don't feel that diminishes this book in any way; the editor makes clear it's a personal choice, and his taste is so excellent who would quibble? (Except perhaps for the omission of work by the wonderful Kendrick Smithyman who in my opinion should never be left out.)

The book is divided into thematic sections with illuminating small introductions explaining and celebrating McQueen's selections.

He has chosen 5 poems from Janet Frame, lovely choices.

This book will be for me a delightful companion volume to the indispensable but rather heavier 99 Ways into NZ poetry I reviewed recently. Loved is more easily held (as it is a smaller, lighter book) and I have already found it suitable for quiet moments of contemplation on the sunny back step at breakfast, or for peaceful perusal of a few poems before bedtime.

It would be an ideal volume to use while trying to memorise some more of Godzone's classic poems - a lost lamented practice. I nearly know Bill Manhire's heart-breaking Erebus Voices poem off by heart, and wish I could recite Ruth Dallas's 'Milking before Dawn' also. Many of us Kiwis can chant along with Baxter's High Country Weather, and some of Sam's and Hone's pieces.

And Quardle oodle ardle is not all there is to the Magpies - it's a dreadful hopeless tale!

Meanwhile the erudite 99 Ways is also never far away, as I continue to dip through all the sections.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Parallel Lives

Click this link
for the New Zealand Listener review of
Dear Charles Dear Janet: Frame & Brasch in Correspondence
Edited by Pamela Gordon and Denis Harold
(Holloway Press, University of Auckland, 2010)

Monday, October 11, 2010

53 Dahlia Street

Janet Frame lived at 53 Dahlia Street, Palmerston North. I recall this was a good house. Large, and solid, and full of character. Lots of memories.

Now it's for sale.

And it has attracted the attention of the local newspaper, the Manawatu Standard.

Reporter Michelle Duff has unearthed a really lovely story about Janet Frame, and it sounds so typical of Janet's generosity and friendliness: a local eight year old aspiring writer once left a note in Frame's mailbox asking for advice. The following morning Janet Frame turned up at the little girl's house with the gift of a blank notebook inscribed to her (Vanessa Barnes, now aged 29) saying "To Vanessa. If you want to be a writer, you must write, and see what happens".

The news article contains the usual delightfully contradictory statements about the mythical Frame, eg: she "was not often seen about town" but despite this, "Palmerston North residents remember her vividly".

Monday, October 4, 2010

News from Janet Frame Fiction Award winners

Inaugural Janet Frame Literary Trust Fiction Award winner Kelly Ana Morey's new novel Quinine already looks like a winner.

Reviewer Nicky Pellegrino made the claim last week that Quinine "has got to be in the running for next year's NZ Post Book Award".

Reviewed by Nicky Pellegrino for Radio New Zealand National

(Afternoons with Jim Mora 28 September 2010)

I agree with Pellegrino's rave review. Quinine is a mature, confidently achieved novel with a very satisfying structure and an excellent, absorbing plot. Morey is mischievous in her manipulation of the historical genre with a fresh contemporary perspective. A postmodern Jane Austen. Morey stands out in the contemporary crop of NZ literary fiction writers, as one of the few who have the ability to present believable characters who come alive on the page, and who are interesting and who are capable of development (or deterioration). One tires of the ventriloquist/puppet syndrome being used to promote some theory or even the invention of unlikeable and wooden or insipid characters for the purpose of settling petty parochial scores. Even where one suspects in-jokes interposed into Morey's text, they're drawn into the narrative in credible ways. Such humour is also too rare a treat in this risk-averse publishing climate. Quinine is an enjoyable page turner, full of surprises and hidden levels, and as with all good literature, you come away from the experience having learnt something about life.

In other news from Janet Frame Fiction Award winners, Alison Wong's poetic novel As The Earth Turns Silver continues to receive critical and popular acclaim. It took out the top honours in this year's New Zealand Post Fiction Award, has been shortlisted for the Australian Prime Minister's Award, thus putting Wong on a list alongside the likes of JM Coetzee and David Malouf. The novel has also been ranked at number 42 on NZ book chain Whitcoull's Top 100, an astonishing feat for a first novel (and for a literary one, given that most of the top places are taken up by popular and genre titles), and continues to attract translation deals around the world.

Congratulations to Kelly Ana Morey and to Alison Wong, and we wish you all the best in your careers.