Saturday, December 19, 2015

A first volume of Janet Frame's letters

Jay to Bee
 Janet Frame's Letters to William Theophilus Brown
Editor: Denis Harold
Publisher: Counterpoint Press, USA
Date: April 12, 2016
Hardcover: 464 pages
Size: 6 x 9 "
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1619027283
ISBN-13: 978-1619027282

Publisher's Catalogue Copy:

During her time at an artists’ colony in New Hampshire, Janet Frame met California painter William Theophilus ('Bill') Brown, and their friendship resulted in a whimsical and artistic correspondence. In Brown, Frame found an ideal listener who inspired her to take the art of letter writing to new creative heights; over the course of their correspondence, Frame included character sketches, personal disclosures, invented tales, and dozens of her own doodles and collages.

This compilation of nearly 140 letters, accompanied by hundreds of original illustrations, has been published nowhere else in the world, including Frame’s home country of New Zealand. This moving and enlightening correspondence opens up the hopes, fears, joys, and inner machinations of one of the world’s greatest writers. The closeness and intimacy of the two artists allows for unfettered wordplay and creativity, where Janet is 'Jay' and Bill is 'Bee'; the result is a book that vividly captures the brilliantly unique wit that was Janet Frame.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

'The Suicides' by Janet Frame

The Suicides

It is hard for us to enter
the kind of despair they must have known
and because it is hard we must get in by breaking
the lock if necessary for we have not the key,
though for them there was no lock and the surrounding walls
were supple, receiving as waves, and they drowned
though not lovingly; it is we only
who must enter in this way.

Temptations will beset us, once we are in.
We may want to catalogue what they have stolen.
We may feel suspicion; we may even criticize the décor
of their suicidal despair, may perhaps feel
it was incongruously comfortable.

Knowing the temptations then
let us go in
deep to their despair and their skin and know
they died because words they had spoken
returned always homeless to them.
Janet Frame
First published in The Pocket Mirror (George Braziller, 1967)
Collected in Storms Will Tell (Bloodaxe Books, 2008)

 Cover Illustration: 'The Stolen Child' by Tabitha Vevers

A-Level study notes for Janet Frame's 'The Bath'

Janet Frame's classic short story 'The Bath' is a perennial favourite for YA students to explore in schools and colleges around the world. It's one of the short stories prescribed for Cambridge International’s AS & A-Level Literature course. Recently I came across this study guide (pictured above) written especially for it.
The story itself is available in a number of educational anthologies and also in the collections of Janet Frame stories titled The Daylight and the Dust (published by Virago Modern Classics and Random House Australia) and Prizes (published by Vintage NZ and Counterpoint USA).

The Daylight and the Dust by Janet Frame is available as a paperback and as an e-book.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Evans Effect

After Janet Frame's death in 2004, academic Patrick Evans showed what he really thought of Frame's life's work:

 "a survey of local libraries in the Christchurch area I made 25 years ago revealed that some titles were never taken out from one year’s end to the next, making posthumous media-generated interest in possibly unpublished work a joke – why hunger for unpublished writing when hardly anyone has read what’s already there?"

Patrick Evans 'Janet Frame: The "Frame" Effect', NZ Books, September 2004

 Please note carefully that Evans had to go back 25 YEARS to locate his 'evidence' for Frame's alleged unpopularity.

Speaking in 2004, Evans was resurrecting anecdotal 'evidence' from a 'survey' of suburban libraries that he claimed to have 'made' in 1979


Patrick Evans thus omitted from consideration the SIX books by Janet Frame that she published between 1979 and 1989. (Living in the Maniototo, The Carpathians, You Are Now Entering the Human Heart, To the Is-Land, An Angel at My Table, and The Envoy from Mirror City).

All of these books were bestsellers in NZ terms, and some of them were bestsellers internationally too. As had been several of the works published before 1979.

Seriously? How can the editor(s) of this magazine (NZ Books), when fact-checking the article, not have challenged Evans's non-scientific and patently fraudulent claim that "hardly anyone has read" the published works of Janet Frame, when Evans excluded 25 years of her career from the discussion?

In order to find a time when "some" (not all!) of Janet Frame's titles had not been taken out of some provincial libraries over a one-year period, Evans had to resort back to a moment one whole quarter of a century before her death.

By 1979 Frame had published nine novels, several volumes of stories, a book of poetry and a children's book, and one can accept that some of those fourteen titles were not checked out of 'local' Canterbury libraries in 1979. There had not been a new Janet Frame book since 1972, so most readers of literary fiction would have already read her earlier published work.

"some titles were never taken out from one year's end to the next"

Which ones were taken out though, I wonder?

I would bet good money on the ones that were taken out (after all, I now sign the contracts for translations and new editions in New Zealand and around the world): The Lagoon, Owls Do Cry, Faces in the Water, The Pocket Mirror, Scented Gardens For the Blind, and A State of Siege are among the most obvious and most popular titles  - all were bestsellers in New Zealand terms, and all (like all Frame's other titles) were published internationally. And all have been translated around the world to this day. Classics.

 But Evans is not going to spoil his malicious innuendo with any facts about the books that were taken home by readers between 1978 and 1979. That would get in the way of his aim of belittling the worth of Janet Frame's writing, a campaign he had already been embarked on for those 25 years since his falling out with Frame in 1978.

Evans goes on in his obituary (should we call it an oh-bitchery?) to explain the non-existent 'neglect' of Frame's writing:

"This neglect was understandable, given the difficulty and sheer gloominess of her fiction; I can recall reading her novels in order of publication during a grey Christchurch winter many years ago, and slowly subsiding into despair: what was the point of it all, why go on living?" (Patrick Evans, 2004)

Here's one more fraudulent gem of tall-poppy hatred from Evans 2004:

"But will we still “like Janet Frame” now we don’t have that living author to infuse an artificial life into the writing; will she be read by those of our descendants who read at all? I don’t think so, not if she has been so unread in her time."

"not if she has been so unread in her time" (Oh don't you mean, 'so unread' in 1978-1979, in suburban Christchurch, and not all her books were neglected either...?)

There is hardly any literary author in NZ who has outsold Janet Frame or been translated as widely over as many years, and whose work is as deeply valued both by academics and the general reader, either in 1979 or in 2004 or in 2015.

Evans has been hating on Frame for decades and the feeling was mutual. She regarded him as a stalker. To call his 'real person fiction' novel and play GIFTED a "love letter" is grievously misguided. It is a poison pen letter from an old enemy.

The article is archived on the NZ Books website, with the wrong date and the wrong title.

The title was actually: 'Janet Frame: The "Frame" Effect'

The date was actually September 2004 (not 2003). (Of course, because Frame didn't die until January 2004! Remember what I said before about how often the date of Janet Frame's death is rendered incorrectly by the NZ Lit Establishment?)

And the content of the article was wrong in just about every way as per usual with Patrick Evans when he gets on his Janet Frame bandwagon.

 He just makes it up.
Which was her own complaint to him in 1978:

"Perhaps you feel that inaccuracies of fact don’t matter?"
~ Janet Frame to Patrick Evans (1978)
(Quoted in Wrestling with the Angel: A Life of Janet Frame by Michael King)

 Unbelievably, from where I speak in 2015, the Patrick Evans article now known as 'The Frame Effect' has been quoted seriously all over Frame studies, in refereed journals, and it has even inspired the name of a work of Frame scholarship: The Frame Function by Jan Cronin.

Claims made by Patrick Evans in the obituary, such as that "hardly anyone has read" Janet Frame and that "the difficulty and sheer gloominess" of her work discourages all but the bravest of the Elect in the highest Ivory Towers, are unsubstantiated and fraudulent claims, and yet they are repeated and widely circulated to this day, out of ignorance, stupidity - or malice.

I call it the Evans Effect.

"Poems are magical"

2015 Janet Frame Literary Trust Poetry Prize winner David Eggleton recently answered a few questions for the Sunday-Star Times.

David Eggleton
Otago University Press 2015

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Owls Do Cry: 'A true and timeless classic' (Drabble)

Final cover design for the Virago Modern Classics edition of Janet Frame's first novel Owls Do Cry. This new paperback edition is to be published in the UK/Commonwealth (excluding Australia and New Zealand) in January 2016.

Owls Do Cry Covers from around the world (Facebook Album)

Friday, October 23, 2015

"One of THE great novels of all time, so there."

"Janet Frame is utterly unique and every line rings true."
A lively review by Australian 'punk cartoonist' Fred Negro.
1 September 2015

Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame Text Classics Edition (2014)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A feminist analysis

How to Suppress Women's Writing
by Joanna Russ
Janet Frame is one of the women writers who have been subject to several of the common methods that are used to ignore, condemn or belittle the work of female authors:
1. Prohibitions 
Prevent women from access to the basic tools for writing.
2. Bad Faith 
Unconsciously create social systems that ignore or devalue women's writing.
3. Denial of Agency 
Deny that a woman wrote it.
4. Pollution of Agency 
Show that their art is immodest, not actually art, or shouldn't have been written about.
5. The Double Standard of Content 
Claim that one set of experiences is considered more valuable than another.
6. False Categorizing 
Incorrectly categorise women artists as the wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, or lovers of male artists.
7. Isolation 
Create a myth of isolated achievement that claims that only one work or short series of poems is considered great.
8. Anomalousness 
Assert that the woman in question is eccentric or atypical.
9. Lack of Models 
Reinforce a male author dominance in literary canons in order to cut off women writers' inspiration and role models.
10. Responses 
Force women to deny their female identity in order to be taken seriously.
11. Aesthetics 
Popularise aesthetic works that contain demeaning roles and characterisations of women.

Song of the Years

29 June 1926 – 22 October 1972

It's 43 years ago today since the untimely death from a heart attack of poet James K Baxter (known to his family and friends as Jim and also Hemi).

Jim Baxter was a close friend of Janet Frame's. He dedicated his book of essays The Man on the Horse (University of Otago Press, 1967) to her, using the pseudonym she lived under, 'Janet Clutha'.

James K. Baxter Complete Prose
Cover image from a painting by Nigel Brown 

In late August this year I attended the launch of James K. Baxter: Complete Prose (edited by John Weir) at the Kelburn Campus Library, Victoria University of Wellington. I was there with my brother and sister-in-law to support my friend John Baxter, Jim Baxter's son, and to represent the Frame and Gordon families (both of which have cherished a strong and long-held relationship with the Baxter whanau) at such an important literary and cultural event.

The launch was preceded by a seminar on aspects of Baxter’s writing life. Among the speakers were:
Dr John Weir on his experiences editing the prose anthology,
Colin Durning, close friend and confidant of Baxter,
Eli Kent, playwright and grand-nephew of Baxter, reading an essay by Baxter,
Dr Paul Millar, Baxter scholar.

A karakia was followed by a deeply moving performance from Dave Dobbyn singing Baxter’s ‘Song of the Years’. It was a beautiful and fitting tribute.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

#janetframe #nail_art

Japanese nail art inspired by AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE
#janecampion #janetframe

The Poetry Dot Project

There have been all sorts of interesting initiatives to celebrate Dunedin's literary riches since Dunedin has been named a UNICEF City of Literature. One of these is the Poetry Dot project. Janet Frame is among the other Dunedin poets whose quotes appear on these removable stickers.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Revealing the distorting agendas

"To achieve the fullest possible sense of liberating Frame from an obscuring fog of speculative gossip, hack journalism, lackadaisical research and lazy thinking in the interview section, the editors have extracted her direct speech from each interviewer's contributions. At first this reductiveness can be slightly disorienting; yet the knack of focusing our own reading isn't hard to apply, and it certainly highlights the editors' determination to reveal distorting agendas of all kinds."

From Emma Neale's review of Janet Frame In Her Own Words in Landfall 223 May 2012.

It is to Neale's credit that she was able to fight the long-instilled habit within New Zealand of seeking an external interpretation for anything Janet Frame wrote or said. For some reason there is a tremendous resistance in Frame's native land to taking Frame at face value.

It's interesting that Neale was not the only reviewer of the non-fiction to experience and mention this 'disorientation'. Why is it so disorienting to allow Janet Frame to speak for herself without someone next to her redefining and often enough contradicting (as so often happened in her interviews) what Frame has just said?

It is not considered odd to read collections of the selected quotes of other prominent people. Why isn't Janet Frame allowed to speak without an external interpretative 'frame'?

The disjuncture between the facts of Frame's life and the fiercely held and argued myths about her, is growing wider. It's a habit that New Zealand has got into.

No wonder Janet Frame was frightened of coming back to New Zealand. She was always in danger of being seized, misdiagnosed again, and lobotomized. Small-minded malicious gossips apparently lurk under every rock, even in the literary world here.

May history condemn their envy and their wilful ignorance.

"I was a certified lunatic in New Zealand. Go back? I was advised to sell hats for my salvation."

(Quote from Towards Another Summer by Janet Frame)

"I have been in great personal danger in New Zealand. I have been in danger of being destroyed by people who decided it was their right to try to make me what they wanted me to become – and this without any detailed scientific or human investigation of me. Do you wonder when I say I’m not completely at home in New Zealand. There has been a financial compensation for the years of suffering. I have a small fixed annuity which means that I do not starve – not yet. The New Zealand Authors Library Fund has been very welcome. All the same, I don’t feel at home in New Zealand – although it isn’t necessary to feel at home to do one’s work. To me, the sun, the beach, the holiday pursuits are more pleasant in dream than in reality. I burn in the sun. I wilt in the heat. The blaze of colour and light are not the realities I’m seeking."

(Janet Frame, from 'Notes for Interviews', from Janet Frame In Her Own Words, p119)


Finally Janet Frame's Poetry in Swedish

("Hungry for Words')
Selected Poems by Janet Frame in Swedish Translation
Ellerstroms 2015
Discussion and reading of three Janet Frame poems (in Swedish) with author John Swedenmark:


'Overwhelmed by Frame'

"I have to admit: I was taken by surprise" ... "I hadn't realised that Janet Frame wrote poetry with such a powerful force and strength."

'At last! Janet Frame's poetry in Swedish'

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Janet Frame's Birthday 2015 (now on YouTube)

Celebration of Janet Frame's Birthday on National Poetry Day, 28 August 2015
Dunningham Suite, 4th Floor, Dunedin City Library

MC'd by Diane Brown with readings from acclaimed New Zealand poets Hinemoana Baker, David Eggleton and 2015 Burns Fellow Louise Wallace, as well as three rising stars selected from the Dunedin Secondary Schools Poetry Competition.

In honour of Janet Frame's birthday each of our guest poets was invited to read their favourite poem by the author.

The evening culminated in the announcement of the 2015 Janet Frame Literary Trust Award recipient: David Eggleton, who was presented with a cheque for $5,000 by Pamela Gordon, chair of the Janet Frame Literary Trust.

See also:
Otago Daily Times 'People' Page - snaps of attendees at the event.

Five Dials: Janet Frame & Shane Cotton

(read online or download PDF)
"the reality is far more than the dream"

"People I met at Yaddo have lent me their apartment in New York for July and most of August. I'm looking forward to seeing the galleries again. I've had the most wonderful experience of seeing paintings that were known before only in dull postcard colours: the reality is far more than the dream. And in New York I shall be staying almost next door to the galleries."
                                      ~ Janet Frame to Charles Brasch (1 July 1967)

Five Dials is an online literary magazine
published by Hamish Hamilton in London, England.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Patrick White and Janet Frame


The print version of this article in the Sunday Star Times (July 2015) is headed:

'Do the Aussies dislike our authors?'

 The digital version of the same story archived
online has the rather more confrontational headline:

'Why don't the Australians like our authors?'

 The online version is accompanied by a photograph of Janet Frame with the caption: 'Janet Frame found success across the Tasman.'

She certainly did - as have quite a few other New Zealand authors.

 The article opens with an anecdote attributed to Michael King and based on a true story about Janet Frame and Patrick White, and it is surprisingly only a little garbled by the retelling:

"Michael King used to tell a story that seems to typify the trans-Tasman literary relationship: Patrick White wrote a fan letter to Janet Frame in the late 1950s. It took her 22 years to reply!"

The 22 years is correct. But Patrick White wrote to Janet Frame in 1963. Among other things in that fan letter, he said:

 "You have had some very silly reviews, but don't let that worry you. You are the most exciting writer I have come across since Yevtushenko."

~ Patrick White to Janet Frame (1963)*

 22 years later - in 1985 - Janet Frame and I were visiting Sydney together. She very much wanted to meet Patrick White and even found out where he lived (they shared the same literary agency at that time) and we went there together and stood outside his house hoping to catch a glimpse. If he had emerged I am sure she would have hailed him, but she couldn't bring herself to be so obtrusive as to knock unannounced, as she had heard he didn't like to be disturbed. She also had his phone number, and on our last morning in Sydney, she rang.

Manoly answered. Patrick had been very ill that week, and couldn't come to the phone right now. Janet explained that there was no time to see him now anyway, that she was flying home to New Zealand that afternoon.

 "I just rang to thank him for his letter," she said.
She wrote to him instead:
"When your letter came twenty-two years ago I was so much overwhelmed that I couldn’t think how to answer it. It has now become part of my life (private) as ‘the letter’ & has perhaps assumed a literary life of its own. As the years passed I found it harder to answer. I’m using the left-over courage needed on a jet flight to Sydney, to greet you, to say thank you for your encouragement and for your wonderful writing."
~ Janet Frame to Patrick White (22 November 1985)

 This eyewitness report of mine conflicts with the one that appears in David Marr's biography of Patrick White. When I told my version to Michael King while he was researching the Frame biography, he said --No it can't have been 1985. According to David Marr it was 1986 and Janet offered to visit and Patrick refused to see her because he did not want his lofty illusions shattered by the mundane reality (or some such).

Michael initially refused to accept my insistence that I did recall the year correctly. David Marr was his authority.
Thinking back, this incident should have prepared me better for the dismissive attitude with which I have been treated after my aunt's death by historians and academics. I have even been asked patronisingly whenever I point out that Frame's death date has been rendered incorrectly (as it regularly has been, for instance in CK Stead's Memoir and in Patrick Evans's Bio for Te Ara, on the Creative NZ Frankfurt website, and in a Dunedin Literary Walks booklet, among others), if I am sure that I know the date of my aunt's death. (I was at her bedside comforting her during her last hours, so yes, I know the day and year.)
Some people are so sure of their facts and their memory that they don't feel the need to check. And once a 'fact' has been published by a member of the Establishment, "it must be true". 
I was able to produce evidence for the Sydney trip, however. I went to my wardrobe, dragged out an old suitcase and produced the itinerary and boarding passes for the November 1985 journey that Janet and I had made, including a clipping from a Sydney newspaper that printed an interview that Janet had done while she was there. Michael reluctantly had to accept that David Marr had unusually made a minor error. Patrick White must have misremembered the year and had even varnished the new anecdote himself.

  *Permission to quote Patrick White's letter kindly given by Barbara Mobbs
Letter deposited in Janet Frame Papers, Hocken Collections, University of Otago
Janet Frame's letter to Patrick White is quoted in Wrestling with the Angel: A Life of Janet Frame by Michael King (2000)

Angels at My Table

"Generations of cats who sharp of eye and ear and sense
enjoyed their life away in a sunlit purr
who touched and trod and heard saying all was good
all the world was good to be stared at for ever."

~ Janet Frame

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The point of view of angels


"There were two main delights for me in that final year of College: the discovery of art in the inspiring lectures given by Gordon Tovey, and the performance of the college choir, where all sang, even those without musical voices. We sang ‘The Lady of Shalott’, ‘At Flores in the Azores (the Ballad of Richard Grenville)’ and the ‘Hymn to Joy’ from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, under the tuition of George Wilkinson, known as Wilkie. I remember rehearsing and rehearsing, and finally singing, full of tears at the momentous occasion, surrounded by singing voices, all in a sensation of being in an upper storey of the mind and heart, knowing a joy that I never wanted to end, and even now when I remember that evening in the Dunedin Town Hall, the massed choir and the massed audience, and people who one never dreamed would be singing, and I too, singing ‘soft and sweet through ether ringing sounds and harmonies of joy’, I remember the happiness and recognise it as one of the rewards of alliance with any great work of art, as if ordinary people were suddenly called upon to see the point of view of angels."
~ Janet Frame (from An Angel at My Table)
Image: Dunedin Town Hall
Photograph: Graham Warman
Layout: Rua Haszard Morris
Overhead projection from Vogel Street Party
('Literature & Light')
Saturday 10 October 2015 (Dunedin City of Literature)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Katherine Mansfield literary trust fundraiser

New Zealand-born writer Katherine Mansfield (14 October 1888 ~ 9 January 1923)

Katherine Mansfield's 127th birthday has most suitably been chosen for a charity auction and soiree being held in Wellington today to raise funds for one of several literary trusts and societies that operate to memorialise 'KM'.

The work that Mansfield published in her lifetime is long out of copyright so there is no literary estate that can save her from the zombies. Fortunately, the best of her writings live on, and she continues to inspire new generations of readers as does any great writer. She also has a growing academic industry based around her. In her case, the predictable provincial backlash is well and truly over.

I remember that when I was growing up one still heard some pretty derogatory things about KM from some of the grumpy old (and young) men of NZ Lit - an attitude rather reminiscent of the way many of the glitterati and twitterati now talk about Janet Frame.

Mix envy with sexism, simmer with resentment, and let it ferment in a small pond...

But that is history now in the case of KM. A long tradition in New Zealand (since 1970) is the annual bestowing of a Katherine Mansfield fellowship to a New Zealand writer of proven merit to spend some time in Menton on the South of France, where Mansfield had once lived.

It's an important honour and opportunity, and some of our most prominent authors have held the Fellowship, including of course Janet Frame, who in 1974 wrote In the Memorial Room, her hilarious satire on literary fellowships while on that very fellowship - proving the worth of the whole exercise.

Unfortunately the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship is in need of some extra funds in order to keep going. This year there is a reduced stipend and tenure.  However the marvellous Arts Foundation has stepped in as partner to the Winn-Manson Menton Trust to ensure that there is a substantial fund to ensure the future of the fellowship.

At the Janet Frame Literary Trust we were horrified to hear that the Katherine Mansfield Fellowship was under threat, and in the 2014 year we gave a donation to the Katherine Mansfield Fellowship Fund in lieu of making a Janet Frame Literary Trust Award.

We recommend this cause to all who are concerned to support New Zealand authors to have this chance to experience "the colour of distance" (Janet Frame).

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Oamaru Library's Janet Frame Collection

Last week our friends at the Oamaru Library celebrated the 40th anniversary of their current library building. I was in Oamaru for the day and when I dropped in to the library to gift another couple of recent foreign editions to complement their extensive Janet Frame Collection, I was highly entertained to see staff wearing or assembling their 1970s fashion outfits ahead of their 'birthday' party. (Oamaru has the Victorian era as one of its tourism themes and it is common to see the locals wearing Victorian garb, so bellbottoms and ponchos and peace signs were quite a novelty!)

The Waitaki District Libraries have a new web portal in the Culture Waitaki website, and there is now a very useful link straight to the Janet Frame Collection:

Two recent publications will be added to the collection: a Polish edition of Faces in the Water and a Swedish volume of Selected Poems.

 Find more news from the Waitaki District Libraries on their Facebook Page.

Monday, October 12, 2015

A violent act of colonisation

The play GIFTED by Patrick Evans currently playing at Circa Theatre, Wellington, is a violent act of colonisation of Janet Frame's life and work.

GIFTED is no 'love letter' from an admirer, as the publicity from its 2013 season proclaimed. It is a deliberate attempt to muddy the waters of myth and malicious gossip that already swirled about Frame's reputation. GIFTED exaggerates the popular caricatures of 'Janet' and makes her the butt of the same kind of sniggering jokes that the misogynist bully boys of New Zealand literature have always guffawed at behind their hands in smoky alcohol-sodden back rooms.

Nobody learns anything about the real Janet Frame from GIFTED: it distorts the historical facts, omits characters and invents others all in order to present a fraudulent impression.

Worst of all is the disgraceful misrepresentation of Frame's intellect and wit and genius. Unworthy thoughts are attributed to her, puerile adolescent puns are put into her mouth as if they even remotely approach her own facility with language.

The first season of GIFTED was characterised by a shockingly dishonest and hostile publicity campaign in which the valid criticisms of Frame's family and estate were met with ad hominem attacks, slander and public vilification from the producer of the play Conrad Newport and others invested in and associated with the play and the Christchurch Festival where it premiered.

The scam of the 'love letter' has been dialled back somewhat for the promotion of the Wellington season, as has the fraudulent fake Janet Frame quote that appeared on posters. Unfortunately, it appears that the Wellington audiences are still being deceived about the motives and the content of the play.

However I was absolutely delighted to see the first review from the Circa opening night has been written with integrity and intelligence, and actually makes the clear distinctions that the Frame family and estate have been asking for. This is fiction. It is NOT 'literary history'.

That is all we asked for - an admission that the play is an invention and not based on historical fact, so that audiences would understand that they are NOT receiving the benefit of a wise professor who "has studied Frame for decades", they are witnessing a garbled and confused fantasy about Frame that the elderly academic himself does not even seem to recognise, judging by his interviews, is not true.

Evans has been content in his long parasitic career to just make things up about Frame, relying on a clearly appalling memory and a naïve belief that he could make biographical speculations based only on the 'evidence' of her fiction. This was one of the reasons she despised him.

Unlike Janet Frame who was able to make clear distinctions, Evans doesn't know 'this world' from 'that world'. He has become trapped in his own fantasy.

'Play suffers from significant ethical problem' (Otago Daily Times)

 'A pot calls the kettle bleak'

'Reverse Hagiography'

'Pansy Sandwiches and Tall Poppies'

'A dog returns to his vomit'

Gifted by Patrick Evans: A Review

Disturbingly sexually suggestive poster for the 2013 tour of GIFTED to the provinces and backwater festivals.
The image shows us looking up the dress of some girl - but Janet Frame was in her early 30s - and already a well-known highly acclaimed prizewinning author of her first book THE LAGOON - when she met Frank Sargeson.
Note the fraudulent 'Janet Frame' quote. In fact one of Frame's mottos in real life was the line  'You must change your life' from a Rilke poem.

A pot calls the kettle bleak

Here is Emeritus Professor Patrick Evans showing his true colours in an essay entitled:

“We Liked Janet Frame Til We Read Her” – An Essay on Why a New Zealand Writer Has Never Won the Nobel Prize for Literature

Link: Spinoff (6 October 2015)


Reverse Hagiography

 'Reverse hagiography' is the term used in Possession: A Romance (1990) by AS Byatt* to describe the character of the sinister and obsessed biographer Mortimer Cropper:
“He had a peculiarly vicious version of reverse hagiography; the desire to cut his subject down to size.” 

Screenshot:  Page 36 of Possession: A Reader's Guide by Catherine Burgass (Google Books)

*hat tip Kerryn Goldsworthy (per Facebook discussion)

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Celebrating a Great Pacifist

On September 21st last year I attended the launch in Dunedin of the Archibald Baxter Memorial Trust. Archibald Baxter is New Zealand's best known conscientious objector and author of We Will Not Cease which is a classic account of his experiences as a military defaulter in the First World War, during which he was sent to Europe and subjected to brutal field punishment.

In just over a year the Archibald Baxter Trust has achieved splendid progress in the planning for a memorial to Archie Baxter to be erected in Dunedin's Otago Museum reserve. Visit this link to see the three finalists in the sculpture competition:

'Baxter Memorial Step Closer' (Otago Daily Times 4 October 2015)

Archibald Baxter and his wife Millicent Baxter were the parents of Janet Frame's friend the famous New Zealand poet James K Baxter. The Baxters (senior) lived in Brighton near Dunedin and were part of the social group Janet mixed with when she lived in Dunedin during the 1960s.

Janet Frame had other connections with the Baxter family beside her friendship with Jim Baxter and his wife Jacquie (JC Sturm). Janet's childhood friend and neighbour Marguerite from Oamaru had married Jim Baxter's cousin Jack Baxter after the war. Jack had been a conscientious objector during the war and was imprisoned along with Frame's brother-in-law (my father) Wilson Gordon. Jack Baxter was best man at my parents' wedding. Jack and Marguerite lived in Brighton and Janet used to go out there to visit them when she lived in Dunedin. So the Frames, the Baxters and the Gordons have been well connected for many years.

Not long before Dad's death in 2007 he discovered that somebody in the extended Gordon family had married a Baxter. When I told Jacquie, who was my friend and mentor (and who had been Jim's wife and one of Janet's closest friends) she said: "I always knew we were whānau!"

* Whānau = 'family' (Māori)

Do Mention The War

Edited by Harry Ricketts & Gavin McLean
Hot off the press and well-timed to coincide with the proliferation of commemorations of the First World War Centenary, this is a solid - but not too solid - volume, with an excellent coverage of relevant material.
As the daughter of a second world war conscientious objector, and the grand niece of a first world war pacifist, I was pleased to see that Kiwi pacifist and protest writing is also included under the banner 'War Writing'. We hear about Parihaka, and we hear from the conchie classics written by Archibald Baxter, Ormond Burton and Walter Lawry. Bravo!
There is a poem in there by Janet Frame: 'Instructions for Bombing With Napalm',  a satirical poem that consists of rearranging the letters of the words 'napalm', 'naphthalene' and 'coconut oil' into anagrams and near-anagrams, stringing the whole together impressionistically but unmistakably as a protest at the atrocities of the Vietnam era military strategies.
Conventionally all reviews or notices concerning anthologies must discuss absences.
For me the most unfortunate albeit understandable omission here is of any excerpt from the Charles Brasch wartime diaries, published in 2013, perhaps too late to be included in the Ricketts & McLean table of contents.
One would hope some passage[s] from the Brasch journals, most notably about his experiences of working at Bletchley Park, would find their way into any future edition of an anthology of New Zealand War Writing.

Anzac Poppies and Tall Poppies
Speaking as Janet Frame's executor, I was also disappointed that the editors have clearly not discovered her small masterpiece 'Between My Father and the King', a posthumously published short short story that has already been hailed internationally as a classic of literary commentary on the fate of the returned colonial soldier.
You can read 'Between My Father and the King' by Janet Frame for yourself here in The Manchester Review. (770 words)
Some pettiness can be identified in the 'bio' of Janet Frame that appears with her poem, where one reads that Frame was "an accomplished, if patchy, poet." Strange words to say about an author whose two substantial books of poetry both won New Zealand's supreme literary award for their year, and whose two poetry books have together sold tens of thousands of copies.
Not to mention all the poetry that appears in Frame's 13 novels, enough for a career's worth of slim volumes, and with the verse at a higher strike rate of fine quality too, than in the oeuvre of many a plodding local poet who doesn't rate Janet Frame as a 'poet' at all despite her poetry having gained a world-wide reputation, prizes, strong sales, presence in international anthologies and educational curricula, and, this year, volumes translated into Spanish and Swedish.
'Patchy' is a cheap dig to make, and there is hardly a poet in the world who wouldn't qualify for the term, should one be small-minded enough to want to put someone's work down without any actual evidence for the snipe. In any case surely you must judge a poet by their best work, not by their lesser pieces?

'Patchy' - really? What does it mean? It's a word that means nothing except the connotation it carries, and the intention to cut someone (a tall poppy perhaps) down to size.
The poem by Janet Frame that is included here is clever, and chilling, but it is not one of her greatest pieces by any means. It makes a fine protest poem,  but it is a squib, and not typical of her poetry at all. To choose a minor poem and then belittle the poet as a poet is in my opinion mean-spirited but not surprising given the current posthumous backlash against Frame in her native land. The editors were happy to include one of our greatest writers and mention her in their publicity, but they couldn't resist this trolling little shot across the parapets.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Cat Lover

The Cat of Habit

The cat of habit
knows the place by heart
or at least by space, scent, direction, bulk,
by shadow and light
moonlight starlight sunlight
and where to nest in each
with a three-focussed shut eye
on who or what’s coming and going
on the earth and in the sky
and distantly, not present, the rays of inkling
shining within the furred skull.
The cat of habit curls her spine
in the most windless the most warm place
shivering a little with, ‘It’s mine’,
an ear-twitch, tail-flip
of permanent ownership.
The cat of habit
has the place marked,
the joint cased.
Feed and sleep and feed
and half-heartedly catch
moths and mice and mostly watch
hourlong for the passing witch
for many, unseen, pass
through the rooms of the house and outside,
under the trees and in the grass.
Janet Frame

Storms Will Tell: Selected Poems by Janet Frame is published by Bloodaxe Books

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The myth of the 'male mentors'

Janet Frame enjoying a joke at the launch of Michael King's biography
From left: June Gordon (sister), Pamela Gordon (niece), Janet Frame, Ruth Dallas (friend), Joan Dutton (Ruth's niece)
Photograph: Reg Graham

While we are on the subject of sexist misrepresentations of Janet Frame, I thought I might mention that the common claim that Frame had mostly male 'supporters' and 'mentors' is another of the myths...

There are probably several reasons why the mostly male commentators who have propagated this claim over the years thought that Frame was some sort of dependent person who was incapable of making her way in the world without a strong male to guide her: one is their own male bias towards men as being more important or influential; the other is of course the privacy with which Frame guarded her closest relationships; the other is the report of some of the men themselves, who sometimes had higher opinions of their own influence than a clear-eyed and objective historical account would reveal.

And while we are confronting patronising Frame myths, another is the constant resort to the word 'mentor' in discussions of Frame's life, when the 'mentor' was actually her 'friend'. I have come to identify this over-use of 'mentor' at the expense of the more accurate 'friend' as a pretty accurate gauge of the degree of condescension a particular commentator has towards Frame, as though they believe she was incapable of actual friendship and only had guardians and sponsors and mentors. A careful reading of the King biography (reading the facts rather than the spin they are sometimes presented with) makes it clear that Frame had a very wide variety of friends and patrons and supporters and advocates of more than one gender.

Professor Patrick Evans, known to Frame's inner circle as spectacularly gifted in his ability to get so much about her life and her work wrong, refers to "the trail of male mentors which went through Frame’s strongly patriarchal life".

This is one-eyed and stubbornly ignorant. But it suits this type of commentator to portray Frame as incapable of anything other than a dependent relationship to strong male authority figures. (Evans has in recent years had to resort to fiction in order to sell his distortions of Frame, because that pesky nuisance the historical record contradicts him at every turn.)

I have been perplexed to find my own relationship with Janet distorted in the media and in public discourse. Increasingly I find myself referred to as having been her 'minder' in her last years. It's a demeaning insult both to her and to me, but it does fit with the derogatory attitude long held towards her, and it suits the agenda of those who feel they need to belittle me because they want to discredit me and silence my criticisms.

Just a handful of the women who were influential in Janet Frame's life and arguably more beneficial to her career that the usual suspects who are credited with her successes, are:

Librarian Dorothy White (later Ballantyne) of Dunedin, for instance was an early advocate and later friend at a crucial time in Frame's career, reviewing her work and giving Frame feedback and encouragement.

Patience Ross, Literary Agent - found by Frame herself in London and responsible for the early successes in publishing that made Frame an international name (the male New Zealand publishers and 'mentors' (Money and Sargeson) did not manage to find publishers outside New Zealand - it was Frame herself, working with her agent, who achieved this).

Jacquie Baxter, close friend from the mid 1960s.

Elizabeth (Peter) Dawson - the narrative about this close friendship was that because Dawson was actually Sargeson's friend first - he introduced them - that she was never Frame's own friend. Biographer Michael King even refers to Dawson as "Sargeson's friend" years after Frame and Dawson have developed their own strong bond

Publisher Stephanie Dowrick (former head of UK publishing house Women's Press) had an extremely beneficial effect on Frame's career in the 1980s and 1990s but would never have dreamed of calling herself a 'mentor' or taking the credit for the successes they achieved together.

Some of the other women who played important roles in Janet's life, and she in theirs - because her relationships were always rich and reciprocal - do appear in Michael King's biography but the friendship, support and love of the women is played down compared to the attributions given to certain male members of her circle (many of whom, as I mentioned earlier, were themselves convinced that Janet would be lost without them. That was not her opinion.)

Other female friends and colleagues were either not discovered by Michael King or he wasn't interested in recording their role in her life, or he noted their presence but underplayed their role in her life and career.

Several Frame scholars have noticed this tendency of several commentators to negate Frame's personal agency and subordinate Frame to her male associates. An example is Maria Wikse, who in her Materialisations of a Woman Writer: Investigating Janet Frame's Biographical Legend (Peter Lang, 2006), identifies many of the narrative strategies that achieve this skewed and sexist portrait of Frame. So does Gina Mercer in her work Janet Frame: Subversive Fictions (University of Queensland Press, 1995).

Friday, October 2, 2015

Pansy sandwiches and tall poppies

The menu for a supper held after one of the 2013 performances of the Patrick Evans play Gifted at the Fortune Theatre in Dunedin
reveals the cringe-making level of the 'wit' associated with this campaign to cement in a demeaning portrait of Frame as otherworldly and without rationality.
Because powerful brilliant successful women are easier for blokes to handle if you pathologise them and portray them as weak and foolish.
Pansy sandwiches (wink wink!) were accompanied by fruit and nut cake (giggle giggle).
Because Frank was a fruit and Janet was a nut, get it? get it?
And Harry and Frank were pansies! Nudge nudge! Say no more!
Ooooh naughty.... haha chuckle.
Homophobia and misogyny and mental illness played for laughs by a sniggering middle class cabal.
(Otago Daily Times)
While the invite said 'Spring Floral Sandwiches' and 'Harvest Cake', the fact that these were essentially 'pansy sandwiches' and 'fruit and nut cake' was made crystal clear on the night, as could be gathered by social media reports like this one
[Image: screen shot from Fortune Theatre Facebook page]