Monday, November 27, 2017

"The Tree' by Janet Frame


There’s a tree that’s going to be cut down any day

and does not know it, for trees never know

until the axe-ripe time descends to sever their roots

from the cool underground pantry, earth-lined,

sun- and rain-supplied.

                                       This one tree I have in view and mind

crowds a quarter of my window, waves finger-shaped branches

like a sea creature exploring, sensing in the blue surrounding swirl and stir

encounters of pleasure and danger.

‘Ugly old tree,’ I heard someone say.

‘No one lives in the house now, anyway.’

And soon, I know, the neighbourhood will take up the cry.

‘The tree is too old, too high

and all who lived in the house are dead or gone away.’

It cannot keep still. Hour by hour

I have watched it and even when there’s no wind blowing,

its whole being is astir: branches colliding, brushing leaf-tips,

evading one another, helplessly rocking to and fro

in the overpowering entirety

of a tree’s night and day and night and day;

and it is only the watcher who grows weary.

Motels wait to be born: a new progeny, tastefully walled

with wisteria and clematis; an arterial rose

bubbles as a rare sign of life in the old garden.

I wanted to pick it but I decided not to.

It will stain the great axe when it comes riding by

knight-errant to rescue the suburban neighbourhood

from the dangers of the view-encroaching tree

cradlerocking too sky-high and wild, senselessly

alive in a world where it is far more tactful

to feign death too many years before you die.

(from The Pocket Mirror, 1967)


In memory of all the beautiful trees that do not deserve to die.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Janet Frame, the Witch-Novelist

Apparently Janet Frame has been included in a novelty comic/volume entitled:
The book was previewed for Lithub and for Electric Literature. Three pages are devoted to each author. Unfortunately the Janet Frame section isn't included in either of the excerpts. It looks pretty entertaining. Would have made a great Halloween gift!
Thanks to Google Books I was able to find a snippet of the Janet Frame fantasy-witch:
It's quite charming as a tribute I think. I know that Janet would have been a bit annoyed to have been called a hermit, and of hospitals no less, when she left all that behind... but of course her grateful readers continue to associate her with the experiences of her youth that she had written so brilliantly about, and as a wise old witch she would definitely have enjoyed the eel story.

There is an illustration of Janet Frame that is also beguiling on the one hand and wrong on the other - it shows her as fat, with red hair. That never happened! Now in real life Janet was a fire-engine-red-haired slim young woman who boasted as a matter of pride that she didn't have a double chin, while in her later years she was a white-haired stout old crone. So the red hair did not co-exist with the double chin and the abdomen swollen with cancer. But again, despite the simplistic stereotypes of Frame that the artist was fed, the illustration is intriguing, and has a familiar mischief about it. And the eel is for real. Spooky.
Detail of illustration of Janet Frame as a Witch, by Katy Horan
This isn't the first time Janet Frame has been identified as a witch.
In the New York Times Book Review, August 8, 1965, in a review of Janet Frame's novel The Adaptable Man, Wilfrid Sheed said this:
"The New Zealand authoress Janet Frame is a "witch-novelist" who stirs her plots under a full moon and has various magic powers, including a number-one witch's curse. Her prose style is a series of charms and incantations, passwords repeated in a baleful voice, which hex up the whole landscape, turning the vegetables into people and the people back into vegetables, or worse: into rock..."
This of course derives from the prologue to the The Adaptable Man, the first sentence of which reads:
"A contemporary ingredient in the cauldron world of the witch-novelist is a pilot’s thumb."
The poem 'Daniel' that Janet Frame wrote about her great-nephew Daniel also suggests that Frame was very familiar with the ways of witches:

Another Frame poem, 'Cat of Habit' contains the lines:
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.
Photo: 'The Cat of Habit' by Janet Frame (first published in The Goose Bath, 2006) was reprinted in A Treasury of New Zealand Poems for Children edited by Paula Green, illustrated by Jenny Cooper (Random House NZ 2015). This wonderful volume is to be reissued later this month by Penguin New Zealand (2017)

Otago campus sculpture pays tribute to Janet Frame

Should you visit the Otago University campus, look out for a stunning sculpture by Paul Dibble. Called Pathways, the assemblage incorporates five standing figures plus an accompanying ground level St Andrew's Cross inset into paving stones. All the pieces are loaded with local symbolisms, including this tribute to former student Janet Frame, referencing her first novel Owls Do Cry:

Frame studied English, French, Philosophy and Psychology at Otago in the 1940s but never completed an academic degree although she did successfully complete her teaching qualification at the adjacent Teachers' College. Janet Frame was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Otago in 1978, in recognition of her outstanding literary achievements to that date.