the angels and stars and stones;
also, adjectival poets, preferably original.
There was an air of restlessness
an inability to subside, a state of being at attention,
at worst, at war with the immediately beating heart and breathing lung.
I looked then in the word-chambers, the packed warehouses by the sea,
the decently kept but always decaying places where nouns and their
representative images lay together on high shelves
among abbreviations and longlost quotations. I listened.
Water lapped at the crumbling walls; it was a place
for murder, piracy; salt hunger seeped between the shelves;
it was time to write. Now or never. The now unbearable,
the never a complete denial of memory:
I was not, I never have been.
Janet Frame from The Goose Bath: Poems, Vintage, 2006
published with kind permission from The Janet Frame Estate (note in The Goose Bath states that this appeared as a section in a long untitled sequence)
Notes from Elizabeth Morton:
Veni Vedi Veci is a T-shirt-perfect slogan, gloating in its victory of ancient history, and its facility with Latin grammar. As an undergraduate I likely sported such an item of casual alliteration. I may have stood at the fence of Albert Park, smoking a Wee Willem cigarillo, mispronouncing the words to passing first-years and telling a bastardised yarn about Julius Caesar. Janet Frame’s poem, ‘I Visited’ relates a quieter, more tentative conquest – that ends in brute self-nihilation – ‘I was not, I never have been’. This is no Caesar. Here is a concession that our words are things to be borrowed, not usurped. There is a sense of things in flux, things that spill through the gaps in your fingers – ‘decaying places’ and ‘crumbling walls’. There is no pillaging of intangibles. The world of words is a lending library with ‘word chambers’ and ‘high shelves’.
Frame’s poem is gently playful. Through it, I recognise this impossibility of ownership. Words are slippery; words alter to their context; words are shared but never spent. I have supermarket bags full of words – words for ‘angels and stars and stones’, earthly and metaphysical – words like ‘turophile’ and ‘oleaginous’ and ‘eosophobia’ and ‘absquatulate’. They can never be conquests. I visit them. Visito. And I try to shake the dust off the words that have been left for dead. Words are people too, you know – ‘with beating heart and breathing lung’. Frame’s poem captures an excitement, a vitality, and also an humility. Also, ‘salt hunger’ makes me shiver.
Auckland writer, Auckland writer, Elizabeth Morton, is published in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, the UK, Canada and the USA. She was feature poet in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017, and is included in Best Small Fictions 2016. Her first poetry collection, Wolf, was published with Mākaro Press in 2017. She is completing a MLitt at the University of Glasgow, usually in her pyjamas.
Janet Frame (1924-2004) published eleven novels, five story collections, a previous volume of poetry (The Pocket Mirror, 1967), a children’s book and a three-volume autobiography. She won numerous awards and honours, including New Zealand’s highest civil honour when she was made a Member of the Order of New Zealand in 1990. In 2003 she received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement and was named an Arts Foundation Icon Artist. Pamela Gordon, Denis Harold and Bill Manhire edited The Goose Bath, Janet’s posthumous collection of poems in 2006.
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