Tag Archives: Janet Frame

Poetry Shelf classic poem: Medb Charleton picks Janet Frame’s ‘I Take into My Arms More Than I Can Bear To Hold’

 

I Take Into My Arms More Than I Can Bear To Hold

 

I take into my arms more than I can bear to hold

I am toppled by the world

a creation of ladders, pianos, stairs cut into the rock

a devouring world of teeth where even the common snail

eats the heart out of a forest

as you and I do, who are human, at night

 

yet still I take into my arms more than I can bear to hold

 

 Janet Frame

from The Goose Bath, Vintage, 2006

(posted with kind permission from the Janet Frame Literary Trust)

 

 

 

Note from Medb Charleton:

The first time I read this poem it gave me that feeling only poetry can give, my nervous system was instantly held captive by the emotions generated and then freed as those emotions connected with my own lived experiences and ability to dream of life inside this mysterious art form.

Each line, in its weighted simplicity, its juxtaposed images, deciphers that moving and syntactically wonderful title. When I read it in more and more detail, I can see Frame’s musicality of diction with the effortless onomatopoeia, assonance, the line breaks, the repetition with which she somehow manages to weave the philosophical and moral themes that interested her.

A softness and beauty prevails even though adversity and disillusionment are present. The poet is willing to risk all, must in fact if she is to live, and with that very burden, one that she can barely carry, there is something of a pleasure and wonder in everyday things and the destructive capacity of the beautiful. Even she herself is accountable as you and I are. The world threatens to become too much. Not just the suffering, endurance and hardship in the world and in nature, but also its incredible creations, its mysteries – she feels it all intensely and it’s this unbearable weight that she holds.

The repetition of the title in the closing line, its gentle insistence, is both a plea and an acceptance of unattainable goodness with the hope that through this art of making, the poem itself, that she may find truth enough to absolve life’s cruelties, the weight of responsibility and bewildering unknowns and perhaps even be able to bear the pain or emotional intensity of beauty when found.

 

 

 

Medb Charleton grew up in Sligo, Ireland. She did an MA in Creative writing at the IIML in Wellington and since has published poems in Landfall, Sport, JAAM and online.

Janet Frame (1924-2004) published eleven novels, five story collections, a previous volume of poetry (The PocketMirror, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Elizabeth Morton picks Janet Frame’s ‘I Visited’

 

I Visited

 

I visited
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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Poetry Shelf – Spring Season’s poetry fans: Catriona Ferguson picks Janet Frame

 

 

Wet Morning

 

Though earthworms are so cunningly contrived
without an opposing north and south wind
to blow the bones of Yes apart from the flesh of No,
yet in speech they are dumbly overturning,
in morning flood they are always drowned.

This morning they are trapped under the apple tree
by rain as wet as washing-day is wet and dry.
An abject way for the resilient anchorage of trees,
the official précis of woman and man,
the mobile pillbox of history, to die!

 

©Janet Frame, The Pocket Mirror (New York: George Braziller, 1967) posted with kind permission from Janet Frame Literary Trust.

 

Note from Catriona: Having been promised non-stop glorious weather in New Zealand I arrived from the chilly northern hemisphere to an unimpressive, soggy spring. I was taken aback by the Auckland rain; I grew up in Scotland and thought that I knew a thing or two about weather but apparently not. Happily, the first gift I received on arrival was a copy of The Pocket Mirror by Janet Frame. Frame’s ‘Wet Morning’ still reminds me of that time.

 

Catriona Ferguson is Director of the Publisher’s Association of New Zealand, which represents book, educational and digital publishers in New Zealand. She was formerly the Chief Executive of The New Zealand Book Council and has also worked for Creative New Zealand and the British Council.

 

Janet Frame, one of New Zealand’s most beloved authors, both at home and abroad, wrote in various genres, but one of her chief loves was poetry. She published one collection The Pocket Mirror, but wrote copious poems across the course of  her lifetime. With the prior blessing of Janet, and the help of her literary estate, Bill Manhire edited the posthumous The Goose Bath. The collection went on to win the 2007 New Zealand Book Award for Poetry.

 

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Very excited to spend time with Janet Frame

 

 

 

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Just got a copy! This book looks like a treasure trove.

On music, silence and having guests:

‘How valuable my solitude & silence seem! My guest is very pleasant & more or less goes her own way but I am looking forward to her going & she is wise enough to know it & understand it. I have moved my record-player into the sitting-room so she can listen to it & my study is like death without it & I did not realise the music had been so absorbed into the very walls of the study. The room is alive with it, as a past experience, but while the phonograph is in the sittingroom it is death in here, the whole room so yearns for it. How pathetically fallacious one can be!’

 

Many Happy Returns: Dunedin Celebrates NZ Poetry Day

National Poetry Day is also Janet Frame’s birthday, and here in Dunedin there will be a poetry feast at the Library: the winners of the Dunedin Secondary Schools Poetry competition will perform their winning poems along with performances by Landfall editor David Eggleton, 2015 Burns Fellow Louise Wallace and special guest Hinemoana Baker. Poet Diane Brown will MC.
6 – 7.45 pm, Friday 28 August, refreshments from 5.30 pm.

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Poetry Shelf interviews Gregory O’Brien — The poem has to dive down into and surface from some essential state of being

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Gregory O’Brien at Tjibaou Cultural Centre, Noumea, March 2015

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Thomson

 

Gregory O’Brien is the  2015 Stout Memorial Fellow at the Stout Research Centre, Victoria University, where he is currently working on a book about poetry, painting and the environment. His new collection of poems is Whale Years (Auckland University Press). He has published numerous books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Since 2011 he has contributed to the ongoing Kermadec art project, works from which are on show at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre, New Caledonia, until July.

 

 

 

The interview

 

‘Ocean sound, what is it

you listen for?’

 

Did your childhood shape you as a poet? What did you like to read? Did you write as a child?

As far as I can recall, I drew more than I painted. And I always gravitated towards illustrated books—Tove Jansson’s ‘Moomin’ books stand out, and I remember The Lord of the Rings, as much for its illuminated maps as for the words. I went through a phase of reading comics—Whizzer & Chips rather than Batman. I date my interest in the interplay of words and visual images to those early encounters.

I doodled at every available opportunity and I remember being hauled out of class and punished for drawing, rather well, a crouching deer on the inside cover of my maths book. I usually captioned my drawings—so maybe those captions could be thought of as my first writings. Occasionally I filled in speech- or thought-balloons above various life-forms.

 

When you started writing poems as a young adult, were there any poets in particular that you were drawn to (poems/poets as surrogate mentors)?

I can trace this pretty exactly, I think. Aged 14: Bob Dylan’s ‘Writings & Drawings’. Aged 15: Dylan Thomas. Aged 16: James K. Baxter and Flann O’Brien (I liked to pretend Flann was an actual relative. I even screen-printed his book-title AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS on a singlet—an item I still have in my wee box of treasures.) Aged 17: John Cage (Silence, and A Year from Monday). By the age of 18, I was living in Dargaville, and it was as if everybody suddenly jumped on board the NZ Road Services bus or bandwagon—I was reading Kenneth Patchen, William Blake, Edith Sitwell, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, e e cummings; also Allen Curnow, Janet Frame, Sam Hunt… I had known about Eileen Duggan for some years, because she was a relative, on my mother’s side. More than anything else, however, it was discovering Robin Dudding’s journal ISLANDS that turned my world around, that brought the whole business home…. Therein I discovered Ian Wedde, Bill Manhire, Elizabeth Smither, CK Stead…

 

Did university life transform your poetry writing? Theoretical impulses, research discoveries, peers?

I was six years out of school by the time I finished my BA, so my university life was mixed in, very much, with everything else that was going on: with 15 months in Dargaville, a year or so in Sydney… At university, I certainly wasn’t drawn to theory except in so far as I thought it was a grand imaginative game that might, periodically, yield unpredictable and outlandish results. I enjoyed the pottiness of Ezra Pound’s literary (rather than his political) theorising… An ABC of Reading is a great book. Probably the Zen-inclined John Cage and the Trappist Thomas Merton were the two non-fiction writers I held closest to me.

 

Reading your poetry makes me want to write. I love the way your poems delve deep into the world, surprisingly, thoughtfully yet never let go of the music of the line. Words overlap and loop and echo. There is an infectious joy of language at work. What are key things for you when you write a poem?

I listen to a lot of music. I want the poems to have something of the music that I love. I spend a lot of my time looking at art. And I want my poems to have something of the art that I love. There are aspects of composition, tone, rhythm and character which span all these different creative modes. Those are the key factors for me when I write… At a certain point, an appropriate form makes itself known…. The poem has to dive down into and surface from some essential state of being… There is certainly a joy in doing the things that you love; so there’s joy in the making and, preceding that, in the state of being that leads to the making….

 

Do you see yourself as a philosophical poet? Almost Zen-like at times?

My concept of philosophy is broad and shambolic enough to accommodate what I do as a writer. I’ve never read extensively in the field of Zen (apart from the books of John Cage and the writing of my friend Richard von Sturmer). I’ve read a little, and somewhat randomly, in the field of non-conformist Catholic thought: Simone Weill, Meister Eckhart, Merton, Baxter… These peregrinations may have affected me more than I realise or am prepared to say.

 

Do you think your writing has changed over time?

I guess writing has to evolve – otherwise it will become predictable and a total drag. I’m as entranced as I ever was with the process, the business, the labour of it. At the same time, I remain devoted to the finished form of it: The printed book, with its covers and half-title and title-page; and the shapes of words on the page and maybe illustrations. Poetry is an art that, if it’s working, is constantly reinventing itself.

I look back at my early poems and find fault. I find myself blaming an over-voracious intake of French Surrealism; too much Kenneth Patchen one year, too much Stevie Smith the next… Too much John Berryman! And, next year, not enough John Berryman! But the ship sails on, and finds new oceans to ply.

 

You write in a variety of genres (poetry, non-fiction, critical writing). Do they seep into each other? Your critical writing offers the reader a freshness of vision and appraisal – not just at the level of ideas but the way you present those ideas, lucidly, almost poetically. Does one genre have a particular grip on you as a writer?

I’m only starting to realise the inter-relatedness of these different genres. A few years back I started to explore poetry’s potential to carry information, also to elaborate upon a thought in a more detailed kind of way, ie. to have an almost essayistic function. So quite a few of my longer poems (some of the odes and, particularly, ‘Memory of a fish’ in my new book) are laden with facts, figures and reasonably clearly articulated information.

Needless to say poetry infuses the writing I produce in relation to the visual arts. I find looking at art exciting; it appeals to my poetic self. I don’t really have a critical self. I hope my non-fiction writing has a cadence, a music and a subconscious (rather than a conscious) purposefulness. Pondering my recent writings on artists such as Pat Hanly, Barry Brickell and Michael Hight, I remember in each case hearing a note—a song, almost—in my ear, and I was beholden to it.

 

Do you think we have a history of thinking and writing about the process of poetry? Any examples that sparked you?

James K. Baxter wrote wonderfully about writing poetry. Bill Manhire’s Doubtful Sounds is an immensely useful and energising book. 99 Ways Into New Zealand Poetry is terrific too. I refer back to my set of the journal ISLANDS and, yes, it seems to me we New Zealanders have been writing about the process as well as the product. Janet Frame’s oeuvre might be our greatest, most enduring instance of writing about writing, thinking about writing, writing about thinking, and thinking about thinking.

 

Your poetry discussions with Kim Hill are terrific. The entries points into a book are paramount; the way you delight in what a poem can do. What is important for you when you review a book?

I think a book has to become part of your life to really make an impression. It’s the same with music or visual arts. It can’t be a purely intellectual thing, it has to take you over, to some degree. It has to be disarming. Accordingly I tend not to discuss books that don’t ‘do it’ for me. Life’s too short. Fortunately, I have catholic tastes. There are things I enjoy very much in Kevin Ireland, as there are things I enjoy in Michele Leggott. I guess this makes me a lucky guy.

 

I agree wholeheartedly. I am not interesting in reviewing books on Poetry Shelf unless they have caught me, stalled me (for good reasons!).

What poets have mattered to you over the past year? Some may have mattered as a reader and others may have been crucial in your development as a writer?

Two years ago I went to Paris and met up with one of my all-time heroes, the French poet and art-writer Yves Bonnefoy. He turned 90 last year (Joyeux anniversaire, Yves!) During my recent travels around the Pacific (from New Caledonia to Chile), I’ve taken bilingual editions of Yves with me everywhere. I am interested in the way he has turned the creative conundrum of being an Art Writer and a Poet into something unified and compelling (channelling earlier French poet-art-writers from Baudelaire to Apollinaire, with a nod to Yves’s near-contemporaries, that wondrous group of wanna-be French-art-poets, John Ashbery and the New Yorkers). I also took the poems of Neruda and Borges with me everywhere I went.

 

What New Zealand poets are you drawn to now?

New Zealand poetry is interesting at the moment. It’s all over the place. As it should be. There are plenty of people I read voraciously. As well as the poets mentioned already: Anna Jackson, Vince O’Sullivan, you Paula, Lynn Davidson, Kate Camp, Geoff Cochrane… Last year I edited a weekly column for the Best American Poets website—that was a good chance to ‘play favourites’, as Kim Hill would say. (All those posts are archived here: http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/new-zealand/) There are some great first books appearing at the moment: Leilani Tamu’s The Art of Excavation; John Dennison’s Otherwise. This bodes very well indeed.

 

Name three NZ poetry books that you have loved recently.

I was rereading Riemke Ensing’s Topographies (with Nigel Brown’s illustrations) the other day; I found that book very inspiring when it appeared way back in 1984. Lately I’ve also been reading Bob Orr’s crystalline Odysseus in Woolloomooloo and Peter Bland’s Collected Poems… I could go on.

 

Your new collection, Whale Years, satisfies on so many levels. These new poems offer a glorious tribute to the sea; to the South Pacific routes you have travelled. What discoveries did you make about poetry as you wrote? The world? Interior or external?

The Kermadec voyage, and subsequent travels—most recently to New Caledonia—opened up a huge areas of subjective experience as well as of human and natural history. How do you write about that kind of space, that energy, that life-force? Wherever you travel, the air is different; the ‘night’ has a different character; the smells and textures of the vast Pacific vary from place to place. And people move differently wherever you go – they claim a different kind of space within the environment. My recent travels have been like a door opened on a new world. The last three years of my poetry-writing have been the most intense since I was in my early twenties.

 

That shows in this book Greg. I am looking forward to reviewing it because it touched a chord in so many ways. I love the idea that poems become little acts of homage. What difficulties did you have as traveller transforming ‘elsewhere’ into poetry? To what degree do you navigate poetry/other place as trespasser, tourist, interloper?

The artist Robin White likes to point out that there is only one ocean on earth. All our oceans are joined together—it’s the same body of water. So, if you take the sea to be your home (which, as Oceanians, believe it or not, we should do), then as long as you’re at sea you’re still, to some degree, in your home environment.

As a poet entering a new environment, I bring with me my responses, my eye, my mind and various kinds of baggage. I’m a curious person by nature so I always want to find new things—things I don’t know anything about. I like it when my preconceptions fall apart. I love being wrong about things; I enjoy the subsidence of the known world. I quote the great post-colonialist writer Wilson Harris in Whale Years: ‘If you can tilt the field then you will dislodge certain objects in the field and your own prepossessions may be dislodged as well.’

I feel that, as a poet, I am most in my element when I am sitting on the ground and learning new things. When the field of the known has been tilted. And filling my notebooks with various tracings of that new knowledge or sensation.

 

This is a good way to look poetry that takes hold of you; it ‘tilts’ you. I also loved the elasticity of your language – the way a single word ripples throughout a poem gleaning new connections and possibilities. Or the way words backtrack and loop. At times I felt a whiff of Bill Manhire, at others Gertrude Stein. Yet a poem by Gregory O’Brien is idiosyncratic. Are there poets you feel in debt to in terms of the use of language?

Strangely, I can’t read Gertrude Stein anymore. She is one of a very few writers I have been in love with and then the relationship has waned. Maybe, early on, she loosened up my use of language, the extent to which the rational mind is left to run things. There was a music I found in Stein, for sure. But this was something—increasingly—I found in more conventional writers like Wallace Stevens, Robert Creeley and, most recently, in Herman Melville. Moby Dick is a piece of great, symphonic, oceanic music. The novel (for want of a better term) is an incredible noise, a racket of spoken and sung sounds. Melville’s style reminds me of all the depth-finders, radars, monitors and gauges on the bridge of HMNZ Otago as we sailed north to Raoul Island in May 2011. All that information pinging and popping…

 

Is there a single poem or two in the collection that particularly resonates with you?

The long poem, ‘Memory of a fish’, is the piece that connects various experiences from the three year period in which the book was written, and brings them together—in an essayistic fashion, almost. I enjoy the ebb and flow of the triplets, and the world’s details tripping along them, like things washing ashore on Oneraki Beach… When I was writing that poem I felt I was living inside it, totally. And I haven’t quite climbed out of it yet, to be honest.

 

The book also demonstrates that eclectic field you plunge into as a reader with its preface quotes. What areas are you drawn into at the moment? Any astonishing finds?

The quotations at the beginning of the three sections of the book are constellations in the night sky above the poetry-ground. They mark points of reference, further co-ordinates, which have guided the writing: W. S. Graham’s ‘The stones roll out to shelter in the sea.’ The Flemish proverb: ‘Don’t let the herring swim over your head.’ Those are verbal artefacts I have carried around with me, much as you would pick up a shell or a colourful leaf. They were/are talismans. So I have stored them inside the book as well. Cherished things.

 

‘Constellation’ is perfect. I was thinking underground roots that nourish. Or one of any number of maps you can lay over the poems (the map of domestic intrusion, the map of childhood, the map of objects, the map of reading). But yes the process of writing has its constellation-guides as you venture into and from both dark and light.

Poetry finds its way into a number of your paintings (as it does with John Pule). There are a number of drawings included in the book that add a delicious visual layer. How do you negotiate the relationship between painting and poetry? Does one matter more? Do they feed off each other?

My notebooks contain a thick broth of visual and verbal ingredients. These materials arrive in my journal simultaneously. When writing or painting, I separate the words from the visual images and work on them more-or-less separately. When it comes to putting together a book, like Whale Years, these two disparate activities are reunited again. I’ve always loved illustrated books. (I think immediately of Bill Manhire’s The Elaboration, with pictures by Ralph Hotere; Blaise Cendrars’ long Trans-Siberian poem, illustrated by Sonia Delaunay; William Blake illustrating himself, and so on)

 

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NOTES ON THE RAISING OF THE BONES OF PABLO NERUDA AT ISLA NEGRA by John Reynolds & Gregory O’Brien, etching, 2014

You have collaborated with a number of other artists and writers. What have been the joys and pitfalls of collaboration?

There are no pitfalls, as far as I can see. Somehow, I’ve found my way into a few collaborative circumstances and very much enjoyed the results. In the past year I’ve made etchings with my two painter-friends John Reynolds and John Pule. Like Charles Baudelaire and Frank O’Hara before me, I seem to have been lucky enough to fall in with a good crowd of painters (and also photographers—but that’s another story).

 

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SAILING TO RAOUL by John Pule & Gregory O’Brien, etching, 2012 (John titled this work, riffing off Yeats’s ‘Sailing to Byzantium’)

 

The constant mantra to be a better writer is to write, write, write and read read read. You also need to live! What activities enrich your writing life?

Certainly my recent travels around the Pacific have been hugely enriching. I’m not a proper swimmer, but since I was a child I have had a great passion for floating in, or being upon salt water. (My book News of the Swimmer Reaches Shore grew out of that propensity.) The everydayness of existence is the most enriching thing—as the poems of Horace and Neruda and Wedde keep reminding me. What a great and pleasant swarm of information and sensation we find ourselves amidst, every day of our lives.

 

Finally if you were to be trapped for hours (in a waiting room, on a mountain, inside on a rainy day) what poetry book would you read?

I keep coming back to the Collected Poems of James K. Baxter. Not because it’s the best book ever written but because of the simple fact that it occupies a huge and resonant place in my life.

 

Auckland University Press page

New Zealand Book  Council page

Arts Foundation page

The Kermadecs page

National Radio page (discussing poetry highlights of 2014 with Kim Hill)