Thursday, July 10, 2014

...holding a cat

I see I have fallen into the trap.
I hold it against my breast
but not on the side of my heart. If you observe closely
you will see my fingers pressed into the fur
of my liable cat my escape-cat who would much rather be stalking
in the great elsewhere at ground or sky level, seldom in between
        where people's heads are.
There is a tenderness in the way I balance its back paws on my palm.
I have shaped my arm to fit its body.
It's all quite by chance.
I am frowning hard. I too would much rather be
at my own level where I seldom meet a soul
except perhaps a travelling word or two, hordes of memories,
and because there is a tomorrow, a few meditative dreams
that will accompany me in my pleasurable inward world
my secret mirror of your great here and my great elsewhere.

'A Photograph of Me Holding a Cat', from The Goose bath: Poems, by Janet Frame (Edited by Pamela Gordon, Denis Harold and Bill Manhire)

The author photograph: most of us would rather not be there. It's the conundrum of being a writer. The work comes from an intense inner world, your natural, preferred place.  But then people want to see what you look like, they want you to 'perform', and talk about the work, which should by all rights stand up for itself.

And so both cat and Frame want to escape. Perhaps neither of them are really 'there' - writers and cats are difficult to pin down.

Frame described her inner world as a 'mirror city', and the imagination as the envoy from there, linking the two (hence the title of the third volume of her autobiography, The Envoy from Mirror City). Or as the place 'two inches behind the eyes', as the painter Malfred Signal thought of it in Frame's novel A State of Siege.

Janet Frame's cats: I went looking for pictures on the net. I knew from Michael King's Biography that she had at least two: Neg (or Negative - she was a white cat) whom Frame had for 15 years, and then Penny. And then there were numerous cats and kittens from her childhood and adolescence.

But Janet Frame later. Here are some of my other favourite writers, holding a cat.

Jack Kerouac

From the cover of The Portable Jack Kerouac, edited by Ann Charters.

Name of cat unknown. Jack loved his little kitties. And look at the expression on both their faces. I think it's the gentlest, most humble picture I've ever seen of him.

VS Naipaul

Old VS and I go back a long way - well over 30 years. At first, all I knew about him was his writing - the style he said he wanted to be so limpid that no one would notice it. And then, the more I read about him, I found that he was grumpy, monstrously egotistic, sexist ...

But then there's this photo on the cover of one of his later books. Almost forgiven, VS. You look almost human -  a little uncertain of yourself. Playing second fiddle to a cat, that's why. You know that everyone will ignore you and go Awwww - what a beautiful cat.  I bet that cat could write better than Jane Austen, too. If it's a boy.

Haruki Murakami

I read somewhere that he said it was a happy day for him when he met a cat. And it was cats that drew me to his work - a black cat on the cover of Kafka on the Shore, and in the blurb it mentioned an old man who talked to cats.  I know a lot of people talk to cats (I for one), but this man really did - and they talked back.

Take your pick: There's a picture of Murakami with a black cat:

Or white cat:

That kitten looks like it wants to escape.

And at last, Janet Frame

I went searching the net for pictures of Janet Frame with cats and found this, at the blog of Pamela Gordon, who is Frame's niece and literary executor.

Thank you to Pamela for permission to use this photo she took of her aunt towards the end of her life, with her cat Chilli, who outlived her.

This is a really lovely photo of a writer with her cat. Unposed, they are both completely themselves, unaware of the camera, comfortably in their own worlds.

1 comment:

  1. Such a beautiful post, Jo. I was enthralled and I'm so not a cat person, they freak me out quite a bit. But I do admire from afar and love what they inspire in the humans... xx