Thursday, July 3, 2014

Read Owls Do Cry

With You

(To Janet Frame)

Can you hear me Whangaparaoa?

Listen to your seas, listen to your tides,
To the moon pulling the deep.

I am there, under the waters,
In the winds, in the leaf that sighs.

I am there, sleeping in the rocks,
Under the houses, below the promontories.

I am the sea, I am the wind,
Everything and nothing, with you.

Charles Brasch, from Wrestling With the Angel, a life of Janet Frame, by Michael King, (2000)

 Charles Brasch wrote this poem virtually on his death bed to Janet Frame, who was at that time living in Whangaparaoa.  I've just finished reading, for the second time, Michael King's biography of her, written and published while she was still alive (she died in 2004, at the age of 80).

It's one of the best biographies I've read, along with David Marr's biography of Patrick White. For me, the biography of a writer should answer this question: Where did the writing come from?

Recently, I've also read the three book volume of Frame's autobiographies, comprising To The Is-Land, An Angel at My Table, and Envoy From Mirror City, which only take her life up to her return to NZ from 'overseas' (Britain, Europe, the US) in 1964.

I'm now reading Living in the Maniototo, which must be one of the most enjoyable, funny, clever and revealing books about writing that there is. (And in fact, if you look here, there is an interesting discussion of this book, which says everything I should have said if I wasn't suffering from kitten brain*.)

In February, just before I went to New Zealand for the first time I read Owls Do Cry, her first novel. I have read it before, over 30 years ago. Both were library copies, but I now have my own.  Text Publishing have just issued it in the Classics series (with an introduction by Margaret Drabble: double delight!).

I'm not going to say anything about it, just echo what a friend of mine, a poet, said to me urgently in the 1970s.

'Read Owls Do Cry, by Janet Frame,' was all he said, without explanation. I can still see him saying it.

It stuck in my mind.

And you do need no explanation to read Janet Frame. Just do it, and it's self-evident.

* kitten brain: similar to having had a baby. The floor is littered with toys, the house is in disarray and the small one won't leave you a moment alone to think, let alone type. 

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