Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 13 June 18, 1968
This collection os some 170 poems was written over the past few years and published, as book jacket says, "at her publisher's urging". It is an uneven collection as it is a personal record of memories and experience, intellectual exercises, word games, fragments of ideas and deep personal feeling. Perhaps the best dozen of these poems will be retained for future collections of New Zealand poetry and the rest discarded, but this is not to suggest they are not important to the poetess herself.
Janet Frame is such a strong writer that there is no reason why any of her poems should be uniform. If she wants to play with words, that is her privilege. Sometimes she succeeds in giving us a word-picture such as in "Sunday Afternoon at Two O'Clock" which ends with the stanza:
"Seizing the time from the University clock, the wind suddenly cannot carry its burden of chiming sound. The waves ride in, tumultous, breaking gustily out of tune, burying two o'clock on Sunday Afternoon."
Some of her experiments are not so successful as for example her poem "Napalm" which reads:
"nay son say palm
pay palm sun day."
However Janet Frame does not hold up her poems for judgment. They have not been selected as her best poems, but as a part of her intellectual years. It is not easy to compare poems such as the light-hearted "The Fahrenheit Man" which begins:
"The fahrenheit man on the centigrade sea with wittage and wantage and wastage and me".
A personal fragment of memory as "My Mother Remembers Her Fellow Pupils at School" which reads:
Hetty Peak and Ruby Blake
Helly Peak and Rudy Blake
Dorcas Dryden . . . ."
and long poem stories such as "Sunday Drive' with its intensity of ideas and private memory world of Janet Frame:
"—And what was your favourite toy?"
"Mine,' I said, "was a paraffin tin. I dragged it along in the grey dust
on a piece of string. It was shining and silver and hollow and it sang in the sun
and everything that touched it made it sing exclaim groan tingle cling-clang, gasp a tin gasp, and proclaim
its sound and shape and glossy being as an emptly new paraffin tin that sang and mirrored the world."
A noticeable feature of Janet Frame's prose has been the 'poetry' in her novels and short stories. A State of Seige, Scented Gardens For the Blind and Owls do Cry are specially related to the poetic structure and her writing has the rounded, flowing effect of poetry. She moves happily from one medium to the other until an idea becomes a rhythm of words. She is comparable in this respect with Alain Robbe-Grillet in that they both use the beauty of words to create an idea rather than pick words for their meaning. It is impossible in fact to divide what in a book of Janet Frame's poems is poetry and what in a novel is prose. Part of her poem "Sunday Drive" reads:
"Do you keep a diary;"
"I used to. I burned it. Do you keep one?"
"I do. Details I want to remember. Colours. A chance remark. A shape.
"My diary, years ago, was of love; of smiles given near and far away as the sun; of passionate beings out of reach but shining faithfully, like planets"
"Everything changes. Nothing will stay. My mother died four years ago. and though I still do not mourn for her, I remember her.
Memory recurs, cripples. There is no relief from its path."
"There is no measurement of time."
"Our parents are our first world. Do you remember the childhood imagining of their death, of how it would be with mother and father dead? How cruel winds came in to take up the space they left, how exposed you stood as on a head long, and could not bear the grief flowing down down through your body or draw you into the earth."
"I had no imagining of it. My mind and heart would not let me see it
I closed myself against it like a flower closing against the night."
This in fact could be an extract from one of her novels. Her prose and poetry are part of the same—both swell from her deep emotional involvement with people and ideas.
The sheer volume of Janet Frame's poetry is amazing, the quality is the product of her broad interpretative powers and sensitivity. By seeing the best and the lesser of her poems in one volume we have a picture of a very human writer attempting to record the influence upon her of the present and past.
The subject matter of the poems could broadly be divided into the influences of life around her which Janet Frame has analysed and given back to herself and us sometimes simply, sometimes tortuously complex, but always with the feeling of her own intimate involvement.
The Pocket Mirror. A collection of poems by Janet Frame, published by the Pegasus Press, Christchurch. $2.50.