Sunday, June 22, 2008

Janet Frame

Until I saw the talented director, Jane Campion (The Piano) and screenwriter Laura Jones' beautiful film adaptation of Frame's three volumes of autobiography, An Angel at my Table, 1990, several years ago, I was totally unfamiliar with Janet Frame(1924-2004), leading New Zealand writer of novels, short fiction,
and poetry.

A twice contender for the Nobel Prize in literature, her works were noted for their explorations of alienation and isolation. Frame's early years were traumatic. Her childhood was marked by poverty and the drowning deaths of two sisters, and in 1945, while studying to be a teacher, she suffered a breakdown. Misdiagnosed
with schizophrenia, she was in and out of psychiatric hospitals for ten years. In 1951, while Frame was still interned, New Zealand's Caxton Press published her first book, a slim volume of short stories titled The Lagoon and Other Stories.

The work won the Hubert Church Memorial Award, at that time one of the nation's most prestigious literary prizes, and thankfully resulted in the cancellation of her scheduled lobotomy. Frame was awarded the title of Commander of the Order of British Empire (CBE) in 1983 and made a member of the Order of New Zealand, the country's highest civil honour, in 1990. She also held foreign membership of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, received honorary doctorates from two New Zealand universities,
and achieved recognition as a cultural icon in her native country. Her collection of poetry, The Pocket Mirror, published in 1967, is absolutely brilliant.

I Do Not Deny the Sun

I do not deny the sun
that denies me.
I leave the door open,
wheat on the table,
apples in the pantry.
I was warned from the first hour
that the sun did not care,
tearing seasons with his tongue
while maudlin snow ran down his cheeks;
that he snored in a deep white bed
and waking did not as we do
--tell his dreams and embrace callers.


  1. Never heard of her till reading this post, but I do like that poem -- powerful and unpretentious. I'll look for her the next time I'm at the library.

  2. Wow. The things you read leave me breathless. You won't be breathless when you read my books. LOL.

    Somebody asked me on my blog why that icon changed my life overnight. I left an answer there.

  3. Isn't it interesting how often a person's creativity is also joined in a struggle with mental illness? Silvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Van Gogh, Hemingway -- countless others.

    Thanks for introducing me to a very interesting writer and poet.

  4. Pat, she was misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic and it is thought that her bouts of depression and anxiety were a actually a direct result of the time spent in psychiatric hospitals.

  5. You'll inspire me to read more of her work--I've seen some of her poems and thought them amazing, but I didn't honestly know much about her. I'll have to read more. Thanks for the bio on her. I'm always seeking out good poets. That's a wonderful portrait of her.

  6. That is so sad that she was misdiagnosed and had to spend time in a psychiatric ward. I love her poem. Thanks for introducing her to us.

  7. Willow,
    My mind's a wall... I have been so preoccupied lately.. I see that I've missed quite a few posts here. As usual they are all so intriguing. Wow, your friend there with the points would have probably ate a biscuit out of your hand. What a great picture... one I'm sure you'll cherish with the memory.
    The Bach

  8. thanks Willow ... just looked her up on our library's site. I will try and find the movie as well.

  9. I've never read her poetry or really knew much about her but this has peaked my interest...Thank you..

  10. Very interesting...must find some of her work.

  11. Willow, you are as good as Robert Osborne with your backstories! Thanks for another fascinating introduction. Yet another for the list (which seems to be growing at a very fast pace thanks to your reviews).

  12. I loved the movie, but have never read her work. Thanks for the suggestion!

  13. I never heard of her but now that I have I want to read more.. thank you for opening my world!


  14. A brilliant post, Willow..
    I remember have been so moved by the movie "An angel at my table".
    and..gosh..thankfully she didn't receive this lobotomy.

  15. MCIS, I know! The thought of such a talent undergoing a lobotomy is
    horrific. Thank God, the award saved her.

  16. Thanks Willow, it is interesting isn't it the link between madness and creativity :)
    And what hair she had!

  17. I reckon that wild ginger hair held within it the threads and secrets that formed the curls in her words ... my mum ALWAYS pestered me to 'eat your crusts, or you will never get curly hair' !
    I ate my crusts :)

  18. An Angel at my Table was incredible, I saw it just after it came out. Kerry Fox was brilliant, playing a very tough part.

    But in all the years since I saw and loved the movie, I have never read any of her poetry. I shall remedy this. Thanks Willow!

  19. Thanks for posting this, Willow. Sounds like her work is worth pursuing, and the poem is lovely.


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)