June 4, 2009

Elizabeth Treadwell on Janet Frame

Elizabeth Treadwell is at slow work on some long poems.

Towards Another Summer by Janet Frame
Counterpoint Press 2009

Seeing as the brilliance of her phrasing is my most worn path from the modernist novels of Barnes, Woolf, Rhys, Hurston & Stein --- her work shares amazing attributes with each -- to my readerly nowaday, I couldn't have been happier to find one last new Janet Frame book waiting on the shelf at Moe's the other month. She died in 2004; I've read every scrap. Start at the beginning, with Owls Do Cry, or round about the middle with Yellow Flowers in the Antipodeon Room or The Edge of the Alphabet, start with a last story published in The New Yorker last spring. Start with the poems, the autobiography. Start where you like. This 2009 book, Towards Another Summer, she felt too shy to publish while alive. Here's a bit:

The producer was crisp, the interviewer efficient. Both had notes; Grace held only a glass of water which she twirled in her hand, answering or not answering the questions, breaking off in midsentence, her mind blank. She sighed, repeated Sorry, Sorry in a whisper, shaking her head.

--I don't know, I don't know. What are my books about? How should I be able to tell? My style? What does it matter?

She wondered whether these accumulated stains that seemed so much a part of her essentially private ventures would in the end spread over most of her life, sink deeper and deeper, be absorbed as a poison which could be removed only if she swallowed a violent medicine which would force her to vomit her whole life -- all her treasured experiences and dreams -- and be left weak, unable to digest more of life, sitting, cramped with pain and lassitude, in a bed or wheelchair until she died and was buried here, in London, with a representative from New Zealand House taking time off to trim the frayed thread-dropping embarassments of untidiness woven when a stranger without next of kin dies ten thousand miles from home.

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