Friday, April 3, 2009

The Goose Bath Poems

I am reading The Goose Bath Poems, an edition of Janet Frame’s posthumous poems. In my first poetry anthology for secondary schools, Ten Modern New Zealand Poets, I included some poems from Janet Frame’s recently published The Pocket Mirror. A teacher rather caustically said ‘I suppose you included her to make up the women’s numbers’. He didn’t believe my reply that she was one of the first I selected. I said something to the effect that her work was excellent though uneven. I knew that she had been writing poems ever since that first and only publication. I hoped they would be published and delighted they have been. She is one of our finest wordsmiths.

I would I were a teacher again to share these poems. The book is a joy to be savoured again and again. Given her experience it is not surprising she writes about death so frequently. But what I like about this selection is its celebratory nature, the affirming joy of existence rather than a morbid sense of extinction. It’s her use of language that’s so exuberant.
The sweet daily bread of language.
Smell it rising in its given warmth
taste it through the stink of tears and yesterdays and
eat it anywhere with any angel in sight.

The intriguing title tells its own story. When Frame lived near Shannon she kept a goose and a gander, in her words “watchdogs and creatures to be watched.” Friends gave her a discarded ornamental fibreglass bowl as an ablution pool for the birds. When she left to live in the city again she took the bowl (about the size of a child’s paddling pool) with her. There it became the receptacle for her poetry manuscripts. “I’ve been looking through the goose bowl again,” she would say long after the bowl was discarded – a way of saying she was looking at a second volume of poems.

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