Monday, October 18, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Reading Janet Frame


Where the first pear slug hasn’t won,
the first frost has. Gaunt
the hawthorn’s lichened boughs
rise to cloudless skies and
for once no mower clamours loud.
Day? It’s a cracker. Just right
for worship, celebration, carousel
and the planting of jonquils.

Reading Janet’s poems…
the pocket mirror shows jaw
and bone under a Sunday stubble.
Next spring the bare hedge will bloom again;
but at present all too clear is its gaunt frame.

Harvey McQueen

Sunday week back Fiona Kidman launched my new poetry anthology ‘These I Have Loved’. During her speech she said she’d thought of reading ‘this poem’, it was her favourite Harvey McQueen poem. It was a bit bleak for the occasion she decided. So she read another. I was chuffed. To have someone say they had a favourite out of my canon gave a sense of acceptance.

It’s an old poem, written in the late 1960s. I was teaching in Hamilton. My home there was in a new sub-division. Across the road behind the bulldozed sections was this neglected old hawthorn hedge, a remnant of a vanished dairy farm. On a winter weekend I read my newly-purchased Janet Frame’s poetry collection ‘The Pocket Mirror’. I was blown away. Such power. Such word magic.

I sat down and wrote this poem. I think I can truthfully say it is the only poem I’ve written that required no revision. My hunch is that it’s unity appeals to Fiona as much as the subject matter.

At the time I was working on 'Ten Modern New Zealand Poets', my first poetry anthology, I included a selection from Janet Frame all taken from her 'The Pocket Mirror'. A teacher caustically said he supposed I’d included her to make up the women’s numbers. He didn’t believe my reply that she was amongst the first I selected for I believed her to be our wordsmith par excellence.

I knew that she had been writing poems ever since 'The Pocket Mirror' and hoped they would see the light of day sometime. The posthumous collection 'The Goose Bath Poems' which appeared in 2007 has some of them. I hope there will be many more for they’re great. It also should be said, they are more celebratory than the first collection.


  1. That has been a very important anthology in schools and the wider culture. How did you set about editing it? Who did you leave out that you now wish you'd put in?

  2. A beautiful poem indeed. 'The Goose Bath' is one of the books of poems which lives permanently on my bedside table. it contains some lines which she would not have included amongst her best work, but there are also some wonderful pieces.

    Your 'wordsmith par excellence' comment is exactly right.