Janet Frame (1924-2004) was one of New Zealand’s foremost modern writers, best-known for her prizewinning novels and for the three-volume autobiography later adapted by Jane Campion into her film An Angel at My Table.
Janet Frame called poetry ‘the highest form of literature because you can have no dead wood in a poem’. Its attraction is abundantly evident in her novels where her already “poetic” prose – intensely lyrical, heavily metaphorical – is at times completely pared down to poetry.
She published only one collection in her lifetime, The Pocket Mirror in 1967, but she never stopped writing poetry, allowing the manuscripts to accumulate in an old fibreglass bowl she’d originally used as a bath for her geese. Her second, posthumous collection The Goose Bath (2006) was compiled from this treasure trove, but not published outside New Zealand. Storms Will Tell is a comprehensive selection of her beautiful and thought-provoking poems drawn from both those books.
Her poems illustrate the shape of Janet Frame’s life: her childhood and later years in mental hospitals blighted by misdiagnosis of schizophrenia; her travels around the world, including her time in England; her life as a writer and return to New Zealand; growing older and facing illness and death. There are love poems, meditations on mortality, flashes of humour and startling imagery. And always she celebrates the power of the human imagination.
‘She has shown, so quietly, a mastery of the English language which dazzles one beyond ordinary praise’ – Naomi Mitchison
‘There is a range of forms…There is even greater richness of content and image. Like the compass she writes of, Frame’s is a sensibility which seeks to taste “every drop of distance”. It would be hard to find a more fecund sense of the natural world in any recent writer’ – Bill Manhire
‘Everything she presents is illuminated and thrown into sharp focus by the limpid clarity of a highly individual vision; she can be detached and passionate at the same time’ – Fleur Adcock
A scene from An Angel at My Table: Janet Frame comes home from hospital.