09 October 2008

Everybody needs a Goose Bath

One of my favourite Christmas presents last year was a book I bought with a voucher at a book store. While I prefer to give and receive gifts that are specifically chosen and wrapped and immediately enjoyed, I sometimes see the sense in the whole voucher thing. It's not only a convenience for the buyer. It is sometimes the most generous thing as it gives the pleasure of the recipient thinking through all the possibilities, before finally settling on one item.

The book I bought was Janet Frame's The Goose Bath: Poems.

Twice shortlisted for the Nobel Prize for Literature, celebrated New Zealand writer Janet Frame (An Angel at My Table ) used to keep geese, using the base of an old garden fountain as their bath. In later years the geese went but the bath was brought indoors as a receptacle into which Janet piled her poems and jottings as she reworked and developed them. Over time the goose bath overflowed with paper, including hundreds of unpublished poems. By the time Janet died in 2004 she had named her hoped-for but elusive new selection The Goose Bath

From this treasure trove was selected over a hundred poems that illustrated the shape of her life: her childhood and the subsequent difficult years in mental hospitals; her travels around the world; her life as a writer, growing older and facing illness and death. The poems reveal her love for words, for cats, for the changing seasons, the arts and for her native country. There are love poems, meditations on mortality, flashes of humour and startling imagery. And always she celebrates the power of the human imagination.

Published in Frame's native New Zealand, this book became a Premier New Zealand Bestseller and went on to win the Poetry Section of the 2007 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. It is a beautiful and thought-provoking work, a lasting legacy from one of the Southern Hemisphere's most acclaimed writers.

You can get The Goose Bath: Poems from Time Out Bookstore in Mt Eden.

Read more about Frame's poetry in The NZ Listener.

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