Letters – Issue 81

Frame stories wanted

I am compiling a collection of anecdotes and urban legends about the late Janet Frame and her family members, and would be grateful to receive any contributions to this genre at: patrick.evans@canterbury.ac.nz or c/- English Programme, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch 8020.

I am particularly interested in stories that are untrue, and stories which she knew to be untrue, but am keen to receive any other information. Truth should be no obstacle to contributors.

Perhaps some of your readers will be able to give me further information about a rumour that Janet Frame joined a Maori concert party during a conference or similar gathering, and about a further rumour that circulated a little later than this to the effect that she had at least one successful attempt at accompanied skydiving. And perhaps some of your readers will be able to give me further information about a rumour that circulated the Waikanae area one day possibly in the late 1980s that she was swimming at a local beach, which led to a local radio announcement that she was in fact doing so which caused a crowd to gather to witness her. In the version of this legend given to me, Frame was portrayed as especially pleased to be so identified, since she was elsewhere at the time.

Patrick Evans


A short forgetting

On page 244 of Patrick Evans’ The Long Forgetting, I was surprised to find David Howard and myself apparently arguing for the continuity of Christchurch poetry from the 1930s/40s to the present:

The question of whether a distinctive “southern” or “Christchurch” poetic has continued out of cultural nationalism has been addressed by John O’Connor and David Howard. O’Connor identifies an attention to form [actually I said “craft”] and a “concern with [the] spirituality of locality” [which I clearly identified as a secondary element of spiritual attention] as distinctive of [in context a small/non-distinctive part of] a continuing [I said “discrete”] Christchurch school [“group”].

(“Speech for Jeff Harpeng’s farewell/book launch”, unpublished, July 2003).


The speech in fact appeared in the NZPS Newsletter, August 2003. In it, I said that I thought a strong case could be made for the existence of a “Christchurch group” for a few years (mainly) in the 90s: “a community of poets and even the elements of what might be called a house style”.

There is not the space here to repeat those (fairly lengthy) characteristics as I saw them. Enough to stress that, when taken together and accurately expressed, they are not at all as Evans suggests. There is clearly not, nor did I argue for, a distinctive Christchurch school continuing out of cultural nationalism – however much Evans might wish there to be in the light of his assertion (on page 136) that “cultural nationalism is an expression of a continuing colonialism”.

John O’Connor


He never said it

In his review of my biography of James Michael Liston (NZB, Summer 2007), Paul Morris correctly notes that John A Lee claimed Liston thanked God for the Labour Party victory of 1935. However, Morris fails to note what I was careful to point out in the book – that the story was untrue. It was a compound of old Lee’s faulty memory and his vivid imagination. Liston welcomed Labour’s electoral gains in 1922, but made no public statement on the 1935 election, even though he privately favoured Labour. The publications he controlled were strictly non-partisan in party politics. I’m glad Morris thinks that I only “occasionally border” on “pious hagiography”. At least that gives him an escape clause were I to say he had accused me of being a hagiographer. I doubt if he could prove even the charge he does make, however. By this stage, we are wearily familiar with reviews that cry “hagiography” of any book that makes sympathetic statements about church people, even one, such as my own, that is careful to point out both the faults and the virtues of the life under review.

Nicholas Reid

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