Of Resilience and Treasure – Jane Carswell and Janet Frame

My guest today is Jane Hole who writes as Jane Carswell.  This is to celebrate her writing and also the Australian edition of her second book, Talk of Treasure, launched recently. The First edition of this book, Makaro Press, 2016, sits temptingly beside me and before I know it I have delved into yet another chapter…again, which means I am not getting much writing on the page! Jane talks about her struggles as a writer. We other writers can take comfort from this sharing as her persistence has so far been awarded with acclaim. Her first book,‘Under the Huang Jiao Tree. Two Journeys in China’ won the Whitcoull’s Travcom Travel Book of the Year 2010 and was a Finalist in the Ashton Wylie Prize 2010.  Hand in hand with her writing are her ventures into meditation; her decision to be more open to the outside world, to open her house to boarders…most of them Chinese.  Then there are her travels; to China to teach English, to Australia and Italy to deepen her monastic experiences. Jane has a strong clear writing style filled with candour, humour joy and insight and is always ready to laugh at herself. I highly recommend this second book, not just for writers but for all of those who seek connection between their outer and inner selves. It’s an excellent and entertaining read…this extract, for example.

“In the days when New Brighton had the only Saturday shopping in Christchurch, our family, hair dripping from an early morning swim nearby, once watched a large man in the mall feed saveloys to a large dog. The chain he held above the St Bernard’s mouth melted down the chute. Serious eaters ourselves, we watched, mouths wide open in identification with the dog. My manuscript, I now see, is uncomfortably like the chain of saveloys: one incident after another disappearing smoothly into the unseeable.”

I asked Jane to choose a poem for us and she sent me three to choose from. I chose Rain on the Roof, by Janet Frame. At the time, my part of the country was undergoing a one in fifty years drought. So to talk of rain was to talk of treasure. Jane began her working life at Pegasus Press shortly after its  publication of Janet Frame’s novel Owls Do Cry. and has done much of her own writing in  Oamaru where Janet Frame lived. But what moves me is that way back, when Janet wrote the above poem, she had, as does Jane, a deep grasp on the ‘inner self’ and the peace and resilience to be found therein. At this time in our country’s psyche we all need the resilience of the iron that holds the lost sound of rain.
Rain on the Roof was first published in THE POCKET MIRROR (1967) by Janet Frame and copyright Janet Frame Literary Trust. Thank you to Pamela Gordon, Literary Executor for Janet Frame for permission to use it on this blog. For a detailed account of Janet Frame and her writing please go to the Janet Frame website here.
Jane Carswell Bio in Brief:
Jane Hole, who writes as Jane Carswell, lives in Christchurch where she reads and writes, meditates and is a Benedictine oblate, has adult piano students who teach her a lot of other things, enjoys her untidy, friendly garden, and fishes on Canterbury’s magnificent rivers and coastline whenever she can. She’s married with two children, and four grandchildren who remind her what’s really important. She has published two books, both memoir: ‘Under the Huang Jiao Tree. Two Journeys in China’ and Talk of Treasure. You can buy both Jane’s books here.
Some Reviews of Talk of Treasure
‘Carswell’s understated writing has a rare clarity and honesty.’
The Dominion Post

‘Her powers of description are so acute and tender. An enjoyable and fascinating account of the ways in which our passions enable us to become fully human.’
Ruth Fowler, Community Meditation teacher

‘Jane Carswell treads not only carefully, but thoughtfully and originally.’
The Age

I highly recommend both books.  Thank you for being my guest today Jane!

Tuesday Poem – The Silence of Drought

Out in the tide we stand and listen.

Listen to the sound of no birds singing

of insects gone quiet

of the distant burr of machinery.

There is a faint sniff of smoke in the air

from Nelson’s forest fires.

A bee is dying on the sand

close by

a pool of salt water.

(c) Helen McKinlay

These words came about because I have been increasingly disturbed by the eerie silence at the beach each day. The weather dry and still. Usually there are so many small sounds from birds and insects that I take them for granted and had to stop and think ‘what is missing’?  And yes bees and most other insects who live on land, need a good supply of fresh water.

My granddaughter found a small bird comatose in my garden. We gave it some water and it perked up and flew away. I’m so glad she learned this lesson. It is so easy to ignore the needs of this earth and its non human creatures.  I am ashamed to say it is only in recent years that I have thought seriously about insects and birds needing fresh water. And as for birds, as far as I know only a few sea birds can drink salt water.

Speaking for myself,  have been lucky to have fresh water mostly always available somewhere not too far away, plus, I have been evacuated several times in my life due to flooding. And no doubt in a few months I will be complaining about the heavy rains, not the lack of them. Well I hope I will! Meanwhile I am making sure there are wet places in my garden for insects and birds.  Our monthly rainfall rate at present is 0.8milimetres!

It is a known fact that insect numbers are decreasing worldwide. See this article in The Guardian




Tuesday Poem – To you who follow, by Helen Bascand from her new book “time to sing before the dark”

We have broken things,
in particular, this sky –

not content with steeples, thrust
our dwellings higher, raised a maze
of fences, stolen the backyards.

We are the generation collecting
a second family car.

So we leave you the highways.
You will get there faster, miss
the byways, the shepherd
on his four-wheeler, shifting mobs, the farmer,
his lumbering cows ambling by – you’d smell
the sweet heat of their hide.

Or will you picnic by a river, idly
pick a stone to read its rough
smooth message?

Please God, we leave you beaches.

Will you stand ankle-deep in sea, watch
a shoal of silver fingerlings dart and weave

like a silken scarf caught in some liquid wind?

Helen Bascand 1929-2015

To those who follow, is published with permission from Joanna Preston, Helen’s friend and literary executor.  It was Joanna who completed the task of editing and assembling Helen’s fifth and posthumous, poetry collection. “time to sing before the dark.” This book has yet to be launched so we are fortunate to share this taste. Joanna sent me three poems to choose from. Thank you! I chose the above for its powerful and loving farewell to us all.
One sees immediately that Helen Bascand’s poetic language sparks with originality, for example from the poem ‘Sleep and Wake,’ about the Canterbury quake…
the groan of a split earth,
a woman birthing, a new river
carving, squeezed in a valley between
the rock walls. The floor creaks.
I have now received a copy of the book itself. Reading it, I felt overwhelmed by a voice that is strong yet sensitive; fearless, yet not foolhardy in her approach to life, clear but with a deep understanding of life’s mysteries.  Someone with a powerful sense of where she is from and where she is headed. ‘One dandelion head in it’s withering time.’ Helen doesn’t need harsh words to write about tough times. Her authenticity comes from the fact that she is not afraid to write truth with beauty. The two are inseparable. She is also a perfect example of the ‘show don’t tell’ that many writers struggle with.
Biography in Brief: Helen Bascand 1929-2015, was a stalwart of the Canterbury poetry scene – a long-time member of Airing Cupboard Women Poets, one of the founders of the Small White Teapot Haiku Group, and the author of four previous poetry collections. She was working on the poems of time to sing before the dark when she died. What a loss she is but how thankful we can be that she chose Joanna as her literary executor. This is a book made with love…an affair of family and friends. It shows.
To read about the book and /or order a copy go here. 
To read Joanna’s thoughts on editing her friend’s book go here.
From banana boxes to a beautiful book. A wonderful achievement.

Press Release From ‘Grandma’ re Grandma Joins the All Blacks

No poetry today. Grandma and I have decided to come out and celebrate!


Grandma in celebration mode

‘Grandma’ is delighted to see that she has been included in the short list of 20 books for New Zealand’s favourite bestselling NZ book title, for the last decade. She nearly fell off her chair when she found out. The booksellers made up the list and it’s all about the books booksellers love to sell most. Helen, that’s me, is rather overwhelmed by such an honour and had to have two tablespoons of Grandma’s curative marmalade to calm her down. However, she, that’s me, would like to say that there were a lot of people involved in the production of this book…Australian illustrator Craig Smith, Harper Collins NZ, designers, printers, the lovely booksellers who sell these books and who organised this event in celebration of Bookshop Day on the 27th October. ‘Most of all,’ adds Grandma, ‘thank you to  all of you readers out there.’ So congratulations and thank you everybody for the part you have played in it’s success. To read about the other Grandma Books go here.

This story begins with Grandma’s plans to be a ‘good grandma.’ She even takes her knitting when she goes to watch the All Blacks in training. She sits and waits and knits but where are the boys? They’re hiding in the change room. Luckily, there’s nothing wrong that a dose of Gran’s marmalade can’t fix.
Next morning however, the team refuses to get up. The coach asks Gran for help. ‘They need a break,’ she tells him. She puts her granny chores aside and leads the boys off for some fun and adventure. By Friday, their enthusiasm is restored. But on Saturday when Gran arrives at the stadium to cheer them on in the big match, disaster awaits. The captain has chicken pox. Grandma takes on yet another challenge as she dives into the fray, marmalade, boots and all.
Published by Harper Collins NZ, October 1st, 2007 and many times reprinted.

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