Sunday, October 25, 2009

'How Ted Hughes Became' and the fine art of mutating the literary lecture

Following on from my post on the Janet Frame Memorial Lecture, for which I have been rapped over the knuckles by some attendees who thought it the best lecture yet and my reference to 'lashings of water' exaggerated (perhaps it was, my apologies), I happened upon a report on the Ted Hughes Memorial Lecture in the UK. It seems this lecture is not the sort where the writer's name blesses a presentation about a general literary theme [the Frame lecture is on the state of literature in NZ], but rather it's based around an aspect of the writer's body of work.

And 'based around' is what it says - outgoing poet laureate Andrew Motion, who delivered the lecture in July, indicated his theme How Ted Hughes Became had mutated and taken on a life of its own, estranged from its source.

What interests me is how the future speakers will approach the Janet Frame Memorial Lecture.  With three different versions of 'the state of literature in NZ' already out there - intelligently and convincingly delivered by eminent writers Owen Marshall, Greg O'Brien and William Taylor - where else can the speakers go? I hope, whoever they are, they keep Motion in mind and allow their genius with words and ideas to allow the 'theme' to mutate and take on a life of its own. Perhaps in deference to her own peculiar genius, Janet Frame's work should be a natural starting place for the lecture, or at least a touchstone, as the poetry of Hughes is for the UK event.

I certainly felt William Taylor's anecdote about his nodding acquaintance with Frame in a Palmerston North supermarket and his excited purchase of her first book, Owls do Cry, was one of the highlights of the Janet Frame Memorial Lecture this year. And how exciting it would be to use this annual event to give Frame this 'framing' if you like - a new way of appreciating her writing and life in a public forum - of seeing what has come from her, and what has gone off in other, gloriously mutated directions. 

So, yes, not something worthy but something that is driven by the very literature it comments on, something separately alive. Mutated. Experimental even. The report on the Hughes Memorial Lecture, written by leading literary blogger dove grey reader, finishes with an apposite quote by Ted Hughes, which could apply just as easily to the art of delivering a memorial lecture on literature:

 'Maybe all a revealing of something that the writer doesn't actually want to say, but desperately needs to communicate. to be delivered of. The writer daren't actually put it into words, so it leaks out obliquely, smuggled through analogies.'
And then there's the lovely end to Greg O'Brien's Frame lecture last year:

If I have learnt anything in the last 20 years it is this:

That New Zealand Literature is our collective work in progress

That literature is a laboratory

That Literature is a prism through which we see the world—and not a mirror held up to the world

Literature is a beach house

Literature is a pulse

Literature is a field of electrical energy

Literature is a wind of fruitfulness

Literature is a life lived

And I remember the lives of Eric McCormick, Dennis McEldowney, Janet Frame, Michael King, Robin Dudding.

1 comment: said...

Well, one mutation might be, that next year a woman gives the Janet Frame Lecture.