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Joanna Margaret Paul (1945-2003)

A selection of material from brief 32 Joanna Margaret Paul special issue (Winter 2005), edited and introduced by Jack Ross.

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Passages from Joanna Margaret Paul, Rooms & Episodes



First published in brief 32 (Winter 2005). 42-55.  

My mother’s house was beautiful, it strikes me – orderly, tended peaceful with all objects carefully chosen for their form & colour. Alienated by ugliness & dullness at school I escaped into the Frances Hodgkins watercolour hanging in the hall sitting-room. The words of the evening prayer served my need for beauty but my soul stood back. I played the piano, was clumsy at hockey, read romances from the school library, didn’t learn tennis or to dance. I knew warm friendship, intense, momentary jealousy & at 13 loved to watch Cecilia the school musician who came down every evening with just the bottom buttons of her cardigan done up. I marvelled at the way her hands withdrew into her sleeves; her pale haggard face & flattened blonde hair gazing over the heads for the meal to be done. I had a brown velvet with little pearl buttons & a collar of cream fuji silk Sylvia had a red velvet. Gydene’s was dark blue. For summer I remember the green & reddish gingham with straight sleeves gathered at the shoulder & square neck; a party dress, a pink checked polished cotton with splashes of brown. Rozel had identical blouses in red & green. Rozel was my friend. And Sylvia would gently stroke my hair seated on the floor of the hall sitting-room while the head mistress read aloud – I cried all day when Sylvia’s mother died.

My best teachers at school were mature women of abrasive intellect or peculiar charm (Mrs Lendrum Mrs Norrish Mrs Melville Mrs Gordon Mrs Hall). Latin satisfied me. And Rachel Miller, square & shy with blonde hair in a plait round her head, freshened the art room, taught Rozel & me to draw the outlines of things without looking.

I visited my mother’s friends – Elsie & John Beaglehole – the house stiff with an atmosphere of well-bred cordiality intelligence & good taste. An atmosphere seasoned by smells of tobacco, coffee polish linen, by good talk the timbre of voices & laughter, Elsie’s stiff gait & firm manner.

I visited Ilsa & Peter Jacobi with mother, & Hannah Easterbrook Smith to be photographed. I went home with Lindy Mason once & we went to Wild Strawberries with Bruce – or at least I did. More often I went home with Rozel Pharazyn to a bach overflowing with gourds, kids, cats, life – the plates piled high. In Hamilton there was Norah Howell, Margot Phillips, the Bisleys, Geoff & Jean Fairburn. At Pirongia, the Valders.[1]

I am still sometimes overwhelmed by a chance encounter with one of my mother’s friends; Jean Fairburn, Dorothea Turner when silent love & admirations built into the fabric of a happy childhood pour out as a world is recalled, & something more.

And there was music. After one year in the sixth form I quit school, returned home. I had a carefree year at Waikato University ‘did’ English, History, French, & read all the novels of Anthony Powell. One young man looked interesting: pale, abrupt, aloof. I was studying English: James Joyce, & Catholicism. He took me to church. A mass. Took me to the Waitomo Caves; to Westside Story. And walking me home took my hand; the sky was full of stars. Then I went with my family to Europe. And the deprivation was as acute as any to follow. The bus the street the world empty. I was alone in England, at 18, in parks galleries & churches alone among lovers. Sometimes a lonely Indian or an American art student tried something. I admire you more than anyone I know. I’d like to see you more socially. Socially grated. I left it at that.

There was an interlude at Athens where happiness had the quality of a dream or of fiction, walking, embracing across Syntagma Square a young architect from London. We both looked like Greeks & therefore like each other, small thin & dark. (How do you women wear these white dresses?) His ex-girlfriend was called Athena. He asked me to contact his mother in Kingston on Thames, but disbelief or decorum defeated the wish & I did not. We left England soon; my father was dying.

In Hamilton, he held court in the sunporch oddly cheerful – worry & irritability dropped away; always deflecting attention from himself & his known end, as he received our friends & talked of other things. I ran upstairs to the library bedroom when I heard my father fall. Just as, a few days previous, I’d run upstairs to the same heavy noise, & found his young-man portrait fallen off the wall.


My father.

And thus I recollect my father now at the moment of writing, September 1990, as I look over the still & brimming water at St Omer. BLACKWOOD, may he who loved truth share in that great conflagration of light.


Now we all moved to Auckland, a house in Sarawai Street leaving the large spare house in Hamilton, with its garden & mountain view. My mother alone, now overwhelmed by publishing worries, reading manuscripts in bed, weeping in the bath. Charlotte at med school, Mary at Epsom Girls Grammar with dresses records & friends. Jane, with her own private neighbourhood life –.

In the garden trees menaced: An Adam & Eve tree, a datura, tree dahlia – lush, exotic a little sinister. I dreamt of them. I started to take ‘instruction’ as a catholic & stopped doing medieval history. ‘I enjoy it so much I would do nothing else’ I told the startled tutor, who didn’t argue with me. Now this seems a wayward exercise in self denial. Peter Dane read memorably the metaphysical poets. Curnow unlocked the algebra of The Faerie Queene.

Brought up to enjoy an argument, I loved philosophy in the house in Wynyard St. Catholic Mr Ardley spoke of the perils of catholicism, fideism & legalism. Others questioned the sense of any statement that was not empirical. I had brief conversations with Jenny S, carefully elegant & attentive in the front row. I noticed Ian Wedde on the right hand side half way down who questioned more coherently that artificial narrowness of discourse that made me want to elbow out & laugh.

I read Ian’s first Landfall poem ‘to my mother’ in the bus shelter across from the Blind Institute. – & was excited by it. I put a name & a face together. We had a little argument about poetry after a lecture which he cut short: ‘I am a poet & I know’. But I did not know Ian as friend & ‘brother’ until well after university. Though saw him hand in hand with a long-haired blonde girl & thought – yes. Them.

My only real friend was a polish Jew called Eddie who later left Auckland to grow tomatoes in Ghaza. We talked at intervals in Monday night life-drawing at Nan McGregor’s (May Smith introduced me) – with joyous empathy of mind; & his car would drive more & more slowly as he took me home through the domain talking, talking. We exchanged drawings. I went to a party at the Perez & saw Ian there burnt golden black, & Eddie’s wife & daughter, & there was a son –. By this time I was engaged.


Let me turn to something happier & durable: the love of friends.

Rozel at school: rosy definite ebullient & gorgeous. I was constantly surprised to be her best friend: Rozel & J Cecilia, who is still my friend also.

Later in French 1, Waikato I was struck by a very young girl with long heavy fair plaits, straight black eye-brows & clear grey eyes. Photographs of the strong face of St Therese de Lisieux show a family likeness. Christine, intelligent, studious, & intensely musical. She had no ear for French! Her strong analytic intelligence brought to bear on everything – everything. We talked then – & now, & she introduced me to a feminine house very catholic piety, affection, excited voices thinking out loud. Every sister became in turn a close friend.


My mother was often away & once affronted me by inviting ‘a very nice girl’ who worked at the publishing office to come & stay – I was just out of hospital, & 21! The first night we sat on the floor & embraced each other with the joy of our mutual confessions – I was to become a catholic, & she to marry – Pat, I still find in your eyes my deepest rest.


Never fussed was cheerful & matter of fact when I in my wasted state stayed with her in Coromandel. I was impressed by the largeness of this catholic creed which gave her thoughts such rein shape & matter. Ron Tamplin (English at Waikato) – dreamy, unconventional flashed the poetry in my eyes.

All those complacent arguments against the arguments for the existence of G-d. (Philosophy II) seemed arid to me set against the moments when in silence I experience the Not-I as love peace warmth as immediate presence. Lloyd my presbyterian uncle would have liked to present the protestant view – but I was both ironic & romantic. Catholicism was an absolute demanded dedication & ‘sacrifice’ Had deep roots, promised identity through community, sacralised thing (those things my painters eye dreamed –), l read St Augustine (from Ron Tamplin) & had read St Anselm (medieval history):– credo ut intelligam. Charles Brasch gave me Von Hugel: ‘in order to love, kiss the child.’ All this I held to as my own, but I think now, it preyed too deeply on the sacrificial fault line in me.

It was Pat who brought into the house., picked up carrying his milk-bottles on Parnell rise, a friend of her prospective sister-in-law: tall endearingly awkward, self disparaging & funny, idealistic, abstract, catholic the architectural student A – 7 years older than me. I was at the bench in my mother’s moderne sunporch kitchen, wearing grey, a daughter, a sister, oddly unexpectant of life.


Coromandel – Pirongia – Mahurangi – these places I loved as a child. St Omer I discovered in adulthood – the old man’s book abandoned on the beach; the old & disused boarding-house – the old man looking at the sea, or clipping the box hedges from his chair, his daughter running like a weka through the garden. Now it is a boarding-house again & I in spring the only guest, writing, writing on the wide verandah. The quiet bay is closed by a promontory of beech forest. But walk along the road & the beech forest is scalped at the top – a white road cutting into the tiny sanctuary it destroys in making accessible. I walk up the white road with tears & anger. This is the quiet place I entered with Rose in reverence, watchfulness, attentive to the silence & sounds of the tangle, its mystery; walking to where the beeches thinned in a curving camber to the water. I walk back down a fresh scar: the beech bush promontory was the ‘gold reserve’ of St Omer; just as the old presbytery leaning at a fond angle to the church, old father Te Awhitu not far away, was the pivot of the communal cluster at Jerusalem. The puriri trees cut down at Otaki Pukekaraka, though so briefly known cut at the root of my feeling-life, so does one’s heart go out to places in which are shored up with mysterious repose the repositories of time; a house; a landscape, replete. So too I walk with anger & irony round our old house in Hamilton, see the fixed ‘picture window’ where once the folding windows pushed back; see the fussy camouflage to a plain interior, see the old macrocarpa replaced by an exotic flame tree, & the huge laurel hedge cut down for a view; & understand a little the bitterness of the tangata whenua in a new landscape. Aue!

With grave effort I ask A. to release me from our year’s engagement. He is kind. But when we meet again he is white & silent & staring & the blood runs from my head. I had no regrets, yet know I let him down badly & changed the course of his life.

I fall in love, too easily, with his close friend. I am addicted to the feel of his jersey the smell of his tobacco. I know he is all sweetness & logic – reason, anger & charm, & sure there is Bach & Schubert, no Mozart in his record collection. In short I know that this is the briefest relationship – yet he plans ahead. Yet I am the more in love. I don’t sleep with him & he cuts wads of bread & jam to take the edge off his sexual discontent.

Like this we hitch hike to Picton for a student convention, as far as Taumaranui where Michael King is eating a ham sandwich – we ask him which way the train is going & laugh at his surprise.

In Queen Charlotte Sound I sat on a jetty said the rosary with Baxter & M.K. (Go faster don’t dwell on the words) I played chess on the beach with Pierre he was remote. I was distraught. Baxter said ‘you are not mad you only have your period’. He confided of ‘women’s problems, like jellyfish round his neck.’

A theological student wrote my name in Greek. Baxter droned on ornate, & wonderful to hear about the ‘almighty dollar’, while Marshall spoke of ‘net product per cow’. After everyone had gone or were engaged like moving squid on the ocean floor MK was standing by the bonfire to embrace me with a long hug. He was married to one of my best friends from primary school.

I said good-bye to Pierre & travelled south & stayed 2 months with my large aunt Elsie. She had my mother’s shining blue eyes & my presbyterian uncle’s well kept hands. She was fat slow tidy greedy sensible & funny. She lived with my uncle a chemist in a state house in Fendalton. I paid the doctor a dollar a visit when she called him to attend me. I was ill with high fever for some weeks. In attendance G. from art school in Auckland. When I recovered I visited him in the house he shared with Tony Fomison. The house was dark & filled with Tony’s ceramic sculptures & his collection of primitives – among them a beautiful painting of roses. Tony was there in the dark eating muesli. A neighbour was sitting on the roof watching the sunset. He had been to Elvira Madigan 3 times! G. shadowed me in Dunedin where I settled in Port Chalmers to be near my sister & to paint. He tried to shake up my big sisterly patronising attitude with importunate love. He came to a concert in Dunedin & talked loudly throughout. I told him, I thought gracefully, over a game of chess he had to go.

I had a nun-like self-effacing attitude to life. I wore a grey boy’s shirt tied round the waist with a woollen tie. I wore polo neck jumpers & matching burgundy trousers. Before I left Auckland I threw a brick so to speak into the glass house of an abiding dream: then took out my guilty private income of say £300 – and gave it away. I earned something for myself by working in a rest home in Christchurch on the way to Dunedin. And then as it might be married to poverty (tho still with too much irony & too little of the camp follower to be drawn to Baxter’s community at Jerusalem) I rented a lean-to flat behind a house in Currie Street Port Chalmers. There was happiness in solitude & simplicity, a small yard with silver beet, the red bathroom & the doors that I painted deep yellow.


I sacrificed precious painting time in cooking a midday meal for the parish priest. I accepted no money (the same old guilt over money) but resented doing it. I was incapable of a self preserving ‘no’. But there were lots of little drawings showing my love of Port Chalmers – its hills vistas & bright green houses against the sea – the small town I saw in Jungian terms: the mirror of the soul. Eventually I painted stations of the cross for St. Mary Star of the sea at Father Keane’s request. He insisted on paying me. Bright beautiful simple even childish images with a consciously symbolic use of colour. The parishioners did not like them.


Not like the road that chews up the terrain it travels over but like a fine path threading the roots of beech forest I should like this memory to be: one that leaves the trees alone.

And so I can’t describe my sister – who drew me to the South Island then, a cheerfully ‘liberated’ med student, & lives in Dunedin still, as wife daughter mother sister (& teacher, researcher) a ‘fine human being’, retaining her wit warmth & coolness her fine irritability & charm; that elusive quality ‘goodness’ a perfect sincerity, playfulness of mind & sense of the other – Charlotte.

In Dunedin I met lain Lonie at the house of Charles Brasch – poignantly thin skinned, & his lovely Judith. I met Jeffrey. I met up again with O. E. Middleton with whom I’d walked down Queen Street (anti Vietnam) before coming south. Do you believe in free love? over a Chinese meal on the waterfront. My rejoinder was absorbed without pause in the conversation. We became friends. Every Sunday he came out to Port Chalmers on the bus. We lunched by the window in my all-purpose room. Then I read Moby Dick with long delightful interruptions & digressions. Afterward we walked round the shore road to Carey’s Bay, a drink at the stone pub & back to the bus. I would describe every stone & tree. I was grateful to Ted for enabling me to trust to speech, forcing me to finish my sentences, losing my self consciousness. So great was my empathy with Ted’s blindness that I became invisible. Added to this the pleasure of his courteous well turned mind & conversation.


I would go to concerts with Ted & Charles, at home in their company, as I was at home later with Tim Garrity & Michael Hitchings for a moment in the Hocken Library, escaping back momentarily into myself in the long disjunction of my marriage. Recently I was at home with some catholic intellectuals in non-clerical clothes on holiday in Jerusalem.

As for B — with him I became myself I thought out driving with him once or twice in Dunedin. A charming funny melancholy & sensitive young man who brought out his violin to join my recorder musical evenings at Jim & Naomi’s in Port Chalmers. A postie in varsity holidays he called regularly in Royal Tce. No, I thought, I like him too much I should bore him. And I imagined us eternally together side by side in deck chairs as in an Edward Hopper painting. He never touched me (‘mustn’t get amorous’) – But while we were gathered as a party under the apricot tree the summer Charlotte & I rented the house in Royal Terrace he quietly buttered my bread. He bought a stone house in Port Chalmers – & I ran in to see him where he was reading & eating chocolate by himself – may I borrow some jugs for flowers at my wedding. He took me down to see the little grape vine he had put in & bending to watch with him the young opening leaves I was suddenly, violently happy. He will get you in heaven, J said &, ‘now, you may kiss her.’ But he didn’t. Only once when I ran to the railway station at Seacliff with a bag of plums for his journey – (he was off for Siberia with Charlotte & Gwen!) He sent me a letter, sent us a little red Russian tablecloth.



When I received your
the hills were a tender green
the sea
just blue
the earth lay open
on the hills
newly pink
a pale thin veil of
air, gauze
an opened wound



traversed by
blue in


The landscape was ‘as if an angel was blind & looking into himself.’ (Rilke) We painted all day (made the bed at 5) I painted my joy in sexual love that is I painted the red pond the ngaio the tower & the encompassing ocean. The iron crucifix Colin McCahon had given me looked at home above the double bed. The bedroom was bronze olive green & crimson: in it, hung J’s most tender blooming pastels & a text I had embellished from the Song of Songs.




desired to pass
from confusion of darkness
voice things in a room
full presence of darkness

passed through a



I think it was J. who proposed a visit to Weddes. So I packed for a month went ‘for a week’ & stayed a month in Port Chalmers happy & among friends.

There is a photograph of me in a black corduroy dress bought in London years before looking like the spirit of winter beside Rose in one of her childhood jerseys & miniskirt in spring. Carlos & Maggie played on the floor with the knife & fork drawer. Tossed blocks down back steps to nerve their follow after. Rose & I had been pregnant together, she discerning the signs in me in Port Chalmers. At Christchurch at an exhibition opening of J’s (Ian spoke) we sailed about full bellied in Rose’s embroidered Jordanian gowns. I enjoyed Rose’s freshness & variety & greater candour. Ian I loved. He read my poem & found a musical image to approve them. You sound a note – I hear another one. He gave me Elizabeth Bishop to read & later sent me Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov & Creeley. A sash window dropped on my finger.

that broken sash window
in Port Chalmers
my finger
suspending me
thru the empty pane
people came & went
opened & slammed
car doors until
I fainted fell &
woke, I left
an orderly débâcle:  

one curtain rod sloped across the frame;
the heavy curtain in thick folds on the floor;
one carved oak footstool parallel the wall,
as formal & exact
as the cubist cuirasses
vizors, greaves
from which Bresson’s
Lancelot dying sits &
says his lady’s name.

I left Port Chalmers with tears at loving friendship expressed & received. But now […] a place had come up at O’Kains Bay 7 miles from J’s parents on Banks Peninsula. The colour of the cloth here would be white – of the old farmhouse – or colourless as glass, as thin air on the tops of the mountain ‘Mt Misery’ said my father in law; ‘you live on mountain-tops’ observed Charlotte. Nothing would grow.


My mind revolves two images
one a small red knife
for peeling onions in my mothers house
the handle red as poppies
sweet as lemons;
two the blue green sea
pasture for fat cattle
might part for me
plunging like a knife
through wave & wave of green
revolving me
folding on
my mind

Surrounded by Macrocarpa & mist I still wound my afternoons round a wooden floor, the steps up & down, the window onto the Macrocarpa & the patchwork coverlet.


We were offered a place in the green valley, on the harbour side. I didn’t care. But we went. Too hard up in Wellington to buy clothes pegs here mere lack of money faded in the wealth of our surroundings.

Barrys Bay

Wealth . We brought the carved wooden bed & willow patterned china stored up since Seacliff to a graceful & domestic wooden house with verandah all round facing onto a great wide plum tree, a tangle of apples, gooseberries currants peonies & roses. Rose came – Why have you pulled up all the lily of the valley? Pale roots on the garden path. We put them back. Who does the china belong to? I asked the landlord. The house, I guess. Wedgwood & Royal Dalton. Jugs shapely & ornate. Silver berryspoons & green glass. I painted the flowers on the jugs as attentively as the camellias or peonies inside them. I painted again regularly, the first time since Seacliff, while Maggie slept night & morning. I painted the jugs & flowers that were part of the fabric (red & green) of sensual maternal domestic life: the light shining through the jam in a jar; the toys on the floor, the plum tree the blue Echium always through the confining lattice of window or verandah. I was surrounded by beauty.

From my knoll
rose & fell
green fields
to the green house wall
& swung beyond
a green hill;
grey roofs floated
in the green
some walnut trees
an open screen
by the green house wall;
all the scene
a clear & ripe jade green
washed here & there by
deeper shadows,
now shafts of
yellow light
last walnut leaves
& pierce the jade
with sallow green.
Extremes of beauty
make the heart ache
where hearts eye
has not seen.

Later J minded Maggie mornings or Thursdays’ while I worked, roamed outside with my tiny super-8 camera, the Pentax, or notebook of water colours & poems. There were two large oil paintings commissioned by the farmer from Little Akaroa in lieu of 3 months rent (just $4.00 weekly) J did tiny miniatures & elaborate drawings in his upstairs room to the loud music of the blues. Once he was in Christchurch for the day & I went out & scythed the grass – rejoicing in sensation & the silence that gave me back the garden alienated through ceaseless noise-without-words. Besides, I preferred jazz.


I wore then long home-made ill fitting things long skirts still purple red. When I was pregnant with lmogen mother gave me a beautiful long Indian cotton frock a warm brown printed with tiny black flowers. One day (I would not scream) I went & stood out overlooking the valley & tore the beautiful dress from hem to breast. I had long hair & cutting my hair performed the same function. Despair creating style. Did extreme unhappiness make good poetry? I doubt it: the poems would have been better for fresh air – literary, emotional away from the valley of attrition where two conflicting cultures, values, world views were locked in stasis.

There were elaborate letters from a poet in Wellington. I ran down with my answers, too excited; to the mailbox two miles away. I walked round Wellington hand in hand with the poet in my dreams. In my dreams I said, you said ich lehre dich. Not ich liebe dich? You said. No.

He wrote me, careful poem of tea-roses. The correspondence ended with a poem. I looked suspiciously at a woman’s foreign name. Much later, I learned it to be his infant daughter’s.

From time to time, not regularly, I saw an Irish priest in Akaroa. His speech florid poetry. I was a ‘fair & beautiful daughter of Eve.’


In the event the birth of lmogen was a grace. My mother was there for that week in hospital (I was there at least a week, sunning my breasts as instructed, on the balcony overlooking the tall trees of the cemetery & the harbour, alongside a young Maori woman, in silent camaraderie). Returning rested, the fortnight following, gardening & playing the piano in a quiet house I considered a happy one. I went in for the 6 week check-up, early. The Plunket nurse was asking why this baby did not thrive. The weight gain was scanty. The good G.P. detected a heart murmur & sent me to a paediatrician in Christchurch. I walked along the Avon with J brought close by our common burden. lmogen had a defective heart & might not live long..

While life – ordinary life was too banal to engage J – this was real. He rose to it. Looked after Maggie while I spent, twice, a month in Green Lane Hospital. Suffered & mourned in his own way. And found in his small daughter’s drastic death a metaphor for the amputation he found in himself, & painted.

While she lived my house was her temple. I not only washed the lino in the passage, I polished it. I put out washing on the manuka stake clothes line at first light. In the morning I read from the Jerusalem Bible open in her bedroom. At night Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. I read as I rocked her. When I came into the room 3 hourly to feed her she would be waking nodding her head & smiling. She never cried for hunger. Her sweet & delicate soft presence, her pallor & her attentive quizzical look endeared her to all who came; & remain with me.

The death (at 9 months) of Imogen Rose was solemn: our friends came wearing black – Lawrence & Ray Aberhart; Charlotte & Kevin walked weeping up the hill. I had the little casket open in the Catholic Church at Akaroa. A privilege in the days when infants simply disappeared after an ill fated operation at Green Lane. She was wrapped in a shawl woven for me by Dorothea Turner. A rare gift. A nurse wrapped her, so close to me she understood the right thing to do. The red haired social worker saw the single purple rose in a vase & understood that Imogen had died. She came back from Titirangi to sit with me at Pat’s house where I sat up all night, feeling this.

Imogen (the poems ) thanked them – the nurse who was to call her children lmogen & Rose; the red haired social worker; the cardiologist Dr Whyte who talked with me in the middle of the night entering into the ethical puzzle of heart surgery (‘not ethical, moral’). I made a friend there, a beautiful & graceful woman also from the peninsula & whose blue Emily came through.

Afterward there was a period of natural mourning in the old house; silence; cups of tea poured but not drunk. And then we left. J. received the Frances Hodgkins fellowship for 1977. We left for Dunedin. Sudden loss of a sister (after encouragement to hope), & then home, must have been a catastrophe for the first born Maggie. She was larger than life. She wanted the names of everyone we saw on the street. She screamed in shops for ice-cream. At kindergarten she hailed the teacher from her barrel. ‘Come & watch me, green fellow.’

We were all three suddenly closed up in a little dark box at 77 St. David St., with me a dry stick forbidding myself to share lively excursions with friends. A mourning both real & self imposed. J. was good humoured with a measure of success & attention.

I did only one painting in this period so not to take advantage of the time Imogen’s absence gave me back. Instead I sat at the Medical School Library while Maggie was at kindergarten, worrying over physiology texts & looking up all the words. A pattern emerged: every word virtually had a live metaphor behind it. i.e. AORTA meant once ‘a Macedonian knife’ the PORTAL vein is a gateway & VEIN is what ‘carries’. HEAD through Anglo-Saxon, & also Latin CAPUT derive from the word for cup or container.

As I read I ranged these words round 7 image clusters – KNIFE – CUP – BRANCH – THREAD – RING – HOUSE/KEY. A discovery which is also an invention. Nevertheless I felt I had found a poem of the body, & excavated a cross section of language formation.

Lists of words & symbols painted white to separate them from kitchen use, & hung in pink frames, were prepared for the 1977 Women’s Convention in Christchurch.



I have been sitting watching the heron dive, skim a fast black shadow under the water & come up some other place. Sometimes he comes up with a splash & a cloud of little fishes dance down in a shower. Swimming right inshore two herrings leap up. One into the heron’s beak; the black cat closes with the other & brings back a long silver streak between his teeth, drops it under the table to twitch & flap in the sunlit grass. Finally I hear the crunch of bone … & a silver neck on the green water.

One doesn’t feel bodily pain in such incidents. One is separated from the body in a kind of ecstasy of suffering – that this my friend –

My paintings were becoming larger & broader & calmer; they looked in loving detail at the house; then almost exclusively at the landscape – mimetic journeys from hearth to horizon. ‘Your freedom’ a poet told me ‘is on the page’. Sometimes dry & continuo looking under a table or chair; sometimes illumined by a flash of scarlet – lilacs – blue, as someone on the margin of my life teased my heart, the only issue a bunch of painted flowers.

lmogen had bequeathed me a special love for babies & confidence with Felix as an infant. I charted his sleeping, waking, made little poems of bonding to the child. With my back against the solid house I faced outward. To my friends, my beloved Charlotte, my neighbour Andrea my dear friends & colleagues the Bosshards, Andrew Drummond Di French; to beloved Eugenie my catholic community Colette the Lucases Mrs Peyroux. Bernadette Hall & Cilla McQueen came sometimes for lunch. There were poetry readings with Graham Lindsay Marion Jones John Dickson & CilIa, lain Lonie came back. Hone & Maarire drove J & me down to the investiture of a Marae at Murihiku. Maarire was on the stage his fingers fluttering, J had gone for a walk, Maggie was playing with nga tamariki by the doorstep. Witnessing this, I had the sudden bliss of detachment from my life.

All my friends were astonished when on Easter Sunday 1984 I left Dunedin, 14 Beta St, & the marriage of 13 years.


 my debt to Molly Valder, for another kin & another home requires another chapter, a special tribute.


© Joanna Paul

Last updated 25 August, 2005