Raiment reviewed in ANZL


Stephanie Johnson has produced a balanced reviewed of Jan Kemp’s memoir Raiment: A Memoir for Academy of New Zealand Literature.

‘Prominent New Zealand women writers of very different hues have recently published memoir, including the luminary and much loved Patricia Grace. Wendyl Nissen’s clear-eyed, plainly written and supremely forgiving account of her troubled, unkind mother stands in stark contrast with Charlotte Grimshaw’s literary, dense and alarming account of growing up as C.K. Stead’s daughter. Now, as a kind of pastel middle ground, we have poet Jan Kemp’s Raiment. Kemp does not focus on any wrongs done by her parents  her childhood spent variously in Hamilton, Morrinsville and Howick seems in any case idyllic  or by various men with whom she came into contact during her teenage years and early adulthood.

Raiment begins, as do many conventional biographies and autobiographies, with the subject’s birth. Kemp made her appearance in 1949, second born of what would become a family of three children later, with the birth of her brother Ian. Older brother Peter and Jan dubbed Ian Iwi, because they could not pronounce Ian. Perhaps, at that time in a Pākehā family, it would have been more likely to have been spelt Ewee, or similar, but Kemp spells it the Māori way and reminds us that it means “bone, nation, strength.

Her brothers were kindly and chivalrous, as was her much older father Morice. Her mother Joan was “. . . both my friend and my mother.” When Kemp was only a few months old, she flew with Joan to Christchurch to have her harelip repaired, a challenge mentioned only once more in the text. Kemp is refreshingly resilient.’

Read the review here.