Newsroom runs an extract from ‘the superb new memoir Raiment by Jan Kemp’


Newsroom has run an extract from Jan Kemp’s ‘superb new memoir’, Raiment.

‘In English I, our lectures included An Introduction to Shakespeare by Mac Jackson. Everyone loved Mac because he was gentle, he knew his Shakespeare, and he laughed or rather chuckled as he lectured. I decided he was it. I should try to be assigned to his tutorial class in English II. But no luck. I was assigned to CK Stead, who I could see was terribly clever, but I felt with his clear, stainless-steel mind he would cut right through any observations Miss Kemp might tentatively make and she’d be in slivers. Boldly, though inwardly trembling, I asked the departmental secretary if I might instead attend a Jackson tutorial and was granted that favour.

To reach Mac’s office you walked over the little stone bridge near the back of the Clock Tower Building. Come in! Mac would boom from behind his desk, with the emphasis on the in, his back to the window and facing the opening door, at your tentative knock. And in you’d go, new poem clutched in your hand, though later I’d often leave them in advance, in an envelope slipped under the door, so he’d have time to read them before I came to ask him what he thought, and we’d discuss it.

Once he left a note for me on the door in an envelope stuck with sellotape labelled Miss Jan Kemp in his amazing-looking, almost backwards as if medieval handwriting. Inside there was a little note. It read I liked this one very much. You seem to get everything right, just by instinct. Mac. I was over the moon. It was much better than the remark on my William Blake essay, when I’d written Mr Blake and Mac had circled Mr and written in the margin This word is otiose. I’d had to look up otiose in the dictionary to find out what it meant.

Mac taught us all how to fold a duodecimo, which Shakespeare’s printers would have used, numbering the pages so that once folded, paginated, printed and stitched they came out in the right order, though when you spread out the single large piece of duodecimo paper the paginations seemed to be all over the place, totally at random. Mac was also a sleuth with concordances and proved who had written which parts of Arden of Faversham by analysing the vocabulary and the typefaces, for some single type-pieces would be broken and recognisable when they were reused by the writer’s printer. This statistical work contrasted with his wonderfully heart-felt reading of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Karl Stead inaugurated a Friday evening drinkies session in the bar at the top of the building near Constitution Hill, where Sam Pillsbury, who had lived next door to Benny D in Howick, flatted with some friends in a house built halfway up the very steep hill. I popped in there sometimes and once saw Benny D again, and we had a nice chat. He was working in an office in town. Not the kind of person Karl would know or invite to the drinkies. No, it was his mate, the historian Keith Sinclair, and people like Michael Morrissey, with his rumpled curls and friendly, intoning, never-stopping ramble of thought, and who was now our rent collector at 60 Grafton Road and so earned himself free lodgings for himself and his wife Dot and their daughter by being the janitor.

At one of these meetings Karl said to me And when are we going to have an affair, Jan? I knew he was just being clever, so I managed to be just as clever and answered him, When you take the same emotional risk I would, I will, Karl, which shut him up. I hope he was impressed by my quickness of wit. I was. I learned lots from Karl, though — once I told him I couldn’t possibly attain, sustain and retain the amount of knowledge I really should. Very wisely he said, The things you need to know will come to you and stay with you. The rest, you just let fall away. Those words have come back to me so often — just do your own thing. The rest will take care of itself.


One day the phone rang, and it was Murray Edmond, born in Hamilton in the same year as me, whom I knew along with his wife, Mary Paul, of the Paul’s Bookshop family, from undergraduate days at Auckland University. Murray knew I wrote poems as well as that story that had come out in Craccum. Would I like to come and read some of my poems with other Auckland poets at the new Arts Centre on Grafton Road?

Somewhat trepidatious, I said I would.’

Read the full extract here.