Launch of Hoard, a new volume of poems by Fleur Adcock, Black Gull Bookshop, East Finchley, 15 November, 2017
I’m delighted to be introducing poet Fleur Adcock’s latest collection, entitled Hoard and published by Bloodaxe Books. The autumnal cover of Samuel Palmer’s lovely painting, The Magic Apple Tree, seems very apt for a poet in the autumn of her life except that with Fleur one feels there will always be more volumes to come. She is remarkable in producing a collection of poems every two years or so. Since her arrival back in England in 1963 there have been 18 volumes. The poems in Hoard are those which thematically didn’t fit into her last two collections, Glass Wings in 2013 and The Land Ballot in 2016 and also include those from a visit to NZ two years ago.
I think it is unlikely that there is anyone here for whom Fleur is a new experience but if so I will give a few background details. Because she has lived in two countries she is equally claimed by the country of her birth, New Zealand, and the country of her settlement, England, though I think it would be correct to say that she identifies more strongly with England where she has lived longest and where she returned to live and work for most of her adult life. With two sons and a sister in New Zealand, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren, her heart and mind are constantly travelling between the two and this liminality is reflected in the poems themselves. Many also demonstrate the culture shock experienced by someone living in one culture and revisiting another which has had some deep influence at a subconscious level. There are poems in the present volume which recall past experience in the country of her birth, New Zealand, triggered by a visit in her maturity. Many expatriates here tonight will identify with that sensation of appraising an earlier self in a different cultural context. What is in no doubt is that Fleur’s poems speak to both cultures. She has received distinguished recognition from both countries – the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry in 2006 and the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2008. She is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and has been awarded an OBE.
Fleur was born in Papakura in Auckland where her English-born father was a school teacher. She came to England with her parents and sister at the age of 5 so her father could study for a PHD in Psychology at Birkbeck University, London. Her formative years in England from 1939 to 1947 included the dramas of the Second World War and evacuation with her sister Marilyn from London to the countryside. She returned with her family to NZ at 13 and eventually studied for an MA in Classics at Victoria University. In 1952 she married the half Polynesian NZ poet Alistair Campbell, born in the Cook Islands, at a time when the country was rediscovering its bicultural identity through Maori land court settlements and increased interest in the Maori language. Fleur divorced in 1958. In 1962 she made an ill-considered marriage to the author Barry Crump and divorced him the following year. She returned to England with one son in 1963 and worked as an assistant librarian at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, a job which she left in 1979 to become a freelance writer. Several literary fellowships followed, and she also published translations from Romanian and medieval Latin poetry.
She recently collaborated with the NZ composer Gillian Whitehead, writing the libretto for an opera celebrating the NZ writer Robin Hyde. Iris Dreaming was performed at the Arcola Theatre in London in 2016 and this year in New Zealand.
Janet Wilson, who has written a critical appraisal of Fleur’s poetry for the Writers and Their Works series, has described Fleur’s mature work as including both the sinister and the psychologically extraordinary event, an often deceptively colloquial, conversational tone, and images of female entrapment and male control. Her themes are of place, human relationships, her childhood and love of the natural world, and more recently, ancestral stories and stories of women, often women who have been unsung in their own lives. Her poetry is always illuminated by irony and sometimes the fantastic or macabre. She is a uniquely calm voice in an increasingly noisy and unpredictable world. Tonight we are privileged to hear her read some of these wonderful poems.
Moira Taylor, Review Editor, New Zealand Studies Network, London