Fleur Adcock is a legend in New Zealand literary circles. She is one of our favourite poets and, although she has spent much of her life in England, her popularity is as strong as it ever was judging by the long queues at the book signing session.
For ten years Fleur Adcock didn’t write poetry. Instead she ‘fell in love with facts and wanted to extract them and not deal with any of that airy fairy stuff you think up in your head.’ Her latest collection, Glass Wings, marks the end of this creative drought.
I was lucky enough to grab a few minutes of her time after her session.
Are you glad to be back on New Zealand soil?
I’m feeling rather overwhelmed at being back in New Zealand. I’ve been here for about five weeks so I’ve had time to get to know it again and get to know people again and remember how beautiful it is. Auckland is so beautiful – all the trees and the vegetation – and Wellington is kind of home so I do have those connections. Then I’m off again but this time I’m definitely going to come back sooner.
I really enjoyed your latest collection of poems, Glass Wings. Ancestry is an important theme running through your work?
Yes, it’s becoming more and more so in people’s lives but this happens as people get older. They start taking an interest in their ancestors. I often find when people say the kids aren’t interested, just wait twenty years. They’ll get around to it.
In the session you read your poem The Chiffonier which was published in 1986 and at the time hit a chord with many people who went out to buy The Listener especially to read this poem. It deals with the idea of rootlessness and being torn between places.
You realise you can’t substitute things for people but things are important too because they are symbolic of people. They remind us.
You spoke about the state of the libraries in England. Since the earthquakes in Christchurch, libraries have proved to be important places for people to come to. The thought that many libraries in England closing is quite frightening to me.
It is appalling. I suppose it will start creeping back again and they’ll realise what they’ve done. I think they’re trying to find substitutes and set up places in supermarkets and things but not in actual library buildings. These are often listed buildings, buildings that have been donated. There are so many other uses libraries can be put to. They can always extend their range and find ways of keeping them going – if they wish.
You said searching though the internet or on a computer is very different from searching for books in the library.
Just browsing you suddenly see an interesting looking volume down on the bottom shelf and you pick it up and you open it and it hits you with a new experience, a new realm to explore.
Did you enjoy being a librarian?
Some of the time, yes. I got stuck in cataloguing for six or seven years in the Foreign Commonwealth Office and that was very depressing because we had to keep training new, young cataloguers and I was the only one who could do it until I finally trained someone who really liked it and she took over. Then I went into the reference section and I could do research and the things I like doing now. Answering questions from readers who had written it. That’s what I like doing – finding things for people.
Are you writing poetry now?
Yes, well not at this moment. I haven’t written anything for the last month. It’s impossible because I never stop talking. I’m in the middle of a new sequence and I’ve been doing some research for that about my father’s early days in New Zealand as a teenager so when I get home, as I have to call it, I’ll get on with that.
You mentioned the term ‘reclusive’. Is it difficult for someone who loves to spend time quietly working on their own, to come out to writers festivals?
No, I like doing things like that as long as there’s a home to go back to in the end. As long as you don’t have to get back to the husband. I can’t deal with that. I can’t wake up in the morning and have someone around the house because a lot of my thoughts, my ideas and impulses occur when I’m fresh when I wake up in the morning. It just wouldn’t work if I had to converse over breakfast.
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That really is frightening to hear about the library closures in the UK . I can’t imagine how desolate our lives would be without our libraries.
Have just discovered your blog & am enjoying it, thanks. It was a good session with Fleur Adcock and a big treat that Bill Manhire asked her to read ‘The Chiffonier’ at the end. This poem made a big impression on me when I first read it in The Listener, & I nearly wrote to Fleur to see if I could quote from it in my new book ‘Spirited Ageing’, in the chapter on possessions. But time ran out and getting poetry permissions was proving a trial, and I let it go. But I still had tears in my eyes once more when she read those last two lines.