Saturday, December 12, 2015

In praise of: Fleur Adcock

On Wednesday I had lunch in Auckland with poet Kevin Ireland and novelist Graeme Lay, a fairly regular event, and also with poet Fleur Adcock, a first. Poet Peter Bland, usually a regular, was absent, as was poet Bernard Brown. In their place we had Cathy Odgers, like me a former student of Bernard’s at Auckland University’s law school, and Karyn Hay, fresh from her triumph with the Prime TV doco New Zealand Women in Rock. (Jane Clifton’s review is here; you can watch the doco here. It is fantastic – the subjects are terrific; as Jane Clifton says, the music doesn’t date; and Karyn is a superb interviewer.)

“Did you see it?” Graeme Lay asked me.

“I was in it,” I replied, as witheringly as I could. Honestly. I was on-screen for at least two seconds in one of the Jenny Morris segments.

The photo above was taken the night after our lunch, at a poetry reading in the Devonport Library, and shows Peter Bland (left), Kevin Ireland and Fleur Adcock. It must have been a great evening. Peter is reading from Hunting Elephants; Kevin is about to read from his latest collection, Looking out to Sea. I review that and Peter’s latest, Expecting Miracles, here.

At the Wednesday lunch Kevin’s wife Janet Wilson asked if I would put on the blog the following call for submissions of abstracts for papers for a symposium on Fleur’s poetry. Astonishingly, it seems that little has been published about her work, in the academic world, despite her success and all-round awesomeness. She is lyrical, conversational, thoughtful, funny, rude, intellectual – a great writer. She is also a brilliant reader of her work, as you can hear here.

Saturday 21 May 2016, at University of Winchester
Co-hosted by the University of Northampton

Fleur Adcock, one of Britain’s best loved poets, celebrated her 80th birthday last year while her most recent book The Land Ballot was published by Bloodaxe in 2015. Her compendious Poems 1960-2000 was published in 2000. In 1996 she was given an OBE; in 2006 was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and in 2008 was named Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature..

A New Zealander by birth but resident in the UK since 1963, Fleur was initially a member of the Group and then – when women poets were very much in the minority – she ploughed her own furrow; from her London base she has travelled extensively in Great Britain and Europe, holding residencies in Ambleside, Newcastle and Durham in the 1970s, and visiting Romania for the British Council in the 1980s. A persistent thread in her work is the ties of affection and family loyalties. In exploring and sustaining many of these connections she has visited New Zealand regularly over the decades; recently there are poems devoted (again) to her ancestors and her family history. She has also translated Romanian and Latin poetry.

Adcock became known as a voice for women writers in the 1980s when she edited the Faber Book of Twentieth Century Women’s Poetry, and wrote satirically about the Thatcher regime. Interwoven with these topics throughout her oeuvre are poems on her abiding passions: for animals and creatures, landscape and the environment, childhood and ageing, the state of the world.

This symposium aims to celebrate Adcock’s unique world of poetry. The organisers invite submissions of abstracts for papers of 20 minutes that may be on (but are not necessarily restricted to) the following topics:

 Fleur Adcock and British post-war poetry
 Fleur Adcock, ‘feminism’ and women's poetry?
 Fleur Adcock, expatriatism and exile
 Fleur Adcock: beginnings and their historical contexts
 Fleur Adcock, family history, loyalties, and genealogy
 Fleur Adcock: classical poetry and translation
 Fleur Adcock and the craft of poetry
 Fleur Adcock as a model for teaching Creative Writing
 Fleur Adcock: creatures, animals and poetry
 Fleur Adcock: places, landscape, travel
 Fleur Adcock and her New Zealand/British contemporaries
 Fleur Adcock, political issues and a public voice
 Fleur Adcock, nature and the environment
 Fleur Adcock, childhood, growing, ageing
 Fleur Adcock and her literary legacy

Please send abstracts of no more than 200 words to Professor Janet Wilson (, by 1 March 2016; for further information write to Julian Stannard (

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