Fleur Adcock writes about men and women, childhood, identity, roots and rootlessness, memory and loss, animals and dreams, as well as our interactions with nature and place. Her poised, ironic poems are remarkable for their wry wit, conversational tone and psychological insight, unmasking the deceptions of love or unravelling family lives.
Born in New Zealand in 1934, she spent the war years in England, returning with her family to New Zealand in 1947. There she later married the poet Alistair Campbell, and they had two sons. She emigrated to Britain with her younger son Andrew in 1963, working as a librarian in London until 1979. In 1977-78, she took a year off to be writer-in-residence at Charlotte Mason College of Education, Ambleside, when she wrote the Lake District poems of Below Loughrigg, the second title to be published by Bloodaxe Books (this included ‘Weathering’). She was Northern Arts Literary Fellow in 1979-81, living in Newcastle, becoming a freelance writer after her return to London. She received an OBE in 1996, and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2006.
Much of her work relates to family history, and a thread of family connections runs through the poems here. When Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed her at home in London in June 2007 she was anxiously awaiting a phone call announcing the birth in New Zealand of a new granddaughter, Rosa. The two children in ‘The Video’, the first poems she reads, are Laura and Ceri, daughters of her niece Sarah, second daughter of her sister, the novelist Marilyn Duckworth. The second poem, ‘For a Five-Year-Old’ was written for her son Andrew, Rosa’s father (and dedicatee of another touching early poem, ‘For Andrew’). ‘For Heidi with Blue Hair’ relates to her goddaughter. ‘Counting’ is about the birth of her first son Gregory, written for a commission when he was in his 30s. ‘Where They Lived’ recalls a visit to a street in Manchester where her grandparents lived until 1914, when they left for New Zealand with Fleur’s father, then aged 10. A sepia photograph of him (then aged 24) can be seen on the sideboard behind her in the film.
Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed Fleur Adcock in London on 29 June 2007. This film is from the DVD-anthology IN PERSON: 30 POETS, filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce & edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2008). The poems, in the order of the film, are: ‘The Video’, ‘For a Five-Year-Old’, ‘The Pangolin’, ‘An Illustration to Dante’, ‘Things’, Weathering’, ‘For Heidi with Blue Hair’, ‘Where They Lived’ and Counting’.