Hoard.by Fleur Adcock.
Wellington: VUP (2017).
RRP: $25. Pb/flaps, 96pp.
Reviewed by Catherine Fitchett.
Hoard, the latest of Fleur Adcock’s many books of poetry, collects poems held over from her previous two collections, Glass Wings and The Land Ballot, because they did not fit thematically in those books. The poems, however, form a much more coherent group than that statement would suggest, and have much in common with her earlier works. For instance, ancestors make an appearance, along with autobiographical poems, the natural world, and family. Two longish sequences appear. One draws on the life of Ellen Wilkinson, now little known, but prominent in her time as a British Labour Party member of parliament, Minister of Education, activist and writer. The other, which closes the book, is the result of Adcock’s most recent trip to New Zealand, visiting various locations around the North Island in 2015.
These poems are, on the surface, straight forward. And yet, for all their seeming clarity, re-reading has its rewards. Adcock has mastered the art of the final line, in which she sums up the poem with a small, subtle twist. The language is precise and the images sometimes picturesque, with at times, a delight in word-play. For instance, in “Pakiri” she writes of the oioi, a flowering rush:
is that an aye-aye in the oioi?
.. Paint me an aye-aye, Rosa,
and one for your other grandmother.
Don’t forget we saw a huhu. (p 71).
Above all, taken as a group, the poems reveal complexities, contradictions, and ambivalence. Adcock was born in New Zealand, but spent much of her childhood in England before her family returned here. She fled a brief second marriage, to Barry Crump (alluded to in several of the poems) and returned to England, where she has lived since. In “Blue Stars” she writes:
To qualify as a New Zealander
I’d have to turn against the agapanthus…
but my New Zealand nationality
is a part-time thing … (p 75).
And yet if she feels not quite a New Zealander, nor does she seem fully English:
These were the English, or samples of them.
How had I got through the vetting system?
This was hardly the moment to confess
it was I who had adorned the mirror
in the Ladies with ‘Vote Labour’ stickers.
(“Election, 1964”, p 26).
The sequences which deal with various ancestors and deceased relatives – aunts, uncles and cousins – and the Ellen Wilkinson sequence reveal a good deal of sympathy and understanding of human frailties, although they are not without their dark side. This darkness comes with a touch of bitterness where she writes of her second husband, making for somewhat uncomfortable reading, and yet ultimately, she writes:
‘Keep it short and don’t talk about yourself.’
But there will be no self to talk about
in that land of the obituary …
(“Hic Iacet”, p 68)
– which is, perhaps, the ultimate contradiction in this pleasurable and thoughtful collection.
Catherine Fitchett is a Christchurch poet. Her work has been published in various magazines and anthologies, most recently in Leaving the Red Zone: Poems from the Canterbury Earthquakes (Clerestory Press, 2016).