Interviews
February 7, 2019 posted by Unity Wellington

Fleur Adcock

Fleur Adcock

Alongside celebrating her 85th birthday, Fleur Adcock will be launching her new poetry book, Collected Poems, in-store at Unity Books Wellington on Wednesday 13th February 2019, 6-7:30pm. She was generous enough to take part in our author interview which you can find below. 


About the book
Fleur Adcock’s Collected Poems is a landmark publication in the career of one of New Zealand’s most significant writers, combining Poems 1960–2000 and four subsequent collections in one beautifully produced hardcover volume.

About the author
Fleur Adcock is a poet, editor and translator. The different aspects of her writing are rarely expressed in isolation from each other, and relationships with people, nature and landscape, politics and gender, find poignant and interlaced psychological expression. She is highly regarded for her translation of Medieval Latin and twentieth-century Romanian poetry and also her extensive editorial work. She has published numerous collections of poetry and has been the recipient of significant awards and fellowships, local and international.


WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THE BOOK(S)?
How to Be Both, by Ali Smith. I’ve had it on my Kindle for a couple of years, and have just got around to it.

WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THEM?
My favourite writers are poets, from all eras – impossible to choose among them – and what I love is their memorable use of language.

WHAT BOOKS ARE ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE?
Ruth Fainlight’s latest book of poems, Somewhere Else Entirely, which also includes short prose memoirs, and several half-read issues of the TLS (Times Literary Supplement).

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK-TO-FILM ADAPTATION?
The 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Not because of Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy and his wet shirt, which I thought looked ridiculous, but because of the typically high standard of the production and the great comic characters, memorably presented by some great comic actors: Benjamin Whitrow as Mr Bennet, David Bamber as Mr Collins, Barbara Leigh-Hunt as Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU RE-READ THE MOST AND WHY?
Pride and Prejudice (sorry!). This has been one of my favourite books ever since my mother gave me a rather beautifully printed copy thrown out from a library in Wiltshire in 1944, when I was ten. Paper was rationed in Britain during the war, and books were scarce; we relied on libraries a lot. The books I actually owned were re-read many times. Over the years, my appreciation of Jane Austen’s style and my enjoyment of her humour gradually increased. 

WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY CHARACTER?
I found it very hard to come up with one, until I thought of Eeyore in the A. A. Milne books. I have several friends whose gloomy temperament reminds me of Eeyore.

WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN MEANING TO READ BUT STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO?
Moby Dick. I’ve started it now and then, during the last 60 years, but it’s so long!

WHICH THREE WRITERS WOULD YOU HAVE OVER FOR DINNER?
Coleridge, who is said to have been a brilliant talker in conversation, although it’s not apparent on the page; Dorothy Wordsworth, whose Grasmere Journals were my favourite reading matter for a wonderful year in the Lake District; and my late friend Angela Carter, just to stir things up a bit. She wrote an acerbic essay about the Wordsworths and their circle, after reading Dorothy’s journals on a visit to me in Ambleside.

WHAT WOULD YOU COOK THEM?
Pasta and salad (I hate cooking). Perhaps Dorothy would contribute one of her excellent apple pies.

HOW ARE YOUR BOOKS SHELVED AND ORGANISED AT HOME?
I’m not sure that organised is the word. I have half a dozen sequences of poets, each in alphabetical order, in various rooms of the house: New Zealand and Australian ones downstairs (“down under”) and British, Irish and North American ones mostly upstairs, in the “Northern hemisphere”. Other than that, randomness rules. There is far more poetry than anything else, with a little island of fiction here and there. The spare bedroom is full of history, biography, and Romanian books, together with much else. The latest shelves (tall DIY bookcase from IKEA, squeezed into the utility room) contain the latest arrivals. I’ve lived in this house for 50 years, and it shows.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY QUOTE?
My head is stuffed with fragments of poetry; impossible to pick favourites. Rummaging among them I find these lines from Sir Walter Ralegh, said to have been written the night before his execution: Even such is Time, which takes in trust /Our youth, our joys, and all we have, /And pays us but with age and dust… No, that won’t do; it’s described online as a well-known funeral poem. If we’re going to have one of those, I’d prefer John Donne’s sonnet ‘Death be nor proud’, which I’ve known by heart since I was in my teens, and which I read at Dan Davin’s funeral in Oxford in 1990.

Perhaps love would be a better subject; here’s Edna St Vincent Millay: After all, my erstwhile dear,/My no longer cherished,/Need we say it was not love/ Just because it perished? Or is that too cynical? How about another of Ralegh’s poems, ‘As you came from the holy land’, which ends with the lines: But true love is a durable fire / In the mind ever burning; /Never sick, never old, never dead, /From itself never turning. All these extracts are to do with emotions, but a lot of the poetry that hangs around in my head does so simply because of its beautiful sound patterns: Milton, for example. Here is part of his Song to the goddess of the River Severn, in Comus: Sabrina fair,/Listen where thou art sitting,/Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave,/ In twisted braids of lilies knitting /The loose trains of thy amber-dropping hair…
So that’s my list for today, led by one particular chain of associations. Ask me next week and I’d have a different selection.

A QUESTION FROM PREVIOUS AUTHOR INTERVIEWEE, LEAH MCFALL:
“Which of your literary heroes have you met in real life, and how did they surprise you?”

Stevie Smith was a very big name in the 60s, when she was already well into her own sixties, and I saw her perform at several poetry readings. After one of them, in an upstairs room over a pub in Hampstead, I was introduced to her. Unfortunately, I was far too shy to say anything, and we stood around looking uncomfortable until rescued. The surprising thing about her was the contrast between this silent woman and her onstage personality, with her quaint little-girl dresses and her habit of singing occasional poems to little droning tunes of her own composition.


Photo credit – Jemimah Kuhfeld

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