Poetry Shelf noticeboard: my review of Fleur Adcock’s at Kete Books

I woke in the middle of the night with an @RNZ earthquake message and held the radio to my ear until dawn, drifting in and out of advice, alerts and individual stories from mayors and locals, with the anxiety like a snowball gathering Covid-level talk and Covid -rule breakers, and the incomprehensible news of threats against Muslims in Christchurch, and the brutality in women’s prisons, and the bullies in the police force, and how some people should not get airspace their behaviour and views are so damaging and ugly, and I am thinking how lucky I was to have those five days up north with my family at Sandy Bay, and food in my cupboards, and a stack of poetry books to read and review, and clean notebooks for my secret projects, and panadol for pain, and the tomato plants still laden, and water in the tank, and @ninetonoon with Kathryn Ryan keeping us posted with @SusieFergusonNZ and her heartwarming Te Reo Māori.

Poetry is the lifeline, the hand held out, the music in the ear, the saving grace, the little miracle on the page.

I reread Fleur Adcock’s The Mermaid’s Purse at Sandy Bay and this morning I was picturing myself back under the tree’s shade with the tide coming in, and the sun shining bright. I was back in the beach scene and back in the scenes of Fleur’s glorious poetry. Here is a sample from my review for for Kete Books:

The Mermaid’s Purse moves between places with vital attachments (New Zealand and Britain) and, in doing so, moves through the remembered, the felt, the imagined. I sit and read the collection, cover to cover, on holiday beside the dazzling ocean and white Northland sand. I am reading ‘Island Bay’, a poem near the start of the book and keep moving between the dazzle of Adcock’s lines and the dazzle of the sea. Here are the first two stanzas:


Bright specks of neverlastingness

float at me out of the blue air,

perhaps constructed by my retina


which these days constructs so much else,

or by the air itself, the limpid sky,

the sea drenched in its turquoise liquors


Both lucid and luminous, this exquisite poem sets the mind travelling. I’m reminded these poems were written in an old age. “Neverlasting” is the word that unthreads you. It leads to the infinite sky, and then to the inability of the ocean and life itself to stay still or the same, to old age.

Full review here

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