(1934 - )
Kareen Fleur Adcock was born in Papakura, New Zealand; her father, Cyril Adcock, was a professor of psychology; her mother, Irene Robinson, was a writer. In 1939, the family relocated to England, staying there until the end of WWII, at which time they returned to New Zealand. Adcock took her BA and MA in classics from Victoria University, Wellington (1954 and 1956 respectively). In 1956, her poem “The Lover” was published in Landfall.
Married and divorced twice and the mother of two children, Adcock moved with her younger son to London in 1963. There she worked as a librarian for the Foreign and Commonwealth office and continued with her writing. In 1971, she published Tigers, a collection of new poems combined with poems that previously appeared in The Eye of the Hurricane (1964), which was published in New Zealand. It was soon followed by a series of collections, including High Tide in the Garden (1971), The Scenic Route (1974), and The Inner Harbour (1979), a book that received especial acclaim.
Through the support of university fellowships, Adcock was able to write full time, starting in 1979. Besides her own poetry, Adcock has also edited poetry anthologies and written translations from Latin. She also collaborated with the New Zealand composer Gillian Whitehead on song cycles and Eleanor of Aquitaine (1982), a monodrama for mezzo-soprano. Adcock’s work is characterized by its restrained and simple style and diction; vivid imagery; attention to the value of the commonplace and natural; and postcolonial themes of divided identity, place, and acculturation. She has received various recognitions, including the New Zealand National Book Award (1984) and an Order of the British Empire (1996). A collected edition of her poetry, Poems 1960-2000, appeared in 2000.
3.13.1 "The Man Who X-Rayed an Orange"
3.13.2 "Robert Harington 1558"
3.13.3 "At the Crossing"
3.13.4 "Bat Soup"
3.13.5 Reading and Review Questions
How, if at all, do Adcock’s poems consider the ways in which the position/perspective of the observer creates what’s observed?
How skeptical, if at all, is Adcock of the ability of words to communicate shared meaning, and why? How do we know?
How artfully, if at all, does Adcock use poetic imagery, and to what effect? Consider metonymic images in “Robert Harington 1558” and “At the Crossing.”
How, if at all, does Adcock express a divided self, and to what effect? Consider “Immigrant.”