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This review is taken from PN Review 225, Volume 42 Number 1, September - October 2015.

Once, I: on Fleur Adcock and Jane Hirshfield Fleur Adcock, The Land Ballot (Bloodaxe Books), £9.95
Jane Hirshfield, The Beauty (Bloodaxe Books), £9.95

Fleur Adcock, in this her latest collection published to coincide with her eighty-first birthday, tells the emigration story of her Manchester grandparents. Sam and Eva Adcock travelled to New Zealand with their ten-year-old son Cyril (the poet’s father) at the beginning of the First World War with the intention of becoming dairy farmers. The land ballot of the title was the means by which they were able to bid for a piece of uncleared bush. After several vain attempts they found themselves the owners of 150 acres of indigenous forest, ‘1,200 feet above sea level / on the chillier side of a mountain’.

This book-length sequence of poems describes not only their efforts to turn this unproductive land into a working farm but also gives an intimate portrait of a small isolated community. Many of the poems have the quality of snapshots. In some the poet is looking at actual photographs – young fostered Beryl, ‘part of the human baggage they all stowed / as kindly as they could’, is ‘a smudged face in a family snap, / a bundle of pale skirts on someone’s knee’; Eva’s consumptive brother James is wittily observed as ‘the one with the longest legs, / the centre parting, the fetching moustache, / and no intention of dying celibate’. Sometimes activities like fencing, milking, driving the buggy are described in Cyril’s voice (who clearly has aspirations beyond dairy farming). Sam’s diary offers ‘a flutter of dates […] with just enough details to anchor them’. From time to time the poet speaks – ‘I ...

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