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Fleur Adcock is a self-professed hitch-hiker, time-traveling to resurrect the lives of her forebears. The Land Ballot is a series of poems about relocation, where people are reborn or dislocated, contingent on their ability to coalesce with their surroundings. Adcock recounts the movement of her grandparents − from Manchester to Mount Pirongia, New Zealand. Here, characters tussle with the wilderness around them, breaking in the land, instating fences and turning native forest into workable pasture.
The settlement occupied by her grandparents is pitted against natural forces. Boundaries between gentrified country and bush-clad terrain shift and overlap. Ragwort trespasses into cattle land. Kea, the ‘demonic parrots’, attack sheep. Land is charted, divided, and land is cursed. Elemental forces are irrepressible and envelop the structures poised against them − ‘The school was a wooden box on a hill, surrounded by weather’.
This is a land of temperamental ‘fruit and honey’. The soil is ‘bush-sick’ and the fruit produced are ’empty, bladder-like plums’. However, it is conceded that ‘there are no tigers in this forest’, and that the land is perhaps less hostile, and more malleable, than ‘jungle’ elsewhere.
There is a certain charm about the community’s quaintness. Adcock’s concern is with the parochial, but her reach extends beyond the isolated farming community. This is about family, and the tenacity of individuals, and the realisation of dreams. Cyril, Adcock’s father, is lent a first-person voice in the narrative, and he grows into the story’s hero, who will ultimately put down ‘a deposit on eight acres in Drury for (his family’s) rescue’.
Adcock’s tone is conversational, and the memoir she hatches is unambiguous, perhaps frustratingly so for some readers. Adcock is a magpie of text. There are snippets from the Waipa Post, inventories of building materials, an excerpt from the School Journal of 1917. But Adcock’s voice is her own. There is a rare clarity, and a lightness of touch about this collection. Adcock’s new work is a wistful backwards glance, a nostalgia for a time that precedes her.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Morton
The Land Ballot
by Fleur Adcock
Published by Victoria University Press