For Heidi With Blue Hair Fleur Adcock
For Heidi With Blue Hair When you dyed your hair blue(or, at least ultramarinefor the clipped sides, with a crestof jet-black spikes on top)you were sent home from school because, as the headmistress put it,although dyed hair was notspecifically forbidden, yourswas, apart from anything else,not done in the school colours. Tears in the kitchen, telephone-callsto school from your freedom-loving father:'She's not a punk in her behaviour;it's just a style.' (You wiped your eyes,also not in a school colour.) 'She discussed it with me first -we checked the rules.' 'And anyway, Dad,it cost twenty-five dollars.Tell them it won't wash out -not even if I wanted to try. It would have been unfair to mentionyour mother's death, but thatshimmered behind the arguments.The school had nothing else against you;the teachers twittered and gave in. Next day your black friend had hers donein grey, white and flaxen yellow -the school colours precisely:an act of solidarity, a wittytease. The battle was already won.
Background and Biography Poet Fleur Adcock was born in Auckland, New Zealand, on 10 February 1934, but spent much of her childhood, including the war years, in England. She studied Classics at Victoria University in Wellington and taught at the University of Otago, moving to London in 1963 where she worked as a librarian at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She has held various literary fellowships, including a period at the Charlotte Mason College of Education, Ambleside (1977-78). Later she held the Northern Arts Fellowship at the Universities of Newcastle upon Tyne and Durham (1979-81), where she met the composer Gillian Whitehead with whom she collaborated on a song cycle libretto and later a full-length opera about Eleanor of Aquitaine. In 1984 she was Writing Fellow at the University of East Anglia. She has been writing full-time since 1981. Her poetry has received numerous awards, many of them from her native New Zealand, and she won a Cholmondeley Award in 1976. She was awarded an OBE in 1996. A collected edition of Fleur Adcock's poetry, Poems 1960-2000, was published in 2000, and she is a regular contributor to, as well as editor and translator of, poetry anthologies. She was awarded the Queen's Medal for Poetry in 2006, and in 2008 was named Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature. Her latest poetry collection is Dragon Talk (2010). http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2010/oct/20/poem-of-the-week-fleur-adcock
SIFT S The SIFT method to analyse and revise poems. pecify the subject matter and sense of the poem through a brief summary nform us of the intention of the poet and his/her main ideas overall ocus on the form ( structure/punctuation) and the feelings conveyed ( poet’s attitude/tone used) and how this highlights the main ideas ell us about the techniques, imagery and poetic language that show the ways ideas are presented I F T
Questions to analyse the poem. • Write a brief summary of the poem, who and what is the subject of this poem? • What do you think the poet’s purpose is in writing this poem? Adcock’s intentions seem to be …. • The poem is written in free verse in a narrative style, as if a story is being told, how does the structure and punctuation reflect this? (look at caesura, enjambment, commas, full stops, semi colons and other punctuation). • Adcock undermines poetic structural convention by loosely forming her five-line stanzas – how might this form reinforce an important idea in her poem? • How are teachers and the headmistress made to sound ridiculous? • Explain the tone of voice of the poet? What moods and feelings do you recognise and how can you tell? • How does the tone of voice / feelings of the poet highlight the themes or main ideas (social institutions and boundaries, family and friend relationships) in the poem? • Identify figurative language features, imagery (colour), sound devices such as alliteration ‘teachers twittered’, symbolic devices which all present Adcocks views on social boundaries, rebelliousness, friendship, home life and social institutions (school). • How is the ‘rebel’ in the poem made to sound vulnerable? How is she supported? • Who or what is this ‘battle’ being fought against?
Analysis - surface For Heidi with Blue Hair presents us with a central image of a child sent home from school for dyeing her hair blue. As the narrative develops, we find ourselves confronted not just with an amusing story, but also with a quiet knocking of social boundaries. Adcock manages to gently bring together issues of friendship, solidarity, home life, and social institutions under the guise of a minor event. Her language is full of precision and control, and she exudes a distinctive air of knowingness. It isn't hard to guess whose side she is on.
Analysis - deeper Over the years, her poetic manner has generally moved from the formal to a looser conversational mode. In keeping with this has come a much warmer vein, especially in writing about her family, divided as they are between countries and cultures. The Incident Book (1986) contains some of her most quietly moving poems. ‘The Chiffonier’, for instance, about a piece of furniture promised by her ‘dear little Mother’, becomes a meditation on mortality and a re-assessment of their relationship, and concludes ‘I have to write this now, while you’re still here: / I want my mother, not her chiffonier’. She now writes about being a grandmother herself (‘Tadpoles’), able to sympathize with a wayward niece (‘For Heidi with Blue Hair’). Other poems return to her wartime childhood self in England, with her little sister - the novelist Marilyn Duckworth. Only in ‘Excavations’ do we find a bitter note. In this sardonic fantasy, the speaker finds the previous men in her life buried in holes and covered up with earth. In one, there are the ‘pretty bastards’ who didn’t love her; in another, ‘the men whom I stopped loving’, who are ‘cuddled up with their subsequent ladies’.
http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoet.do?poetId=75 Recordings of other poems Fleur Adcock (b.1934) is a New Zealander by birth but spent part of her childhood in England, returning to live in London in 1963. She worked as a librarian until 1979 before becoming a freelance writer. She is the author of ten books of poetry and a collected edition of her work, Poems 1960-2000, was published by Bloodaxe in 2000. Recipient of a Cholmondeley Award in 1976 and a New Zealand National Book Award in 1984, she was awarded an OBE in 1996. The influence of Fleur Adcock's migratory childhood can be traced in her work's exploration of identity. In her poem 'Immigrant' this is specifically an issue of voice as she practices her newly adopted English accent. Several of the poems here examine roots and rootlessness: as she puts it in 'Chippenham', a poem recalling her status as the odd one out in an English classroom, "Who did I think/I was . . .?" Identity is also an issue of gender: in 'The Russian War' a returning uncle claims he'll "be a thing called oral history" but Adcock is acutely aware of those female ancestors whose stories have disappeared, like the silent labouring woman in 'Water'. Her poems often bring to light women's lives that might otherwise be marginalised or forgotten, as in the poignant vignettes of suffering in 'The Soho Hospital for Women'. However, her poems have no air of stridency: her characteristic tone is restrained, rational, conversational. Adcock herself has talked about this poetic strategy: "The tone I feel at home in is one in which I can address people without embarrassing them; I should like them to relax and listen as if to an intimate conversation". ('Not Quite a Statement', Strong Words, Bloodaxe Books, 2000). Certainly this quality of intimacy is to the fore in her Archive recording. Her reading voice is clear and distinct, striking the consonants with precision and just the faintest hint of her original accent. A particular pleasure are her generous explanations of the poems and the insights she gives into her creative process: apparently "the bath is a very good place for getting inspiration."
Compare with… • Childhood by Frances Cornford • My Parents by Stephen Spender • Praise Song for My Mother by Grace Nichols • Follower by Seamus Heaney • Country School by Allen Curnow And further reading … www.poemhunter.com/fleur-adcock www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth161
Homework • Compare “Heidi” with “Childhood” – use a similarities / differences table to record your notes. Focus on techniques, tone, speaker, form, structure and ideas.