NZ poet on London Underground 22 May 2012
While many might wish that New Zealand appeared on one’s daily commute, those who take the London Underground to work each day may be surprised to find themselves reading the words of a New Zealander. A poem by Fleur Adcock is included in Poems on the Underground, a program that displays work for the enjoyment of travellers on London’s public transport network.
Adcock’s poem, ‘Immigrant,’ looks at the experience of a foreigner living in London in 1963. Eight lines long, it captures the sense of alienation that many feel alongside desire to fit into a new culture. Adcock’s description of pelicans and “cold fists” in St James’s Park are likely to resonate particularly with those from the southern hemisphere, to whom November represents the beginning of a different season.
‘Immigrant’ was not written for the London Underground, but selected by the organisation from Adcock’s existing work. Adcock moved from New Zealand to the UK in 1963, suggesting this poem is somewhat autobiographical. She remains a New Zealand expat, living in East Finchley. Whilst in the UK, Adcock has published almost twenty of her own poetry collections, edited the Oxford Book of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry and been made Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her services to New Zealand literature.
Adcock’s poem does not appeal solely to New Zealanders. ‘Immigrant’ serves to illustrate the recent expat’s feelings of displacement to those to whom they are not familiar, transmitting both the thoughts of its subject and an apt likeness in the form of the pelicans, both “swanlike” and “awkward,” “only slightly ruffled. It is likely to encourage those unfamiliar with her work to seek more.
Similarly, other poems on display in the London Underground will appeal to New Zealanders. John Agard’s ‘Toussaint L’Ouverture Acknowledges Wordsworth’s Sonnet’ transports one from the Tube to the hills of Haiti; Sujata Bhatt’s ‘Finding India in Unexpected Places’ encourages readers to consider the ways in which different people see the UK, as “memories distort geography”.
The London Underground have been selecting and displaying poems on the Tube since 1986. In addition to being displayed on the Underground itself, Fleur Adcock’s ‘Immigrant’ can be found at Tube stations in a booklet entitled ‘World Poems on the Underground,’ newly published. Penguin Books are publishing a larger anthology from Poems on the Underground later this year.
Anna Blair is a freelance writer and architectural historian studying hotels from the 1920s. She currently divides her time between Paris and East London. Further work can be found at her blog – Dispatches from Europe.
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