‘Instead of an Interview’ by Fleur Adcock, is a poem essentially about the divided sense of identity she has inherited: from both family (or historical) emigrant experience and personal deportation. In the poem, the issue is complicated, as Adcock explores the loss and alienation that emerges from the choice of long-term separation from family. It begins with descriptive visual imagery, where Adcock attempts to familiarise herself with the childhood images of “The hills”, “water, the clean air”, and “a river or two”, “certain bays”, and “those various and incredible hills”.
The description almost seems like a ramble, which evokes a fresh and exciting experience. Although we learn later on in this poem that she addresses England as her “home”, this stanza largely bears feelings of nostalgia. The “ah” in the last line of the stanza re-emphasises her expression of relief, relaxation and comfort, after her first visit back to New Zealand after 13 years. Through this poem, Adcock offers “snapshots” of her family’s past, and the struggles of family, marriage, and life. In the second stanza, we see Fleur warming up to the familiarity of New Zealand – the “streets I could follow blind”, and other “familiar settings”.
There seems to be a sense of distress, as Fleur is engaging in parts of her past that she has tried to forget about. Coming back to her birthplace appears to be more overwhelming, than comforting. It seems like she had gone away because she hadn’t like it enough to stay. Whether good or bad, “the dreams (she’d) not bothered to remember” kept creeping back automatically as she passed “familiar settings”. She further relates this attachment with the atmosphere of the country: “ingrained; ingrown; incestuous: like the country. The elaborated vowel sounds enhance the warmth of the stanza, drawing the reader closer to Adock’s personal feelings.
The semicolons serve as caesuras, creating dramatic pauses for emphasis. The slightly grotesque terms – “ingrained”, “ingrown”, “incestuous” – are used to emphasise the vividness of her hometown memories, as if they were carved into her thoughts. The three adjectives and the caesuras have a rapid flow, which then shifts to a lingering rhythm with “like the country”, composed of three words. This sudden change in rhythm brings about a grand atmosphere or aura, especially ue to the end-stopped line, since this breaks the flow and changes to a new stanza.
The use of “country” enhances this importance – her memories and country complement one another, emphasising the size and enormity of these “ingrained”, “ingrown”, and “incestuous” memories. Another significant and extremely personal connection mentioned in this stanza is, “my Thorndon” – Thorndon being the capital city of New Zealand. The personal pronoun “my” emphasises a sense of belonging and possession, as though she wants to point out that this country is a significant part of her childhood.
In the third stanza, Fleur is genuine to mention all the wonderful things ‘another city’ in New Zealand offered to her: “a lover”, “quite enough friends”, in terms of relationships. Her use of caesuras is evident once again in the third line: “bookshops; galleries; fish in the sea”. She is heightening the reader’s interest with her clever use of punctuation, once again emphasising the different and essential memories of her country. The reader is able to identify from this line Fleur’s many areas of interest. She seems to enjoy the company of nature – natural imagery is abundant in this particular stanza.
The “gardens”, “fish in the sea”, “lemons and passionfruit” signify her love for nature. It is evident that these authentic memories are destroyed due to urbanisation; as she mentions in the earlier stanza – “half my Thorndon smashed for the motorway”. The trees and gardens were ruined over the years and replaced by synthetic and unnatural materials. Hence, her sense of possession has strengthened, with whatever piece of nature and memory that remains. ‘Instead of an Interview’ exposes Adcock’s sense of an identity split between New Zealand and Britain.
This alternating change in culture evidently created confusion with Adcock identifying herself. Adcock explained to her niece, “home is London; and England, Ireland, Europe. “Perhaps she is entirely attached (maybe temporarily) to the British culture, since she has practically lived there her whole adult and professional life. After visiting her birth town, all the childhood memories came flooding in; perhaps she resisted them because she is still so confused about where she really belongs.
The idea of ‘home’ being a “loaded word” re-emphasises her befuddled state of being. Adding to that, the poem ends with a question ark: “have I made myself for the first time an exile? ” This use of punctuation leaves the reader puzzled, with plenty of questions, because the speaker herself is unsure about her identity. For the first time, Fleur feels she has made herself an “exile”, which is the state of being expelled from one’s native country. This is a serious dilemma and seems as though she wrote this poem in a slightly sentimental hangover from having visited New Zealand after 13 years. What is misleading is that the poem comes across as Adcock’s way of saying she does not like to talk or be interviewed but rather to show her emotions through her poems.
Courtney from Study Moose
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