The Poetry Place

Stewart Island - Fleur Adcock

Leaving aside the inevitable question from your students ‘What makes this a poem?’ try steering discussion along the lines of persona.  Who is speaking?  Do we think it is the poet herself or is it an example of the writer putting herself in the shoes of someone else? What other examples can we think of?  Browning comes to mind, of course. Duffy does it many times over in The World’s Wife.

What can be deduced about the speaker?  Do we assume the speaker is a woman?  Would it change our reaction to the poem if we imagined it to be a man?

What might we deduce about the hotel manager’s wife?  The speaker tries to use the fact that she ran off with a Maori fisherman as evidence that she too couldn’t bear to live there – but there could have been many other reasons!

In small group, students could undertake a prioritising activity, arranging these statements in order of likelihood. Add any others you wish.

The speaker is…

a parent
a single parent
from a city
prejudiced about the island
protective of her children
sympathetic to the manager’s wife
trying to make the best of it
unaccompanied by her partner
unappreciative of nature
unmoved by beauty
a natural whinger

Finally, a short creative response: What else, beside ‘How can you bear to live here?’ might the writer have said and what was the context of the conversation?


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