Last night Fiona Kidman helped to launch Marilyn Duckworth's new poetry collection The Chiming Blue at Unity Books. She has kindly let us reproduce her speech below.
"The chiming began for me somewhere around the early 1960s. I lived in a provincial town, in the suburbs, and the game of the day was trying to keep the nappies on the line as white as those of the neighbours. That is unless you wanted to be a writer, and I did. I had a little clutch of literary heroines, especially those who were New Zealand women writers. Janet Frame, of course, Jean Watson, Joy Cowley. At the top of the list was Marilyn Duckworth. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to be her. The thought of meeting her one day was beyond my wildest dreams – a woman who was a wife and mother, producing a novel every year, and was little divided from me in age. Her first novel was A Gap in the Spectrum in 1959, the next The Matchbox House, and then in 1963, the same year as my first child was born, came Marilyn’s A Barbarous Tongue. She’d done it all before I even began, or so it seemed. There would be another ten or so novels to follow and a collection of poems in 1975. Somewhere along the way, after moving to Wellington in the early 1970s, Marilyn and I did meet. But it wasn’t until that first collection of her poems, Other Lovers’ Children, and the same year that my own first collection appeared, that we started getting to know each other well.
There were readings galore and we started appearing together. A lot of them were at the Settlement, Harry Seresin’s establishment – there is no other word for it – and there were some riotous nights there. It was International Women’s Year and nine books of New Zealand women’s poetry appeared that year, more possibly than there had been in the previous 10 years. So there were often half a dozen women reading, drinking Harry’s red wine, talking, laughing, and crying too when it all got too much for us, far into the nights. Sobbing too – we were an emotional lot. There would be Lauris Edmond, Rachel McAlpine, Jan Kemp, Riemke Ensing – a whole collection of the brave new uprising that we were. Now those were the days, my friends, they really were. The great cohesive glue for these gatherings was Irene Adcock, Marilyn’s mother, who hosted gatherings of poets, men and women, at her house on Mount Victoria. The Campbells, Meg and Alistair, would be there, as too Sam Hunt, Denis Glover. Irene, to whom The Blue Chiming is dedicated, as too, Marilyn’s father Cyril, was the founder of what is now the New Zealand Poetry Society. Marilyn’s sister Fleur – that’s Fleur Adcock, if you don’t know the literary genealogy of this town, sometimes appeared from England to read with us. Terrifying!
Well, that first collection was terrific. We waited for the next one, but the habit of novels had descended on Marilyn again. We waited. But here we are again, more than 40 years later, and at last we are rewarded with The Chiming Blue, this new and lovely collection of Marilyn’s, this long awaited book, published impeccably, as always, by Fergus and Victoria University Press, with an evocative cover from one of mother Irene’s paintings.
It’s a rich collection, gathered up from the years, peopled with the characters and loves of a lifetime, and reflecting our own beautiful city of Wellington – Karori cemetery, coffee bars that people of a certain age at a particular time in their lives – like in the 1960s and 70s used to inhabit, sharply observed, as in ‘Decision in a Coffee Bar’ that begins: ‘Now that we have bitten back the flesh/we see each other in more livid light/sharp limbs quiver at curious angles/like chicken bones discarded on a plate.’ Indeed.
There are break ups and reunions, loss, grief and laughter, there are writers’ festivals and conferences, and figs for Denis – Glover of course... Above all, perhaps, there are the voices of children, Marilyn’s four daughters who are here this evening, one of those rare lovely times that we as parents know as we get older, when all the children are together, and already the wings of some of them are hovering like moths at evening, ready for flight again to the other side of the world. So this is a special night for Marilyn’s friends and family to remember and celebrate, the launching of a new book The Chiming Blue.
Marilyn, you have had many honours, not forgetting the Prime Ministers Award for Fiction last year. But I want to thank you for sharing friendship over the years, for constancy and acceptance. I’ve made one or two dreadful boo boos on occasion, said quite the wrong thing about this or that but you have this unfailing grace that smoothes it over and says, it’s all right Fiona, it really is all right. I love that this is you, your way of dealing with the world. All those years ago, I couldn’t have guessed that I’d get up this real and personal, but it happened. Thank you. Thank you for The Chiming Blue, may the poems sail into the world, sails unfurled."
The Chiming Blue by Marilyn Duckworth can be purchased at the best bookshops and through our online bookshop. $25, p/b.