ANNA Adams was able to capture in words what the poet Philip Larkin described as “earth’s immeasurable surprise”. Whether she was writing about Yorkshire or her beloved island of Scarp in the Outer Hebrides she had the rare ability to reflect the time and place of a situation with a profound insight.
Yet there was always a very personal sense of understanding in her prose – she wrote of a row of hawthorn hedges as “the sweet come-hither chorus lines of Summer”.
She was also an inspired draughtsman and often illustrated many of her collected poems.
It was in the 1970s that Adams, her husband and her children bought a croft on the sparsely inhabited island of Scarp for £200. Every year they spent summers there and only gave up the property when the travelling became a problem.
It was that very remoteness that Adams enjoyed and thrived on. Certainly her penetrating poem Island Chapters, written in 1991, captured their lifestyle on Scarp with a stark reality.
The book has a sensitive charge – both the prose and the poetry – which sees Adams at her most incisive and observant. The watercolour illustrations by her husband, the renowned artist Norman Adams RA, captured the contrasting colours and skies of the island and complemented her poems with a deft honesty.
Adams found the rugged nature of the Outer Hebrides and their people an annual inspiration: the Atlantic cliffs, the pounding waves and the changing weathers were all totally invigorating for her.
But she also subtly reflected the people and their traditions as can be seen in this stanza from Island Chapters:
The Sabbath closes doors and hushes speech,
manacles hands, gyves feet, suppresses each
workaday wish for play, deserts the beach,
while people from the seashore houses wear
their Sundaybest expressions, oil their hair,
and walk in polished boots to meet for prayer.
The youngest of three children, Anna Butt was the daughter of a Fleet Street journalist who had been a conscientious objector during the First World War. After Harrow Art School, where she met her future husband, who would in the 1980s serve as Keeper of the Royal Academy of Arts, Adams studied at Hornsey Art College where she researched the paintings of Giotto and was fascinated by the poems and drawings of William Blake. After a period of working in ceramics and sculpting (often of animals) Adams worked as a part-time teacher and in 1979 she published her first volume of poems, A Reply to Intercepted Mail. It was a charming verse-letter to WH Auden, composed after she had discovered that they both used the same teachers’ recruitment agency.
The poem is a witty take on Auden’s Letter to Lord Byron and Adams’ opening lines demonstrate an altogether more relaxed style, “In spite of my shortcomings, your long letter/roused this response. “That’s it” I said!”/ I’ll write a poem full of mundane matter’/like conversation.”
Many of her most striking works reflect her love of nature and the countryside. Trees in Sheep Country (1996) sees her combine her poetic skills with her artistic vision and fine sense of purpose and meaning in every facet of nature. Or as she writes, “every twig, bird and bud”.
Life on Limestone (1994) is a similar work to Island Chapters but it is a reflection of the 30 years she spent living in a converted farmhouse in the Yorkshire Dales.
Adams continued to write and paint with success and never tired of capturing with wit and charm her love of the natural world. In her 80s she continued to write with that same ability to observe and interpret. The Nature of Nature is a summary by her of her life in the country – either in Yorkshire or the Hebrides. It is a very personal statement.
She cared for her husband, who suffered from Parkinson’s’ Disease, until his death in 2005. She herself suffered a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair for her last few years.
Anna Adams is survived by her two sons. ALASDAIR STEVEN