Poet Ruth Gilbert, also known as Florence Mackay, dies age 99

Poet Ruth Gilbert. Photograph taken when she won the 1948 Jessie Mackay Memorial prize with a set of three poems ...
New Zealand Free Lance, 23/6/194

Poet Ruth Gilbert. Photograph taken when she won the 1948 Jessie Mackay Memorial prize with a set of three poems entitled 'Lazarus'.

Florence Mackay, also known as the poet Ruth Gilbert, has died aged 99, in Wellington.

Mackay, who wrote under her maiden name, was one of the few poets to have been continuously in print for more than 50 years.

She was born in Greytown in March 1917 into a family related to the librettist W S Gilbert. 

Writing since she was just 11-years-old, she became a published New Zealand poet in 1941.

By the end of her life, she had published seven books of verse and her work was seen in many anthologies, in newspapers and in magazines, and in 2002 she was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry. 

When Mackay was awarded the honour in 2002, she said she "couldn't believe it".

At the time, age 85, she said she thought she had "settled in her corner" when she retired to Motueka with her late husband, Dr John Mackay, in 1987.

"Poetry has brought me utter joy - especially when you've got four children," she said on the day.

She said publication of her poems first began after she showed copies of her work to a friend, who urged her to send it to then editor of Wellington's Evening Post.

Her published works grew from there and Mackay went onto become president of NZPEN, a member of the New Zealand Women Writer's Society and a Member of the New Zealand Literary Fund Committee.

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She received the Jessie Mackay Memorial Award for verse in 1948, 1949 and 1967 when she was joint winner with James K. Baxter.

In a Victoria University doctoral thesis written by Michael John O'Leary about the social and literary constraints on women writers, Mackay is described as being at the "heart of the controversy".

She was often poorly reviewed or excluded by male writers in her early days of writing, 

However Mackay was not to be silenced, and went on to express her views on these misogynistic attitudes through letters and poems.

One of her early poems, Shooting Season, is one example.

"When man goes forth/At rise of sun/With haversack/And well-greased gun/How most unpleasant/To be a pheasant/And what abysmal luck/To find oneself a duck."

Her poems were later published in C.A. Marris's New Zealand's Best Poems, Art in New Zealand, The Evening Post, Lyric Poems of New Zealand, Johnson's New Zealand Poetry Yearbook, and Frank McKay's Poetry New Zealand

She has also been published in Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, and her work has been broadcast on the BBC and the former NZBC (now Radio New Zealand). 

A gathering to remember her will be held at Lychgate Funerals, in central Wellington, on Monday.

 - Stuff

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