“Poetry is a way of ordering your experiences”
Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper was one of the first people to obtain a PhD in English as a Second Language at La Trobe, forging the path for the plethora of international students La Trobe now educates. Her experience as a mature aged student, as well as her past, inspired her to begin poetry and her first poem came to life in a small office on the La Trobe campus.
Marietta is a survivor of the Holocaust. The Second World War broke out and the Netherlands – where Marietta lived with her family - was invaded in 1942, when she was only four years’ old. Marietta was removed from her mother and housed with a Christian family for her protection. Her father spent the duration of the war working for the British forces, while her mother worked in the resistance. Marietta was estranged from her father for seven years and her mother for three, causing a fraught family dynamic, later expressed in her poetry. After the war, at age 11, she emigrated to Australia with her family.
Marietta’s passion for language began at a young age. In addition to speaking her native language (Dutch), she learnt French at the age of seven and eventually became fluent in German and English.
Marietta commenced studying in 1956 at the University of Melbourne where she completed her Diploma of Education. Shortly thereafter, she had two children – Hannah (1963) and David (1965). While on leave she completed a Masters in Germanic languages in 1972 and was later eager to become involved in the emerging field of English as a Second Language.
Marietta enrolled to do her PhD in Education at Latrobe in 1984 and, five years’ later, was offered a position at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga. Lecturing in literacy in a foreign language, she expanded their previously non-existent English as a Second Language degree.
Marietta’s extensive fascination with language flows into her poetry career. In her two books of poetry she writes about survival; of the Holocaust, of immigration, and of breast cancer. She also writes about nature - a passion that she is now exploring through photography. Marietta recently donated a portion of her photography exhibition at Melbourne’s Austin Health Service to the hospital.
Marietta’s other achievements include co-founding a poetry magazine in 1990 and running an annual multilingual poetry event. She was President of the Melbourne Poets Union for several years. She still does free-lance work editing, tutoring and translating.
Her message for future La Trobe staff and students is “do things not to your students, but with your students. You enter into their world, don’t drag them into yours.”