'We enter the new / century through glass, / black oceans
/ and black winds, / thin fibre funnelling / poetry out / of
So says Adamson in the poem that gives this collection its name. A
lover of poetry, of words, of images, of the river that has been his
home, Robert Adamson, or Bob Adamson as he is known among his contemporaries,
lives and breathes his poetry into crystalline shape.
Robert Adamson was born in 1943 in Sydney, but ran away as a young
teenager to live as a fisherman on the Hawkesbury River in New South
Wales. He is no stranger to the spotlight of literary acclaim. In 1989
one of his collections of poetry, The Clean Dark , won all
three of Australia's most prestigious literary awards for poetry.
Adamson has exerted a great influence on Australian poetry not only
through his own work, but also through his activities as a publisher
and editor - he manages and edits Paperbark Press along with his wife
Juno Gemes and fellow writer and academic, Michael Wilding. His influential
magazine New Poetry even after its demise still draws poets
to its pages. He is also one of the 140 Australian poets to have found
their way into the Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century Poetry
edited by Ian Hamilton, and his work's been translated into seven languages
including Russian and Chinese.
In 'Waving to Hart Crane' Adamson is, says the critic Imre Salusinszky,
at his most experimental. Like glass each poem is a clear, imagistic
piece of art that seems to need no interpretation, at least on a superficial
level. This is not deliberately abstract or 'difficult poetry' masquerading
under a guise of philosophical ingenuity - it is poetry that deals with
issues of difficulty - difficulty in relationships, in conversation,
in art, in poetry, in poetic style.
Wrestling with this difficulty the poet has achieved that particular
freedom which 'comes to us when we trust / what we truly know. / What
we know now is poetry / a power as difficult as a bow / with an arrow
/ going off to kill, / even though we don't want blood / on our hands.'
He knows the 'wonderful, clumsy sort of foxtrot' of other poetic movements
some of which he is not ashamed to decry - 'Like a long line / of false
epiphanies, strung together / and thrown onto the page. (Looking out
Sideways, for Barrett Reid)
It is when you read these poems on a deeper level that they move or
translate themselves into that transcendent state or quality which elusively
defines poetry as poetry and not mere strings of words. His words are
never 'thrown onto the page' and his tone is never that of deadening
ennui. Adamson greatly admired the American poet Robert Duncan (1919-1988)
who was part of the *San Francisco Group* of poets in the 60s.
His own brand of scepticism cuts sharply across all boundaries one
might wish to draw around him. Adamson was one of the founders of the
so-called Australian 'Generation of '68', if one can use that phrase
with impunity, but I think he has successfully escaped its confines.
The freedom he finds in this collection also comes from a writer who
has an understanding through and through of not only human nature, but
Here the poem, distilled from and born of the poet's off- stage struggle
with complex feelings, becomes in itself the means of escape for the
poet as it comes to life, whole and fresh, from 'our / hearts locked
in their / cages of singing muscle' (Cornflowers).
Each poem carries allusions to other poets as wide ranging as Michael
Palmer and Gerard Manley Hopkins, Charles Olson and Francis Webb, Les
A. Murray, Kevin Hart and Kevin Gilbert, traversing landscapes as different
from each other as Tasmania (Sugar Glider) and Eastern Europe (Flower
Song, Hungary 1942) We go from 'Walking in America with Frederico Garcia
Lorca' to 'Language Poetry in Saskatchewan' and on the way we touch
the nerve of feeling in 'Addiction' and in Hawkesbury Bushfire, or 'The
Australian Crawl' where 'sequential meanings drift into meltdown.' His
images don't bite, they come to life under the pen of a highly skilled
and humorous observer of human nature, and they search out the recesses
of the human heart.
Each poem searches for and finds a closure that satisfies. A poem like
'Alcohol' (p 50) has dips and loops that chart a jagged path from life
with awareness to life with numbness and back again - 'It ends with
a lightness of eyelids.' Behind this poem moves a presence that is as
innocent as a suffering child, something that comes from the soul itself,
affronted by some cruelty in the world. Behind many of the poems is
this poetic intuition - 'In the green beach-light / you said you'd make
/ the moon sing, / the surf purring / and you beating the sand / with
the shreds / of your voice.' (The Written Moon).
Many of the poems are imbued with this intuitive quality, easy to miss
under the surface irony. 'I use the lake / as an inkwell, draw / invisible
serifs... I cannot tell you where I am - / somewhere in the bloodstream
/ is all I can say. My voice / is parched as ink hits the air, / day
itself is the only page.' (A Future Book) .
So too, many are dogged by depression, and themes of drugs, illnesses,
sorrows, fears, but these never dominate the poems, I think because
of Adamson's determination to celebrate life and celebrate nature. Coincidentally,
Hart Crane set out to celebrate America in 'The Bridge.' In the poem
'Waving to Hart Crane' Adamson decries those who 'expunge / the message,
nothing's / praise. If gestures / appear they fold in fade out.'
To read these poems is to experience an encounter with an extraordinary
talent which is all at once restrained and disciplined, exuberant and
celebratory, ironed smooth and imaginative, tender and scalpel-sharp.
Review by Anne Kellas