Monday, November 22, 2010

Instant-tea and the white abyss...

Robert Adamson


In line with my advice from my supervisors, I have been reading poetry daily. I have now read through six books of Robert Adamson's poetry: Canticles on the skin (1970), The Rumour (1971), Swamp Riddles (1974), Zimmer's Essay (1974) coauthored by Bruce Hanford, Selected Poems (1977) and Where I come from (1979). Adamson is a well established Australian literary figure and is probably most known for his poems that deal with his incarceration, his drug use as well as his friendship with the poet Michael Dransfield and being the editor of the New Poetry magazine.

As you can see, I have just started reading his back catalogue, and while my reading of his work has not been exhaustive, I have enjoyed the different approaches he takes to each book of poetry. In his early work he names his influences and pays homage to them, in stark contrast to the more personal, autobiographical poems in Where I come from. His list of influences are wonderful, from Rimbaud to Bob Dylan, Shelley to the Black Mountain Poets. Canticles was his first book of poems and I loved the poem "Your magazine husband"; here is part three:

I hardly see you these days
& when I do you have that

'ah, Rimbaud - you'll grow out of
him' look in your eyes.

Because I prefer silence, spooks
of fallen-heroes drift away

in sunlight, even Rimbaud disperses
like curls of hashish

on a draught - I have no sense
of seasons anymore, only

crumpled balls of typing paper
clenched in my fists:

I miss your cups of instant-tea.

Robert Adamson

How evocative and wonderful is that last line especially? "I miss your cups of instant-tea", so beautifully mundane. I also read today an interview between John Tranter and Robert Adamson from the late 1970s, published in Martin Duwell's A Possible Contemporary Poetry. Right at the end of the interview, Tranter is questioning Adamson about his approach to writing and Adamson says, "You know, writing has never been a great life for me, it's been a terrible task. I've had to use the small amount of self-discipline and everything in my power to say 'Look, sit down and write!'" Tranter responds saying, "I think most writers have felt that about poetry, and yet they keep on doing it." To which Adamson wonderfully ends the interview by saying: "Yeah... there's no such thing as a virgin white pages for me... it's a white abyss."

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