Robert Adamson was nourished for much of his life by Australia’s Hawkesbury River. His poetry praises nature – red in tooth and claw – and celebrates existence as a mythological quest. His early poems trace his own journey through a difficult childhood, prison and exile in the city, the source of a hard-won scepticism undercutting the highly personal Romanticism and daring lyricism of his later work.
His grandfather was a fisherman on the Hawkesbury, where Bob lived, on and off, for most of his life, and for the past three decades with photographer Juno Gemes. A series of juvenile misdemeanours resulted in him being sent to various detention centres. It was during this period that he began writing poetry, as he recounts in a memoir covering his early years, Inside Out (2004).
He was born in Sydney in 1943. From 1970 to 1985 he was the driving force behind Australia’s New Poetry magazine, and in 1986, with Juno, he established Paper Bark Press, for two decades one of Australia’s leading poetry publishers. He was the inaugural CAL chair of poetry at UTS (University of Technology, Sydney) in 2011-14. He has published over 20 books of poetry, including three with Bloodaxe in Britain, Reading the River (2004), The Kingfisher’s Soul (2009) and Net Needle (2016), and The Language of Oysters (1997), a celebration of the Hawkesbury River combining his poems with Juno’s photographs. He died in 2022.
Our film’s narrative covers some of the key aspects of his life and work: his early obsession with fishing, birds and nature; his discussions with American poets Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley during their visits to Australia (with Duncan’s outing to the Hawkesbury inspiring one of the poems he reads); and the ways in which his poetry was transformed with their encouragement, and in particular by Duncan’s insistence on the primacy of myth in poetry and Creeley’s urging that he should write from his own life.
The selection of poems is directed by the stories he tells over the course of two days on and around the river. Their house on the point looks out over Mooney Creek and its old oysterbeds. On one trip downriver, he shows us his grandfather’s old house on the shore, as a pelican takes flight across the water. The film starts with the boat moored at Jerusalem Bay, an inlet where he used to come fishing as a teenager on outings from Sydney.
Shot over two days in February 2010, Pamela Robertson-Pearce’s film is from the DVD-anthology In Person: World Poets, filmed & edited by Pamela Robertson-Pearce & Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2017). It includes Bob’s readings of seven poems: ‘The Gathering Light’, ‘Thinking of Eurydice at midnight’, ‘Black water’, ‘My granny’, ‘The Southern Skua’, ‘The Stone Curlew’ and ‘Juno & Eurydice’ from his Bloodaxe titles Reading the River and The Kingfisher’s Soul. These poems also appear in collections published by Black Inc in Australia and by Flood Editions in the US.
IN PERSON: WORLD POETS, filmed & edited by Pamela Robertson-Pearce & Neil Astley:
Robert Adamson: READING THE RIVER: SELECTED POEMS;
Robert Adamson: THE KINGFISHER’S SOUL
Robert Adamson: NET NEEDLE