Robert Adamson and the Spirit of Place

I was saddened to hear last week of the passing of Australian poet, Robert Adamson at the age of 79.

Adamson was a force in Australian poetry, part of the ‘new poetry’ push in the 1960s and 1970s and edited New Poetry magazine for fourteen years. By the time I came across his work, in the early 1980s, he was well established as an important voice in Australian poetry.

Personally, I was particularly drawn to the spirit of place in Adamson’s work, the belief in the importance of the ‘local’ that I have found so often in writers I admire, particularly in his case, the Hawkesbury River region. His writing about landscape and birds has been something I’ve enjoyed most in his work.

This week, after the news, I pulled some of the Adamson books from my collection and re-read some of those poems. I also re-read his memoir of prose and poetry, Wards of the State. They remain impressive work, grounded in the real world, but ‘fishing in a landscape for love’

Selected Poems (A&R, 1978)
The autobiographical memoir, ‘Wards of the State’ (A&R, 1992)
‘Waving to Hart Crane’ (A&R, 1994)
‘The Golden Bird – New and Selected Poems’ (BlackInc 2008)

Sea Scale

It was nice to hear about the release of a new and selected volume from Australian poet Brook Emery, launched recently in Glebe, NSW, available now from the poetry section of the Puncher and Wattman site. When I had a look recently I was surprised and impressed with the range of Australian poetry they’re publishing currently.

With a particular focus on memory and the sea, this new book brings together new poems and selections from his five previous volumes; themes that particularly appeal to me.

I’ve been reading and enjoying Brook’s work for a long time now (proof here with my post about attending his 2012 launch of ‘Collusion’, way back in 2012!), so I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this significant release.

Some Gwen Harwood Editions

After reading and writing again about Gwen Harwood recently, I thought I’d post some images from some of the editions of her work I have. Wikipedia lists the following for Harwood and I have most of them.

  • Poems (1963)
  • Poems Volume Two (1968)
  • The Lion’s Bride (1981)
  • Bone Scan (1988)
  • The Present Tense (1995)
  • Gwen Harwood : Collected Poems, 1943–1995 (2003)

The prize of my collection, probably, is my copy of the first book Poems. It’s missing the dust-jacket it originally would have had, and is a bit of a battered old library copy, but I’m happy to have a first edition of the first book of this important poet.

The next I have is The Lion’s Bride, which is a wonderful collection. My copy is a bit battered and faded, and copiously underlined.

Bone Scan (1988) is another wonderful collection which won several prizes.

I’ve got a couple of copies of the Selected Poems and they are falling apart a bit as was the tendency of the early A&R poetry editions. I bought one to a Gwen Harwood reading and she kindly signed it for me. Unfortunately, in the busy room, she mis-heard and signed it for Warren, not Warrick! Nevertheless, I cherish that one too.

My copy is underlined throughout and heavily annotated as it was the basis for my minor thesis on Harwood. That makes it less valuable for anyone else, but more valuable for me.

The two most recent ‘selections’ are still in print now. Harwood (along with Les Murray) would be one of the few Australian poets to be continually in print since her first book in 1963.

Poems (Volume 2) 1968, her second collection, is the important missing one I’d most like to find at some stage. You rarely see copies in second hand shops and I’ve seen one or two online at $150USD os so. Perhaps one day!

Looking back at her body of work, iIt’s hard to believe now that she published no books between Poems (Volume 2) (1968) and The Lion’s Bride, (1981), so no books at all during the 70s, when I think her voice would really have resonated with the times, particularly the feminist poems that seem so much in tune with the changes in Australia at that time.

‘My Tongue is My Own’: On Gwen Harwood and her Poetry

I’m halfway through Anne-Marie Priest’s excellent biography of the Australian poet Gwen Harwood, My Tongue is My Own and it has already had the desired effect; making me pull a copy of Harwood’s Selected Poems off my bookshelf to have beside me as I read it.

Of course I started re-reading some old favourites and also looked through some of the other Harwood books there as well. I’ve always enjoyed Harwood’s writing and wrote my minor thesis for an M.A. at Monash University on aspects of her work calling it, Light from a Single Source. I’ve written about her poetry at length, read the poems again and again over the years, and taught Harwood in Literature classes whenever I could.

So, I have several editions of her work gathered over the years, which I was reminded of today. It was good to look through them again and I’ll post some images of those editions soon. Meanwhile, Priest’s work is highly recommended as a long overdue life of this important Australian poet.

If you’re keen to look at Harwood’s poetry yourself a number of editions are still in print. The Selected Poems from Penguin Books or The Best 100 Poems from BlackInc are both good places to start, and available from Readings as is Anne-Marie Priest’s new biography.


Remembering Les Murray

When I typed that title I almost changed it. Remembering Les? I didn’t know him and I didn’t want this title to be a misleading invitation to some reader, eager for memories and anecdotes (there’s just one) but when I heard of Les Murray’s death this week I took a bit of time to remember what he meant to me as a poet over the years and also as an editor who supported my work.

When I discovered that poetry was still alive and real, and began reading and exploring poetry seriously for the first time, undertaking an MA at Monash University I soon discovered Les Murray. I wrote a minor thesis on the development of the long poem in Australia, from 1960 to 1980. It was an age of national re-evaluation and the study began with work like Captain Quiros by James McAuley and ended with Les Murray’s rollicking narrative of sonnets, The Boys Who Stole the Funeral. I read a lot, including all of Murray, and grew to love his breath-verse, his gorgeous verve with words with favourites like the early Driving through Sawmill Towns andThe Buladelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle and one of my very favourites: The Broad-Bean Sermon.

Murray is often described as the ‘bard of the bush’ kind of writer but more precisely I think he’s a fine poet of place, and was a big influence on me opening my eyes to ways of seeing the very particular. His sense of locale, of the landscape and history of the place, a strange conservative environmentalist (like another distinctive Australian voice: Eric Rolls?) I loved his inventiveness, his wit and his way of turning the familiar into this wonderful surprising thing (almost) trapped in language.

From the late 1980s as I was working hard towards the publication of my first book of poetry, I was writing furiously and sending poems out to all corners, lot of times without success. Murray had begun as poetry editor of the conservative magazine Quadrant in 1991 and was receptive to my work, as I was hugely admiring of his. I copped a little flak from publishing in that journal from some quarters, but Murray’s endorsement as poetry editor trumped any concerns I might have had about the politics of that journal. Murray published seventeen poems of mine over the next few years and I was always grateful for that support and endorsement. One of the poems of mine he published was this one:


Outside, the wind in the trees
sounds like the sea,
but warm; a northerly
uncomfortable among the grey
still bare brooms of poplars
that line the rim of this paddock.
The wind is a warm liquid,
unsettling, visible in waves
along the yellow-green grass, flattening
like a helicopter does or a flipper
of a diver brushing away the fine silt
of legend.

Some crows, ink spots
in the high light,
are swimming like exotic fish,
suspended in it, sliding.
Their black fins, ragged,
torn along the edges,
as if something has been eating at them.

The one small anecdote? I was lucky enough to see Murray read his work several times over the years, at book launches and festivals. Once, while I was doing my Masters at Monash University, Murray did a reading for staff and students. Of course I went along and Les signed my copy of The Vernacular Republic (Poems 1961-1891) Afterwards, my supervisor suggested I join a few of the English Department teachers for a Chinese meal at a restaurant nearby: Les was coming along.

It was winter, dark, cold and I wanted to get home. I was tired, teaching full-time and trying to study and write. It was going to be a slow 45 minute drive home. So I didn’t go. I’ve always regretted it. Dinner with Les Murray. But, oddly enough, I really I didn’t, even then, feel a compelling need to meet the person because I knew so much through the poetry.

Luckily we’ll always have that.

Top: River Red Gums
Above: My copy of The Vernacular Republic, from the A&R Modern Poets series with the famously brittlely blued spines!, signed by Les Murray
Below: The broad, majestic Murray, near Mildura

Photos: Warrick

Exploring the Depths

I received this week my contributor’s copy to a new collection of poems called Exploring the Depths, a collection of poems based on the concept of exploration. It’s a lovely collection, edited by Janette Fernando, and it includes a poem of mine called ‘Driving Lake Mungo’, on the strange and beautiful experience of visiting Lake Mungo for the first time.

You can learn more about this, and order a copy from Poetica Christi Press.