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This review is taken from PN Review 163, Volume 31 Number 5, May - June 2005.

LIFE ON THE RIVER ROBERT ADAMSON, Reading the River: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe) £10.95

In Australia Robert Adamson is a celebrated senior poet, but he hasn't become known in the northern hemisphere, perhaps partly because he isn't much given to travelling, and has for instance only visited the UK twice as a poet. Both his life and his poetry focus on his home ground - he comes from a fishing family on the Hawksbury River in New South Wales, which he returned to after a 'mis-spent youth' which is reflected in some of his earlier poems, and has remained there since, combining fishing with literary activities. So whereas the pastoral poetry of Les Murray or John Kinsella leaves them free to trot the globe, perhaps because in both cases it is heavily involved with a sense of the past, or with conditions which if not memories are the outcome of a long maintained stability, Adamson is tied to the equally rural arena of the great river in a continuing exploration in the present tense, writing out of his own life as it unfolds before him. And what it presents him with is the life-blood of his poetry.

We live here by this
sliding water, brown by day
black at night

flecked with bats
and the blue powdery stars. ('Folk song')

There is great unity and sense of purpose. From early to late, in many different formulations, the self as a wild, damaging and self-damaging thing, focused on its own cruelty and pain, ...


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