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Robert Adamson (1943 – )

Robert Adamson 2010, portrait by Juno Gemes© Robert Adamson 2010, portrait by Juno Gemes©

Robert Adamson was born in Sydney in 1943. He grew up in the Sydney suburb of Neutral Bay and was also a frequent visitor to the Hawkesbury River district, where his grandfather was a fisherman. Adamson spent some time in reform school and gaol in late adolescence and early adulthood, but it was while incarcerated that he educated himself and developed his interest in poetry.

Adamson became involved with the Sydney poetry world in the late 1960s and was a significant figure in the rise of the ‘New Australian Poetry’ in the early 1970s. His first poetry collection, Canticles on the Skin, was published in 1970, and he has gone on to publish more than a dozen further volumes, including the acclaimed The Clean Dark (1989) and The Goldfinches of Baghdad (2006). Adamson was editor of New Poetry magazine from 1971–1976, and has also maintained an interest in publishing, establishing the imprints Prism Books (1971), Big Smoke Books (with Dorothy Hewett, 1979) and Paper Bark Press (with Juno Gemes and Michael Wilding, 1986).

Adamson’s poetry has dealt with his experiences in reform school and prison, the landscape of the Hawkesbury River where he has lived (and fished) for many years, his personal relationships, and his colleagues and mentors including the Sydney painter Brett Whiteley and poets Francis Webb, Michael Dransfield and US poet Robert Duncan. Adamson has won several major Australian literary awards including the Grace Leven Poetry Prize (twice, for Selected Poems [1977] and The Goldfinches of Baghdad), the C. J. Dennis Award, the Kenneth Slessor Prize, and the National Book Council Turnbull Fox Phillips Poetry Prize (for The Clean Dark), and the Fellowship of Australian Writers Christopher Brennan Award (1995).  

In 2004 Adamson won the New South Wales Premier's History Award for Inside Out, in 2007 The Age Book of the Year Poetry Prize for The Goldfinches of Baghdad, in 2009  Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Poetry for The Golden Bird, and in 2011 the Patrick White Award.  He is currently the inaugural CAL chair of poetry at the University of Technology, Sydney.


Poetry Collections
  • Canticles on the Skin (Sydney: Illumination Press, 1970).
  • The Rumour (Sydney: New Poetry for the Poetry Society of Australia, 1971).
  • Zimmer’s Essay: Some More Experiences (Glebe, NSW: Wild and Woolley, 1974).
  • Swamp Riddles (Sydney: Island Press, 1974).
  • Selected Poems (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1977)
  • Cross the Border (Sydney: Prism, 1977).
  • Where I Come From (Sydney: Big-Smoke Books, 1979).
  • The Law at Heart’s Desire (Sydney: Prism, 1982).
  • The Clean Dark (Sydney: Paper Bark Press, 1989).
  • Selected Poems 1970–1989 (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1990).
  • Wards of the State: An Autobiographical Novella (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1992).
  • Waving to Heart Crane (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1994).
  • The Language of Oysters (Roseville, NSW: Craftsman House, 1997).
  • Meaning (Cambridge: Peter Riley, 1998).
  • Black Water: Approaching Zukofsky (Rose Bay, NSW: Brandl and Schlesinger, 1999).
  • Mulberry Leaves: New and Selected Poems 1970–2001 (Sydney: Paper Bark Press, 2001).
  • Reading the River: Selected Poems (Tarset, Northumberland, England: Bloodaxe Books, 2004).
  • The Goldfinches of Baghdad (Chicago: Flood Editions, 2006). http://www.floodeditions.com/adamson
  • The Golden Bird: New and Selected Poems (Melbourne: Black Inc, 2008).
  • The Kingfisher's Soul  (UK: Bloodaxe Books, 2009)
Suggested Further Reading
  • Robert Adamson, Inside Out: An Autobiography (Melbourne: Text, 2004).
  • Michael Brennan, ‘Pure Work: Mallarmé, Mondrian and Adamson,’ Salt Magazine 1 [new series] (2007).
  • Michael Brennan, ‘Becoming “Absolutely Modern”: Adamson and Tranter’s Abandonment,’ in Xavier Pons, ed. Departures: How Australia Reinvents Itself (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2002).
  • David Brooks, ‘Feral Symbolists: Robert Adamson, John Tranter, and the Response to Rimbaud’, Australian Literary Studies 16.3 (1994): pp. 280–88.
  • Livio Dobrez, ‘Adamson: The Metamorphosis of the Subject’, Parnassus Mad Ward: Michael Dransfield and the New Australian Poetry (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1990), pp. 163–200.
  • Martin Duwell, ‘Homages and Invoctions: The Early Poetry of Robert Adamson’, Australian Literary Studies 14.2 (1989): pp. 229–38.
  • Robert Harris, ‘Robert Adamson’s Reckoning’, Overland 121 (1990): pp. 57–62.
  • Andrew Johnson, ‘Orpheus on the Hawkesbury: Placing Robert Adamson,’ Journal of Australian Studies no. 80 (2004): 29–42, 234–235.