The last interview of the poet Robert Adamson

Spin sang and danced, imitating motor boats passing by, conversing with the poet in identical, flat vocal voices. “Yes,” they agreed. A daily visitor was Johnny Griffiths, local cafe owner and river lover for 50 years, ever since Adamson taught him to fish and referred his school class to TS Eliot. Now Griffiths Spins took over care.

In his study, Adamson talked quietly about dying. As a young man, despite his risky ways, he wanted to live to be 99 like his grandfather.

“But since that news that I have four months to live I just said, that’s interesting. I can have a great four months. I can finish my last book and be on the river with Spin and Juno. I worried more about Juno than about death.

“I don’t blame anyone. If this cancer came from when I drank too much, that’s what happens. If it came from when I was on drugs, or if I was just exhausting myself, nobody’s to blame. The doctors did their best. It is God and nature – that suits Spinoza.”

He named the bird after the 17th-century philosopher Spinoza, who opposed human arrogance that places us at the center of the universe. “He doesn’t believe that God is a deity or a person, he thinks that we are all God, the universe is God, birds and fish are God. Spinoza is God.”

Adamson learned to recite Tennyson and Shelley as a dyslexic child in a fishing family. He wrote poetry in his head in Long Bay prison after a series of juvenile crimes, the most prophetic of which was the theft of a gun bird from Taronga Zoo. Although he left school at 14, his passion led him to edit a poetry magazine, run a small press with Gemes, take the chair in Australian poetry at UTS, publish 16 volumes of poetry and an autobiography. from the inside to the outside.

Settled with Gemes by his grandfather’s river since the ’80s, his addiction eventually kicked in, he wrote The soul of the kingfisher: “I have preferred the protection of the night, but here I / have stepped into the day by following your gaze.”

Robert Adamson and Juno Gemes in 2009. When news of his illness broke, their phone turned into a

Robert Adamson and Juno Gemes in 2009. When news of his illness broke, their phone turned into a “love bomb.”Credit:Juno Gemes

“A couple of times I almost died. I was always worried about things I hadn’t done. But now I can see, even if I’ve lived 20 years, there’s not much more.” He quickly added that he’d written and painted more, set up another literary journal for former students to publish, and “one once a month poetry school taking place here in the house with selected students, 10 of the best poets, a poetry workshop that always went on”.

Adamson opened a book about Dutch artist Piet Mondrian and showed how his paintings evolved from trees to geometric abstraction. Mondrian’s “quest for order” influenced him – “he kept refining it and making it purer and clearer. That’s what I’ve tried to do in my poems, refine them back and back and back, just the essence.”

Devin Johnston, his American publisher, has released the latest volume of selected poems in 2020, achieve light, which traces the development of the “restless poet”. At my request, Adamson read out a few “good ones”: Swimming with Emmylou Harris, meaning, Windy Drop Down Creek, On Not Seeing by Paul Cezanne and Love Songs for Juno, which began as an apology scrawled on beer mats. “Juno is woven through it all,” he said. “She’s a tough critic and at the same time so incredibly kind.”


As her husband weakened, Gemes asked Johnston to bring forward a planned trip from Chicago to edit his latest book. Years of research and journaling had yet to be poured into the full story of his association with the bowerbird. Johnston combined the Spinoza material with essays written for him fishing world magazine to create an episodic narrative, birds and fishpublished by Morry Schwartz at Black Inc.

“There is a lifelong sense of deep and loving ambivalence in both birds and fish — about killing fish to see and connecting with them, and imprisoning birds despite feeling so connected to them. An undercurrent of captivity and freedom runs through it,” Johnston said.

For the first two weeks of December he sat by the hospital bed in Adamson’s study and read the manuscript to him, making suggestions and listening to his wishes. They were still working when Adamson was transferred to a hospice, up until the day before he snuck away on December 16, sooner than he had hoped but after everything important was done.

At 1pm on January 13, Adamson’s life will be celebrated at Peat Island Chapel in Mooney Mooney with poetry, music and an honor guard of oyster farmers.

The Booklist is a weekly newsletter for book lovers from book editor Jason Steger. Get it delivered every Friday. The last interview of the poet Robert Adamson

Jaclyn Diaz

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