Robert 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 Blake Prize for Poetry and the Patrick White Award. He is currently the inaugural CAL chair of poetry at the University of Technology, Sydney.
His website is

4 am

And must it always come down to time
we are waiting in a bus shelter

for the thunder storm to pass soaked through in
and all the city around us moving off

and we cannot shake ourselves
out of this dream of our lives spent waiting
even in love

The Great Auk

for Charles Buckmaster

Birding in Boulder with Merrill. The Rockies
behind us as we walked by Walden Ponds,
listening for warblers. We talked about
great auks, evidently they once
lived throughout the North Atlantic
from Norway, Greenland, Iceland, right
down to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. There were
rumours of great auks in Ireland,
in our conversation they
came pouring out of Jack
Collom’s Great Auk Poem into the air
around our heads, though
they were long extinct and unable to fly.
I mentioned that many years ago
there was a poetry journal
called The Great Auk, published for a season
or two in Melbourne, edited
by a young poet named
Charles Buckmaster. Once it traveled
to Sydney and charmed the bookshop people
who offered it a sanctuary for
awhile. Charles spoke of auk bones
discovered in Massachusetts, fragments put
together by the archaelogist of morning, kingfisher
of poets. Charles wrote for the lost forest
and opened new pages as he
walked the streets of Melbourne,
writing back the great auks, speaking of branches
to sing from, as the growth rings
thickened our lives, he stretched himself imagining
pilchards in massive schools
turning oceans silver with auk food—
Auks returning in poems, swimming from the heads
of poets, into the tides of our words.

Walking by the River

He walked waist-deep
through his thoughts,
emotions, a tangle of vines
and tree-creepers.

His words were finches,
flying before him
as he swung his arms—
scrambled paragraphs.

A waterfall sounded
ahead of his walk,
chipped words cracked
with each step. He came to

a calm place, opulent phrases
in bloom: purple-fruited
pigface, the blackthorn’s
blue-black sloe.

What I Have Of Faith

If you look out
the window you will see nothing
the willow is flowing nicely

you will be blind
and hear the sound of poetry
read by a woman

who reviews owls, like an owl
split in two by a cat, flying off
in two directions

on this side, a sprig of inkweed
on the other, Tasmanian kelp.
Here language comes out

at night and mixes
with the locals, who knows what
is getting done

aside from talking.
The serious tone is more assuring
well, more than laughter –

for some reason things
change tonight, we hear a muted
thudding, a good night

for the litter of kittens.
Hawks circle the kitchen light,
moths with beaks

come flying out, nothing
surreal. The lawn man walks in
with a glad-bag

dropping feathers; you must
remember to reassemble the goldfinch
before the refreshments.

The White Abyss

After a life, the next decade
is a concept I must comprehend—
Time, wrote Augustine, is some kind of trick.

He asked his God to forgive him
for thinking along these lines,
it had to be done.

What happens next?  Outside
Hell smoulders as usual
inside, electricity and words.

Everything exists to end in the book.

I live in Mallarme’s head for days
nothing happens and this
is paradise, thoughts
unfold instead of flowers, abstract and warm.

I have not experienced a grief
as devastating as the black abyss
the death of Anatole left—
this is a corner of the head I prefer
not to revisit

when I go back the intensity
of the experience of loss leaves me empty.

This is death then, a blank
where no thought flowers, a pit of black
tideless water, where no fish kill.

Here you realise you can live through anything,
stripped, without a head, your soul
shown up for the joke souls are.

Then you begin to understand Augustine.

The Bower of Bliss 

Birds, voices, instruments, winds, waters
all agree: the windpipe created a melodious tone
as the blade sunk home. Although sorcery
is not in fashion it worked. The mask of Cupid fell,

revealing a man without a hat, a murderous
swine cold as a jobfish. If we translate the circuitous
murmuring of hoops bowled along, if we
squint, a picture will form from the sounding:

it will turn out to be the blond woman
from Blond On Blond, the sad-eyed lady herself –
she has a rendezvous tomorrow, under a juniper tree

with a landscape painter. They’ll exchange sketches.
Outside on the street drunks are shadow-boxing neon.

Nothing on the mind 

The gnome’s Akubra is part of his head.
He drinks Jack & Coke – at last they’ve come up
with an alcoholic robot. Let me tell you
ambition leads to imitation oak.

The weight of eyes rides on my cheeks,
until blotchy flowers become thoughts
feeding by brain; venomous butterflies flit
through my eardrums. When the limits fall away,

brightness flares about, there is no shade –
nothing but illumination on a sea of drink.
Philosophers I swallowed undigested swim in circles,

bronze-whalers of the intellect, you can’t dream
in this slipstream of blood. Your punishment is to think.

Our different versions

Everybody thinks they’ve been in hell too long,
it’s the quality of the shades you meet.
I’m fond of the ones who say we’re underground,
maybe it’s the language of the inferno

that keeps it bearable. Or the letters home.
Then his voice over-riding the morning:
I’ll give you one last song that will explain everything.
Some girl’s been walking naked in the bedroom,

softly howling for an hour. She’s not out of it,
just a bit tight, who wants to spoil the night?
Hell has no location. There’s a swirl of information

and we notice the details on the edges. Stay hear me sing.
An old song is scratching the tissue of the drum.

Elegy from Balmoral Beach

for Arkie Deya Whiteley

A beach. Small waves and a shark net.
Moonlight on a fig tree, the bay a black mirror.

Music coming from a house, an exquisite guitar.
Tonight, there’s nothing more bitter.

Resonating chords float above the school yard,
night birds beat the humid air. The ebb tide

exposes the moon’s haul: squabbling seagulls
slicing open the body of a drowned rat.

A light flickers, a newspaper floats. Doc Watson’s
playing sounds like a waterfall, almost gentle.

Tonight the harbour’s incandescent.
You arrive in an empty boat.


All of these poems have been previously published throughout Bob’s career. My sincere thanks to him for sending me these, some of my all-time favourite poems, and allowing me to republish them on this website.


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