Robert Adamson (1943-2022)

Robert Adamson (1943-2022)

We are deeply saddened by the news of the death from cancer of the Australian poet Robert Adamson, aged 79. He had been receiving palliative care at his beloved home on the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney, after a very recent terminal diagnosis, before being moved to the Neringah Hospice in Wahroonga.

Bob Adamson was nourished for much of his life by the Hawkesbury River, where he spent parts of his childhood and much of his adult life. His retrospective Reading the River (Bloodaxe Books, 2004) praises nature – red in tooth and claw – and celebrates existence as a mythological quest. The early poems trace Adamson’s own journey through a difficult childhood, prison and exile in the city, the source of a hard-won scepticism undercutting the highly personal Romanticism and daring lyricism of his later work.

Born in Sydney in 1943, he grew up in Neutral Bay and on the Hawkesbury. During a tumultuous youth, he found his way to poetry, and over five subsequent decades he produced over 20 books of poetry and three books of prose. From 1970 to 1985 he was the driving force behind Australia’s New Poetry magazine, and in 1987, with Juno Gemes, he established Paper Bark Press, for two decades one of Australia’s leading poetry publishers. He was the inaugural CAL chair of poetry at UTS (University of Technology, Sydney) in 2011-14.

He won many major Australian poetry awards, including the Christopher Brennan Prize for lifetime achievement, the Patrick White Award, The Age Book of the Year Award for The Goldfinches of Baghdad (Flood Editions, 2006) and the Victorian Premier’s Poetry Award for The Golden Bird (Black Inc, 2009). He published three books in Britain with Bloodaxe: Reading the River: Selected Poems (2004), The Kingfisher’s Soul (2009) and Net Needle (2016). A US edition, Reaching Light: Selected Poems, was published by Flood Editions in 2020. He had arranged for the publication new work to appear in 2023 from Black Inc in Australia and Flood Editions in the US.

'Robert Adamson: Poet of the Hawkesbury River, dies at 79': tribute by Jason Steger in The Sydney Morning Herald (16 December 2022): click here to read.

'The last interview: Robert Adamson on poetry, life and facing death': final interview in The Sydney Morning Herald (6 January 2023): click here to read.

‘Readers of Robert Adamson’s books will have understood that this distinguished man of letters and major poet is one of the most significant gifts Australia can offer the rest of the world. Specifically, the gift comes from the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney. This river that Adamson lives on, and from which everything is born, becomes in his work an archetypal water which everyone can relate to wherever they reside. From it he raises a universe. Robert Adamson grows into the reader like a whole forest, slowly and deeply like a whole Nature. He deserves reading like you deserve breath.’ – Nathaniel Tarn.

‘Robert Adamson is that rare instance of a poet who can touch all the world and yet stay particular, local to the body he’s been given in a literal time and place. He is as deft and resourceful a craftsman as exists, and his poems move with a clarity and ease I find unique. He has savored his life, felt it at each moment, and what he has written is its vivid and enduring testament.’ – Robert Creeley.

‘The spareness and taut energy of the more recent poems, for all Adamson’s famous romanticism, seems classic… What it costs a poet to dare such plain statement, the patience it requires, even the impatience, the dedication, the hard work, is part of the mystery of these poems and of the life that has been worked through to get them down .…How the poems, as they come, change and shape the poet – the existential surprise that keeps him alive and on his toes – is what keeps us too, as we move through this life in poetry, intimately engaged and enlivened from the first poem to the last.’ – David Malouf.

‘Robert Adamson is one of Australia’s national treasures.’ – John Ashbery.


Robert Adamson, born Sydney, 17 May 1943, died Neringah Hospice in Wahroonga, 15 December 2022.

There will be a celebration of Adamson’s life at 1pm on January 13 2023 at the Peat Island Chapel at Mooney Mooney, with poetry, music and an honour guard of oyster farmers.


Robert Adamson: Poet of the Hawkesbury River

Robert Adamson was nourished for much of his life by Australia’s Hawkesbury River. His grandfather was a fisherman on the Hawkesbury, where Bob lived, on and off, for most of his life, and for the past three decades with photographer Juno Gemes. Pamela Robertson-Pearce’s film portrait covers some of the key aspects of his life and work: his early obsession with fishing, birds and nature; his discussions with American poets Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley during their visits to Australia (with Duncan’s outing to the Hawkesbury inspiring one of the poems he reads); and the ways in which his poetry was transformed with their encouragement, and in particular by Duncan’s insistence on the primacy of myth in poetry and Creeley’s urging that he should write from his own life.

The selection of poems is directed by the stories he tells over the course of two days on and around the river. Their house on the point looks out over Mooney Creek and its old oysterbeds. On one trip downriver, he shows us his grandfather’s old house on the shore, as a pelican takes flight across the water. The film starts with the boat moored at Jerusalem Bay, an inlet where he used to come fishing as a teenager on outings from Sydney. The poems included in the film are ‘The Gathering Light’, ‘Thinking of Eurydice at midnight’, ‘Black water’, ‘My granny’, ‘The Southern Skua’, ‘The Stone Curlew’ and ‘Juno & Eurydice’.

Shot over two days in February 2010, the film is from the DVD-anthology In Person: World Poets, filmed & edited by Pamela Robertson-Pearce & Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2017).

Robert Adamson: The Speaking Page

This short film features Robert Adamson reading his poem 'The Speaking Page' with photographs of the river by Juno Gemes. It is extracted from A pod of poets, produced for ABC's excellent Poetica podcast series of Australian poetry by Libby Douglas with sound engineer Phillip Ullman. The full feature mixes soundscapes of the Hawkesbury River, oyster farming and fishing, with Robert talking about the influences on his work, his family, his desire to become an ornithologist and the first time he heard Bob Dylan. To listen to the podcast, go to Poetica

[15 December 2022]

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