Vale, Robert Adamson
(1943 – 2022)
Devin Johnston, Flood Editions
Robert Adamson (17 May 1943–16 December 2022) died today of liver cancer. He is widely recognized as one of our greatest poets, “one of Australia’s national treasures” (as John Ashbery wrote). Adamson grew up in Neutral Bay, a harbourside suburb of Sydney, and on the Hawkesbury River. Through his childhood, he often sought refuge on the Hawkesbury at the home of his paternal grandfather Fa-Fa, a fisherman. Adamson himself fished the river for over six decades. With the photographer Juno Gemes—his wife and collaborator—he found a lasting home on the river, on Cheero Point. The river flowed through his life and writing, as both source and subject. He is, among other things, a great poet of place: “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” (according to Robert Creeley).
During a tumultuous youth, he found his way to poetry, and over the past half-century he produced twenty-one books of poetry and three books of prose, including his celebrated autobiography, Inside Out. His work has been regularly published in the United States and Britain, as well as in Australia and it has been translated into seven languages. The recipient of many awards and prizes—including the National Book Council’s Banjo Award, the New South Wales Literary Awards’ Kenneth Slessor Prize and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for poetry—Adamson was awarded the F.A.W. Christopher Brennan prize in 1994, for lifetime achievement in literature. He has successfully combined the careers of writer, editor and publisher. From 1970 to 1985 he edited New Poetry and in 1988, with Juno Gemes, he established Paper Bark Press. He was known as a generous mentor to younger poets and champion of new writing. He was appointed as the inaugural CAL Chair of Australian Poetry at U.T.S. from 2012–2015.
Adamson is a great poet of the human heart as well as the natural world. Always, he returns to the Hawkesbury, exploring its waters and wildlife for psychological resonances, guided by the past. As he writes in the poem “Reaching Light”: “Where was it we left from? / We say the journey’s up, but maybe // memory sinks deeper.”
He is survived by his wife, Juno Gemes; their son and his wife, Orlando and Nadia Gemes; and his granddaughter, Stella Lucy Gemes; as well as by his sister and brother, Jenny and John Adamson.