Adamson’s Kingfisher’s Soul

[I accidentally posted a beginning draft of this a couple of days ago, and couldn’t make the automatic Twitter feed shut up. Sorry!]

Robert Adamson, The Kingfisher’s Soul (Bloodaxe 2009)

I’ve read many of these poems before, in Mulberry Leaves (Paper Bark Press 2001) and The Goldfinches of Baghdad (Flood Editions 2006). But they all feel new to me. This may be because I’m a lousy reader of poetry. It may also have something to do with this book’s careful ordering of the poems into something like a sequence (most evident in the middle and third of the three sections, the former playing obliquely with the mythic figure of Eurydice, the latter consisting entirely of poems named after birds). And it may have to do with the nature of the poems themselves: bear in mind that I know very little about poetic schools and movements (I wouldn’t know a Black Mountain poem from a New York lunch), so anything I say is sure to be crude and/or naive, but it seems to me that Adamson’s poems flow into one another: edges and boundaries blur, as he and the Hawkesbury River, birds and fish, and other poets and artists, all intermingle in a strangely compelling, elusive oneness.

When he read at Sappho’s recently, Adamson remarked in passing that he generally doesn’t know what his poems are about until he’s finished writing them, and often not even then. I’ve heard a couple of people recently say that a lot of contemporary poetry is like cryptic crosswords – it’s largely a matter of unravelling complex codes etc etc. I don’t think that’s what Adamson is talking about. I don’t have the book with me so can’t give examples (I’m at the airport), but time and again a poem will move from a vivid description of a bird and the speaker’s interaction with it; a metaphoric or even allegorical meaning, sometimes with satirical will be set up; and then it’s as if the poem gives up such ventures as futile and we’re left with the bird, the river, the silent poet.

I recently heard a passage from a recent novel read on the radio, beginning, ‘The Hawkesbury was lovely.’ It’s hard to imagine Adamson writing that sentence, or going on to talk about its golden cliffs as the novelist did. Adamson’s poetry doesn’t describe the Hawkesbury. It lives it. My flight is being called.

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