Stand Magazine Spring 1995

reviews

Stand Magazine Spring 1995

Waving To Hart Crane

Also the real thing is Waving to Hart Crane by the Australian Robert Adamson (Angus & Robertson, $A16.95), undeservedly not so well known in this country as someone like Les Murray. A true heir of Romanticism, he nevertheless marries his impulse, in twentieth century fashion, to the tactics of modernism, a reflexive awareness that is seldom irritating or knowing. It's true that no poem here has quite the impact of those slices of adolescence on the Hawkesbury River he showed in Where I Come From (1979): those hit the reader like repeated hammer blows. But he's a better, more varied writer now, more interesting, more complex without being inaccessible or losing sensuous vigour. Robert Creeley was right, I think – 'a genius – in the old sense of the word.' The opening section has some dazzling evocations of the river area north of sydney (where Adarnson grew up), of fish and kingfishers, flowers, and dead poets ( such as Francis Webb), where the poems' ideas sometimes grow naturally from image and feeling ('Folk Song'), sometimes grow on them symbolically, as in 'Edge Man'. In 'Cornflowers' he recalls a dead friend who asked 'who/owns the conversation//we may have some day, who/ owns the dialogue . . .'.

The poem turns the words, the poem, into the fish in the boat, the mosquitoes, 'our/hearts locked in their cages of singing muscle'. It would be a lovely poem if it finished at this point, but the resonance of the actual close with its delicate hint at 'the blues' shows that the resources of lyric feeling are, thankfully, not yet dry:

it was concerning
this theme, he continued,
that I composed a tune

for the cornflowers
to sing, cut, sitting
on my table in an indigo jar.

Other poets clearly have a totemic power over him: his tributes to Hart Crane and Lorca pay debts with gratitude, but they also have something pertinent to say about poetry at the end of the century. It's put most simply in 'The Kingfisher' (after Montale) where the bird is said to hunt for souls (perhaps like a poet seeking truth: 'its life's/an edge/you can't/measure,/it's an arrow/that goes/home unaimed.'), while the weekend fishermen with their artificial aids 'hardly know what/a soul/might beland yet they/are frightened/they might/somehow lose them.' Elsewhere his seven ways of looking at a pepper mill exercise satiric glee with restraint, and a longer virtuoso piece 'The Sugar Glider' (which I'd have made the book's title) shows Adamson at his best, creating poetry as he reflects on the nature and possibilities of modem poetry (Shelley, Robert Duncan, Michael Palmer), symbolised by two Oz creatures, the numbat (yes, really: not a relation of the dingbat, but a kind of ant-eater) and the sugar glider, a type of flying (i.e. leaping) possum. The numbat and its cousin the aardvark, referred to as 'the Les Murray of anteaters', I take to be poets whose imaginations, for all their powers, have not enough lift to soar, unlike the (Romantic?) sugar glider who appears only in the last few lines, though we have seen him in Michael Palmer who 'describing an arc, elegantly/jumps through time//into parts of speech/that seem to glow'. It's a witty, serious poem that takes in Hopkins' Catholicism, the white man's wiping out of Tasmanian aborigines and fauna, jokes at Murray's expense, while it ponders on the nature of true inspiration and how to translate the natural world.