Australian poet-in-residence shares insight into writing

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Noted Australian poet Robert Adamson is finishing up his two-week stay at SLU as the Jean Drahmann writer-in-residence. Adamson filled his time here with visits to English classes, readings and lectures to the SLU community, and participation in SLU’s Prison Program.

Adamson began his residency with a poetry reading in the Sinquefield Stateroom on March 17, as a part of the Sheila Nolan Whalen Reading Series. The series, which is sponsored by the English department, brings four writers each academic year, from around the world, to read their work at SLU.

Devin Johnston, who introduced Adamson at the reading, noted the poet’s “generous, curious, insightful presence” in the Australian poetry world, saying that he “[has] always been remarkably generous with younger writers.”

Adamson read widely from his work, which consists of 18 books of poetry and three books of prose, written over the course of a 40-year career. His most recent book, “Net Needle,” revolves around his childhood experiences in a family of fishermen on the Hawkesbury River, just north of Sydney.

One of the classes Adamson visited, an English senior seminar taught by Johnston, read “Net Needle” in preparation for Adamson’s arrival. The class, which is focused on modern Australian poetry, benefited from the poet’s presence for two weeks.

“It was an honor having Robert Adamson in class with us,” said Mark Gould, a student in the class. “Hearing his insights about the craft of writing poetry was really interesting. He has lived such an interesting life, … ultimately becoming Australia’s most prominent poet.”

Adamson also gave a lecture on the craft of writing poetry on March 24, where he discussed the influences on his poetry and his writing process. Topics included the difference between prose and poetry, how different forms and structures can challenge poets and how he began writing poetry.

Adamson cited Bob Dylan as his initial inspiration for writing poetry. After seeing Dylan perform, he wanted to be a singer. He wrote some songs and showed them to a Jesuit priest he knew, who told him that what he had written were not songs, but poems. The priest introduced him to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry, and Adamson took the advice and became a poet.

Poetry, however, to him, is not a career. “Poetry is more of a place, something you’re given, something you create,” he said, “… [Something] more than a career.”

Adamson’s wife, Juno Gemes, is a celebrated Australian poet, who is also visiting SLU with a photography show. She will be speaking on March 26 in Pius Library.