Robert Adamson, photo by Juno Gemes

Robert Adamson ~ Two Poems

The Long Bay Debating Society

I spent my twenty-first in Long Bay Penitentiary
Each day in the front yards
We paced up and down
At night I read novels
And the poetry of Percy Shelley
Sometimes an education officer
Would turn up and ask
What are you going to do with your future?
I’d tell him I wanted to be a poet
He would shake his head
And comment I was being insolent
After weeks I convinced him
We wanted to start a debating team
There were plenty of crims
Who would join up
It took a month to convince the Governor
Finally the authorities agreed
We could form a debating society
Things went well and we attended library
And researched our topics
Then came the day a team
From the outer agreed to come inside
And conduct a debate with us
However there was a condition
The Governor would chose the topic
Eventually the prison librarian
Ceremoniously handed us the Governor’s note
(it was the summer of 1964) our topic
“Is the Sydney Opera House Really Necessary?”

The Coriander Fields of Long Bay Penitentiary

Serving two years hard;
my thoughts—sweet
as torn basil, or tinged
with broken roots
of coriander—soothe
fragmented fears.

When the mind’s blank
I cultivate musky
persimmons, ideas
flutter, cabbage moths—
one with a lopsided wing
spins in circles.

I swallow, nothing’s
left of my pride—
the prison doctor stitched
my cut wrists
without anesthetic,
his idea of punishment.

Laying with a blanket
on the bed-board,
I think of poppy fields
in the high country of Tasmania,
sun-splotched red blooms
loaded with seed,

their hairy stalks raked
by a wind from Antarctica;
here in my black slot,
an imaginary whiff
of opium mingles with
the bitter aftertaste of iodine.

© Robert Adamson

Adamson is one of Australia’s leading poets, and is a successful writer, editor and publisher. His books have been published in the UK and the USA and his poems have been translated into several languages. He has published fifteen volumes of poetry and has organised and produced poetry readings, delivered papers, lectures and readings at literary festivals throughout Australia and internationally. He has been writer-in-residence at Australian universities, and was President of the Poetry Society of Australia, 1974-1980.

He was a key player in the growth of the ‘New Australian Poetry’ and was an editor of the Poetry Society of Australia’s magazine, New Poetry, from 1968 until 1982. He taught creative writing classes for the W.E.A during the seventies and was the poetry reviewer for Australia’s national newspaper, The Australian.

Professor Adamson is currently CAL Chair in Poetry, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Technology, Sydney .


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