In 2008, I was all of 22 and editing a magazine on the
Central Coast – a desperate attempt to start a street press for the neglected
urban corridor between Sydney and Newcastle. For the second issue, I lined up
an interview with the poet Robert Adamson, sitting in his home on the
Hawkesbury River. At the time of the interview, Adamson had just published The Golden Bird – a collection of new
and selected poems – which would win him the CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry in the
Victorian Premier's Literary Awards in 2009.
We spoke on the phone for close to two hours. I pushed to
interview him because I had just read his autobiography Inside Out and had been awed that here was this book that was about
the suburbs I grew up around that, despite their proximity to Sydney, had rarely
rated a mention in the pages of Australian literature. Unfortunately, the
magazine folded before the interview ran – I hadn’t even had the chance to pull
out the quotes I had secured from a more-than-generous Adamson.
Hearing of Robert’s recent terminal cancer diagnosis through
the social media account of his partner, the Hungarian-born photographer, Juno
Gemes – and that doctors at St Vincent’s Hospital had given him only weeks to
live – I pulled out the file and found material I had long felt guilty to have
let sit. The document opened with the only paragraph that I had written for the
interview, which attempted to sum up my affections for Adamson’s memoir:
When I first read
Robert Adamson’s autobiography Inside Out I was travelling on the train to Sydney from Wyong, going past the
Hawkesbury where Adamson has spent most of his life. That area was beautifully
detailed in the book, and to look up from it’s pages and see the land and water
described was such a moving experience. Later I visited the house of the potter
Jane Barrow, a friend of the family. Adamson’s book sat beneath a window. The
red cover stood out in the low afternoon light. I mumbled that I had read it
earlier in the year. We walked down to the water and sat on rocks. I looked up
and could see, for the first time, where the trains moved across the water. It
was like looking at yourself from a distance. I was inside out.
What remained below this half-formed introductory note was a
series of raw quotes. I was no skilled journalist, so most of the quotes were
incomplete. I didn’t know shorthand and I hadn’t even transcribed the questions
I was asking Robert. With no record of what I was asking him, reading back
meant that his voice simply flowed on, and so what I read was not so much the scrambled
jottings of an inexperienced journalist, but a poem – a long, autobiographical
sketch, partly in the Adamson register. How could it not be, it was his voice,
after all? We spoke of the poet Peter Minter, the painter Brett Whitely and, of
course, Adamson’s forever lodestar, Bob Dylan.
There will be many remembrances of Robert as news of his
diagnosis travels around the world, this one just happened to come ready-made –
down a phone line fourteen years ago, sitting in a vault for all that time,
waiting to be set free.
I grew up at Neutral Bay… inner harbour beaches, between
there and the Hawkesbury. The actual place – when I was going through the most
horrendous things – I would be physically be soothed by it – my head would get unscrambled
by being at places from my childhood –
The Hawkesbury. Even when I wasn’t there
It’s interesting to go back to those early days, they still
have as much as they ever did, hammer them home –
some people just can’t.
Peter Minter, knew the later Dylan, rather than the earlier stuff – Blonde on Blonde, my mum was a Dylan fan.
He [Dylan] seems to transcend the generation barriers,
Ginsberg when I met him, he was singing songs, a harmonium
with Bob Dylan.
I couldn’t believe it… they were better.
Singing Blake songs,
They were set up
I didn’t get to appreciate Ginsberg, he gave me Robert
all the things he said, I didn’t appreciate them until a
Expectations can never meet, poor bugger
Me and Peter went fishing, St. Augustine, 4am
It’s interesting because that book [Inside Out] had such a lot of publicity, it didn’t occur to me that
a lot of those people like fisherman wouldn’t read it –
Bob Dylan said never create anything it will follow you for
the rest of your life
You don’t know how connected you are to a book
An autobiography… a lot more people are going to see it.
Some of those people you are liable to.
I’ve met some fishermen who will read poetry,
Come from it from all different ways,
Fisherman, fifty-something, real knockabout,
My mother was a bible basher, quoting all the time,
It gives you a role model… shows you it’s possible…
The first year writing poetry, for me, was Dylan.
He was in America, no chance of meeting him.
Brett Whitely loved him too.
Soon as I read that Brett adored Dylan, I went and saw one
of his shows in Paddington. I was only twenty-four, never been to an art
gallery, just read it in the newspaper. Brett was the showing of Alchemy, all
about Rimbaud and Dylan, and I just thought far
out, and it was like going into another world. I saw him, and recognised
him from the photographs. I said something about Rimbaud, and he dismissed me,
then he came back and asked ‘What did you say?’
We became best friends through that connection with Dylan –
With Brett I used to think he was older than me and done all
If he could do it I could do it – I could never really in
terms of spiritual value –
Poetry can never do what painting can… I used to just copy.
That local factor again, it was more real to me than Dylan,
He was walking around the same suburb with me.
I was in Cohenland –
Steve Hoy and the Hoy Boys –
Dylan and Cohen – 3 CDs
I used to think when I was younger – doing my first and
second book – I really loved Wallace Stevens, the imagination – the one reality
in this world, something purely imagined was much more real.
The imagined: I
used adore Mallarme. He really created things out of nothing, no matter what
you were and no matter what you’ve done – born in a house, sitting there being
looked after – no matter what you did – labourer, a fisherman – you can create
something out of nothing, Coleridge, The
Ancient Mariner, how those people came to those poems.
I started to see that writing things that actually happened
to me, that could be as powerful as something that is imagined.
It’s the way that
it is written rather than the subject matter – the matter of my life – to concentrate
on the craft, making it sing
I was twenty-four when I got out of prison – and I had sense
of achievement in making a wedding cake.
Study it like you can study sonnets, the infinite possibilities of – acts of the
imagination, acts of poetry – then there are pastry chefs put their whole being
into the cakes – and I realised too, that act of creating, that’s my first
I didn’t know. I didn’t know about poetry, didn’t have a
I sensed this creative act in making the wedding cake a
shade of blue.
They used to give these creative composition classes… come
back on a Friday, the teacher would say, ‘What happened to you on the weekend?’
I’d been to the Hawkesbury, my father… drunk… I was too
ashamed to mention it, compared to their stories. I’d make up these really ordinary
Writing one of those when I was pissed on gin, putting bets
on the shop, imagine how that would go down at Neutral Bay?
I was writing these really complex poems, when I was about twenty-six,
versions of Rimbaud, Mallarme, symbolist drug poems.
I was hanging out Michael Dransfield, we were on smack all
the time, took acid, connected to the universe, went back to school wrote these
end of the trip, wrote these little poems, relive them in the acid trip.
After the experience of Inside
Out, I did a tour of America when I published The Goldfinched of Baghdad
I didn’t know what they would like, so I started off by
reading Hawkesbury poems.
They responded more to the poems about fishing, which blew
my mind, in New York, Chicago, as well as down south, Tennessee
They loved those – the commercial fishing, the tough poems
about the Hawksbury –
It’s because that they’re a world stepped in the local, they
People have a version of that in their life, they’ve done
things that somehow connect to those poems
I got this email, by a professor in Chicago, philosopher, ‘Fuck
this guy’s got a P.h.D. how can he relate?’
If I ever travel I’ll be reading the poems
Those poems in the beginning –
all those poems about the Hawkesbury
the prawns will eat you when you die,
those were the stories.
Sam Twyford-Moore is the author of The Rapids: Ways of Looking at Mania (NewSouth 18, and University of Toronto Press 20). A new book - Cast Mates - is due 2023.
You can email him sam dot twyfordmoore @ gmail dot com
Praise for The Rapids.
Twyford-Moore’s The Rapids is a harrowing and thoughtful
exploration of all the crap that makes us human.
Michael Sala, author of The Restorer
Bright, warm and charmingly discursive, Sam examines his own mania by
the bright lights of pop culture. He's witty and honest but judiciously wary of
our culture of confession.
Rapids is beautifully written: brimming with humour, empathy,
pathos and heart.
This book is an earnest, generous, and important contribution to ongoing
global dialogue around mental health.
Clarke, author of The Hate Race
Rapids is a remarkable book – intelligent, empathic and ethical. It offers a
complex and astute account of mania and depression both as a cultural
phenomenon and a personal experience, and is unafraid of looking at difficult
and dark emotions and events. It is by turns heart-breaking and hilarious,
cerebral and cheeky, and an incredibly important work.
author of Small Acts of Disappearance
Rapids is the story of a writer making sense of mania, the world, and mania
within the world. It is innovative, intelligent and sensitive; an important
work of criticism, and a critical work of importance.
Maslen, author of Show Me Where It Hurts
The Rapids takes the reader
by the hand and lays out the realities of mania, up close and personal – what
it's like to wrestle with and how the brain navigates its swiftly tilting
Anna Mehler Paperny, author of Hello I Want to Die Please Fix
Me: Depression in the First Person
As with all great first-person works on mental health,
Twyford-Moore’s The Rapids generously weaves his experience of
mania through his critical scholarship without purporting to offer any sort of
final, clinical clarity. Twyford-Moore’s work – at once critical, personal, and
historical – thrusts our misconceptions of mania against the rocks, casting
both light and shadow: revealing shapes where there was once mystery, and
placing mystery back where shapes once stood.
John Elizabeth Stintzi, author of Vanishing Monuments and Junebat
An important work, The Rapids is about what it means to
write and represent madness across media, such as film and literary critique,
and how we come to know ourselves through these media, and how they in turn
come to inform our understandings of our own experiences of madness, both in
constrictive and constructive ways.
Jijian Voronka, School of Social Work, University of Windsor
The Rapids is a beautiful
narration of the beauty and heartache inherent in madness. A humorous and
considerate self-reflection on the way our private worlds are inextricably
informed and vulnerable to culture, art and music. A personal account and
generous contribution to the expanding experiential and scholarly work of Mad
Lucy Costa, Deputy Executive Director of The Empowerment Council, an
independent service user rights-based organization in Toronto, Canada, and
co-editor of Madness, Violence, and Power: A Critical Collection