Critics often comment on the ‘shape’ a poem makes – not the concrete form of the words on the page, but the poem’s conceptual trajectory, the statement, development and resolution (or lack thereof) of its central theme. What is most striking about Robert Adamson’s first collection of poems published in North America, The Goldfinches of Baghdad, however, is the shape the collection makes as a whole, the arc of the volume in its entirety. As the culmination of forty years’ experience, it is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Here, the dominant concerns of what might be called Adamson’s later period (prevalent in the 1999 volume, Black Water: Approaching Zukofsky) reach their apotheosis: his writing of the Hawkesbury River region, his unremitting passion for all things ornithological, and his fascination with the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. But the volume is much more than a mere concatenation of individual poems treating the poet’s trademark themes.
As a collection, it is sublimely cohesive: from first to last, the correspondences between poems are considerably fecund. Less a series of songs than an organically realised symphony, the volume is replete with a masterful lyricism and a comprehensive, mythopoeic grandeur verging on an indigenous ‘dreaming’. To be sure, the individual poems are often marvels in their own right; many have been published previously, and have been reworked for this volume. It is not the place here to undertake a rigorous comparison of the various versions; suffice it to say that whereas Black Water was an accomplished volume, here the poems appear effortless: the enjambment is cleaner, the cadence immaculate, the music further refined.