The
Kissinger rule – that academic (or art-world or birdwatching) politics is so
vicious because the stakes are so small – has been well in evidence in the
tumultuous world of Australian poetry this week, with WA poet John Kinsella
taking out restraining orders against rival poets Robert Adamson and Anthony
Lawrence, whom he alleges threatened to attack him at this year’s Byron Bay Writers’ Festival, currently underway.

The
cause of contention is Kinsella’s recent memoir, Fast, Loose Beginnings (MUP) which is unsparing in recounting its
author’s wild youth as a manic junkie, and his contention that Adamson and
Lawrence were there for all the good times.

Kinsella
is a cause celebre in Australian literature, with some – like global
ubercritic Harold Bloom – calling him one of the great poets of the English
language – while others, like Ivor Indyk, argue that he is an over-rated over-publicised,
over-producer. And not just of poetry but self-publicity, as Kinsella, post-drugs,
has devoted his manic energy to poetry publishing and criticism on an epic
scale. (As an editor, I must say, I’ve always found him a generous and helpful
contributor.)

Kinsella
says that Adamson and Lawrence harangued him with 30-40 emails a day, allegedly
including this:

Deep Regret is the name of an ocean they’ve
found, five miles under the ice at Antarctica.
You’re about to enter it. Are you ready?

He
could have said “we’ll do you Johnny” but oh no not a poet. More directly Lawrence has allegedly
written:

It will be good to see you again Jack … Varuna
revisited, without the niceties.

Varuna writers’ retreat being a scene of an earlier
punch-up between the two. It may or may not be relevant to mention here that
Kinsella is a vegan pacifist Buddhist who refuses to use flyspray, while
Adamson has a (fairly ancient) conviction for armed robbery.

And you thought it was all just daffodils.

Peter Fray

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