“An impressive and unavoidable voice in Australian poetry.”
“I regard Adam Aitken as one of the most accomplished of the younger generation of poets. His technical control, of tone and image and voice is very striking; but what I most value in his poetry is its sense of the possibilities of a hybrid culture.”
– Ivor Indyk
ISBN 1 876040 20 3
This book may be out of print. contact the publisher Brandl and Schlesinger
J.S Harry, Southerly
Born in London in 1960, his mother Thai, his father Australian, Adam Aitken spent his early years in Thailand and Malaysia. After a stay in Perth, he was educated in Sydney, holds an MA in Linguistics and is a doctoral student of writing at U.T.S. Places in which he has journeyed and lived include Europe, Thailand and Indonesia. It’s not surprising that travel has been part of his poetic baggage, from his first book, Letter to Marco Polo (1985), through his second collection In One House (1996), both as `memory’ and as heritage. Now, in Romeo and Juliet in Subtitles, travel seems so integral to Aitken’s poetic trajectory and praxis, that one would be hard-pressed to imagine a future collection without it.
That said, there are enormous differences in the how and the what of the writing between the three books. One would expect changes in work produced over fifteen years, and especially from a writer of Aitken’s talents and searching curiosity; there seemed a leap in what was accomplished between the emergence of his original and welcome first book and In One House, produced when he was thirty-six. Re-visiting In One House, one is likely to be struck by the freshness of the multicultural perspectives, and the jaunty nature of the wit, good humoured, insouciant, cool, even when it is taking on some of the more insulting aspects of xenophobia within Australian culture.
Romeo and Juliet in Subtitles, read cover to cover in one stretch, seems a much darker, more sombre book; there’s an underlying sense of spiritual malaise which may work cumulatively on a reader and which mightn’t make the book an ideal late-night experience for a depressed insomniac. That said, taken in a sanguine state with equanimity in broad daylight, or dip reading, there’s much to appreciate. A poem that comes up well (and is included in John Leonard’s New Music anthology) is `Changi’–`midnight in Singapore’–which opens: `Real orchid forest in Terminal 2/ where gypsies rest fazed/ by taped bird-song.’ It would seem the airport which shares its name with the World War II prison camp was built on land that used to be forest. There’s a sense of late night airport ennui; the implied poet, equally at home with technology’s gadgets and isolated by them, seems to feel like a self, recycling a self: `Unpack, repack/ those dreams that don’t need sleep.’ He goes through the motions of play `on my Nintendo’ with some ironic contrast between `Super Mario’ the Nintendo character `programmed for `invincible” and `On the X-ray machine my collection/ of South East Asian coins,/ more useless by the hour.’, uses some technology: `I leave a message/ via credit card phone, my own/ message-machine voice/ feeding back like hydroponics’, visits his own web-site `jacked in to Borneo’.
The evoked milieux that texture or comprise many of the poems are almost always gripping. The writing is extremely assured, the cultural mix seems interesting, the poems have the variety, between one and another and within each poem, that those who admire Aitken’s poetry have come to expect from his writing–and, yes, the tonal control is impressive. Strength is apparent in the tightly-languaged and complex working through of the psychological aftermath from a near-fatal knifing experience in `Sheryll’, a poem included in The Argument from Desire, the Newcastle Poetry Prize anthology.