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Adam Aitken, Archipelago

Winner of the 2021 Patrick White Literary Award

Shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Award for Poetry 2018
Shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards 2018 (Poetry)

His most personal poetry to date, Adam Aitken’s Archipelago is entirely preoccupied with the experience of living and marrying in France. Much of it written while resident at the Keesing Studio in Paris, and then in the south during a seriously cold spring, many of the poems deal with art, Romantic and Modernist writing and writers, and concepts of nostalgia, spirituality, revolution and resistance. One key question is what France (and Europe generally) mean to an Australian writer, which leads the poet to consider the ‘French inspired’ work of other Australian writers. At a simpler level, the collection attempts to weigh cosmopolitan culture against that of its fictive alternative: semi-rural France, where the poet asks how we might reconcile isolation with social engagement, conservative values with more outward looking perspectives? Adopting the lens of those who live there, Aitken reflects on the region’s Gallo-Roman history, its myths, its communal virtues and constraints, its weather, and on the threats to its ecology.

'Aitken thus puts to use a fractured lineation that often interrupts the flow of the poems, creating a staccato,pa ratac tic,  almost imagist effect, which adds to the simultaneity of things, times, places, and literary figures evident inArchipelago. Aptly, the speaker ‘surveyed the process’, perpetually examining the ‘process’ of writing and making,and what this does to both the spaces the poems inhabit and how this in turn informs the identity, or identities, of the speaker.' Australian Book Review

'France is the context of this intense new volume of poetry from the audacious and culturally investigative poet, Adam Aitken. But this is France seen through the eyes of the traveller and the culturally imbued — a post-colonial sensitivity encountering geography and aesthetics in that way Aitken has of considering both the impact of an environment on the self, and the impact of the self on environment. This is a remarkable book in which a form of différance works in each poem and across the whole — the act of creating poems becomes part of the meaning of the world seen around the poet. Acutely sensitive not only to visual art and literary creativity but to the very persons of the creators, there is a subtextual dialogue that goes on throughout, between the poet and other creators. The act of making is often complex and in compromised environments, where a past of war and devastation edge onto a present of hope and creative affirmation.'

John Kinsella


Adam Aitken is a London-born teacher and writer who migrated to Sydney after spending his early childhood in Thailand and Malaysia. He has published five full length collections of poetry. In One House, nominated in the Australian as one of the best poetry collections for 1996;  Romeo and Juliet in Subtitles shortlisted for the John Bray South Australian Literary Festival Award, and runner-up for The Age Book of the Year poetry prize; Eighth Habitation (Giramondo Publishing) shortlisted for the same award in 2010, and most recently Archipelago, shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Award for 2018. In 2021, Adam Aitken received the Patrick White Literary Award.

His writing shows a deep interest in contemporary cultural issues, especially issues of Asian-Australian identity and cultural hybridity.  His work has been translated into French, Swedish, German, Polish, Malay and Mandarin, and is published internationally. In 2010-11 he spend time as Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Hawaii, and Poet in Residence at the Keesing Studio in Paris. He co-edited the contemporary Asian Australian Poets anthology (Puncher & Wattmann) in 2013. His creative non-fiction work includes One Hundred Letters Home (Vagabond Press 2016). 

Adam Aitken, Archipelago
2017. 112pp. ISBN 978-1-922181-94-7
Release date: August 15, 2017. 

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.


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