Poets feud over exposé on youthful excess

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The Independent Online

Torrid tales of wild, drug-fuelled parties. Darkly menacing e-mails couched in verse. Restraining orders taken out against old friends. Threats to sue for defamation.

Australia's poetry world is at war, and the vitriol is flying. A "kiss and tell" memoir by an internationally renowned poet, John Kinsella, has enraged two of his peers, who he claims were his partners in crime during a debauched youth.

Robert Adamson and Anthony Lawrence, both highly respected, award-winning poets, were horrified to read Kinsella's lurid accounts of communal drug-taking sessions and pornography-watching. They have accused him of betraying their friendship, and of fabricating some of his stories.

The pair counter-attacked in the way they knew best: with words. They fired off a stream of florid e-mails, brimming with metaphors and allusions to blood and gore.

According to Adamson, they were intended to be funny, and a parody of Kinsella's own style. He did not take them that way.

Kinsella, the author of 30 volumes of poetry, and a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, said he was "distressed and appalled". Some of the several dozen e-mails amounted to "death threats", he said.

Last weekend he failed to appear at one of Australia's main literary festivals, in Byron Bay, northern New South Wales.

He was supposed to be promoting his new book, Fast, Loose Beginnings - A Memoir of Intoxications, but changed his mind after Adamson and Lawrence said they would disrupt his readings. Instead, he went to court in Perth, and obtained two restraining orders. The festival audience was told he could not attend because he feared for his safety. "I expected critical response to the book, and through normal channels - not personal threats," he saidyesterday.

The e-mails, which began arriving in mid-July, appeared to contain more than a hint of menace. One, written by Lawrence, ran: "It is a death-clicking beetle/ Can you hear it at work inside the fast-tracking of your e-mails/ Inside the cold enamel of your smile?/ Keep your enemies close at hand/ The shroud has no pockets." In another, Lawrence wrote: "The dark humour is a meniscus. 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 also suggested re-playing a fight they once had, this time "without the niceties". He told Kinsella: "Not too late to have another pair of eyes grafted into the back of your head." Adamson wrote: "How can your enemies love you now that you have taken up meat-eating? I am trying very hard not to imagine the blood dribbling down your chin, the lumps of flesh floating in the bowl of your soup. I know you hate cats but they may be your salvation. Let me know and I will send a case of Siamese killers."

Yesterday Adamson ridiculed the idea that he had threatened Kinsella with physical violence. "He is 40 and 6ft 2in, I am 63 and 5ft 8in," he said. "I don't punch people. What is he talking about? He has interpreted the e-mails in a literal, dim-witted way." He also denied "bombarding" Kinsella. "I sent maybe five e-mails a day, or eight at most. The book is full of lies, and it's hideously written."

Lawrence is considering suing. He claimed Kinsella was using the spat to publicise his book. "It's a classic example of what happens when ambition outweighs talent," he said.

The e-mails, featuring allusions and fictional characters only understood by the three poets, had to be taken in the context of their shared history, he said. "We were having fun with language, and our anger came through. We were mightily pissed off with him. We were deeply wounded."

Neither Lawrence nor Adamson denies taking drugs in the past. In fact, Adamson has detailed his exploits in his autobiography, Inside Out. Louise Adler, chief executive of Melbourne University Publishing, defended Kinsella's book as a true version of events. "We stand by our author 100 per cent," she said.

Poison pens

JOHN KINSELLA

"I expected critical response through normal channels - not personal threats."

ROBERT ADAMSON

"I know you hate cats but they may be your salvation. Let me know and I will send a case of Siamese killers."

ANTHONY LAWRENCE

"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?"

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