Vital Signs

A.D. Hope: Poet of the Antipodes

The other day, as I was reading an article about Keats, I thought suddenly of A.D. Hope. I started imagining a time when young writers would lose interest in the romance of a vivid English youth extinguished by early death. Instead, they would learn to admire the less gifted but longer-lived Australian who ultimately wrote great poetry by dint of sheer persistence. In this improbable future, pitiless teachers would urge prospective poets to travel the world, master foreign languages, and teach mathematics in trade school as young Alec Hope did.

Little known in the United States, A.D. Hope has been a tireless enemy of literary hokum all his life. In the 1940's, when Australian literati were all atwitter over surrealism, Hope's friends James MacAuley and Harold Stewart gulled a well-known editor into believing he had discovered a great new poet, Ern Malley, whose work the hoaxers had salted

with a mish-mash of all the then popular avant garde theories of poetry, surrealist vomit, Marxist propaganda, free verse techniques, multiple meaningless references to irrelevant objects, pictures, ideas and what have you.

The Ern Malley hoax gained its perpetrators worldwide publicity, but it failed to cleanse minds poisoned by conflict and ideology. Hope's ferocious satire, Dunciad Minor, made no difference either, and his 1960 essay, "Free Verse: A Post Mortem," proved...

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