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AD Hope

As physical as he was metaphysical, his playful courtesy equal to his reflectiveness, Alec Hope has mortally gone from us now. In his time, which was far from short, he was like nobody else in our literary landscape. Coming from an age in which subject matter mattered, Hope became a poet of astonishingly wide range, as of remarkable intensity. His burning star has been clouded a little in recent decades because of his investment in masculine sexuality, but he survives powerfully: sometimes hilariously. We won’t forget his Red Riding Hood devouring the wolf. Among his recent forebears, he rejoiced in Baudelaire, Yeats, and early Auden, the latter an overpowering figure when the young Australian sailed to Oxford.

T.S. Eliot’s brand of juxta-positional modernism meant little to Alec, who found it all a bit shifty, but he did share the St Louis master‘s ideas about poetic impersonality: a poem was the Ding an sich, not the shadow of its writer within it. Once, indeed, he poked mullock at Eliot by citing his putative play, Merd, or In the Cathedral.

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The Shorter Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus by Gaius Valerius Catullus, translated by A.D. Hope

July–August 2007, no. 293

Gaius Valerius Catullus (c.87–54 BC) may have died young, but his limited output (only 113 poems and some fragments have survived) has immortalised him as a writer of erotic and satiric verse and savage portraits of contemporaries, so frank sometimes that, until recent decades, editions of his work were customarily heavily expurgated. Innumerable poets through the ages have kept his flame burning. Ezra Pound peppers the opening cantos with references to Catullus. Ben Jonson’s famous ‘Come, my Celia’ is a version of Catullus 5.

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Oxford University Press has begun a welcome series called Australian Writers. Two further titles, Imre Salusinszky on Gerald Murnane and Ivor Indyk on David Malouf, will appear in March 1993, and eleven more books are in preparation. Though I find the first three uneven in quality, they make a very promising start to a series. In some ways they resemble Oliver and Boyd’s excellent series, Writers and Critics, even being of about the same length. However this new series is less elementary, more demanding of the reader. It is, predictably, far sparser in critical evaluation, concentrating on hermeneutics, and biographical information is as rare as a wombat waltz.

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The acknowledgements included in the Preface to this collection name some of the most common places for poetry to be published in Australia, but by chance few of these poems seem to me familiar. That of course makes it more interesting to see them individually; and also makes the whole thing easier to see at large.

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