After Christopher Brennan’s 1897 post-Mallarmean experiment, the Musicopoematographoscope, a handwritten, part-parody, part-founding poem in the history of Australian inventive poetics, it is difficult to find sustained instances of avant-garde or neo-avant-garde poetry in Australia. But there is one figure from the postwar period that stands out as coming close to such a representative: Harry Hooton (1908–1961). Hooton was a member of the anarchist Sydney PUSH movement, a leftist interlectual subculture that thrived from the ’40s to the ’70s and gathered loosely around the University of Sydney, and editor of the literary magazine 21st Century. Philosopher, poet, and raconteur, “unjustly neglected,” “forgotten,” “scorned by the literary establishment,” Hooton, who fashioned his own philosophy of “Anarcho-Technocracy” was a “cult figure in Sydney’s libertarian circles,” as the back cover of his 1961 collected poems Poet of the 21st Century put it. Harry Heseltine is similarly prophetic: “occasionally such a figure is suddenly seen to redefine himself at the center and to generate a whole new output of mainstream poetry.”
1. Harry Hooton (1908–1961)
After Christopher Brennan’s 1897 post-Mallarmean experiment, the Musicopoematographoscope, a handwritten, part-parody, part-founding poem in the history of Australian inventive poetics, it is difficult to find sustained instances of avant-garde or neo-avant-garde poetry in Australia. But there is one figure from the postwar period that stands out as coming close to such a representative: Harry Hooton (1908–1961).
In philosophy and art humanity is no longer worthy of our enquiry or representation. Philosophy as an attention to human problems must yield to science dealing with mechanical masses of non-human material. The questions of medicine, hygiene and psychology are being relegated gradually to physiology. Art no longer attempts to mirror man, or the things in nature as seen by man, but depicts unrecognisable patterns which are like nothing on earth—lines, cubes, inhuman designs. The art of representing visible likeness is relegated to the science of photography. The philosophies and arts of one age are the exact sciences of the next. Philosophy, searching for what is true, and art, searching for what is new, may be discovered as being always out in front of society, in the vanguard; while the sciences and industries—the more utilitarian and moralistic activities—may be considered as forming the main body of the army, moving into the positions the spearhead establishes. This division of labour is rarely seen operating on a large scale, but viewing the world as a whole it will be seen that the humanism which has inspired so many of the great philosophers and artists of the past is a goal attained. We have arrived at humanity; there is work for science, enormous work—but the vanguard has to look to new goals ahead. — Harry Hooton, excerpt from "Problems are Flowers and Fade," from Things You See When You Haven't Got a Gun, self-published booklet, 1943.
Over the last few months, Harry Hooton has been on my mind. His name has been mentioned a number of times as I have progressed through this archival project, and on my first visit to Amanda Stewart's house she lent me a copy of Poet of the 21st Century: Harry Hooton, Collected Poems, selected and introduced by Sasha Soldatow and published by Angus & Robertson in 1990. I didn't open the book until I knew I could take it to bed and read it entirely. My gut told me Harry and Sasha would eat me, my night, my bed, effortlessly. And they did!