Almanac Poetry: Great Literary Fistfights of the Twentieth Century




Poet Wallace Stevens, 1948. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)



Great Literary Fistfights of the Twentieth Century: Wallace Stevens vs. Ernest Hemingway, Key West, Florida, 1936


Hemingway’s sister came back from a party,
told Ernest that Wallace Stevens
had called him something bad.
He-man Ernie bristled, declared
he’d find that Stevens and sort him out.
He got to the party. A scuffle ensued
between Ern and tipsy Wally.
Big Ernie knocked even bigger Wal
a couple of times to the ground.
With the only punch he landed, Wal
broke his hand on Hemmy’s jaw.
Now in spite of his reputation, Ern
wasn’t much of a fighter.
He liked the low blow, the sneak punch,
picked on those ( like Wal )
unschooled in the fistic arts.
Anytime he encountered
a man who could really box,
Ernie dropped like a sack of coal.
In his bout with Wallace Stevens, it’s clear
the poet, ethically, won on points.




Ernest Hemingway, 1939. (Wikimedia Commons.)



(Acknowledgements: first appeared in Quadrant magazine, 2004; then in my first poetry collection, Vigorous Vernacular, Picaro Press, 2008 – reprinted Ginninderra Press, 2018.)



Read more from Kevin Densley HERE


Kevin Densley’s latest poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, is available HERE



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Kevin Densley is a graduate of both Deakin University and The University of Melbourne. He has taught writing and literature in numerous Victorian universities and TAFES. He is a poet and writer-in-general. His fifth book-length poetry collection, Please Feed the Macaws ... I'm Feeling Too Indolent, will be published in late 2023 by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Other writing includes screenplays for educational films.


  1. Kevin Densley says

    It’s pleasing for me to look back on poems such as this one, originally selected for publication by the late, great poet Les Murray when he was Literary Editor of Quadrant – it was always a fine thing to get a nod of approval from the big man in Oz poetry.

  2. DBalassone says

    Interesting topic Kevin. I wasn’t aware of this clash. I think there’s a full length study waiting to be written about literary feuds. It’s a tough gig, the writing game – pride and insecurity loom large. Thomas Moore once challenged Lord Byron to a duel (they later became friends). And what about John Tranter’s relentless attacks on Les Murray over the years?

  3. Kevin Densley says

    Yes, DB, the literary feud is certainly an interesting phenomenon. Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer is another one that immediately springs to mind.

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