Throwing new light on the great Ern Malley hoax

14 May 2012

An original 1944 copy of 'Angry Penguins', containing all the Ern Malley poems, will be on display.
An original 1944 copy of 'Angry Penguins', containing all the Ern Malley poems, will be on display.

In the age of e-books, an original 1944 paper copy of the modernist magazine Angry Penguins, containing all the Ern Malley poems, will be on display for the duration of the Sydney Writers' Festival at the Schaeffer Library in the RC Mills Building at the University of Sydney.

The issue, which has a front cover by Sidney Nolan, will be on display in conjunction with David Brooks's Sydney Writers' Festival event The Sons of Clovis, a talk about his recent acclaimed book that offers fresh theories about the notorious Ern Malley hoax.

In the mid-1940s, writers James McAuley and Harold Stewart submitted a series of experimental poems to Angry Penguins under the fictitious name Ern Malley. They claimed to want to demonstrate their disdain for experimental poetry by writing deliberately bad verse, hastily concocted by lifting lines from whatever came to hand.

In this Sydney Writers' Festival talk, Associate Professor Brooks will elucidate his fresh theories of the hoax and will also reveal details of other literary hoaxes, both Australian and international, taking the audience on a wide-ranging journey through literature, culture, philosophy and poetics.

"Over the last 70 years Australia has produced some extraordinary literary hoaxes and misrepresentations - the Ern Malley hoax, the B Wongar mystery, the Demidenko/Darville affair. Why might this be? What might they be telling us about ourselves and about the nation?

"Could it be that they have been offering us some gifts and insights that we are only just now learning to receive?"

A selection of the Ern Malley poems will be read by Katherine Anderson.

Associate Professor Brooks says he had long harboured suspicions about the Ern Malley Hoax and to his expert eye as a poet and scholar something about the whole affair didn't ring true. So when he inadvertently discovered evidence of a precedent for Ern Malley in the Adoré Floupette poetry hoax of 1885, Brooks embarked on a quest to reveal the real story behind Australia's most famous literary scandal.

What he discovered not only challenges every accepted belief about the hoaxers, motivations and inspiration, but charts the much neglected contribution of the French Symbolist movement to Australian poetry.

Event details

What: The Sons of Clovis, part of the Sydney Writers' Festival

Where: Macleay Museum, off Science Rd, Camperdown Campus. See map and directions 

When: 6 to 7pm, Wednesday 16 May

Cost: Free

The Angry Penguins magazine is on display at the Schaeffer Library in the RC Mills Building.

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