Sydney Writers' Festival Review: David Brooks' 'The Sons of Clovis'

18 May 2012

With all of his other appearances sold out, it seemed fitting that David Brooks was able to share his work, The Sons of Clovis at his home away from home, the University of Sydney. David has taught Australian literature at the uni for a number of years which was reflected in the audience - many of the literary critics present were ex-students of his.

David warned us off the bat not to trust what he says, because "he doesn't trust himself anymore." This wavering confidence in 'capital T Truth' is understandable, given the premise of The Sons of Clovis. The book unearths some of the greatest Australian literary hoaxes, establishing previously unrecognised connections between Australian poets at the emergence of post-modernism and French Symboliste poetry.

David opened with the fascinating tale of Ern Malley - a fictitious poet created by James McAuley and Harold Stewart who was lauded as an important new voice in the 1940s. The Ern Malley poems were published in the Adelaide University literary magazine, Angry Penguins. When the hoax was discovered, Angry Penguins was condemned and editor Max Harris was forced to defend the poems, which were labeled as obscene.

From this story, David set out to explore the origins of the hoax and its ripple effects through other art forms. He draws parallels to Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly paintings, to Tim Storrier's painting which won this year's Archibald prize, to Bryce Courtney's recent defence of 'capital T Truth' in his writing.

Intermissions from the discussion with David were provided by poetry readings by Katherine Anderson.

To me, this session epitomised what the Sydney Writers' Festival is all about - using the unique opportunity to expand your knowledge and allowing yourself to be introduced to new authors and genres. I'm not too familiar with surrealist Australian poetry, let alone its French counterpart, but learning about its mythology in Australian culture and the story behind the story, certainly piqued my interest.

Contact: Kate Mayor

Phone: 02 9351 2208

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