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FACT, 18 (?) June 1944:

Ern Malley, the great poet, or the greatest hoax?


“To commemorate the Australian Poet ERN MALLEY’’ an Australian literary magazine with the title “Angry Penguins” dedicates 1944 autumn number published last month in Adelaide.

Ern Malley, according to “Angry Penguins” editor Max Harris, is “one of the two giants of contemporary Australian poetry.” *

* The other “giant” (according to Angry Penguins’ editor Harris), the late Donald Bevis Kerr.

“He was a poet of tremendous power, working through a disciplined and restrained kind of statement into the deepest wells of human experience,” writes Harris.

Angry Penguins gave 30 pages of its issue to the poems of Ern Malley, an introduction by Max Harris, an Elegiac for Ern Malley by Max Harris, and a poem Biography about Ern Malley, also by Harris.

“Nobody had any idea that Ern Malley wrote poetry (says the Introduction). “For several years he was thought of simply as the young man who worked at Palmer’s Garage on Taverner’s Hill, in Sydney, after leaving the Summer Hill Intermediate High School at the age of 14.

“When he turned 17 he went off alone to Melbourne, where little or nothing was known of his activities. He was said to be living alone in a room in South Melbourne and earning his living peddling insurance policies for the National Mutual Life Assurance Company.

“He returned to Sydney, where, after refusing to be operated upon, he died of Grave’s disease. Even his sister, next-of-kin. did not know that he wrote.” According to Angry Penguins, Ern Malley died on July 23, 1943, aged 25, and was cremated at Rookwood Cemetery.

“Recently,” Editor Harris continues, in his Introduction, “I was sent two poems from a Miss Ethel Malley, who wrote saying they were found among her brother’s possessions after his death... She sent them to me for an opinion... I sent these poems to my co-editor, Mr. John Reed, and they were then shown to a number of people, most of whom without any information about the author, bore out my opinion” (that they were great poetry).

The Poems

At Harris’ request, “Miss Ethel Malley” sent 14 other poems by Ern Malley.

All of these are published h Angry Penguins under the title The Darkening Ecliptic.

Extracts from the “Poems of Ern Malley”:—

          SYBILLINE

That rabbit’s foot I carried in
     my left pocket
Has worn a haemorrhage in the
     lining.
The bunch of keys I carry with
     it
Jingles like fate in my omophagic
     ear.
And when I stepped clear of the
     solid basalt,
The introverted obelisk of night,
I seized upon this Traumdeutung
     as a sword
To hew a passage to my love.

From PETIT TESTAMENT

“Where I have lived
The bed-bug sleeps in the seam,
     the cockroach
Inhabits the crack and the care-
     ful spider
Spins his aphorisms in the
     corner.”

Later in the same “poem”:—

“There is a moment when the
     pelvis
Explodes like a grenade . . .”

The last line et the last poem:—

“I have split the infinite. Be-
     yond is anything”

FACT, which has no high opinion of the Ern Malley “poems,” investigated the Ern Malley life-story in Angry Penguins, found:

• There is no Palmer’s garage, Taverner’s Hill, nor has there been one in the knowledge and memory of Leichhardt police, whose station is near by.
• No insurance salesman named Ernest Malley has ever been employed in Victoria by National Mutual Life Assurance.
• Nobody named Malley has been cremated at Rookwood in the past 10 years.
• No Miss Ethel Malley is known at the address in a Sydney suburb from which the writings were sent to Angry Penguins.

Published in U.S.

Some Ern Malley poems are included in the anthology of Australian verse collected by the American poet Harry Roskolenko and published in New York by Henry Vinnal.

A challenge has been issued to poet Max Harris by the Lecturer in Australian Literature at Adelaide University (Mr. Brian Elliott) to prove the existence of Ern Malley.

Asked to review the Angry Penguins issue for On Dit, Adelaide University magazine, Elliott sent instead an Ode. The first letter of each line spelt out MAX HARRIS HOAX.

Lecturer Elliot said later he was firmly convinced Max Harris wrote the poems.

• Elliott adds: “Malley is the goods. Nothing better has been written since the ‘Vegetable Pie” Elliot writes in his Ode

“Malley orphicular wraith, whose
     diapason
Astral is cotyledon to no plucked
     guitar

On Dit, the students’ magazine, commenting on the controversy, says: “Malley’s work is in true ‘Penguins’ style . . . Malley has left clues of literary knowledge which to the learned and initiated indicate Adelaide as the .source of the poems — if not Max Harris, then a close friend of his,”

• Some Adelaide students picked as the author Professor J. Stewart, Professor of English Literature, who is detective novelist Michael Innes.

Professor Stewart said he had heard of Ern Malley and of Max Harris, but he did not wish to comment on either of them.

Harris says —

Phoned in Adelaide, Max Harris told FACT he had not written the Ern Malley poems and if the Ern Malley whom he had believed to be the author did not write them he did not know who did.

Co-editors of Angry Penguins Max Harris and John Reed (Harris is an Adelaide University student of economics, Reed a Melbourne solicitor) made this joint statement:

“Whoever wrote the Ern Malley poems was a fine poet. When we received them we felt they were modes of expression and words reminiscent of other poets (for example, of T. S. Eliot), but it is not surprising when the idioms of contemporary poets overlap.

“We were satisfied with the intrinsic merits of the verse,

Continued on foot, Page 4.

ERN MALLEY, GREAT POET OR GREAT HOAX?

(Continued from Page 1)

“However, the personal life and philosophy of the poet is always a factor of deep significance and we will willingly give you all possible help to clear up the mystery.

Asked if he had ever suspected the poems of being a hoax, Harris said:

“There was some such suggestion but it is not our job to inquire into credentials, but to valuate the work as poetry.

“Anyone who says that they are not poems of remarkable value, or that they lack deep and serious meaning, is cutting the throat of a very fine talent in making such a statement.

“It is not a rational probability that the writings of Ern Malley do not possess intrinsic merit, in the light of the critical responses we received on the work from the American poet in the US forces, Harry Roskelenko, and many others.

Asked what would be his reaction if it could be proven that the writings of “Ern Malley” were nothing but obscurantist nonsense intended to test his critical judgment, Max Harris replied; “I hope not — otherwise I’ve been fooling myself for a long time.”

Asked what would be his reaction if the poems were written with the intention of parodying his (Harris’) own style of writing, Harris said: “It would be very flattering! It would need to be a very high talent to be thus parodied in the first place.”

Asked it he understood the poems, Harris said that in general, their meaning was clear to him. and. although Malley had a remarkable vocabulary which sometimes created images that could be obscure, he had found no discomfort in understanding any of the symbols.

Mr. Harris was asked the meaning of the following Ern MaUey lines:

There have been interpolations,
     falsesyndromes
[sic]
Like a rivet through the hand
Such deliberate suppressions of
     crisis as
Footscray:

He said he thought the lines had a “fairly patent meaning.” The “rivet through the hand” was a reference to Christ which was also in the associative word “crisis.” After the universality of “suppressions of crisis” there was a local image in “Footscray.”

FACT knows:

• Max Harris did not write the Ern Malley poems.
• Professor (Michael Innes) Stewart did not write them.
• The actual authorship.

A statement is being prepared for FACT next week. which will clear up the “mystery,” motives and merit of “Ern Malley” and his poems.


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