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The Darkening Ecliptic
Series No.: 217
ISBN: 978-1-55713-439-4, Pages: 48
Australian Literature, Poetry
Ern Malley was born in Liverpool, England in 1918. Soon after, his family emigrated to Sydney, Australia. Poverty forced Malley to drop out of high school and work as a car mechanic (among other odd jobs). At 25, he contracted a rare disease and died in obscurity in 1943.
Malley’s sister sent his poems to the Melbourne-based literary journal Angry Penguins, where they were quickly embraced by the avant-garde... and just as quickly revealed to be a hoax.
The hoaxers were Harold Stewart and James McAuley, two young poets who felt that modernism had lost its way. Drafted into World War II, they had composed Malley’s poems in their barracks in a single day. They intended the poems to be a parody of modernism, with many hidden jokes, including these lines from “Sybilline” about Malley’s nonexistence:
It is necessary to understand
That a poet may not exist, that his writings
Are the incomplete circle and straight drop
Of a question mark
Newspapers carried front-page stories ridiculing the avant-garde for finding merit in Malley’s poems. Chagrined, the avant-garde stood by their assessment. An obscenity trial followed.
Stewart and McAuley published several more books of poetry, yet they are mainly remembered for the Ern Malley poems, which are now included in anthologies of Australian literature.