Wednesday, May 02, 2007

There is also the oft-told tale of "Ern Malley," a poet who was invented by James McAuley and Harold Stewart who spent an afternoon in 1943 synthesizing quotations and extracts from various sources in order to perpetrate a hoax on Max Harris, the editor of a literary magazine they scoffed at. When Harris found out he'd been the butt of their creative joke, he was understandably upset but also bemused. He realized that what they'd done was remarkable. A few passages in the "Ern Malley" poem (titled "The Darkening Ecliptic") are unintentionally brilliant. This is one of the more famous, from their poem "Durer: Innsbruck, 1495"

I had often, cowled in the slumbrous heavy air,
Closed my inanimate lids to find it real,
As I knew it would be, the colourful spires
And painted roofs, the high snows glimpsed at the back,
All reversed in the quiet reflecting waters—
Not knowing then that Durer perceived it too.
Now I find that once more I have shrunk
To an interloper, robber of dead men’s dream,
I had read in books that art is not easy
But no one warned that the mind repeats
In its ignorance the vision of others. I am still
The black swan of trespass on alien waters.

However great poems are written it seems unavoidable that there must be some element, conceptual or otherwise, that provides a glimpse of something unique. Even if it was entirely accidental that the experiments of McAuley and Stewart that afternoon proved successful beyond their dreams, the fact remains that their efforts were not only noticed, but that their creation (not only the poem but the fictional poet) will be remembered forever. In a very post-modern way "Ern Malley" launched the literary world headlong into the future.