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The Malley Variations

‘Ern Malley’ was a hoax poet concocted in 1943 by two conservative young Australian poets, Harold Stewart and James McAuley. Seventeen experimental poems in the manner of Dylan Thomas and Henry Treece were sent to Max Harris, the 22-year-old editor of Angry Penguins magazine, who published them all in a special issue in 1944, hailing the recently-dead young poet’s genius. Public exposure of the hoax embarrassed Harris, who was further humiliated when the police in his home town of Adelaide prosecuted him for publishing Malley’s ‘obscene’ verses. He was found guilty and fined.
Many poets of my generation looked to Ern Malley as a patron saint of experimental verse, and found his works more interesting than the serious poetry produced by the hoaxers. The reading public have agreed: Ern’s oeuvre has remained in print and continues to be widely discussed in the six decades since his death, while the poems of Stewart and McAuley are now neglected.

Ten votive verses that make up ‘The Malley Variations’ were written in or through the ‘voice’ of Ern Malley, speaking in turn thought the voices of other writers, in a kind of double ventriloquy. The poems are: