Peter Carey is one of my favourite authors, and I’m obviously going to have to read his latest book: it’s based on the Ern Malley hoax, which my Great Uncle Jim was one of the instigators of. Uncle Jim wrote rather traditional poetry, you know, it rhymed and made sense, and he and a mate decided to reveal modernism as a load of nonsense by writing the complete works of the late “Ern Malley” on a Saturday afternoon and getting “Ern’s” widow sister to send them to a modernist poetry journal. The journal most gratifyingly printed them, declaring Ern a modernist genius, and it took months before the hoax was revealed. Of course the editor argued that “well, it was written by great poets so was great poetry even if meant as ridicule” while Uncle Jim and his mate claimed the entire works of Ern (or perhaps only a line or two) were copied out of a textbook on mosquitos and their habitats. Or something.

Uncle Jim, photo off the cover of a book of hisObviously, Uncle Jim didn’t quite succeed in his noble fight against modernism. And I’m a bit worried about how he (or rather, the character inspired by Uncle Jim and his mate) is going to be portrayed in this book, too: “An arrogant young Australian poet named Christopher Chubb decides to teach his country a lesson about pretension and authenticity.” (amazon) Perhaps my concerns about truth and such are genetically determined.

5 thoughts on “ern and uncle jim

  1. mcb

    wow. that is such a cool claim to fame.
    I’m also looking forward to reading the Carey book.

  2. Mum

    As the telling was told inside the McCauly-Walker household of your descent Jill, the story that Jim & his colleague had concocted around the Ern Malley Poems had included ‘Ern’ being illiterate. He had had to dictate those poems to his fictional ‘sister’ and it was the sister who had approached publishers after Ern’s fictional demise, dead poets being more likely to make an impact than live ones and not at risk of slipping up in interviews with journalists. Your grandmother, Lorna, took a conspiratorial delight in being the real life sister of one of the real life authors of the Ern Mally Poems, even though, as far as I know, she never had any active part in the events. Your grandfather could tell you more.

  3. Lisa

    When I was in high school, our school literary magazine was known to be run by some hypercritical individuals who hated everything but what they and their friends wrote. Someone submitted a Yeats poem, anonymously. It was rejected… : )

  4. Jill

    Dennis Jerz likes the sound of the hoax and has dug out a wonderful sample of the poetry they wrote:

    Among the water-lilies
    A splash ó white foam in the dark!
    And you lay sobbing then
    Upon my trembling intuitive arm

    My trembling intuitive arm! Wonderful!!

  5. paul

    A friend and I considered something similar in the same vein about 15 years ago when confronted by a spate of similarly breathless but maddeningly vague verse.

    We still laugh at some of the verses we came up with: we actually decided they were too good for the likes of them . . . . but we did start a “little magazine” and for both issues, found quite a lot of good writing.

    Peter Carey has referenced the Ern Malley story in an earlier book but I can’t recall which it is: I seem to think it’s Illywhacker and it’s quite close to the end. There’s a reference to a ‘zine or journal called “Malley’s Urn” which can’t be a coincidence . . . .

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