Days Like This

Today I posted off to AUP in Auckland the corrected proofs of Steal Away Boy, the Selected Poems of David Mitchell. This book, which has consumed much of my free time and also that of my fellow editor, Nigel Roberts, over the last year or so, will be published in early April; there'll be a launch at the Gus Fisher gallery in Auckland on the evening of Tuesday 30th March. It's always a strange moment when you let a book go for the last time; but this was stranger than most. I was sorting out what kind of envelope, postage etc. with the clerk at the Summer Hill post office when the manager, a charming man whom I sometimes get to witness contracts for me, leaned over and gave me a thick brown package. No flat number, he said. That's why they couldn't deliver. My name was spelled correctly, the address was otherwise accurate . . . what could it be? I wasn't expecting anything. I flipped it over and saw on the reverse, neatly typed, the name and address of the sender: David Malley, 40 Dalmar Street, Croydon. That's when the hairs began to rise on the back of my neck; because 40 Dalmar Street is, or was, the address of Ern Malley's sister Ethel, it was from that veritable house that the hoax poems and the letters were sent. I've seen it, it's still there, an anonymous red brick house with a frangi pani in the front yard and a tradesman's ute parked in the drive. So who is David Malley and what was in the packet? It was meticulously wrapped and about the size of an A4 manuscript. Postmarked Croydon. $7.50. A hastily scrawled D Malley handwritten below the address. As I walked home I ripped open the sturdy brown envelope and found within another package, also meticulously wrapped, in brown paper, with a white envelope taped to the outside. My name was typed on this envelope, which I tore open and then read the typed letter within. Same address at the top. A date, the 9th of January, my dead sister's birthday; must have been a couple of weeks in the PO; I think that's the first time I've been in there this year. No signature, just the typed name at the bottom. Perhaps with a sense of dejavu, it began, I should begin by saying that when I went through my mother's things after her death I found a letter Lois had written . . . all sorts of things were now rocketing through my head. Today, 28 January, is the anniversary of my mother's death ten years ago now; her name was Lauris, not Lois, but she was the one I thought of when I read that first sentence. How she would have loved to have known that she died on the same day W. B. Yeats did, in Sligo, 1939 . . . I read on: Hence my book Beyond is Anything tells the story of the real Ern Malley . . . the letter is in fact a kind of parody of Ethel Malley's first letter to Max Harris and, within the second brown paper package, there was indeed a book of that title. A4 sized, thick high quality paper bound between covers of stiff black card; with a picture of the moon eclipsing the sun on the cover and the words TOTAL ECLIPSE printed inside the round face of the moon. It's #7 of a numbered edition of 20, privately printed and would have cost a bit to do. There are 24 colour plates including a Durer Self Portrait on the inside front cover and a Durer Portrait of a Woman on the inside back; both portraits are reproduced in miniature on the outside back cover. All of the poems from Malley's The Darkening Ecliptic are reproduced within, some with revisions that are authorised by manuscript corrections in Malley's hand (some of these corrected and/or annotated sheets are reproduced in the illustrations); the poems are divided into three sections (Melbourne; Townsville; and Hospital poems); there is one extra, previously unknown poem included; and the sequence as a whole is re-titled Total Eclipse. Otherwise, the book consists of a prologue, Lois' letter, a new introduction to the poems and a Life Retold. More than that I can't at this stage say because I haven't yet had a chance to read the book; so back to the letter. It says I've been selected because I seem to be a Malley supporter, that I can use any of it on-line and that I have permission to quote from it or reproduce it in part; but that, if I do not use it I should treat it as strictly confidential. It concludes: I must close now, and regret you will be unable to contact me to let me know if there is anything else I can do . . . Yours sincerely . . .

I'm about to stop making sense. I don't know who this mysterious, other, DM, might be. Not a clue. Not, I think, anyone I know. He (is it a he?) knows that I blog but he doesn't, not really, know where I live. (Unit Four (4) if you're reading this and want to send more mail.) Does he know that I too have written a life of Ern Malley? An autobiography, no less. Called White City (2006) and thus far unpublished, it is as if surrounded by an aura of palpable silence. Though there were a couple a pieces from it in a recent Landfall. When, not so very long ago, a NZ publisher expressed interest in White City, I found myself uncharacteristically shy of surrendering the ms. But I would give it to the putative DM, should he want to see it . . . that way we could perhaps see if his recollections and my proxy account have anything in common, anything that might be shared. Anything . . . germane.


1 comment:

Richard said...

This is quite amazing!

Re David Mitchell. I know his daughter. She told me (and others at Poetry Live, last year) that a book was being written. I didn't know how far it had got. I met him a few times in the 90s - he went to University for a while (some of the same classes that I attended) and once I met him with his daughter Genevieve, who I met at live poetry readings (also about 1992) and we (Genevieve and I) were both in a "group" called The Poetry Brats.

I didn't know him in the 60s or even the 80 as I wasn't "into" poetry then. But I was interested in his work (after I read some at Auckland Uni where I studied in the early to mid 90s) and also I heard him give a great reading of poetry he hadn't published (mostly I think) - it was hugely attended. It was a great success.

So I will be keen to see his book.

Scott Hamilton "discovered" the Ern Malley business and (as Scott in those days had a way of telling me about his various discoveries that always made me as very excited as he about them (he was often almost excruciatingly afire with some new find, or new aspect of his reading, he seems less so now for me that he has somewhat "disappeared into politics", but it is still there, but modified or changed into his enthusiasms for
E P Thompson and Smithyman etc); and as I too became intrigued by these "finds", I became determined to pursue them also, and I also got quite excited about it (Ern Malley in this case or whatever else Scott had recently 'discovered' or uncovered); so I bought the book about it (by Michael Heyward), and read it.

Well, McAuley-Stewart-Malley was a genius!

And you have found new leads to this mysterious figure!