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Friday, November 2 • 9:00am - 10:30am
1.E. Poetry and Experimental Practice

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PANEL. Poetry and Experimental Practice

“Australian Surrealism and the ‘Ern Malley’ Experiments: Surrealist Poetics in Angry Penguins"
Gavin Yates
Monash University

Max Harris founded Angry Penguins (1940-1946)—Australia’s first literary journal to sympathise with surrealism—with the intention of launching Australian poetry into the ‘stream of European feeling and thought’, while subverting a prevailing cultural conservatism. Already a popular form of expression amongst the vanguard of Australian artists, surrealism’s literary inception can be ascribed to Harris’s 1939 statement, that his poetry is ‘Australian surrealism’. Via close analysis of the articles and poetry published in Angry Penguins, I will identify a deviation from surrealism’s original principles, resulting in the reduction of its avant-gardist character. In so doing, the Angry Penguins writers produced poetry, constrained within formalist parameters, in the vein of technically distinguishable models such as Dylan Thomas and the English ‘New Apocalypse’, nullifying surrealism’s radical approach. In 1940s Australia, public reception rebuked the Angry Penguins’ espousal of dream and the unconscious, which culminated in the infamous ‘Ern Malley’ hoax. Ironically, the two conservative poets, James McAuley and Harold Stewart, who collaborated on the ‘Ern Malley’ collection, The Darkening Ecliptic (1944), I will argue, produced the period’s most convincing example of literary surrealism, due to their unconstrained use of free associative, and chance-generated, techniques. In this neglected field of Australian literature scholarship has mainly focused on the event of the ‘Ern Malley’ hoax: instead, my paper will examine the Australian surrealists’ claims to, and practice of, surrealist poetics, in critical comparison with the collaborative approach of ‘Ern Malley’, against the turbulent backdrop of Australia’s earliest encounter with literary surrealism.

“The Black Magic of the Surrealists”: Mina Loy’s Surrealist Experimentations"
Diane Drouin
Sorbonne Université

The British artist Mina Loy was at the forefront of the European avant-gardes. She began her career as a painter in the 1910s, and witnessed the emergence of the Futurist movement in Italy, before observing the development of the Parisian Surrealist scene in the 1920s. Loy’s poetic career bloomed with her collection Lunar Baedeker (1923), at the moment when André Breton published his first Manifesto of Surrealism (1924). This paper will focus on the dialogue between Loy’s autobiographical texts in prose and her works of art. I will argue that Loy articulated French and British Surrealist æsthetics, experimenting with both verbal and plastic techniques, in works shaped by free associations, dreams, hallucinations, and visions. Her painting Surreal Scene, for example, represents a fragmented female body caught in between an hourglass, a ribcage, and a bicycle, conjuring up an alternative reality characterized by the struggle of conscious thoughts with the unconscious. Drawing on Freudian, Lacanian, and Derridian theories, I will adopt a psychoanalytic perspective to explore Loy’s autobiographical novel Insel set in Paris in the 1930s. Loy portrays a bohemian artist deemed “too surrealist for the surrealists,” inspired by the German painter Richard Oelze, and whose magnetism relies on his “conjurative power of projecting images.” This will lead me to analyze Loy’s approach to occultism and to what she calls “the black magic of the surrealists.” I will examine how Loy devises strategies of fragmentation in her textual and visual self-representations, “on the unexplored frontiers of consciousness.”

"The New York School’s Surrealist Inheritance"
Andrew King
University of Iowa

In this essay I perform close readings of poems by John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, and Barbara Guest in an attempt to answer the question of whether these key members of the New York School were Surrealists and, if so, in what aspects and to what degrees. Though these poets’ Surrealist credentials are often taken for granted, they were not infrequently disputed or qualified by the poets themselves. Auden’s warning to O’Hara, in his letter of rejection for the Yale Younger Poets prize in 1955, not to “confuse authentic non-logical relations which arouse wonder with accidental ones which arouse mere surprise and in the end fatigue” provides one possible distinction with which we might cleave the New York School from the Surrealists. I derive another from a 1991 interview of Kenneth Koch by Richard Kostelanetz, in which Koch construes O’Hara’s body of work as always returning to “ordinary reality”; I examine the extent to which Koch’s claim is borne out by close readings of O’Hara’s corpus. Following these and other leads, I suggest that what might unify the New York School with certain Surrealist predecessors is not so much agreement on subject matter as on the nature and status of poetic procedure—the methods by which poems are constructed, and the formal qualities they take on as a result.

avatar for Diane Drouin

Diane Drouin

Ph.D. Student, Sorbonne Université

Andrew David King

University of Iowa
avatar for Gavin Yates

Gavin Yates

Monash University

avatar for Felicity Gee

Felicity Gee

University of Exeter

Friday November 2, 2018 9:00am - 10:30am EDT
Room E. Bertrand Library: East Reading Room (second floor)