Sunday, August 28, 2005

Angry Penguins to the Max

The underwhelming Sunday paper, The Independent, comes out with an article on Angry Penguins - a beat-up from John Miles reviving interest in his book, "The Lost Angry Penguin". It was a book we praised many years ago when it was published. But here we have the author publicising his own work with a story which asserts that my father, Max Harris, somehow cheated his friend Sam (DB) Kerr from acknowledgement as founder of the 1940s arts magazine, "Angry Penguins". Huh? It is patently absurd and downright rude. I know as lifelong fact that Max never stopped mourning and acknowledging his friend and co-founder of Angry Penguins. Yes, they were a group. It was at university. They were students - young modernist literarti. Who cares which of them first said "let's start a magazine"? It was never a huge issue of credit. The fact is that, together, they did. Miles snipes dismissively over its name, because it was adopted from a phrase in a Max poem. At the time, it was a triumphant, pertinent, poetic and amusing choice to all of them. Miles snorts that it was chosen "by default". You'd think he had been there. But it looks to me as if he has a li'l ol' agenda - and is trying to flesh it out with his own editorialisation. An old academic ruse.
Max honoured Kerr in his poetry and never forgot his role - let alone his early death in the war. Miles seems to be trying to earn himself some sort of reputation as a brilliant researcher in comparing what Max said before the Ern Malley scandal and after it. Max, as publisher of Angry Penguins, took the king hit when the literary publication was prosecuted for obscene material in the Ern Malley poems and it was Max who was the target of the hoax. Forgive the man if, alone and carrying the can, he did not keep on reminding the world that he had not been the only student founder of the magazine. Miles, I find your judgements shoddy and self-serving. I note, as a post-script in the last par of your article you admit "Harris cited Kerr as the pre-eminent poet of Australian modernism and founder of Angry Penguins". Exactly!
So why the beat-up at Max's expense? What do you have against a man who was one of the first to encourage you in your writings? Weren't you the inaugural winner of The Max Harris Literary Award? And this has set you on a course to undermine his memory?
I doubt Sam Kerr would be congratulating Miles on the "get Max" campaign. They were friends and a team.
Oh, what unpleasant and mean-minded little people populate the self-aggrandising world of academe and literary history. Methinks they are not so much interested in getting it right as they are in getting attention. Trying to carve reputations out of the achievements of others.
Well, Miles, whereas the book was something we respected, your subsequent tawdry sensationalism of your theories is not.
You're off my Christmas card list, mate.

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