AU/UA: Contemporary Poetry of Ukraine and Australia / Сучасна поезія України та Австралії Edited by Les Wicks, Yury Zavadsky and Grigory Semenchuk. Published as ebook by Krok (Ternopil, Ukraine) in association with Meuse Press (Sydney, Australia). 2011.
The past few months have not been the best time to release an anthology of poetry in Australia – that is if you want to get some mainstream attention in the literary press. That large anthology by Gray and Lehmann seems to have been sucking up all the reviews and interviews and not leaving much oxygen for anyone else. But things have been happening under the radar. One of the most interesting being the publication of an ebook anthology of contemporary poetry from Australia and the Ukraine. While the Gray/Lehmann anthology is bending bookcases in Libraries and bookshops this collection of Australian and Ukraine poets exists as a free downloadable ebook.
So why an anthology of contemporary Ukrainian and Australian poetry and why now? Unfortunately we don’t learn very much about the reasons why this anthology was put together. We have a list of editors (Les Wicks, Yury Zavadsky and Grigory Semenchuk), and a brief statement “UA/AU is an invitation to explore the contemporary poetries of the Ukraine and Australia”. I would have liked a little more information from the editors, an introduction for example, setting out how the connection between poets in the Ukraine and Australia came about, how the poets and poems were selected, a little background on the state of poetry in both countries and what the future might hold.
So we are left with the actual poems. Each poet, in both the Australian and Ukrainian section, is given a single poem – presented first in the original language and then in translation. While a single poem isn’t enough to get a sense of a poets’ work, it does allow the anthology to present a wider range of poetic styles from each country without creating a book of overwhelming proportions,
For an Australian reader the poets in the AU section are familiar names – Judith Beveridge, Susan Bradley-Smith, Pam Brown, Joanne Burns, Michelle Cahill, Michael Farrell, Phillip Hammial, Susan Hampton, Andy Jackson, Jill Jones, Christpopher Kelen, Cath Kenneally, Karen Knight, Mike Ladd, Anthony Lawrence, Myron Lysenko, Chris Mansell, Peter Minter, David Musgrave and Les Wicks.
But the importance of this anthology is that it makes us move out of our poetic comfort zone. For an Australian reader that means becoming acquainted with the Ukrainian poets and poems. But, as with any translation, it is not just the poets and poems, for the role of the translator is made very clear in this anthology. For example, in the translation of Pavlo Hirnyk’s ‘It Dawns, It Leaks, Its Light…’ (translation by Yury Zavadsky and Les Wicks) there is a very strong rhythm and rhyme:
Aloft the darken raven flies,
The colding home beyond my way.
The tiny tear imbibed by eyes –
My tired family in wait.
Without being able to read the original poem it is difficult to fully appreciate how much of this English poem is in the original and how much it depends on the translation. For instance, in order to maintain the rhyme has the meaning of the poem changed in a subtle way.? Was there another English word that would have conveyed the meaning of the original poem better, but would have broken the rhyme? For most of the readers of this anthology these are questions which we cannot answer.
Sometimes, however, a poem seemingly transcends the translation. In Yuri Andrukhovych’s ‘And Everybody Fucks You’ (translated by Sarah Luczaj), it is possible to forget that this is a translation:
A hundred bucks a month – I thought to myself.
And everybody fucks you.
Is it a plus or a minus, how to understand it? I wondered.
And it what sense, I thought to myself, in the literal
or maybe the metaphorical?
There are probably a number of reasons why this poem ‘works’ in the context of this anthology. It maybe that the orignal poem is written a style familiar to Australian readers, influenced by the same poets and poems that many Australian poets and poems have been. Or maybe the translator has found that fine balance between being honest to the original and creating a poem which stands in its own right.
Other Ukrainian poems which stand out in this anthology include Myhailo Hryhoriv’s ‘Renegrade Blizzards’ (translated by Yury Zavadsky, Les Wicks, Catalina Girona and Andrii Antonovskyi) and Victor Neborak’s ‘The Writer’ (translated by Mark Andryczk).
Iryna Shuvalova’s “You Are Black as Winter” (translated by Michael M. Naydan) is a particularly striking poem. It’s opening seems almost familiar and probably wouldn’t look out of place in an Australian literary journal:
…..you are black as winter
your palms shut
you clenched your treasure
of unspent lives
and angels rush
in the air –
In the end AU/UA: Contemporary Poetry of Ukraine and Australia is more of an appertiser than a main course. While most Australian readers will feel comfortable with the choice of Australian poems, I couldn’t help but feel that the anthology would have been more successful if there was a little more context to the poems. After reading the Ukrainian poems, for example, I would have liked to have been able to understand a little more about where these poems came from. Questions such as how has poetry in the Ukraine changed since the fall of the Soviet Union would seem to be an obvious starting point. I’m sure Ukrainian readers of the Australian poems would have similar questions about how Australian poetry has developed over recent decades.
In the final instance the value of this anthology is an introduction to poets and poems that many of us would not have come across before. In the long term its success will be measured by how many readers make the effort to chase down other translated poems by some the poets they first discovered in AU/UA: Contemporary Poetry of Ukraine and Australia.
AU/UA: Contemporary Poetry of Ukraine and Australia. can be downloaded freely at:
Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He currently edits Rochford Street Review.
Allotments By Laurie Duggan, Fewer and Fewer Press 2011.
I first came across Laurie Duggan when, as a teenager, I found a poem of his in an issue of New Poetry (Volume 25, Number 1, 1976) which I had bought at Abbey’s Bookshop in Sydney. Even among the explosion of talent that populated the pages of New Poetry in the mid to late seventies Duggan’s work seemed somehow unique. Many of his poems where much longer than what I was used to and they flowed/spilled across the page in unexpected, yet exciting ways. The poem in that edition of New Poetry, ‘Marijuana Christmas’ flowed over 8 pages and moved between many different styles and tones – there were sections that felt like stoned raves, other sections with a naturalistic intensity which then moved into an easy descriptive tone. The last two lines of the poem intrigued me:
above a shop, West Ryde:
At the time I was going to a high school near the train line next to West Ryde (Meadowbank Boys High School). I was fascinated by the ending of this poem, what did it mean? Why end long poem this way? A month or so later I was on a train going through West Ryde station and looked out the window at the shops on the Ryde side. Something caught my eye…above the awning of a shop there was a large sign ‘NO PIANOS’. Suddenly the entire poem made sense.
Over thirty years later I remembered my reaction to ‘Marijuana Christmas’ as I read through Duggan’s latest collection, Allotments, – a beautifully produced chapbook published by Fewer & Further Press, a small publisher based in the USA.. The poems in Allotments are, for the most part much shorter, but I couldn’t help but notice some points of similarity. Flicking through the collection I noticed that the poems almost seem to breathe. Some sit tight on the page, justified on the left, a straight line formed by the first letter of each line – turn the page and the next poem literally explodes across the page, words flying everywhere. Before the next poem begins to retreat back in a slightly tighter form.
There is also that attention to the unexpected detail of everyday life. At the end of ‘Allotment #1’ Duggan makes the observation that, at his local pub
an old door
leads through to a French delicatessen,
bolted, probably, for decades
This ending, while effective, does seem to recall the ‘NO PIANOS’ sign above the shop in West Ryde.
On one level this suggest one of the strengths of this little collection. While Duggan, for the most part, is no longer writing about Australia in this collection, there is still something very familiar about the tone and style of the poems. They represent England, or at least a street level view of England, as told through an Australian poetic consciousness. This is perhaps, in part, because the local pub plays a central role in these poems. The first ‘allotment’ is set “Live, at the local. the second “At the Norfolk Arms”. the fourth at “William iV, Shoreditch” and so on. But while pints are consumed, there is poetry, and food and the careful but witty observations which brings these poems to life:
The Spanish barman says
of he wine list I stare at
‘the most expensive is the best’
I remember instead the edict
on an album cover
(The Dictators Go Girl Crazy):
‘quanitity is quality’
While it is easy to read each ‘allotment’ as a stand alone poem, there are indeed threads running through this little collection. The different pubs is an obvious one, but there are others – ‘Allotment #8 refers to:
of The Sun
closed to the street, renovators
still at work
The ‘Allotment #10 begins:
The Sun half-full of builders
the back bar sheeted off with plastic
These touch-points link the poems together, hinting at a greater complexity tantalisingly just out of reach.
The best poems, however, stop you in your tracks and make you think by presenting things in a new way or creating an image which encapsulates a particular issue or situation. In Allotments such a moment for me occurred in ‘Allotment #17’. Duggan is not a overtly political poet, for the most part the poems in this collection capture the comings and going of everyday life and record memories that float to the surface. Then, at the end of ‘Allotment #17, Duggan suddenly and effortlessly sums up what he sees as the political reality of Conservative Britain:
Cameron’s Britain is
dark shapes beyond double-glazing
an imaginary space
where imagination is redundant
In the end it is these poetic jewels scattered throughout this beautifully produced little volume which once again proves Duggan’s status as one of the leading contemporary Australian poets. Allotments has been published in a very limited edition and you may need to hurry if you want to pick up a copy. For details contact Fewer and Fewer Press.
Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He currently edits Rochford Street Review.
Mark’s review of Laurie Duggan’s The Ash Range (Picador, 1987) can be found on the Printed Shadow’s website.
A.S. Patrić has done the rounds of our little magazines and even co-edits an online little mag, Verity LA. He has paid his dues and The Rattler, his first book, is the uneven result. Short, abortive prose poems full of imprecise syntax and breathless gushing sit alongside thoughtful, subtle and carefully nuanced writing.
“Movement and Noise” portrays the death of a young girl but then retreats to the inner life of a boy who lives on her street. The ending returns to the death with astonishing power. Some much needed silliness, which after all is the source of seriousness, is provided by Anais Nin and June Miller bickering in Melbourne suburbia in “Ducks”
“Baby Shoes” is a subtle, very brief story about the inspiration behind Hemingway’s famous six word short story, (“For sale, baby shoes, never worn”). Hemingway is referred to only as ‘the Yankee’ and the implications of the story are allowed to hit the reader gradually. The aunt and uncle of Santiago, who will become the old fisherman in The Old Man and the Sea. Here, Patric’s literary meta-referencing shines. The Yankee tells the couple that he has found what he needed for his story and then leaves. The story ends and we are left with exactly what we needed and no more.
The apex of the collection is “Some Kind of Blues”, a reflection on ethnic origins that manages to avoid clichés of migration and generational culture clash. “The question was still being asked among the children at my school. What are you?…Those massacres and rapes were who I was, because the television informed me that the Serbs were responsible for all the evils of those wars and I was a Serb.” I assume by his name that Patrić has Serbian ancestry. If so he is admirably honest, if not he has a penetrating imagination.
But too many stories are marred by forced profundity, an unfortunate byproduct of this powerful imagination. “The Frame” provides an example: “Greeks gaze into empty coffee cups and look into the smudge of chaos like scientists who stare through their microscopes at a smear of cells—but they’re the same stains. Accidents of birth, followed by accidents of life, then accidents of death.” Tell me something I don’t know.
Inexact grammar frequently halts the reader’s rhythm. Here is one of numerous examples: “he had a smile on his face. And an erection.” On his face? It doesn’t seem likely but that’s what those words say. Replace the full stop with a comma and the ambiguity is removed. To paraphrase Clive James, writers should never demand that their readers do most of the heavy thinking. Sentences like the above do not ingratiate a writer to his readers.
As one character says, “he knew every raindrop by its name. Did he think that’s smart like he thought I am sometimes, or is it as stupid as it sounds to me. You can’t be sure. Can’t be sure of anything.” This holds true for literature. Is this grammar artistic or just bad? Is this sentence, because said in a character’s voice, meant to be a non sequitur? Is the author cleverly playing off the notion of set in stone definitions or does he not know what words mean? You just can’t be sure.
The title story (and by far the longest) is the flat, undercooked tale of Atticus, a retired tram driver and aspiring writer. Patrić tries to wring meaning out of it and unite the collection by alluding to previous stories (Anais Nin and June Miller get a run), but the idea feels forced rather than organic. His literary ambition is limitless and his anger is on a hair-trigger but Atticus never quite feels like a real person. Which is fine, but he never quite feels like an overtly symbolic character either.
“Atticus was standing in the Writing Reference section in the bookstore. Atticus already had every book on the shelf worth owning. Not that he’d read every one of those at home, but he’d started them all and had an idea of what they all contained. That imparted an immense feeling of poised potential.”
“The Rattler” does not seem to be in the least autobiographical, but ‘poised potential,’ besides being a redundancy, is exactly what A.S. Patrić has.
Spineless Wonders, the publisher of The Rattler is a new NT-based press and they deserve praise for taking a punt on the short story form but I have one cheap shot to throw at them. The book features a blurb from “Les Murray, poet and editor, Quadrant”. Is Spineless Wonders trying to distinguish our greatest living poet from the soccer commentator of the same name or do they think their target audience needs a primer? Sorry.
Lucas Smith is a writer living in Melbourne. He has been published in The Australian Book Review, New Matilda, Eureka Street and The Lifted Brow.
Back in the first issue of Rochford Street Review I commented on Mike Ladd’s review of Australian Poetry Since 1788, edited by Geoffrey Lehmann and Robert Gray. At the time I stated that I had not read the anthology and did not intend to do so – “… it is unlikely that I will end up spending close to $70 for another anthology of Australian poetry (and given the size of this collection – 1,108 pages – I doubt my aging bookcases could support another large anthology”. Nothing has happened in the intervening months to change my view.
The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), however, must be really interested in this anthology. The Ladd review was published in Spectrum (in the Saturday SMH) on 12/13 November 2011. Earlier David McCooey had published a review in the Entertainment section of the SMH on 1 October. Now we have a third, an embarrassingly gushy review by John Clare published again in the Entertainment section on 29 January this year. While I appreciate that this is a thick anthology, does it really warrant 3 reviews in a major Sydney newspaper? Surely there are other newly released books of poetry that should have been reviewed but haven’t because of the space taken up by these multiple reviews.
Of the SMH reviews only the McCooey one takes up the obvious issue of the title – in particular the use of 1778. McCooey takes 1778 as a departure point for the fist part of his review. He points what he sees as the “neo-colonial” aspects of the opening sections of the anthology.
McCooey also refers to the “ethnographical” approach the editors take to indigenous poetry. He points out that only 2 of the poets are Aboriginal (Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Elizabeth Hodgson) and he quotes the extraordinary description of Hodgson as a Aboriginal poet who “’has not moved towards a Creole for her poetry” – excuse me!. McCooey also notes the exclusion of Lionel Fogarty and the inclusion of other indigenous poetry in the context of their non-indigenous “collectors and editors”.
While both the Ladd and McCooey reviews in the SMH have been a carefully measured critique of this lumbering anthology (I am dismissing the Clare review), John Tranter, in his new online journal, does not feel the need to hold back. From the start we know exactly where he stands – he has titled his piece on the anthology as “The Gray and Lehmann Death Star”. One has an image of Tranter as Luke Skywalker firing a series of explosive words down the spine to the core of massive anthology.
Interesting enough Tranter opens in the same way as McCooey, by attacking the way Gray and Lehmann approach the issue of Aboriginal poetry in the anthology. Tranter starts by quoting from the publicity for Peter Minter’s address at the 2011 Poetry Symposium held in Newcastle NSW on 1 October 2011(interestingly the same day that the Mccooey review appeared in the SMH):
Peter Minter will speak on the exclusion of modern Aboriginal poetry from “Australian Poetry Since 1788″, the new poetry anthology edited by Geoffrey Lehmann and Robert Gray. He will examine how Lehmann and Gray’s marooned neo-colonialism (circa 1988) whitewashes the rich tapestry of Aboriginal poetry from its so-called “landmark” vision. As such, and alongside the editorial sanitisation of many other non-Anglo poetries from its pages, the anthology will undoubtedly be viewed historically as one of the last gasps of white-Australian conservatism.
Tranter then moves on to the rejected poets, noting, as many others have, the “pointed exclusion” of Dransfield, but also the absence of Kenneth Mackenzie “a neglected, intensely lyrical poet rather like Dransfield, who died in the 1950s”. On the flip side of course are the poets that have been included who probably shouldn’t have been . Tranter cites the case of Jemal Sharah who published one slim volume “decades ago” together with a handful of poems in Quadrant (a journal, Tranter points, out was partially funded by the CIA during the Cold War). While Tranter doesn’t deny that she did show signs of “distinct talent”, she abandoned poetry at an early age to pursue another career. Tranter implies that she is included due to a friendship with Gray, while poets like Dransfield, Mackenzie and Fogarty miss out: “When does friendship get in the way of dispassionate literary judgment?”.
Tranter also raises questions about how the book was funded, hinting that the private subsidy that supported the publication of this anthology perhaps borders on “vanity publishing”. Tranter does not, however, drill too deeply into the details of this “subsidy” so, at least for me, the question of subsidy and influence remains a little unclear.
So has Tranter fired a missile into the spine of the “Death Star Anthology”? Maybe not quite – but along with reviewers, critics and writers such as Peter Minter, David McCooey and others – he has raised some serious questions around the objectivity and intention of this anthology. I’m sure, however, the ‘saga’ isn’t quite finished yet
As for me…one of my favourite anthologies of Australian poetry is Applestealers……so Gray and Lehmann aren’t quite my cup of tea.
– Mark Roberts
Carol Novack, writer, poet, editor and luminary publisher of the alternative and edgy Mad Hatters’ Review, MadHat Press and the MadHat Arts Foundation, died on 29 December last year. Although she was born in the USA, and spent much of her life there, she spent a number of years in Australia during the 1970’s and made a major contribution to the development of Australian poetry during those years. During these years she worked as an editor for the Cosmopolitan, and began publishing her poetry. Makar Press published her collection, Living Alone Without a Dictionary, as part of the Gargoyle Poets Series in 1974, and her work was included in The Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets. She was the recipient of an Australian Council of the Arts writer’s grant. She left Australia in 1977.
After a traveling in India and Europe, Carol returned to New York City where she completed a law degree. As an attorney, she worked first in the Criminal Appeals Bureau of the New York Legal Aid Society and later as a solo practitioner, championing the causes of artists and the underprivileged.
She went on to receive her master’s degree in social work (community organizing), and teach lyrical fiction writing at The Women’s Studio Center in NYC, returning to the serious pursuit of her own writing in 2004. “The muse just suddenly reared her jerky head again,” she said.
From the mid-2000s, she began publishing her gender-bending hybrid metafiction— “her little aliens,” as she called them—in many journals and anthologies, including: American Letters & Commentaries, Exquisite Corpse, La Petite Zine, LIT, Missippi Review, Notre Dame Review and Caketrain.
In 2005 she founded the Mad Hatters’ Review, one of the first online journals with a true multimedia approach, marrying literature, film, art and music in an annual collage of some of the most explosive arts on the web.“
Carol curated the successful Mad Hatters’ Review reading series at KGB Bar in New York, and performed herself at many venues in New York City and elsewhere. After re-settling in Asheville, North Carolina in 2010, she began a new reading series at The Black College Museum & Arts Center and founded a non-profit arts organization, MadHat, Inc., which now includes the Review; MadHat Press, a print publisher; and an artist’s retreat at her mountain home in Asheville.
Before her death, Carol was working several new projects, including the novella Felicia’s Nose, in collaboration with Tom Bradley. Both Felicia’s Nose and a collection of Carol’s shorter works are anticipated for publication in the near future.
Thanks to Marc Vincenz for allow Rochford Street Review to run an edited version of his tribute to Carol which was original posted on Mad Hatters’ Blog on January 5 2012
Carol’s impact on Australian poetry can be measured by the number of moving tributes posted on the Mad Hatter Review following her death. John Jenkins and Rae Desmond Jones have given Rochford Street Review permission to republish their tributes.
Tribute to Carol Novack by John Jenkins
I first met Carol Novack in 1974 in Melbourne, at a literary party hosted by Meanjin magazine, an Australian literary institution published by Melbourne University. The new editor wanted to refresh and revitalize it by including new talent and directions. I had recently had a short story published, and was introduced to Carol by the novelist, Finola Morehead.
I remember leaning beside a settee, drinks poised; people chatting intelligently around us, as Carol and I hit it off from the first word: the attraction immediate and mutual, our conversation bright and animated. I was delighted by Carol’s effortless style: her quick intelligence, zany humor and ready smile. She was indeed a New Yorker and pure oxygen to me. Her urbanity was polished and real, yet refreshingly free of anything po-faced or ponderous. Indeed, there was always a hint of something wicked and unexpected: together with an infectious relish and enjoyment of people, life, conversation, everything.
She was on a visit to Melbourne, down from Sydney for just a few days. So I invited her to dinner, to discover if the attraction wasn’t something I had imagined, or just the sort from a wine glass. A few days later, we agreed that I should accompany Carol back to Sydney. Everything was moving very fast: but such throw-the-dice impulsiveness was often the badge of our relationship.
We set off in my old car, which nearly ended the story at the very start. At one point, I became fatigued, and asked Carol to take the wheel. She readily agreed, then struck something on the next bend. We ended flying through space and emerged, somehow, by the side of the road, as my car span slowly around on its roof in the middle of the highway, and a truck blared down upon us. The world might have stopped shunting into eerie slow motion by then, but—miraculously—neither of us was hurt.
We just sat by the roadside, wide-eyed, in utter disbelief to still be alive. It seemed we sat there forever, and might still be there today, but it was really only minutes. There was a pub nearby, with a tow truck parked outside. Almost casually, as if it happened every day—and maybe it did—the tow truck driver put up some barriers, righted our car and towed it back to his workshop somewhere. ‘It’s a total right-off mate’, he said, ‘but I won’t charge you if you let me strip it down for parts.’ I agreed, and the driver of the truck that nearly ran us down offered us a lift to Sydney.
Carol had been living in the palmy suburb of Woollahra, in a comfortable house she co-rented with the poet Joanne Burns, but the lease was almost up, so Carol and I moved into a small and comfortable place not far away, in the fashionable suburb of Paddington. We lived together there for about a year, and Carol told me how she came to Australia. Apparently, not long before we met, she had married an Australian academic in New York. Her husband then took a senior post at an Australian university. Carol said he was a terrific person, but she soon realised the path marriage paved for her was not the one she really, ultimately, wanted. The domestic life of housewife was not to be her destiny. She was much more artistically inclined; and very adventurous: so had parted from her husband after mutual agreement.
Our life together in Paddington was certainly never dull, as it happened, and not very domestic either. There were many parties, which we either hosted or attended; ferry voyages around Sydney harbor to meet poets and writers; always lively discussions of art, politics and writing – and it was sometimes hard to say whether the arguments or agreements were the more heated. A heady round of restaurant and café meetings where the wine and conversation flowed freely, and spirits were often high. Generally, the mid to late ‘70s were sunny and exciting years in Sydney literary life. Even when we moved from Paddington, after finding lower-rent places in down-market Ultimo then Glebe, the excitement continued.
We met, and often socialized and partied with, some of the most talented and interesting people connected with poetry and writing of those years: Frank Moorhouse, Joanne Burns, Michael Wilding, Rae Desmond Jones, Ken Bolton, Pat Woolley, David Malouf, Bob Adamson, Clive Evatt, Nigel Roberts, Anna Couani, Dorothy Porter, Kerry Leves, Bruce Beaver, Dorothy Hewett, Merv Lilley, Rudi Krausmann, John Tranter, Mike Parr, Dave Marsh, Vicki Viidikas, Dennis Gallagher, Laurie Duggan, Alex Danko…far too many to list here…but collectively creating an effervescent milieu both absorbing and upbeat.
Of course, Carol and I had also to earn a living. This proved relatively easy for Carol, who had always been an academic high-achiever, and proved an equally fast learner when moving from one profession to another. Her research skills were considerable, and she put them to work for Lachlan Vintage Village, a re-created historical attraction in Forbes, New South Wales, built according to historically accurate specifications Carol supplied to the architects. Meanwhile, I worked as a book distributor; before we somehow hit on the idea of writing (or sometimes co-writing) articles for Cosmopolitan magazine.
Cosmo liked Carol so much, they happily hired her, as staff writer and sub-editor; and she then arranged full-time work for me in the mag’s umbrella company, Sungravure, which had a big stable of magazines; and was further owned by the Fairfax group of magazine, newspaper and radio media. And this, effectively, is how we both entered well-paid commercial journalism. In parallel with this, we both continued writing poems, articles, stories and whatever took our fancy.
I remain forever grateful to Carol for opening this new career door for me, as I was rather directionless at the time, never quite knowing how to balance means and ends, or make the latter meet. It was only in the last few months of our time together, that things got really rocky. One of Carol’s favorite movies was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and we would sometimes have hilarious mock arguments in a parody style of Albee’s famous play. But it was sometimes too real, too close to the bone; such as one night Carol’s dramatic finale was to throw all my clothes out a second-storey window, down into the street. No doubt I had committed some misdemeanor or other, and thoroughly deserved it. I was often ‘a handful’, and emotionally unpredictable. Such as the night I splashed Vodka over dumbstruck friends, while staggering into an incoherent and feverish tirade against the world, with Carol chuckling wildly to one side.
Eventually, we decided neither of us was ready to settle down, into even a casually de-facto version of married life, as we both had wild oats to sow, if not so carefully nurture or cultivate. Besides this, I wanted to travel to Indonesia, while Carol began longing for family, and familiarity, in New York. Eventually, we sat down together, and after a long, sober and rather melancholy conversation, agreed to part; but it was in a spirit of true friendship, and without bitterness.
Carol always had a wonderful sense of humor. She was also naturally kind-hearted and had a great capacity for joy and happiness. She was generous to a fault, both in spirit and materially when people needed help. Though always a ‘straight talker’, very frank and to the point when she needed to be, she was also a fiercely loyal friend. Once she liked and trusted you, you were there for life. All these fine qualities in her nature, and many more beyond listing here, were always evident to me, as they were to all who knew her well. And Carol had a talent for attracting friends to her warm and generous and outgoing nature, which always illuminated her wonderfully buoyant and creative life.
I saw Carol on two occasions after we had split up, and she had returned to New York. The first time was at her West 13th Street apartment in New York, when Carol introduced me to her (decidedly zany) friends, then took me around town to see the sights. At that time Carol was a member of ‘The Party Line’: nothing political, but a group of amusing ‘party animals’, who rang each other to pass on addresses of the best gigs in town.
I went along for the ride, ending up at a ‘do’ thrown by novelist Joseph Heller, at the swank Four Seasons Hotel; and another bash for friends of Lou Reed in some ratty, black-painted room downtown where the amplified sound of smashing bottles rang from the walls as one-time Velvet Underground singer Nico wailed into a frenzied, feeding-back microphone.
The very last time I saw Carol was in Ireland, in 2004. A quiet meeting. We both happened to be in Dublin at the time, and our paths crossed almost by chance. It was a happy reunion; and we took a coach tour, on a rare sunny day in Ireland, to some interesting historical sites. We were clearly both older and wiser by then, and spent a gentle afternoon reminiscing about good times and bad, about what had come to both of us, and friends past and present. Carol studied Asian culture, and even spoke a little Mandarin. She often quoted one of her favorite poems, I think it was by the Chinese poet Ouyang Xiu: ‘Life is best like a drunk falling off the back of a wagon, who rolls to the roadside, and by chance sees only the star-filled sky.’ I can’t remember the exact quote, but this might be close: and I always think of it when I think of Carol.
—John Jenkins, Melbourne, Jan 2012
Memories of Carol Novack – Rae Desmond Jones
I set eyes on Carol Novack one warm evening late in 1972. My first chapbook had been published, and I was invited to read at a forthcoming Adelaide Festival of Arts. I had never read out loud before, and needed practice. This took place in a semi derelict Protestant Church in one of Sydney’s less desirable suburbs (things have changed). I was sitting in the front pew shuffling poems when a striking woman draped in flowing clothes with long raven hair walked onto the stage and began to read. Her poem was a tapestry of chthonian images, showers of light and darkness.
Our friendship proved deep and enduring. Through 1976 she shared a small white terrace house near Bondi Junction with the poet Joanne Burns, where the conversation and the wine flowed well into the early hours. The house was a vibrant centre of literary and cultural ferment. Carol loved the company of poets and artists and frequently encouraged others before fully developing her own considerable talent. The late poet Vicki Viidikas heard her read in a small studio and asked her pointedly why she had not written and published more of her truly astonishing poems. Carol was unable to respond, a rare event.
Carol had courage. After she returned to the United States she contacted me from New York. On 9/11 I phoned her. She was calm and controlled, despite ash and dust and smoke in the air. She also was able to know and accept individual weaknesses and failings with humour and sensitivity. Once you were Carol’s friend, it was for life. This may have been linked with her literary gift, in which she examined and sought to reconcile her own complexity and ambiguities. Like her personality, her writing is complex and demanding: it lives.
– Rae Desmond Jones, Sydney, 2012
Other tributes from Australian writers have also been published on the Mad Hatters’ Review Blog:
One of the reality television shows in miles vertigan’s first novel life kills is called ‘the world’s funniest home paraplegics’? Whether this strikes you as amusing or not, in the age of The Biggest Loser we are surely not far away from gawking at the disabled for amusement. Also encountered are the even more plausible “unsightly rabbity chewing styles of the disgustingly beautiful” and the hopefully very close “celebrity snuff hour”. It is praise to say that this novel does not compromise on its humor.
life kills is not so much a novel as it is a sustained style. Martin Amis insists that style is inseparable from content and life kills at its best lives up to this dictum. Here’s an example:
“the woman on the phone thinks i’m a retard like it says ring in case of an emergency and i’m thinking that in my neck of the woods a now completely irrelevant pesco punk never has been with his head impaled in a plane window has all the basic hallmarks of a lay-down misere dog balls face slapping capitalled bolded huge imposingly times roman fonted fucking emergency”
It’s tempting, with this breakneck writing style, to let the reading experience be hypnotic, like watching a waterfall. But slow down the anarchic prose and a decent plot emerges, which saves life kills from being just funny postmodern obscurantism. A hitman, a ‘wealthy german industrialist circa 1923’, boards an airplane and assassinates various denizens of first class. He is waylaid by a series of unhelpful flight attendants, ostentatious advertising and his own neuroses. Interspersed within this main story are the personal, emotional and existential crises of pilot and co-pilot brad and chad and the vindictive rivalry between flight attendants bubbles and sparkles, which keep things moving in hilarious fashion.
To label life kills as a work of avant-garde or ‘experimental’ fiction (indeed what fiction is not) is to miss the point. For the most part the style is remarkably easy to follow given there are no quotation marks, full stops, commas, or capital letters. (Each section does end with a perfunctory punctuation mark) After a while the reader begins to mentally insert punctuation. In the pure dialogue chapters, vertigan cleverly has the characters saying each others names as substitutes for quotation marks. The book is written in short bursts that kindly break up the text for the reader. The shortest chapters are only one page, the longest is five (e-book) pages. The print edition runs to little over one hundred pages.
It seems that everything these days is a critique of ‘consumerism’, such that the word has lost much of its force. Yet vertigan is much cleverer than most. The satire is inventive enough to get around its heavy-handedness.
“hey brad there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you really do you really have something to ask me chad because you know there’s nothing more amazing for me than the sweet childlike interrogatives that spill and waft like little fairy blossoms from your tracheostomyphone like innocent whimsied honeydew from some mechanical freakshow…”
The modern condition of infinite, contradictory, desire has not been paraphrased better than this:
“i’m chugging down a family sized roomful of oh so delicious ‘n’ tasty quadruple battered and deepfried triple lardburgers while some loser retro amish dude uses my abs as an anvil.”
What keeps life kills from being, frankly, an irritating first year creative writing prose poem exercise is the impeccable sense of rhythm. The words might not be divided into discrete sentences or even thoughts, but they are free-flowing poetry, like a Willy Wonka production line or migrating birds. That and the wit and wordplay, turn what could be an enervating slog into a compelling narrative.
It is not without flaws. Sometimes the prose really is too dense and it’s hard to know what’s happening or who, if anyone, is talking. But getting to the point is not the point of this book. It is for readers who relish a challenge. And it is worth noting that books like this, by their nature, are difficult to critique without making a category mistake.
The novel concludes with unexpected i.e. somewhat traditional, pathos and the hitman emerges from his decadent morass as an insecure and complex human being, all the more accessible, one suspects, because of his very untraditional voice. The style carries the day. life kills is a welcome change from the ponderous and breathless and oh-so-significant middle-class social realism which dominates Australian fiction.
Following the publication of my review of Michael Wilding’s Wild & Woolley: A Publishing Memoir in Issue 1 of Rochford Street Review I received an email from Pat Woolley correcting a couple of points in my review and disputing some of the observations Wilding made in his book. I invited Pat to respond to Michael’s memoir of Wild and Woolley. The article which follows is a slightly edited version of that response.
Mark Roberts January 2012
Michael Wilding titled his book ‘Wild & Woolley: A Publishing Memoir’ yet it only covers the first five years of a publishing company that lasted for 37 years. It is a matter of record that he and I co-founded W&W in 1974, but he had nothing to do with the company after 1979. After 1979 he cut off all contact with me and W&W, while I continued to manage the company publishing new and exciting authors despite the difficult market for avant garde literature.
Michael always saw himself as the creative one while I had the business acumen. That’s what he said to a National Times journalist who interviewed us early on. He knew little about the finances and didn’t want to take part in any of the day-to-day management of the business. The closest he’d get to this was addressing and stamping media releases.
Michael had a tenured position at Sydney University, and all the perks of travel and sabbaticals that came with it. He had his own office, light glowing through the stained glass windows. In contrast, for the first couple of years after Wild & Woolley began, I made my living typesetting ads, magazines and junk mailers, on nights and at weekends, so that I’d have enough hours in the day to run W&W, visiting bookshops and taking orders, talking to reviewers as well as carrying boxes of books to the post office, and doing the bookkeeping, selling, promoting, typesetting, proof-reading, pasting-up galleys and packing of orders. In 1976 the company was doing well enough for me to hire Shar Adams to help with the office work, and Laurie Duggan to pack orders. They were paid. I wasn’t.
Early in 1978, W&W had outgrown its premises in Chippendale. The floor boards and bearers were dry-rotted and white-anted. Every day, Shar and I moved 15 or 20 boxes of books onto the footpath to give us enough space to run the business. If it rained, we put plastic sheets over them. I found new premises in the city and the lease required signatures from both Michael and me. Michael refused to sign.
I found a lawyer who came up with a resolution: we’d adopt new articles and memoranda for the company that would make me governing director and after that, I could run Wild & Woolley without the Wild. Maybe that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, perhaps yes, probably no. He left behind a stack of manuscripts that he’d committed us to publish, and with very little money, I did my best.
In 1978, Michael received a one year grant from the Literature Board and left Australia for Britain and the US. In the next years, I managed to launch all the books he’d taken on. There were many, including Polemics for a New Cinema by Albie Thoms, a collection of articles from film magazines. I read the book in proof after it was typeset. It appeared that Michael hadn’t read through any of the articles. He just passed over the file of newspaper cuttings and said it was ready to be set. I was left to pick up the pieces.
1980 was W&W’s lowest point. The city premises had a fire,
In 1983, I co-founded ‘Women’s Redress Press’, established ‘Australia In Print Inc’ in 1986 to wholesale Australian books to the United States, and under the Wild & Woolley imprint between 1983 and 1990, I published many books of fiction, poetry, rock and roll, art, and politics. Between 1983 and 1991, I also studied law part time and gained an LLB at UNSW. In 1990, predicting the impacts of technology on publishing, I bought a high-speed photocopier to print short run quantities of books for self-publishing authors. In the next two decades, I produced books for more than 1500 writers, usually under the Fast Books imprint, but occasionally bannered Book House or for the highest quality literature, Wild & Woolley.
Michael Wilding’s book with the misleading title is not a history of Wild & Woolley. It is his narrow view of some exciting times we shared in the seventies. A true and honest Wild & Woolley memoir should be written, but not by Michael. He just wasn’t there.
Internet sites are replacing journals. Beyond this clear fact, there exists little consensus about whether it is a good or bad thing – let alone how one defines ‘journals’ and their impact on culture – according, for example, to the (online) discussion in Overland, September 2011, and this month’s review piece in The Australian.
Mascara, out of the University of Newcastle, began as, and remains, an e-journal since 2007. It started publishing poetry only; now they have a long review list, and it is growing lengthier with each new edition. Mascara’s tenth issue, ‘Prose Poetry,’ is the first themed edition.
The site’s pages employ a simple, effective interface, leading us in with a solitary striking image; for the tenth issue, it is Tamryn Bennett’s text cityscape, ‘Aneki.’ This visually primes the reader for Alistair Rolls’ featured essay, ‘Baudelaire’s Paris: A New, Urban (Prose) Poetics.’ Rolls’ piece argues that prose poetry is an urban form – indeed, embodies the modern metropolis. He does this by using Baudelaire’s artistic response to Modernist Paris’ urban renewal. (I am glad Woody Allen didn’t encounter Baudelaire in his insolent tour of Modernism, ‘Midnight in Paris.’)
The featured essay also alerts us to Mascara’s tone and editorial choices. The journal is “interested in the way poems locate individuals, and how they connect cultures and languages.” To say Mascara hopes to “challenge the way we position ourselves… renewing the way we imagine ourselves and the world,” reads as a nebulous mandate – although this allows the journal to evolve in any direction it pleases.
Intimations of literary theory wash through the essays. And French Modernist art is never far away; Toby Fitch translates two pieces from Rimbaud’s Illuminations. Theorising also infests some of the poetry – although it is often takes the form of playful nods within a palpable landscape, such as Tim Wright’s:
Boxes in the landscape. The assumptions of architecture. A different beach. The longer a trend takes to reach one. The grimy inner city becomes an idea. Patterns of light through the curtains. The Bolaño effect. Packets of mud.
Mascara’s very general brief is made more specific by announcing its interest in Australia’s interaction with Asian regions. Half the advisory board is Asian; however, the journal is more ‘international’ than its advertised focus on Asian/American texts. There are only two Asian poets in the current issue, although other works address Asian culture, and a few of the translations are of Chinese prose poetry. Chen Li’s fine pieces, for example, translated by Chang Fen-Ling, are sharp micro-narratives built around cores of meditation:
…she borrowed money and bought him another car without my knowledge. That was a white car, white as the morning fog on winter days.
Prose poetry invites off-centre composition and grammar, showing itself qualitatively distinct from verse rhythms. Overall, the poems are varied, and generally fine examples of the genre. Some take the form too far, though. Michael Farrell’s shrilly gestural spacings around punctuation risk the reader seeing only empty hocus-pocus rather than interactive nuances. Most other poets get it, though: sparing use of devices imply mastery, such as Kate Waterhouse’s poised slashes, and Bella Li’s censorship of selected proper nouns. Or Jaimie Gusman’s mastery of cock-eyed, sometimes shocking syntax: “No one wants me as in desires me goes fang-thirsty to the hole in the ground” (‘Everything is For Seen’). These mechanisms are effective not just for the power of their sparse use, but also for their lucid intentionality, setting up clear exchanges with the reader.
The quality of reviewing is mixed in this issue. Heather Taylor Johnson’s piece on Pam Brown is insightful, and a model of how authors can conversationally appear in their own reviews and still come up with engaging criticism. However, Roberta Lowing’s critique of Jenny Lewis’ After Gilgamesh is clumsy and self-praising. It is laudable that so many poets are given the opportunity to review other poets in Mascara, but some employ ungainly prose. This may be either an inadvertent editorial irony – “this issue’s about prose” – or it could be intentionally opening up a complex dialogue on the artistic forms and grammatical elements of prose poetry. One can buy in or buy out of this.
A core review is Ed Wright’s, of The Indigo Book of Australian Prose Poems edited by Michael Byrne. He notes the drawback of so many Australian anthologies: defaulting to established practitioners instead of (a more difficult editorial task) venturing a stance on the future of such poetry by offering more new voices. Wright also usefully summarises weaker contributions as “cute but ultimately throwaway thought pieces”; this gives us a neat summary of prose poetry’s pitfalls, at the same time providing a measure of its uniqueness as a genre.
Jacket2 is the new incarnation of the original quarterly Jacket – another early example of an all-online poetry magazine. The original Jacket was founded by John Tranter in 1997 and while Jacket 2 moved is now maintained from the University of Pennsylvania, it has maintained its Australian connection by keeping Pam Brown as its associate editor.
In Jacket2, as with Mascara, the layout problems and bugs are minor. (In the latter, reviewers’ bios go missing, one is twice as long as the poet’s contribution, and another poet is given a blank page instead of a poem.) However, Louis Armand’s opening image is so large it takes a few seconds to download each time one navigates back to the page. And in both magazines, essays or core works do not announce themselves until one either scrolls down further page-lengths or searches a couple of layers in.
Pam Brown has recently put on this site a ‘collection’ – the editors hesitate to call it an ‘anthology’ – of fifty contemporary poets from Australia. This collection is buried partway down the ‘Features’ pages, at the bottom of a side-menu. Although it is a pity not to be visible closer to the surface, the purpose of Jacket2 is to be – at least in part – an ongoing report on the state of poetry. The site’s banner proclaims that it publishes articles, reviews, interviews, discussions and collaborative responses, archival documents, podcasts, and descriptions of poetry symposia and projects. Not unlike a daily news forum, we will publish content as it is ready.
Given this ambitious brief, articles and reports come and go, and the viewer is encouraged to browse randomly rather than more actively search through the site’s dendritic pathways.
The anthology’s introduction rightly suggests that to peruse literary journals can provide a better indication of a “country’s poetic,” and the collection only aspires to be “broadly representative.” However, although they do not discern any current ‘schools’ of Australian poetry, this doesn’t prevent Brown from noting “trends” – a “lyrical resurgence,” and poetic responses to technological and financial changes.
This is not an anthology that proscribes ‘Australian poetry,’ and Brown consider this a form of cultural cringe: defining this country’s poetic resembles a spurious postcolonial seeking after national identity. Besides, “nobody knows how to answer it.”
Though it is titled “51 Contemporary poets,” at present only about ten are evident in the contents. It is an evolving list, Brown tells us in her introduction, and forty more poets will join them in “four subsequent installments.” This first batch is in reverse alphabetical order (claimed as a “recently developed ‘downunder’ method”). Mark Young, a broad-ranging poet from New Zealand, is therefore up first. We are obliged to go to another page for poets’ biographies, and then are distracted by advertisements for the magazine on the right hand side. Marketing increasingly encroaches in our world – and poetry is not exempt from this influence, in its content as well as its backdrop.
The first ten poets also include Alan Wearne and his hilarious ‘Sarsaparilla: a Calypso’:
On through Menzies’ days and Holt’s,
Patrick logged up minor faults:
countless friendships never stick
(what a temperamental prick!).
Laboured syntax? Let it pass.
Can’t quite “get” the working class.
Down at the dump though, smoking pot …
Riders in the Chariot!
And there is Tranter’s own exceedingly long poem, ‘The Anaglyph.’ (Commissioned a stale five years ago, it is garden-fresh compared to featured poet Joanne Burns’ 2003 offerings in Mascara.) In terms of length, several of the poets are pleasingly allowed space enough to provide a sense of their methodology – although briefer entries often create a more intense and satisfying impact.
I was searching for weak links amongst the first offering, but found that all entries are of a high quality and representative of the editors’ themes. Brown takes no risks: every poet here is established or active in the literary community. Even though we only have ‘Y’ to ‘T’ surnames so far, this first sample presages a fine and comprehensive online anthology.
Given the inevitability of internet productions, these two journals – Mascara and Jacket2 – have taken the technological lead, and look like they, and others emerging even now, will continue to use the medium to produce effective and collaborative products.
– Stephen Lawrence