Featured Writers: Four Poems from ‘To End All Wars’

Parallels of latitude

In one version of our story, Gavrilo Princip,
.    named by his devout parents after the Archangel
Gabriel, dies in infancy – like six of his siblings.
.    In another version he survives, and applies
himself so well at primary school, the headmaster
.    gives him a volume of Serbian epic verse.
Roused by his reading, young Gavrilo,
.    born into a long line of subsistence farmers
in a remote Bosnian hamlet called Obljaj,
.    spends the rest of his life writing poetry.

Then there is the version where Gavrilo follows
.    in his father’s footsteps and becomes a zealous
nationalist. Expelled from school in 1912 for protesting
.    against Austro-Hungarian rule, our promising insurgent
absconds to Belgrade, where he soon falls in with fellow
.     revolutionaries – or ‘terrorists’ as we prefer to say today.
Gavrilo joins their training camp at Vranje but is killed
.    while handling ordinance the group was using
to rehearse their next assassination plot.

In a completely different version, Gavrilo stays in Obljaj
.    to become a teacher, who falls incurably in love
with Anna, the best friend of a distant cousin.
.    The embers of Gavrilo’s murderous rebellion are now
slaked by floods of passion for his bride, and nascent love
.    for their first child due early in the spring.
In this version, presumptive heir to empire Archduke
.    Franz Ferdinand and his new wife, Sophie,
survive the drive through Sarajevo, felicitously seated
.    in the second car of the imperial convoy.
Not the fourth, which is blown up by a hand grenade
.    thrown by the Vranje band as planned.
The intact royal car still stalls after taking a wrong turn
.    into the street where Gavrilo would have been that day,
ready with a gun, to accept this gift of fate – but for Anna,
.    who could have spurned him for another, and did not.

And so Kaiser Wilhelm’s never drawn into protracted war
.    by his Habsburg ally. The cousins on the thrones of Britain,
Germany and Russia remain friends for many years.
.    And Anzac boots don’t touch the shores of the Gallipoli
peninsula. Instead, ten decades on, squadrons of retirees
.    from Australia and New Zealand swarm from buses
every summer to trek the Dardanelles. To fill their phones
.    with photos they post on social media as proof
of yet another bucket-list adventure: this time the must-see
.    rugged ridges guarding open and as yet unspoiled beaches
north of Kabatepe on the Aegean coastline of a land
.    where Ottoman and Islamic heritage live easily enough
alongside western influence – in this latest variation
.    on our hypothetical narration.

Many of our travellers then fly on to France.
.    And after Paris they descend on regions like the Somme.
Hungry for rustic charm and local produce, they practise
.    high school French on villagers, who forgive Antipodean
vowels when asked about the choicest cycling routes
.    and picnic arbours – locals and tourists equally oblivious
to the treachery of tunnels, and the misery of mustard gas
.    and trench foot. And the abandoned corpses speared
on endless concertinas of barbed wire, lacing the horizon
.    of a ravaged swampland. One hundred years ago
in the final version of our story.

– Gisela Sophia Nittel

 

The Sestina Shot for Desertion

‘There is not a sign of life on the horizon, and a thousand signs of death. Not a blade of grass, not an insect; once or twice a day the shadow of a big hawk scenting carrion.’

Wilfred Owen in a letter to his mother 4th February 1917.

You were so young
and happy at first in the trenches of honour.
With no bugle or drum to sound your own beauty.
It’s a marvel your singing kept the tune straight.
Going over the top was a fizz in the blood.
All those excited, patriotic bodies

falling over the other decomposing bodies,
unburied. Maggots older than time in the eyes of the young.
Climbing over the top descended to a blood
sport.  And you trapped in the hell of those trenches of honour.
It’s a marvel your courage kept the bayonets straight.
Some see bullet holes as flesh-roses of beauty

or Owen’s ‘full-opened sea-anemone.’ Beautiful
loyalties face-down, kissing mud. Broken bodies
cleaned up by pure bravery. But history can’t keep a straight
face. Not when it comes to sacrificing our young.
It’s hunger for violence that lies behind all that honour.
Ask the carrion birds, those dull porters of blood,

what they think of the Great War. How the Hun’s blood
tasted no different to ours.  How the cruel beauty
of kill-or-be-killed pulls the trigger of honour.
Well, I have sons, and see no honour in piles of dead bodies.
Human nature’s a fucked-up sestina at heart. No young
doubt, ambivalence or straight

up compassion. No commitment to incorruptible beauty.
Just endless repetition. Clichés galore. It’s up to the young
to break pride’s spirograph.  Embrace the straight
line of peace, no matter the cost.
Ignore the compulsion to go round in circles of blood
for the sake of honour.

Oust the old men of power who hunger for War,
and then when they get it, take 6 words as gospel:
.   young
.             straight
.                    beauty
.                           blood
.                                    bodies
.                                           honour

then arrange them in 39 rows of cannon fodder.

-Judy Johnson

 

Raking the Powder, 1943

Every day I remove my ring, brooch
and bobby pins, draw the blue serge sack
over my head, tie the laces of my special
shoes—shoes without nails in the soles—
walk up the duckboard ramp and punch
the bundy to begin my shift. The powder
comes to me like a lump of wet clay.
I weigh it, then place it on a heated table
on a handkerchief of Fuji silk, as a bride
might spread her gown out over the bed
before dressing. Once it’s warmed, I load
the powder onto a trolley and wheel it
to the charging room. The machine has a plate
with holes like those on a salt cellar.
I slide a tray of caps under the shelf,
open the holes and brush the powder across
the top with a delicate velvet rake.
Push in too much powder and you’re history,
but there’s a war on, so I don’t think
about the danger. Occasionally the boss
takes us, the gelignite wrappers, the cordite
girls and the women who crimp the detonators
into the paddock for a safety drill.
One day he walked half a mile away,
dug something into the earth and marched back.
“This is what happens when you’re careless,”
he said, as grass shot into the sky and dirt
rained down on us. We were frightened and
terribly careful afterwards, but you never
think anything will happen to you. We were just
about to finish last Tuesday—you have to clean
the press and the pellets before you knock off—
when I heard this rumble. If it’s a pop
you ignore it, but when the floor moves
you know something is wrong. The blast stripped
the protective clothing off her—dress,
shoes, cap, everything but her undies were gone.
Stubble on her forehead like burnt hay.
Skin flaking off the way a dead moth crumbles
in your fingers. The foreman didn’t recognise her,
that’s how bad she was. I held her and said,
“you’ll be alright, love. We’ll have you
doing a foxtrot in no time.” She loved
to dance. She was barely conscious and had
no use for the truth. At least I managed to lie.

– Andy Kissane

 

Ilium

after Sidney Nolan’s Gallipoli Series

I

in the small shallows of midday
he bends to retrieve
fallen colours

slouch hat, bare chest
an emptied beach, flag against nothing
maybe a ship

out beyond the cut-throat rocks

walks the horses back into their shafts,
a ribbon of old picnic race tickets
worn as a shade to his dark face

smoke hazes their position
making the strappers nervous and sweaty
as the horses shift

II

the moment the guns fire
each horse stands
as if backed against bad weather

a range beyond human voice
attempts to hold the sky
to silence

even as it disappears

III

the horse is waterborne — legs kicking
neck a nebula in Andromeda
exploding shrapnel stars

he surveys the drainage
with its naked dead
the cliffs behind roseate and unhelpful

— it is Ilium unrecognisable

But for the crossfire
the man’s languid pose might be love-made
his naked face

untouched

as on a different beach, his lover
before the rain flattened
— or hit his left side

IV

cockade and plume ragged
the grasses on cold white sand
bend over their work

— driftwood in pyres

out there the ships are copping it

all the bright days, the burst
as swimming, they faced each incoming hit
of wave

their touching flesh beset
with exhaustion
bodies ripped in streaming light

— open
washed in blood, adrift
in limp animal-hipped shallows

V

in the act of firing a weapon
he searches for signs of the enemy
for death almost

beautiful

finds his slack arm holding lost shoes
drone and flash in all directions
the sky spilled

VI

into this two-up — unsaddled
the calm young
tread dirty air’s comet tail

the pillion flicks aside

one only is capable of moving
faceless, dog-tagged
held crutch and truss
to an armature of metal

they are parts of a gun
oiled to hollow downcast weight
of prosthetic

— weapon equal of the man

VII

in a moment of quiet entering the water
horse and rider are alert
for a trail of bubbles to surface

even here where rock or water belay
to knife point
the sea’s uninterrupted search

the world put in its place
distant, voided, cast into water
a horizon lacking solidity

VIII

they are limbed again, jaunted and weightless
no longer stilted to be heel-hauled
from open bodies of water

at play in some otherwhere

and the figure he crosses to
— already falling, gone ahead
dreams emptying like cargo lost at sea

the clean anonymous water
and he the sunlit swimmer
shield arm raised

no longer soldier nor anything from home.

-Angela Gardner

 


 

To End All Wars Cover

A selection of four poems from To End All Wars (Puncher and Whattman, 2018):

‘Parallels of latitude’- Gisela Sophia Nittel
‘The Sestina Shot for Desertion’- Judy Johnson
‘Raking the Powder, 1943’- Andy Kissane
‘Ilium’- Angela Gardner

Featured Writers from To End All Wars: Biographical Notes

To End All Wars, edited by Dael Allison, Kit Kelen, Anna Couani and Les Wicks, is available from Puncher and Wattmann

 

 

Listen to several of the poets included in the anthology To End All Wars read and discuss their poems on Earshot, Radio National

 

Carol Novack – A life remembered. Tributes from John Jenkins and Rae Desmond Jones

Carol Novack, ca. 1974 / 1975, Adelaide, Australia (photo: Terry Bennett). Source Mad Hatters' Review

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:

Link to Mad Hatters' Blog

Link to Mad Hatters' Review