Shards of Amber Dreams: Francesca Sasnaitis reviews Resinations by Javant Biarujia

Resinations by Javant Biarujia. Otoliths 2012

Let me begin with a provocation (Javant will appreciate this): Javant Biarujia and I are twins, Doppelgänger. Back in the 1980s, when I was still writing under my Lithuanian name, Jurate, a collection of my prose poems came out with Javant’s small press, Nosukumo. Some people thought I was another Javant Biarujia invention; his pseudonym. Perhaps I am a fiction and this review a shameless piece of self-promotion. How much more interesting to live the life of a figment.

Javant is the inventor of a private language, Taneraic; he is his own invention, self-named from the Taneraic language; a re-invention of the lad from Koo Wee Rup. The town is real, but I might be inventing Javant’s antecedents. Some one out there must know the truth. Javant Biarujia’s original name is one of the best kept secrets of Australian letters, even though Javant himself delights in gossip and anecdote. He is a terrific raconteur, but an inventor above all else.

John Jenkins launched Resinations in May this year at Collected Works Bookshop (see: I won’t repeat his cogent words. Suffice to say that all the poems in Resinations are named after resinous gums of some kind, or refer to the production of resinous gums, or to the sources of resinous gums. All the poems are variations on the pantoum, a form with repeating lines derived from the pantun of Malay verse; a sign of Javant’s abiding connection with South-East Asia and Indonesia.

John gave an inspired introduction and a brilliant/crazy close reading of the first poem in the collection, ‘Animé’. He delved into each word and line, extrapolated and swam a perfect freestyle, careful and exact. I don’t want to do that. I take John’s final exhortation to heart – go, read, ‘make of it what you will’ – and waft in Javant’s wide sea, waiting to see which way the tide flows, waiting to see how his words connect with me. I become the inventor and make Resinations over in my own image.

Resinations: easy to see resin and nations here, but I also find sin and a wicked sense of humour; I hear resignations and read signs, redesign, resign. I find fragments of myself: shards of amber dreams; a fly caught in a millennial web; a fly caught in the ever multiplying and abundant possibilities conjured by Javant’s dense and sticky text. I think he must have written ‘Amber’ for me.

forever amber along those death valley days
clear your mind of Kant! reaganonmics flummoxed
syndrome comparati defectus immunitatis
“Never heard of it! – Just say no Nancy-boy.”

that two bit b-grade blackballing el Presidente
says who Gorby:
tyro thru the pyrrhics with me!
nuntius fulminans: PUPPET OR PEOPLES MAN?
no early bedtime for Bonzo it s the holidays!

I find Jūratė, who was the goddess of the sea in Lithuanian mythology; whose amber palace accounts for the shards of amber washed up on Baltic shores. I find my misspent youth: too many hours in front of the telly; too many movies hosted by Bill Collins. I know ‘Bonzo’ refers to Ronald Reagan’s film Bedtime for Bonzo. I know ‘Nancy-boy’ refers to both Nancy Reagan and homosexuals (it’s always about sex, really). I can hear Tiny Tim’s ‘tiptoe through the tulips with me.’ I don’t have to know Latin to get the drift of ‘syndrome comparati defectus immunitatis’: a reference to AIDS. The odd thing was that when I googled the phrase, the Latin-Navajo Dictionary came up top of the list! But of course! Thus ‘death valley’ and, I suspect, a mutual love of the Serge Leoni western. Am I reading too much connection?

Javant’s poetic experiments can be traced back to the Modernists, Dada, Oulipo, the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E School, the secret language of Polari, even Wittgenstein’s private language arguments. But I am reminded of the Denkbilder (thought-images) of the Frankfurt School, especially Walter Benjamin’s One-way Street. His snapshots-in-prose do not attempt to clarify a single thought, but are intended to open thoughts to the hidden meanings fabricated by the mind. The poems in Resinations work the same way.

Q: What is the difference between and dratchell and a drazel?
there were these three travellers yeah – a magician
a pearly king and a wiseguy see?
Larry Curley and Moe

the mouse ran up the clock – three blind mice
three blind mice an baby jesus in the cradle
the shmok s the one wiped his dick on her Dralon drapes
A: The same as between a shlemiel and a shlemazel!

‘Frankincense’ asks, what’s the difference between a slattern and a slut? Answer: nothing! A Moe is a shmo is a shlemiel is a shlemazel is a jerk is a fumbler (my nod to Gertrude Stein, Javant’s ‘Gert by Stone’). The three wise kings are blind, as is organized religion, Javant seems to say. Beneath the hokey humour and infinite elaborations, there is serious intent: a commentary on the precarious state of world affairs. Jerusalem, ‘I-rack’, the ‘rataplan’ sound of machine-gun fire, the corpse of Yasser Arafat, and our credulity and stupidity appear in various guises.

Javant is nothing if not eclectic. High culture and popular culture sit happily side by side: Dorothy Lamour and Donizetti’s opera, Lucia di Lammermoor, together in ‘Guaiac’; ‘Lana [Turner] turns a tonal trick’ here too. Film, I’ve already mentioned, but in ‘Mastich’ we find ‘The Servant, Le Chien Andalou,/ Blow-Up . . .’ Think about it. The mind boggles! References to art, literature and music abound. In ‘Benjamin’ (not Walter, I imagine, but the ‘righteous child’ of The Old Testament, and a resin, of course) we find Salinger, Freud, Dickens, Proust, Moravia, Byron, El Greco, Zurbarán and Banksy! Even if you don’t know the work of all or each intimately, you get the picture; the names resonate. We hear from everyone; from Reg Varney (‘Butea Gum’) to the New York Dolls (‘Gum Arabic’). I could go on! I can’t go on.

My advice for reading Resinations is to try it aloud. Even if your pronunciation is wrong or off, it matters not, Javant Biarujia’s words will pounce on you, wreak havoc and make you laugh out loud. As he says in ‘Dhak’, ‘“Sod em today Gomorrah tomorrah!”’

PS My only question is, is ‘Euprorbium’ meant to ‘Euphorbium’?

– Francesca Sasnaitis


FRANCESCA SASNAITIS is a Melbourne-born writer and artist. She spent much of 2012 in Sydney completing an MA in Culture and Creative Practice at the University of Western Sydney. Her poetry most recently appeared in extempore and Visible Ink and can be read online at

Resinations is available from

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

Kris Hemensley on Pete Spence’s new collection ‘Perrier Fever’. Grand Parade Poets 2011.

The following is a slightly edited version of Kris Hemensley’s speech to launch Pete Spence’s latest collection Perrier Fever at the “Poetry and the Contemporary Symposium”, held at the Bella Union, 54 Victoria Street, Carlton as part of the Grand Parade launch; Thursday, 7th July, 2011.

Perrier Fever Grand Parade Poets. 2011


Pete Spence is an old friend & colleague; a member of our Collected Works Bookshop collective in the mid to late ’80s, (which included such luminaries as Robert Kenny, Jurate Sasnaitis, Des Cowley, Ted Hopkins, Rob Finlayson, amongst many others); a fellow little mag editor (who’ll ever forget Post Neo?), gallery buff, international traveller.

He was first mentioned to me by the late Geoff Eggleston as a poet friend he’d like me to meet –circa ’82, ’83… Ah Geoff : author of this memorable couplet, “No man is an island / and no woman is a clipper-ship” — I still dont quite know what it means! Likewise, Pete’s line always in my head : “relaxing on a Li-Lo reading Li Po” –the entire verse is, “a parenthesis ladles the tune / relaxing on a Li-Lo reading Li Po / under some amended weather / tumbling sunshine”…


James Schuyler said you’d never get New York poetry until you realized the gallons of paint flowing through it –painting & painters. Following that thought, Pete’s book abounds in names (Pam, Ken, John, Corny et al), references to painting, to poetry & to poets, & to music, composers –as though a record is always playing –a symphony, perhaps, he shares with Alan Wearne, his friend & publisher. Spence is a poet of fraternity –which includes conviviality & melancholy… No wonder his recent poem in progress is called The Kynetonbury Tales, and a delight it’s been to read via e-mail. And, therefore, what a coup that Alan Wearne has pinned this pilgrim down long enough to make a cohesive book out of a vast & errant production –this book out of many possible compilations. And Alan is to be heartily congratulated on his Grand Parade Poets publishing project, & this particular volume.

It’s such a good looker… Designed & set by Christopher Edwards, — who shares with Pete similar ‘adventures in poetry’, –the chance & play –the relishing of words as though a different species of artist –painter, sculptor, composer.

And Alan himself along this track, whose Otis Redding poem way back in Public Relations (published by Gargoyle Poets in 1973), advances his share of Pete’s kind of fun:

“Redding, Redding, remorse will smash any epilogue chance, / any sweat-liturgy you sang and I might have attempted / once I walked in the rain until one once / to shout O, ’tis (forever!) Redding” …


So, a poet of fraternity –which tag can deal with correspondence & address (the given social world a poet inhabits) and the matter of influence. And if I can use the French ‘chez’, thus “with” (which Paul Buck gave me decades ago) : “with” in preference to “after” with its misleading implication of “imitation” –, then we can say Pete Spence’s poems stay with the effects of his long lasting affections… He revisits them, he calls upon them –they are become motifs –they are his muses, they are his amusements –elegy, ode, sonnet, City, Landscape, Weather, the Sun, the Sky…


I opened his book at random the other day, on page 105, –the poem entitled Shop :

“i thought the shop / was called SLIDE / until i walked into the door!”

I’m still visualizing a kind of Jacques Tati cartoon, or Charlie Chaplin, or Rowan Atkinson. The jokeyness transmutes or elevates from ha-ha to Surrealist smile in the poem Drawing:

“i muscled in / all the angles / crosshatched in / the shadows / only to realise / i’d drawn / a horse without / neck or head / and its tail / was a cloud / in the sky” —


Perhaps this collection, Perrier Fever (and I reiterate, one possible selection of many –notwithstanding the attrition, the loss & destruction of poems along the way, allusion to which I recall from conversation 25 or 30 years ago), perhaps it is his humourous selected poems (different kinds of humour)… But even so it’s informed by the totality of his poetry. Remember, Pete is no Spring-chicken. A different personality would have seen him vying for volumes & anthologies many times over.


Pete Spence’s poetry has all the exclamations of the New Yorkers, all the happenstance & hutzpah –which is another way of saying all the spontaneity & presence —which is another way of saying that more often than not the Pete Spence poem is both written in an ideal space, called the poem, and enacts the ideal poem, a doing that’s simultaneously done –which is another way of saying that whatever happens in the poem is the poem, informed or inspired by the insight that anything might enter the poem –because it can and because it is the poem… What does your poem mean, Mr Stevens? asks the earnest correspondent. Stevens replies : Mean? Mean? The poem means nothing more than the (–and we can interpolate, nothing less) than the heavens full of colours & the constellations of sound! Which is another way of saying that Spence, like Wallace Stevens, can be poet as painter, poet as musician, poet as inventor & conjurer of effects –of sensations which course the mind, tickle the tongue…


But who is Pete Spence?
As scholarship, let alone the insatiable curiosity of the reader like Pete himself, as it expands its purview, so outsiders are claimed for the vast continuum; so peripherals are identified, brought in from the cold, –not that the cold isn’t a legitimate or even desirable place to be.
Alan’s told us a little about Pete. Pete’s written a little about himself here in his book. I’d like to add one story to the biography.
It’s the story of a possible history, had a manuscript for an anthology around 1971, actually transpired. In 1973 I was given custody of the mss. of Dark Ages Journal. In 1984, in my H/EAR magazine, dedicated to a ’40s/’60s/’80s chronicle of the ‘New’, I described that anthology’s perspective. It was a Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, New Zealand compendium. Its editors had included Charles Buckmaster, probably Garrie Hutchinson & either Richard Tipping or Rob Tillett. Students of the ’68-’71 or so period will recognize many of the names –Michael Dransfield, Charles Buckmaster, Terry Gillmore, John Jenkins, Vicki Viidikas, Garrie Hutchinson, Frances Yule, Ian Robertson; New Zealanders like Alan Brunton, Murray Edmond, Gary Langford. But the unusual Melbourne names are Walter Billeter, Robert Kenny, David Miller, Robert Harris & Pete Spence.

I licked my lips relishing the different history this coincidence promoted back then. The La Mama [Poets Workshop] ’60s style become conventional even as it was being hailed in the anthology edited by Tom Shapcott, Australian Poetry Now, suddenly had the possibility of rejuvination! I like it very much that Spence is part of that potential history. As he is now in the present day.
Without further ado, in launching Perrier Fever, may I introduce to you : Pete Spence…


The original version of this speech can be found at