The Picturesque, The Haze and Other Thoughts: Rebecca Kylie Law reviews ‘The Collected Blue Hills’ by Laurie Duggan

Laurie Duggan’s The Collected Blue Hills Puncher & Wattmann 2012. Reviewed by Rebecca Kylie Law

the_collected_blue_hills_310_438_sWhen I first read Laurie Duggan’s The Collected Blue Hills, I thought what a marvellous marketing campaign, every poem a blue hill, sequentially numbered. It’s the panoramic view sales agents in Real Estate exploit in attracting interest, the painting that sells at a higher price for its scale, the maquette and the blown up sculpture. And indeed, this is the pattern Duggan followed in initiating the collection, the individual poems published singularly in various anthologies and in small clusters as separate books. What a joy it is, I thought, to view the whole mountain range at once, as you might in your travels, drive or walk that little further to see more, to live and breathe the view. Someone might just as well have handed me a small pocket book of Rembrandt’s paintings in the original for the luck at owning a view of the hills I could return to any time I liked. And the Renaissance was on my mind in my reading of the collection as it might be to each blue hill if a poem could possess such a capacity. I started reading Spenser, Sidney, Marlowe, Johnson, Donne because the ‘blue’ of hills is actually a haze of oil from the leaves of trees meeting the atmosphere, the hotter the day the more pronounced the blue. Which is quite the opposite to oil paintings of the Renaissance but in hue and depth heads in this direction as knowledge of a past as a dark background to the present.

Duggan had a stroke as a child and subsequently his memory was impaired. So the past in all respects, for practical purposes, is a dark background to the blue hills individual presences which is irrefutable. Occupying each poem as the principal observer and narrator of all the poet sees and thinks by way of thought association, Duggan authenticates the reality of the experience. Reading Blue Hills 1 to 75 it is easy to lose a sense of time and place for the action and visuals of each ‘captured’ moment. Nature, culture, art appreciation and human interaction all vie for the singular attention no one wins out. Except the dwindling of the collection into vagaries of rain, hot skies, the scent of wet leaves and morning light suggest Duggan’s reverence for his subject matter. Even earlier, leaning back to see a ‘bright orange nasturtium flower in a milk bottle’ in Blue Hills 11, we see Duggan is serious in his rescue efforts with respect the ongoing difficulties between nature and culture.

In his introduction, Duggan presents the poems as poems which don’t ‘make promises’ and they don’t in the way a traditional narrative poem might in the expectations inherent in its sequential patterning. The poems are assemblages of the found objects experienced by the mind and body and are random in this respect, Duggan moving about in the poems at his whim both in the bulk of his form and in his thoughts, his gaze settling on something that reminds him of something else (again, memory and never great clarity here, the ‘..grey haired art historian type/ who looks like a suave version of Bertrand Russell/ – maybe it’s Bernard Smith?’). He tells us the material for the poems is entirely Australian apart from commentaries on art and music viewed or listened to elsewhere. So that, as a collection, the poems have some sense of a ‘locale’; and they do, for example in Blue Hills 35, dairy farms, canals and McDonald’s all occupy the one space of the poem finishing in the ‘home paddock’.

In “Blue Hills 18”, the ‘shape of a mountain becomes a mountain’ and things are true to their form. Language is not complicated or convoluted but Duggan’s artistic tool used for the purposes of communicating a visual observation, thought or moment in time appealing for its correlation or conversation with other notations. Reading a single poem in The Collected Blue Hills is an intimate experience as Duggan single-handedly paints his world in his part of the universe in one particular moment in time so exactly you are in the space with him, in the room looking out a window or walking beside him in the street. And at the same time, it is the exact opposite of this as Duggan can amuse himself so well your presence as a reader is unimportant, though I sense, welcome , in the sometimes underspoken tones of his speech.

There are moments in reading this collection when I can’t help wondering how Duggan gets around, the distance he can travel in one poem and the slowness of this travel to facilitate such accurate observations seeming to suggest he is in a vehicle of some sorts…a car, driving slowly? In Blue Hills 19 I don’t know if he is ‘the man in a hire car’ the ‘hippy couple’ are “reluctant to wave/ to..” or the motorcyclist on the bike that groans ‘across the dip behind tin huts’. I know in Blue Hills 17 he is on a train and at other times he is walking, that there are roads, streets, ‘lanes I will never trace/ of sheoak and flowering gum’, ‘paths…crackling with twigs’ and the notion of vehicles in poetry is interesting in terms of writing about contemporary culture. In a car, on a train or motorbike, Duggan hasn’t lost poetry, he simply found he can see more and put more seemingly incongruent information into a single poem.

The poems I like most, however, are the quieter, meditative hills: Blue Hills 59 and 60 for instance, where Duggan absents himself and we see a picture of a city, a room or even a world subservient to nature. Then in Blue Hills 53 the two together in one harmonious picture, technology and nature almost the beautiful and picturesque.

In The Collected Blue Hills a poem is a view, a sound, a feeling, a perspective, a commentary or a meditation. Or all these things at once. The seven previous productions that lead to this compilation of hills lend the work a vigour that any sustained piece of writing in the one panoramic space would find a challenge. The mountain range rises and falls, meets the mist, thunder and lightning with the strength you would expect nature to possess. And coupled with the world of art, culture, music and poetry of Laurie Duggan, the blue hills are pronounced vast and definitive.

– Rebecca Kylie Law

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Rebecca Kylie Law is a Sydney based poet, essayist and reviewer. Published by Picaro Press, her poetry collections include Offset, Lilies and Stars and The Arrow & The Lyre.She was short-listed for the Judith Wright Prize in 2012 and holds a Masters Degree in Poetry from Melbourne University.

The Collected Blue Hills is available from http://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/the-collected-blue-hills/

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Born and Bred: Anthony Lynch launches ‘Circle Work’ by Cameron Lowe

Anthony Lynch launched Cameron Lowe’s Circle Work (Puncher and Wattmann, 2013) at Paton Books, Newtown, Geelong on 24th November 2013.

circle_work_310_440_sIn March 2004 Whitmore Press published the first issue of Space: New Writing, in which three of Cameron’s early poems appeared – in fact, they were the opening three poems of the issue. To promote the launch of that not-so-long-lived literary annual, Cameron agreed to accompany me to 3RRR studios where we were interviewed by Steve Grimwade (later, director of the Melbourne Writers Festival), who asked Cameron if he lived in Geelong. Cameron replied, with a note of defiance: ‘Born and bred’.

This says something not only about Cameron’s affection for Geelong and its environs – and, perhaps, a suspicion of the artifice that the capital can be – but more pertinently to us today, a readiness to draw on the local for much of the imagery that pervades his poetry. This was true of Cameron’s first two volumes of poetry, Throwing Stones at the Sun and Porch Music, which I was fortunate to publish, and continues to hold true for this marvellous new collection, Circle Work.

As those of you who know Cameron and have visited his home, the front porch is the site of many of his observations about the world. In poems such as ‘Borders’, ‘In May’ and, in particular, ‘Theatre’, much of what is described – the white pickets (a recurring image in Cameron’s work), the ‘rust-coloured grapevine’, the traffic on Ormond Road, the ‘cool breeze stirring the last leaves from the birches’, and the ‘Pigeons strutting along the roof of St Matthew’s’ – can be observed from Cameron’s front door, or would be visible within short walking distance. There are excursions into neighbouring suburbs and to the Geelong waterfront, where the vista opens up, and occasional forays into quite specific locales in Melbourne, named or unnamed, where the immediate is again observed.

In none of this does Cameron ever lapse into being merely colloquial. He says something about the world as a whole – its seasons, its economic imperatives, the relationship of one force or object to another, and our own relationships with and attempts to interpret and communicate our environment – by seeing and describing what is to hand. Sometimes, to do that, he doesn’t even have to move beyond the room in which he’s sitting. It’s the everyday, or what poetry critics in particular are fond of calling ‘the quotidian’, that attracts his eye, and engages his mind. Among many examples of this is the poem ‘Echo’:

Echo

To those who make most noise the rich rewards –

The sun rises over the animal laboratory
……with a precision always surprising –

A wide arc of grey-green water, the dawn burning
……in shop windows, clouds lined with strange light –

And the wind in pine branches is the sound
……of the day waking, of thought escaping –

Little things of uncertain consequence,
……the motions of a hesitant grace –

To those who make most noise the rich rewards –

Without wishing to draw too long a bow, there’s a grace in this poem itself, as there is in many of Cameron’s poems. A quietness, a gentleness, and indeed the poem is in some ways a comment on itself, its own act of recording ‘Little things of uncertain consequence’. Self-reflexive, if you like, but subtly so. And these notes are framed by that repeated line –‘To those who make most noise the rich rewards’ – that I think provides an understated critique of social elements that demand our attention but are not necessarily worthy of it.

I’m not a devotee of social media, and I think Cam is only a spasmodic user himself, but he’s been known to add the occasional, pithy, sometimes spiky comment or question to a blog or thread, and in this he’s shown a welcome irreverence for poetry or, at least, its excesses, pretensions and factions. His wittier poems in this collection also betray this sentiment. In the poem ‘A lazy Sunday afternoon in which …’, the narrator/Cameron wishes he had a t-shirt bearing the words ‘SAY NO TO POETS’ that his friend Aaron had once threatened to make. It’s a sentiment that I think still sometimes holds true for Cameron and, perhaps, for others here, and if Aaron ever decides to proceed with his Say No to Poets project, Paton Books might stock the t-shirts and they’ll probably sell a few.

Further evidence of Cameron’s refusal to deify poetry comes in poems such as ‘Some thoughts on the American poetry scene, reconsidered as the Australian poetry scene’ (the word ‘scene’ is, I think, enough in itself to raise Cameron’s hackles) and ‘Knights in cool sweaters’, which, apart from making me think of the Moody Blues dirge from 1967 ‘Nights in white satin’, I’m guessing alludes to a poetry launch in Melbourne’s inner north, with the ‘bandwagon rattling down Lygon’ a particular coterie of poets, and we might wonder which of their number might have asked the (belittling?) question ‘have you read Ed Dorn?’ Similarly, we might ask: who is the Great Australian Poet (note the ironic capital letters in the title) who discovers a potato cake in his pocket at the Geelong Art Gallery?

Some of us who have known Cam over the years have noted his likeness, from a certain angle, of a once-youthful Hollywood icon. This, combined with a tendency in both his character and his poetry to be a loner on the edge or margins – Cameron has never been part of any poetry clique or faction, and to his credit despises such beasts – makes him a kind of Clint Eastwood of Australian poetry. (And we might note here that the above-named Ed Dorn’s most famous work is titled Gunslinger.)

But there’s never been any attempt on Cameron’s part to make this ‘outsider’ status a self-branding tool to mark out some small, nagging patch in the Australian poetry acreage. Rather, he tenderly invokes seasons – the poems in this collection are arranged roughly according to season – as well as subtle shifts of light, colours, mirrors, trees (birches and pines proliferate), the white picket fence and, in particular, flowers. An astonishing array of flowers bloom throughout this collection.

Water and the shoreline also feature prominently in many poems, the shoreline evoking another edge, the littoral, though Cameron quietly observes it rather than immersing himself in it in the manner of, say, Tim Winton – or as Cameron once famously said, Tim Oh-let-me-grow-my-hair-a-little-bit-longer Winton.

Here and in his previous collections Cameron is not afraid to use words such as ‘beauty’, ‘beautiful’, ‘dance’, ‘grace’. These could easily be sentimental words conveying tired sentiments, or conversely a lazy resort to cynicism. But Cameron uses these words deliberately, carefully. He’s acutely aware of the poetic traditions within which he’s working, and without being showy about it he continues his engagement with William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley and Laurie Duggan, among others, and even introduces snow to his landscape by way of his partner Jo Langdon’s work. (Jo’s cat Edith also pops her head into a number of stanzas.)

All this is performed with intelligence and sensitivity, an attention to form and to the rhythms of language that make this far more than just a series of recurring images and seasons – to which I think the title Circle Work in part alludes – but a superb contemporary example of what we so often loosely refer to as ‘the lyrical’. Cameron manages to be both a romantic and an anti-romantic – one of the characteristics that I think makes his poetry so deservedly admired. (I can’t tell you the number of people who’ve said to me: ‘Cameron Lowe, I love his work’.)

Circle Work is the work of a poet who is past emerging, and has well and truly emerged. This is not a day to Say No to Poets, but a day to say yes to the work of one of Australia’s finest younger poets. I have much pleasure in declaring Circle Work launched into our neighbourhood, and the world.

– Anthony Lynch

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Anthony Lynch’s fiction, poetry and reviews have appeared in The Age, The Best Australian Poems, The Best Australian Stories, Island, Southerly, Australian Book Review and The Australian. His short story collection Redfin (Arcadia) was shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards, and his poetry collection Night Train (Clouds of Magellan) was runner-up in the 2012 Wesley Michel Wright Poetry Prize. He is the publisher for Whitmore Press (www.whitmorepress.com), specialising in poetry.

Circle Work is available from http://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/circle-work

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Treading the lesser-known path: Gig Ryan Reviews ‘One Under Bacchus’ by Duncan Hose

 One Under Bacchus by Duncan Hose. Inken Publisch, 2011

This review is based on Gig Ryan’s launch speech, Saturday July 9, 2011, Melbourne Trades Hall.

When Duncan Hose won the Newcastle Poetry Prize in 2010 with his poem ‘The Allegory of Edward Trouble’ –  a colourful and brilliant re-imagining of Ned Kelly’s life and meaning where “blood stains the hydrangeas” (immediately we’re aware of a colonised country, not yet claiming Lawson’s wattle as its emblem), “My heart mulched and tartan like the / golden bogs of Tasmania”) – it signalled a huge change in the reception of Australian poetry.  When a prize renowned mainly for its well-rewarded conservatism and staidness goes to an adventurous, thoughtful, funny, searching work, we can breathe a sigh of relief that the best doesn’t have to “waste its sweetness on the desert air”, though sweet doesn’t much apply to that particular poem.

Ned Kelly poems both open and close  Hose’s striking second book, One Under Bacchus. Hose investigates how these national myths have influenced or even formed us, but further this book follows a particular trajectory: after the idealised bushranger, Hose then moves on to the tale of Alexander Pearce, an escaped convict who ate his dead mates to survive:

…………..these leg bracelets
keep us awake with their chewing, four days on the heath
…………..Hell hath little flowers, white honey bunches limned with red
The sky tho circumpolar hath no regular sun, only grays more illumined
Less cloaked, like a promise’s promise my running mate’s
…………..A convict’s convict whom I chose once I knowed
He spells his name ‘Charels’…
I will make myself live for a scoop of Hobart liquor
…………..Before taking the drop, since we did abscond & have already
Eaten Terence Diggory.

                            ‘On the Work of Pearce’s British Addictions’

That is, the mythologising of place includes both the idealised and the demonised. Then follows a series of poems on types of imperialism – the sort of anxieties of influence that some Australians feel, with actual ancestry often in another hemisphere, and intellectual ancestry often in U.K. or U.S., these poems feature America, the fur trade, Napoleon, Berrigan, followed by poems about Scotland and Ireland, that is, a short history of the colonised or slaughtered – the poet travels “hatless in the white and shining air” (to quote Berrigan’s ‘A New Old Song’), here the contrast is between an idealised past, an idealised quest and our seemingly less heroic present:

Auntie Elko’s brought photos of the ‘smog-o-the-wilderness‘   that’s
……………………………..the visible realm

‘One Under Bacchus’

and  in ‘Pasties of Iona’:

rather than ‘mekin pilgrimage’ we
drag the cursor over the sacred island &
pants off on the sixth floor
……………………..google the bejesus oot ay it.

The next section has a few ‘love’ poems, followed by a return to Hobart’s settlement, then a Blue Hills sequence (a kind of homage to Laurie Duggan’s neverending Blue Hills) with Aussie attitudes displayed “Europeans – stay in Europe!”: substitute nationality here and we have current government policy in fact – the timelessness of Poetry! – thus showing the nagging ambiguity of Australia’s relation to the rest of world. The book finishes with the longest poem  ‘Edward Trouble’. There’s a constant satirising of pretensions to nationalism, and awareness of the lie of a solely British ‘civilisation’ – “Saturday morning upholstered with the silks / and dressinggowns of chinese Australia”, that is, there are constant reminders of the various types of dispossession on which Australia is founded:

……………………..avenging crows
Suggest new hats for the colony.

‘A wedding party’

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The                                         Glamour
……………………………………………
Of a beggared Australian syntax
Souths                     plant in the ‘native’ section             instruments of death

…………As decoration                       those black-bunged marsupials by god

We’d pat them to death if we could

‘Anglo but Cosmic’

Hose uses a courtly excruciating language of archaic spellings, misspellings, neologisms – there’s both a seriousness of intent and a gracefully light-footed style, like a Watteau painting, half Moby Dick in his high-falutin’ language, half Horatio Hornblower in the noble heroics at work in much of his historic diggings. He mixes words of Scots, Irish, French, 19th Century English, that is, these poems enact through their language the history they are dissecting and critiquing.

These poems don’t strain for an affectlessly confident relaxation that Berrigan sometimes wants, but for a highly-strung language – that suddenly thuds down into a joke, jokes that lurch with meaning. – “he was a skald Father, he drank to think”.  There is appropriately ‘Sonnet to Ted’ here, followed by  the amusingly-titled ‘Typical American Poem’:

Zorro had the dream contented
By the view one would see
…………From the guillotine
Forest around full of crow [sounds]
……………………………..& grubs
Like a period piece on BBC TV
……………………………..Zorro drives
Through the giant Drive In.

Jim’s drapes sure are Dusty.

Zorro, like Kelly, is also a masked hero, creating his own icon.  Also look at the two pictures by Hose in this book – one a half-naked masked woman, the other a young hare – these again contrast the mask of Art, of Civilisation, with Nature.But this book finishes with  the “totemised and trophied”  Kelly:

I too was a bird lover tho’ mostly / I shot them…
I belong to the majority mob w.../…  the minority
………….philosophy ….  the forge
to cast a bigot

Duncan Hose treads the lesser-known path of maverick Australian poets such as Norman Talbot, John Watson and Javant Biarujia – that is, like all good must-read poets, he invents a new language, full of playful disguises and serious intent, reaffirming Baudelaire’s view that only the human-made is beautiful.

– Gig Ryan

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Gig Ryan is Poetry Editor at The Age newspaper (Melbourne) and a freelance reviewer. She has published numerous books including New and Selected Poems (Giramondo, Australia, 2011); Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, UK, 2012); songs with Disband, Six Goodbyes (1988), and Driving Past, Real Estate (1999), Travel (2006).

One Under Bacchus is available from inken publisch http://inkenpublisch.bigcartel.com/

Why Dransfield…Why now?

One of the things I want to do with Rochford Street Review is to make sure writers receive the recognition I feel they deserve. I can think of a number of writers straight away which I think should be front and centre….creative writers who we should all know about, writers who should be cast in bronze, like footballers and cricketers around the gardens of the SCG or MCG…..Poets such as Vicki Viidikas, Kerry Leaves, Jennifer Rankin, Charles Buckmaster and many others.

In choosing to highlight Dransfield in this first feature I am accurately aware of the comment Laurie Duggan made in foam:e Issue 8 when he commented on Louise Waller’s review of Vicki Viidikas’ New and Rediscovered:

“I’ve read Louise’s review of Vicki Viidikas. It’s right on the money. A whole book could be written about why a male poet like Michael Dransfield (who died of drug use) could be continuously lauded and republished while a woman like VV was largely forgotten If you don’t want a whole book, then one word might do: Romanticism.”

But despite Duggan’s comment I don’t believe Dransfield’s reputation is as secure as he suggests. My understanding is that only the Kinsella edited Selected Poems is still in print and much has been made of Dransfield’s exclusion from the Lehmann/Gray anthology.

For me Dransfield remains an illusive figure. He wrote some wonderfully lyric poems, some other poems (particular some that were published after his death) were not so good. All the time, however, there is the image of the ‘poet’. the romanticism (real or created) which has threatened to swamp his poems.

And I want to get to those other poets, Viidikas, Leaves, Buckmaster and, in particular Rankin who, I believe is one of the most under-rated Australian poets of the last 40 years.

When I started thinking about pulling this piece on Dransfield together I asked various people for their views on Dransfield. There were some interesting replies, many of which were pasted on various pages on Facebook.

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Chris Mansell remembered: “First reading I ever went to was: David Campbell, Martin Johnston, and Michael Dransfield. What a reading. I still remember it v vividly. Bought his book later but was too shy to ask for him to sign it”.

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Richard James Allen wrote: “I wish I had met him. His iconoclastic spirit seemed to haunt the corridors of his old school, Sydney Grammar, which I also attended, in liberating way – a nice antidote to the more traditional Banjo Paterson, also an alumni. I always recall, “a moving target is harder to hit”: http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/dransfield-michael/ground-zero-0712045

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Richard Tipping recalls: “Michael and I were the youngsters in an anthology Twelve Poets in 1971, when I was 21 and living in Adelaide. Michael was a year older. We never met, though I lived in Sydney for two years (1969 and 1973) and we had friends in common. One of my favourite Dransfield poems is which I sometimes recite by heart – begins: “in the forest / in unexplored valleys of the sky / are chapels of pure vision” and includes ‎”i dream of the lucidity of the vacuum / orders of saints consisting of parts of a rainbow / identities of wild things / of what the stars are saying to each other up there / above idols and wars and caring … ” Apologies for ragged quoting. Just to say that Michael words remain an important part of the experience of Australian poetry.

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Juno Gemes recalls “My Aunt was Chief Librarian at Sydney Grammar for 40 years…apparently the library has strong holdings in Michael Dransfield’s papers…”

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Christopher Barnett writes “michael was a great lyric poet with a connection to the lyricism of js neilson, christopher brennan, james tulip & a parallel connection with robert (adamson). it does not surprise me that minor poets have tried to aggrandize their own reputations by excluding him & the little we have from charles buckmaster. what defined them was their generosity & a very real connection to people poetry had ignored”.

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Rosemary Nissen-Wade “I’ve been introducing Australian poets to an international online audience unfamiliar with them. All have been well received; Dransfield was the one whose poetry most overwhelmed them. They thought his writing beautiful, brilliant, and extraordinary. So do I.”

Philip Rees - This is a painting i did in Febuary-March last year ..it is inspired by the poem Bums' rush..its called ''out...to where the ice is thinnest'',acrylics,textas,pencils,house paint,dirt on wood, 1.2mtrsx 1.2 mtrs,
For me Dransfield poems have always since i first read him in the early 1970's invoked images in my mind's eye.

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

The Long Haul – Pat Woolley Responds to Michael Wilding’s ‘A Publishing Memoir’

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

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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,   destroying all our stock. Three years after the fire, I sent Michael a royalty statement after I managed to reconstruct the accounts, counting up sales from mouldy, torn and water-damaged invoices. He was sure that I was mistaken about the very low numbers of copies of his various volumes that we’d sold, but his books just weren’t selling, not even at Gleebooks.

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.

Pat Woolley