Mad Hatters' Review

Tribute to Carol Novack by Joanne Burns

Posted on January 31, 2012

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Carol and Kominos Molyvos , Greece , 1977 (photo: Leonie Blair)

I first met Carol Novack in the southern hemisphere spring of 1973 at a women's ‘festival of creativity' on the outskirts of Sydney . Following on from this weekend a small women writers' group formed and we were part of it. The group only met about half a dozen times but through it Carol and I became good friends, and shared a small house together in Woods Avenue , Woollahra the following year. The early 70s was an animated time in the poetry culture of Sydney , with the growth of a contemporary poetry reading scene, outside of the more restrictive academic and literary cultures of the day. Readings took place at pubs, fringe art galleries, counterculture gatherings and festivals, in parks, private homes, on the street, and so on. Carol and I went to many of these events and we had such fun. She was an amiable, generous, and sociable person who swept you away with her gregarious appetites. I can see her now sailing down the street off to visit poetry friends, or to a reading or a gallery opening, her long dark hair, shawl [was it red – I can't remember], long skirt, and beads flying in the wind.

As we both worked on our poetry I was impressed by the poise and depth of her imagination, which became more flamboyant and energetic as she grew older. She seemed to write striking poems with such ease. Carol introduced me to several books that were significant to me, for example Bachelard's The Poetics of Space , and Par Lägerkvist's The Sybil .

Carol could also be tough. Formidable looking neighbors from an adjoining street kept racing greyhounds in their small backyard, close to Carol's bedroom. One morning, irate at the dogs' barking, which would wake her up earlier than she wanted, she went round to the neighbors' house and emphatically complained. The barking stopped. When I think of it now, Carol, in her energetically lived life, had the speed of a greyhound, but she was a hundred times more beautiful.

Carol left Sydney in 1977, spending some time in Greece with a mutual friend, Leonie Blair, before returning to the United States . We kept in intermittent contact, and I would see her when she occasionally visited Sydney . Not long after I heard from Rae Jones of her struggle with cancer I was walking through Circular Quay in Sydney just near where Carol and I had last had a drink together, in 1999. I went and stood near the table we had sat at, and my memory of her there on that occasion was palpable. Not having seen her in person for 12 years, though we had occasional email contact, I was relieved to be able to talk to her in Asheville by phone a couple of times during her last weeks. We talked easily although her frequent coughing tore at my heart. How cruel life can be to one such as Carol whose life as a writer and publisher was flourishing like never before, and just after she had set up her Asheville Writers' Retreat. But I am sure Carol's legacy and presence will live on.

Carol's impressive and unnerving prose poem ‘Destination' addresses the problem of not being able to find a town in which to settle – a ‘nest'. Right now I like to think of Carol's spirit enjoying the pleasures of the Hesperides – maybe glowing in the light of those golden apples. Just for a moment though. Because now released from her body her spirit can be everywhere, beyond the need for any home.

Joanne Burns
Friend and poet
January 2012

Joanne Burns was born in Sydney in 1945. Her poetry includes numerous prose poems, short fictions and monologues. Her first book of poetry Snatch was published in London in 1972. Since then she has published a dozen other collections including on a clear day, aerial photography, footnotes of a hammock and, in 2007, an illustrated history of dairies . Joanne has been performing her work since the 1970s.

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3 Responses to Tribute to Carol Novack by Joanne Burns

•  Janelle Yates says:

January 31, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Thanks, Joanne, for this moving glimpse of young Carol. I am one of her Asheville friends, so I only knew her the last 7 months of her life–and I have often wondered about her earlier years. I like the image you captured of Carol on the move: “I can see her now sailing down the street off to visit poetry friends, or to a reading or a gallery opening, her long dark hair, shawl [was it red – I can't remember], long skirt, and beads flying in the wind…”

 

•  Ginger Hamilton Caudill says:

February 1, 2012 at 12:15 am

Enjoyed reading that. And it made me smile because Carol fussed at her neighbors there in Asheville after I mentioned the dogs up the hill from her house had woken me up one night while I stayed at her home. Funny how little things that like tend to repeat throughout a life.

 

•  Pingback: Carol Novack – A life remembered. Tributes from John Jenkins and Rae Desmond Jones | Rochford Street Review

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Tribute poem by Sam Rasnake

Posted on January 30, 2012

And then

– for Carol Novack, 1948-2011

she writes shrewd piggy with

his muck brown eyes and I know

she's talking directly to me – even

now while I gaze into the black

hole of the screen on my desk

and type away, words leaping

from the page – I must have hit,

by mistake (as if there could be

such a thing) the insert key –

words leaping as if silence were

the golden thread Blake unwound

Sam Rasnake's works, receiving five nominations for the Pushcart Prize, have appeared in OCHO, > kill author, Wigleaf, Big Muddy, Poets / Artists, BLIP, fwriction : review, Literal Latté, MiPOesias, Best of the Web 2009 , BOXCAR Poetry Review Anthology 2 , and The Southern Poetry Anthology. His latest poetry collections are Lessons in Morphology (GOSS183) and Inside a Broken Clock (Finishing Line Press). He edits Blue Fifth Review , an online journal of poetry, flash fiction, and art.

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Tribute to Carol Novack by Denis Gallagher

Posted on January 22, 2012

Remembering Carol

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I first met Carol in Sydney around 1974, probably at a poetry reading. Shortly after, I moved to a farmhouse near Bega on the Far South Coast of NSW where this photo was taken in 1976 by my former spouse, Kerry Elias-Moore. As you can see the photo is from another era and the ambiance is hippyish, ‘alternative', drop-out rustication—naked flames, runic scribblings and bounteous hair (sigh). Carol had arrived from Sydney with her big squeeze, the Australian poet, John Jenkins, on left; I'm at the back, enjoying every moment; Carol in front looking unusually demure. Later, we got dressed up in drag (John's eyes and fingernails painted with sacrificial patience) and went to a party at a nearby farmhouse where, along with other motley ex-city funsters we smoked in the new year with endless joints of locally grown marijuana … as you did in 1976. The following day we went to a friend's naturist utopia, with a sign on the gate, DISROBE ON ENTRY, or something similar. Carol baulked, perhaps out of modesty, perhaps out of a thoughtful nonconformity, perhaps both. Cheerfully, she compromised—the only time I witnessed Carol in underwear. The 1970s were also serious, about social justice and making the personal political – a legacy Carol espoused both privately and professionally for the rest of her life.

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New York 2000, snapped by me at ‘The Kettle of Fish' bar, Greenwich Village , not far from where Carol lived on 13 th Street . The occasion was a reading organized by Carol to present a program of Australian writing by Kirsten Tranter, Billy Marshall-Stoneking (who didn't make it) and myself. Carol read from her own work as well as several poems by her longtime friend, Australian poet, Joanne Burns. Carol's presentation was distinctive: as usual, her voice quavered and her hands trembled, although the ultimate effect was intimate and engaging. She loved to be with other writers and she was generous in her support of them – the impulse behind this event, small as it was. Later, her collaborative skills and dedication to artists of all kinds culminated in the creation of something much grander—the eclectic and enduring Mad Hatters' Review.

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Luxembourg Gardens , Paris 2002, snapped by a passerby soon after Carol had arrived to spend a week with me in Paris . It began badly when I missed connecting with her at the airport and when I did eventually meet her at a café and after gallantly offering to pull her suitcase through the cobblestone streets I discovered it had only one wheel. But she more than repaid the favour with her fluent French which made everything from dealing with waiters to catching a taxi more relaxed and enjoyable. She had three things on her mind. First, to get a chic haircut which she finally achieved after inspecting a number of hair salons. It looked great, as documented by this photo. Second, to research her ancestry at the Jewish Museum. I remember going to New York 's Ellis Island Immigration Museum with her two year's earlier on a similar quest. As I recall, the visit to the Paris museum confirmed that she was an Ashkenazim. Third, a merry debacle as it turned out, was to find a restaurant that served bouillabaisse. We learned that bouillabaisse is everywhere in Marseille, but rarely seen on the menus of Paris . After a tip-off and after many kilometers by metro and taxi we arrived at a cosy, hidden restaurant—where exactly, I do not remember, but the bouillabaisse was very good, and so Carol had achieved her hat-trick.

˜

I wrote and dedicated this poem to Carol many years ago. I'd almost forgotten about it, then in a folder of old manuscripts I found it, a kind of revenant, now an abiding memento of how fortunate I was to have known her.

scent

our lady's best perfume is in a black bottle
to the finger the nape then an invitation
to follow through a door down the hall
past a piano she will auction soon

i have seen her dress in black all day
though her lips blazed red indoors and out
catching the sense of a calamitous sun
that burns those men who will not look away

i have seen a pile of wine bottles gleam
in a back garden with a garbage tin full
of fresh flowers discarded by her romantic
intuition for the new promise of empty vases

i have seen the moon on her hands
as she held a bottle of liquid roses
to her palm touching at herself a secret thorn
of want for love to come to her always

—for Carol (1975)

Denis Gallagher is the author of four collections of poetry and a contributor to Out of the Box: Contemporary Australian and Gay Lesbian Poets , edited by Michael Farrell and Jill Jones (2009). He is an award-winning photographer whose subjects include many poets and painters. He lives in the Blue Mountains town of Blackheath , NSW.

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3 Responses to Tribute to Carol Novack by Denis Gallagher

•  John Jenkins says:

January 23, 2012 at 2:57 am

Denis recalls a sunny, party-time day in the Australian bush, when we visited some fun-loving friends of his in an old farmhouse, when Carol – who knows why? – imagined me dressing up for it in drag, and I shyly allowed her to paint my eyes and nails. We then celebrated the new year, or ‘smoked it in', as Denis says, and it was an extraordinary fact that not a single person in that room inhaled, not even once. We then went to what Dennis described as ‘the naked lunch', a regular event with some hippy-ish (or perhaps hillbilly-ish, certainly boh-ho) neighbours of his, at which everyone sat naked at a long wooden table, and ate health food, all very civilised, all very folksy, everyone very cool as if this was a typical social get-together hereabouts (as indeed it was). Thanks Denis for reminding me of Bega, '76.

 

•  Marcus Speh says:

January 25, 2012 at 4:41 pm

This comment engine makes me solve a little maths exercise before letting me post a comment. The kind of delay and control mechanism that might have exacted a sarcastic comment from Carol. I really enjoyed reading your memories, thanks for letting us in on them, Denis.

 

•  Pingback: Carol Novack – A life remembered. Tributes from John Jenkins and Rae Desmond Jones | Rochford Street Review

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Letter from Anny Ballardini to Carol Novack

Posted on January 18, 2012

Dear Carol,

Several days went by already, and you seem to have found some peace. At the beginning you were present, as you had always been. So sad. Where are all your plans, your disappearing and appearing as if time were a matter of nothingness. You had your own time as you had unquenchable plans, and the world, that hypocrite and vile spinning ball – since it was not ashamed under your sight that directly unmasked it – pornographic sight as in Gombrowich, well, that world had to be escaped. Which is what you did. North Carolina , for God's sake. What could you find there that you did not have in New York ? Now we know, a place where you could ail. You mentioned ‘pain' in your poem, the clue was there. We read and listened but we did not read nor listen. As everybody always does. They [we] butcher down poetic substance, maim hopes, forge the robotic nullity to function as pre-set, rhizomatic entities clutched in Bentham-like emotional prisons with all-piercing neurotic guards.

Torches clung in bubbles, bubonic filches, prompted by filminess and active through glitches sporting rots clipt in thrifty strumps. Punted into the Maelstrom & sucked in froths/frumps _rats of the uni/verse uni/poem of the uni/directional uni/plunge so sad, we cry for & with you.

No more storms in this uni/fied deserted plane – mono galactic strain to ease instead of roughening, to rough-hew instead of polishing, to deafen instead of listening___

The bells are tolling at 6pm in this stinky place, that the Angels should smooth down angles for you, and for me, and for us who are writing/reading this, with love,

Anny

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6 Responses to Letter from Anny Ballardini to Carol Novack

•  Larissa Shmailo says:

January 18, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Lyrical and inventive, similar in this to Carol's work – a fitting tribute.

 

•  Anny Ballardini says:

January 18, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Thank you Larissa, so nice of you.

 

•  Larissa Shmailo says:

January 18, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Beautiful, Anny

 

•  Anny Ballardini says:

January 18, 2012 at 10:31 pm

I think it is your beauty you are projecting.

 

•  Mary Kasimor says:

February 7, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Anny, that was poetry–a very fitting tribute…

Mary

 

•  Mary Kasimor says:

February 7, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Anny,
That was poetry–a very fitting tribute…

Mary

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Tribute poem by Susan Lewis

Posted on January 17, 2012

FALSE PROMISE

(for Carol, from one non-believer to another)

1. Someday, when all of this is over,

& other parlor tricks. Like smoke to ash. Or ask & ask again. Sporting craftwork & roughened fingers, skin raveled & unraveled, a living shroud for lonely bones. Penelopes still, tough & stringy, lax in demand. Patience-blind, industry- distrait . Til a boat bobs up on beach to break the boring beat.

2. The ties that bine

& wrap your neck like barber poles, bitters hopped & bothered + a head for days numbered to last until they don't. Bear with me & sip the gist of aught that ales you, pale & wondering that no birds sing. Like mead to the measured temper, tempered to the point of melting, down & out of patience if not patently amused.

3. Like JK's sparrow scratching

out its mute message in the desiccated sedge. The virgin negatively capable as any benevolent trickster dropping knights & wights like breadcrumbs to mislead the studious lost. Sacs of testosterone sapped by the succubus whispering walk this way

4. while the good girl waits

& time stops & goes on gendered tracks. Or

Susan Lewis is Poetry Editor of Mad Hatters' Review and the author of How To Be Another (Cervena Barva Press, forthcoming), Some Assembly Required (Dancing Girl Press, 2011), Commodity Fetishism , winner of the 2009 Cervena Barva Press Poetry Award (Cervena Barva Press, 2010), and Animal Husbandry (Finishing Line Press, 2008).

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Tribute to Carol Novack by John Jenkins

Posted on January 16, 2012

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Carol Novack, ca. 1974 / 1975, Adelaide , Australia
(photo: Terry Bennett)

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

John Jenkins is a poet, non-fiction author and journalist living on the rural outskirts of Melbourne, Australia . Recent books include Growing Up With Mr Menzies (poetry) and non-fiction titles Travelers Tales of Old Cuba and Arias: Recent Australian Music Theatre . More about John here.

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6 Responses to Tribute to Carol Novack by John Jenkins

•  Marcus Speh says:

January 17, 2012 at 8:04 am

John, this was wonderful to read, thank you for sharing. What a life, what lives!

 

•  Estelle Levi Komet says:

January 17, 2012 at 8:20 am

Hello John, what a lovely and interesting look into a period of Carol's history, with which many of us were unfamiliar, I know I was. When I asked Carol once about her time in Australia , she replied “Ancient history”. Thank you for this detailed view of your two lives together at that time.

 

•  Janelle Yates says:

January 17, 2012 at 1:03 pm

I knew Carol only during the last year of her life, and many of the qualities you describe were clearly evident (brilliance, sense of humor, vibrancy, fearlessness). She spoke of Australia often without providing many details, so it is wonderful to be able to fill in some of the gaps. Having been a passenger in a car driven by Carol, I can fully appreciate your narrow escape on the road–but could never describe it as well as you have. Thank you so much for the glimpse into young Carol's life! I miss her!

 

•  Robert Vaughan says:

January 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm

This is lovely, John! I miss Carol and this really made me long for her, but also that you recall her time in Australia so tenderly, with such love and admiration feels familiar. Thanks for sharing this.

 

•  Larry Buttrose says:

January 21, 2012 at 9:31 am

Wonderful – thanks so much for this John. And I think it was almost exactly when that pic was taken that I met Carol too. Best wishes, Larry

 

•  John Jenkins says:

January 30, 2012 at 7:34 am

Hi Larry!
Great to hear from you! Hope life and art are going well, and the vita is dolce! — Cheers, John Jenkins

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Tribute poem by Rae Desmond Jones

Posted on January 12, 2012

a distant bird

i.m. Carol Novack

always i imagine around you
abstract images of your poetry
moving in a silent disconnected world.

you, center stage, reading
in that unmistakable drawl
in a long dark dress & straight black hair
& everything about you suggests tragedy
except your eyes, glowing beads of delight.

now you plunge deep in tides of longing
as curious fish nuzzle your pale skin
with spongy lips.

the abstraction of your images
remind me that these are not real fish
or coral or eyes, but that they exist
in some other place entirely.

always you were generous
with the impulsive kindness of a child -
even now i imagine your suffering
becoming separate from you,

floating up until breaking
surface in that great ocean where you
have always been, breathing air as if
for the first time beneath the roiling clouds

a distant bird, a falling feather.

˜

Memories of Carol Novack

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 cthonian 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 amibiguities. Like her personality, her writing is complex and demanding: it lives.

Rae Desmond Jones was born in Broken Hill, a mining town on the edge of the Australian desert, in 1941. His latest poetry collections are Blow Out ( Island Press, 2009) and Decline and Fall (flying island books, 2011).

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Tribute poem by Larissa Shmailo

Posted on January 11, 2012

Oscillation, for Carol

Cellular grandfather, pity me: once it was understood

how things were done, how the boiling ferns invited the

glaciers to come, how the dinosaurs asked to die. Os-

cillation: The world was born in swing and sway, and I,

fasting slowly, am not random nor mad, but large, and

more precise than you. My blood makes air and cells; my

moon subtends the sky; my tides squeeze life out of rock.

All my night journeys find a sun; I leave orchards and o-

lives behind.

Larissa Shmailo's chapbook is A Cure for Suicide (Cervena Barva Press) and book is In Paran (BlazeVox Books) . Her poetry CDs with music are The No-Net World (SongCrew) and Exorcism (SongCrew). Larissa translated the Russian transrational opera Victory over the Sun, contributed translations to the anthology Contemporary Russian Poetry (Dalkey Archive Press), and recently translated a Russian historical-linguistic bibliography of Bible translations into over 80 languages of the Russian Federation and other Commonwealth of Independent States.

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Tribute flash fiction by Marcus Speh

Posted on January 9, 2012

FOR CAROL NOVACK

In the cities, the people don't age, they become stones instead. They don't turn into any old stones, but into stones that sit on top of other stones transcending everything that man is capable of building. Some of these city people, before they turn to stone, are musical instruments that play themselves. Each instrument sounds very different from any other instrument. However, their sound is unique only when they play. Scientists who try to prove this uniqueness by recording the sound are disappointed: the recordings don't sound special at all. Their uniqueness can only be perceived by human ears in the moment of creation. These people, who turn into musical instruments that play themselves, do not turn into ordinary stones after their death: they become singing stones. Touching one of these special stones will bring out your own unique song. These stones are exceptional also because they carry forth the history of sounds that move us, into a distant future.

Marcus Speh, a contributor to Mad Hatters' Review issue 12 , only met Carol Novack online but instantly fell in love with her spirit and her writing and reviewed her book “Giraffes in Hiding” . Marcus lives in Berlin , Germany and blogs at Nothing To Flawnt .

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One Response to Tribute flash fiction by Marcus Speh

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CAROL NOVACK – A Life Remembered

Posted on January 5, 2012 by marc

january_Carol_BW_2.jpg

(photo: Jeff Davis)

by Marc Vincenz

Carol Novack's work is populated by singular, breathtaking glimpses of the human condition, garnered from within a hair's breadth of the abyss. There are notions in her work of a primordial Übermensch, a shadowy figure hidden within “the collective experiment called mankind.” She once said, “I rage against the dark forces within all of us, and the conformity that sickens me.” Yet she approached her work and life with humor and verve. She embraced the absurd, the surreal and the mythological, rubbing them up against each other with her own unique rhythm and lyricism.

Proponents of conventional narrative sometimes criticized her visionary work for its lack of cohesion, a missing red thread; yet Carol was not an experimentalist for its own sake. She sought to discover a voice of reason within the hubbub of myths and neon road signs; along the way, she broke convention to re-discover, to re-emerge. In her own words: “I don't believe in rules. I take dictation from the flow of metaphors that surface from my unconscious as I write, think of my writing self as a metaphorist.”

Of her 2010 book Giraffes in Hiding: The Mythical Memoirs of Carol Novak ( Spuyten Duvyil ), American Book Review observed: “ Carol poses metafictional questions about who or what controls our narratives, and what kinds of power is or is not available through narrative…If only for an instant, the giraffes go into hiding, and the minnows emerge.” PANK Journal enthused: “Whilst reading this unique book, I felt I was deep-sea diving, surrounded by exotic and breathtaking words-as-creatures, but mindful too of the murkiness, sinister and danger that also lurk both under and above water.”

In an interview in the Canadian literary journal Metazen , she said she had reached “the overwhelming realization that one must create one's own meaning, the isolated self's confrontation of its own short-lived existence, the significance of being human and humane.”

She spurned literary prizes, institutionalized creative writing programs and all forms of elitism, not only in the arts, but in society in general. In her twenty-year career as an appellate and trial lawyer, she gave voice to the silenced and marginalized. “Law,” she said, “is a white rabbit that falls into black holes.” She told Glasgow poet, Dee Sunshine in an interview, “The battles were almost always up very steep hills, and I mistrusted and disliked the ‘justice' system for various reasons.” Nonetheless, she took pride in her legal work, particularly her written motions and appellate briefs, and won an important federal constitutional action on behalf of visual artists (Bery v City of New York , et al.).

Born February 19, 1948, she grew up in Bell Harbor , New York , the single child of musicologist Saul Novack, Dean of Arts and Humanities at Queens College , and Phyllis Novack, librarian. Of her childhood, she once said, “I grew up with wonderful music permeating our house like a bouquet of luscious scents.”

She completed her BA at the University of Rochester in East Asian Studies, moved to Sydney , Australia where she worked as an editor for the Australian Cosmopolitan, and began publishing her poetry during the seventies. A chapbook, Living Alone Without a Dictionary , was published by the University of Queensland Press , 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, remaining in Australia until 1977.

After a traveling in India and Europe, Carol returned to New York City where she received her J.D. from New York Law School in 1983. 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. “I envisioned something real flashy and eccentric, experimental, collaborative, multicultural, playful and even meaningful, in the social change/progressive sense,” she told the webzine Web Del Sol . “The name of our annual reflects our view of the world as essentially demented and nonsensical, too frequently a nightmare or ‘non-dream' that needs to be exposed to the light for what it is, as well as what it is not. However, we, as artists, can also see another side of this world by voyaging into our own unique terrifying and joyful wonderlands and sharing our visions with others.”

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 artists retreat at her mountain home in Asheville .

As an editor, Carol was impressed by wordplay, originality, and writing with the courage to confront the political. She published and befriended many authors, poets, artists, and filmmakers including, Harold Jaffe, Andrei Codrescu, Hugh Fox, Alasdair Gray,George Szirtes and Raymond Federman. As a multimedia and spoken-word artist, she collaborated with Sheila E. Murphy and many others, recording a CD, Inventions II: Fictions, Fusions and Poems , with Don C. Meyers and Benjamin Rush Miller in 2009.

Carol's full-length book of hybrid works, metafictions, prose poems, rants, raves and whatnots, Giraffes in Hiding: The Mythical Memoirs of Carol Novack , was released by Spuyten Duyvil Press in 2010.

When Dee Sunshine asked Carol where she would chose to travel via time machine, she said, “Eons of light years from now, towards or back to a cosmos inhabited by wise sentient beings, including cats.” And on life after death, she said: “Take away life, take away the breast and breath. Of course, I'm not expecting to meet ‘God' before I die. I don't believe in religions or fairy tales except as metaphors of the human experience, the wish to be saved, the wish for happy endings, the absurd trials we set up for ourselves, the meaningful journeys, and always the rules, the rules, the rules. We're a very limited species.”

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.

Mad Hat Arts, Inc., including Mad Hatters' Review , MadHat Press and the Asheville Artists and Writers' Little Mountain Retreat is expected to continue operations under the guidance of Carols' designated successors, with several books forthcoming, including, Primate Fox , the last collection of poetry by the late Hugh Fox.

No doubt Carol saw her own resemblance to the protagonist from her unfinished novella, Felicia's Nose: “Thus, Felicia is neither ‘kind,' ‘good,' ‘haughty,' ‘hot,' nor ‘pugnacious.' Nor is she not. Like the rest of us, she is wending her way through the minefields of existence, too frequently with tight shoes that pinch her feet and will ultimately grow loose with age…”

Carol died peacefully with her friends at her bedside in the Elizabeth House Hospice in Flat Rock, North Carolina .

______

12 Responses to CAROL NOVACK – A Life Remembered

•  rich haber says:

January 6, 2012 at 1:22 am

thank you marc, for bravely taking on an impossible job; as we know, all the words and combinations thereof cannot etc etc. feel like i'm treading water in quicksand.

 

•  George Szirtes says:

January 6, 2012 at 9:32 am

I am so sorry to hear this. My deepest condolences. I never met Carol but couldn't help but be aware of her great energy, humour and generosity. Thank you for writing this up. I will link at mine.

 

•  susan tepper says:

January 6, 2012 at 10:53 am

This is an accurate and beautiful account of one writer's life. Carol Novack was nobody's fool. She enjoyed stirring things up for the sake of the mind. When I saw her birth/death dates at the start of this tribute, my stomach clenched.

 

•  Marcus Speh says:

January 6, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Comprehensive obituary that really does a great job summarizing many of the things that were special about Carol and letting her speak for herself, too. Well done, thank you.

 

•  marc says:

January 6, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Many thanks to all of you. And do feel free to re-post on your blogs and websites.

 

•  Greg says:

January 6, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Thank you, Marc for penning a wonderful and touching tribute to Carol.

I met Carol in NYC a little over 10 years ago.

She had the biggest heart.

Her door was always open and welcoming to friends and family.

Her NYC apartment was whimsical apartment and was always filled with fun and laughter and witty conversation.

Carol was an intellectual and she never shied away from a good debate nor did she back down from championing the rights of those less fortunate and those marginalized by the social structure.

She fervently prized Democratic ideals and had a genuine respect for humankind.

Above all, Carol is an Angel and her spirit and kindness endures in the lives of those you have touched.

We miss you very much, dear Carol.
Rest Peacefully….

 

•  Diana Manister says:

January 11, 2012 at 2:40 am

I'm really shocked by this news. I spoke to her on the phone from Ashville not too long ago. She was loving her new house and had so many plans for artistic endeavors in Ashville. I was buying a new house and she shared her experience and gave me lots of very helpful advice about the legalities. My feeling right now is that it can't be possible. It will take some time to adjust to the reality of this terrible news.

 

•  Anny Ballardini says:

January 11, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Thank you Marc, a wonderful eulogy.

 

•  Bonny Finberg says:

January 12, 2012 at 4:40 am

I heard about Carol's untimely death only hours ago. I'm so sad to learn of this. I was eager to go down and visit her when i got back to the states and now find that i've missed the chance. She was a warm, generous spirit and a wonderful writer. She'll be missed.

 

•  Blick says:

January 14, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Carol and I taught together at The Women's Studio Center and she was certainly a creative original. Her love of literature seemed equal to her love of cats. I'm relieved she had a peaceful passing. Wonderful obit, Marc.

 

•  Anne Elliott says:

January 24, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Marc, this captures her beautifully. Thank you.

 

•  Pingback: Carol Novack – A life remembered. Tributes from John Jenkins and Rae Desmond Jones | Rochford Street Review

 

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