Carol Novack

novack-carol-by-terry-bennett
Photo: Carol Novack, ca. 1974/1975, Adelaide, Australia (photo: Terry Bennett). Source Mad Hatters’ Review

‘A bird flew out of my sacred twat.’

That’s what I thought she had said. I had always remembered Carol Novack, US-Australian proto-hippie and strongly feminist poet, as the author of a line from a poetry reading somewhere in the cultural debris of the 1970s, that once heard was hard to forget, and that went something like that. But I was wrong.

It took a recent release from Rochford Street Press (in Sydney, Australia) to set me straight. The new magazine-book is a blast from the past: a 116-page A4 edition of «The Selected Your Friendly Fascist» magazine, a collection of the best (or worst, take your pick) items from the roneod magazine «Your Friendly Fascist», which was to literary magazines of the 1970s what punk rock was to Beethoven’s string quartets: a fart in the face of Literature. (Enquire for your copy here: rochfordstpress@optusnet.com.au)

There on page 89 (more about misleading page numbers later) was Carol’s ambiguously-titled ‘Love Poem No’, which begins thus:

1
as we lay our bellies
rude to stars and violins
played i don’t know what
a mountain of birds
flew into my sacred twat […]

So I stand corrected: her twat was not expelling birds, but accepting them, mountains-ful at a time.

The original magazine was started one evening in 1970 by Rae Desmond Jones, poet and later Mayor of Ashfield municipality in Sydney, and his friend John Edwards. Among the many poems in deliberate bad taste is Jones’s own ‘Jungle Juice’, and works from Gig Ryan, Michael Sharkey, Ken Bolton, John Jenkins, Debbie Westbury, Jenny Boult, Chris Mansell, Anne Davies, Joanne Burns and many others. This «Selected» volume has its pages misnumbered (of course), with no page three or four, and two versions of page 5, which throws the numbering out by one and makes all the following rectos even numbers, a conceit rare in the world of traditional publishing.

Carol was an exuberant and enthusiastic person, and parties always went better if she was in the room. I confess I sometimes criticised what I saw as her passionate naivety; I wish I hadn’t. She returned to the US and worked as a lawyer for many years, and started her own online magazine «Mad Hatters Review». Sadly, she died in 2011. As Joni Mitchell sings, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…’

This detailed memoir of Carol’s time in Australia is worth reading on the Rochford Street Press website.

Goodbye, Carol: it was great fun to know you.

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