¡Viva la Revolución!
Sometime in July 2011—we were working towards pulling the last threads of Mad Hatters’ Review Issue 13 together—Carol informed me she wasn’t feeling well. She had been grumbling for weeks about how she couldn’t sleep, her loss of appetite, but mostly, of how she felt she could no longer write anything of substance.
“Those voluptuous creatures have been vanquished from my dreams,” she snapped. I assumed she was talking of her mythical giraffe. (I’ve baptized him Zubek.)
Dozens of times I urged her to seek out the medical establishment.
“I distrust doctors as much as politicians and lawyers,” she said. I am sure she envisioned herself much like K. in Kafka’s The Castle, always seeking the right room, constantly filling in more paperwork. Carol certainly spent many years of her life as a lawyer filling in forms; and most of us know how she felt about establishments.
It was around this time that Carol and I started collaborating on a series of silly poems, The Claire Poems. The initial idea was to make them as trite and corny as possible: lots of Loves, flowing curtains and flower petals. We had a pseudonym, Maxine Smooch, the archetype of a frustrated housewife-once-professional-model-come-hallmark-card-writer. Carol imagined her in her mind’s eye as peroxide blond with furs and high-heeled leopard-skin slippers. If anything, it gave Carol a giggle in her dark hours. “Maxine’s the kind of woman who covers her refrigerator in magnetic buttons with sayings like ‘Love is the Answer’,” she laughed.
This series of poems was supposed to develop into some from of overblown Lolita narrative in teary-eyed verse. We felt a little guilty towards Nabokov, but quickly overcame our hesitations as Maxine took on a life of her own.
We decided that we’d submit Maxine’s poems on the sly to all of the journals we’d never had an acceptance. (We had quite a list, I might add.)
I’ve published two of these Claire poems in this issue. They’re nowhere near as contrived as either of us had imagined. “Who knows, Carol? Maybe they’re something for the New Yakker? We all know that Paul Muldoon has wide-ranging tastes.”
In August, she was complaining about a numbness in her legs, and on a weekend trip to Charlotte with a friend, she suddenly lost the ability to walk altogether. It was as if an electric current had suddenly been switched off. I told her she needed a CT Scan immediately, but she shrugged her condition off as exhaustion—besides she didn’t believe in traditional medicine, or “that radiation that pours off those newfangled microwave ovens for humans.” It was just an excuse, of course.
Carol was impossibly stubborn in most things—as many of her friends will surely concur, but in this she was harder willed than the white rhinoceros. Today I am convinced she knew she was dying long before. Refusing treatment or consultation, she sat at her ailing laptop in her mountain retreat in Asheville, stranded to one room, eventually reliant on friends to carry her downstairs, buy her groceries. I remember one time she told me she had to crawl to the toilet. It took her nearly an hour.
Finally, one day when she could no longer bear it—her speech was slurring—a friend took her to the doctor.
A week later her blood tests revealed an acceptable white blood cell count. She continued to sit it out, emailing, skyping to friends across the globe, but she got worse. She was starting to have trouble with her eyesight and was no longer forming coherent sentences.
Carol was an intelligent woman. There’s no way she didn’t know.
Again, a friend managed to convince her to seek out another doctor. They found a spot on her lung, then a tumor in her brain. “Not much longer in this life for me,” she told me angrily. “I guess I was only ever meant to publish the one book.”
She was wrong, of course. MadHat Press will be publishing two of Carol’s books posthumously this year, and another two in 2013. Keep an eye out for the blissfully eccentric Felicia’s Nose—a marvelous collaboration with the prolific Tom Bradley, which we’ve equated with another of Nabokov’s works, Pale Fire. Tom exhumes Carol’s narrative with his annotations, digging the greater depths of the garden.
An excerpt is featured in this issue.
In September they successfully removed the tumor from Carol’s cerebral cortex. She couldn’t communicate for some days, but she recovered rather quickly, and soon slipped back into her old rambunctious skin. Carol might have been cynical before, but now she was getting downright bitter. She began to lose interest in the thought of writing anything more—Carol had a very low boredom threshold at the best of times.
Despite all this, she was determined that the Mad Hatters’ Review and the project we had started together, MadHat Press (Mad Hatters’ imprint arm), should go on. Before Carol passed away, we had committed to publishing two projects, Lysette Simmon’s fabulous chapbook, DEAR ROBERT, selected by CAConrad as the winner of the Wild and Wyrd Poetry Chapbook Contest, and Hugh Fox’s last collection of poetry, Primate Fox. (Hugh Fox had been fighting his own cancer for years, and passed away just a few months before Carol.) We had discussed publishing many more, including Marcus Speh’s short story collection, Thank You for Your Sperm. (See a short excerpt in this issue.)
Carol and I spoke sporadically over the coming weeks. During the course of a year and a half we’d hardly missed a day of banter. Now Skype was ghostly silent. Meanwhile, she was being ushered back and forth from hospital room to treatment center, hospital to home—hardly a day in one place. Eventually she was taken to the hospice in Hendersonville.
In my last telephone conversation with Carol (it couldn’t have been more than a few days before her death), she was in quite high spirits. She joked and teased about the inevitable. She said, “It’s all black out there, you know. Space is cold.” She’d just been served her dinner that evening. If I remember rightly she said that it was broccoli with breast of chicken in mushroom sauce. She told me it was delicious. It was the last time we spoke.
A couple of weeks earlier, Carol asked me to take over her modest publishing empire as publisher and editor-in-chief. I agreed, and set to work, yet was unsure of how we might manage financially—particularly in this current climate of economic woe. Carol was always moaning that we had no funds. A fate many of us are familiar with.
Still, we forged ahead uncertain of what the future might hold.
Now just over three months after Carol’s departure, we return to you with Mad Hatters’ Review Issue 13. MadHat Inc., the foundation behind the Review, the Press, and the Little Mountain Retreat, is now running all of Carol’s legacies and has acquired moderate support to continue; we have promised each other to push ahead with all of the plans that Carol laid out before her passing.
I have heard whispers that a few of you of little faith believed that MadHat in all of its incarnations would never survive Carol—some, I understand, have questioned the viability of Mad Hatters’ Review without its revolutionary leader at the helm. Well, I hope with the advent of this tribute issue, that your doubts will have been swayed. MadHat will continue, and we shall strive to bring you more exuberant content than ever before. Long live MadHat! ¡Viva la Revolución!
Issue 13 is, of course, dedicated to our founder. With that in mind, our special section is not the originally planned Icelandic literature feature (we will address that in another issue), but is dedicated to Carol and her work. In line with Carol’s eccentric vision, we’ve decided to call this tribute Carol Novack’s Traveling Circus, featuring Zubek the Siberian giraffe in hiding.
Of Carol’s previously published stories that we feature here, “Getting Religion,” is perhaps Carol at her most cynical. Carol was adamantly atheistic all her life, though from what I understand, she was quite happy to speak with a handsome vicar at her deathbed. “Although I don’t believe a word he says, he looks good, and he’s comforting,” she told me.
We’ve republished numerous of Carol’s short fiction pieces—many of which appeared in national journals and webzines, but also in her iconic book, Giraffes in Hiding: The Mythical Memoirs of Carol Novack (Spuyten Duyvil, 2010). You can get hold of a copy here. We’ve published an early poem of Carol’s, “The Stance,” which appeared in her first book Living Alone without a Dictionary (Makar Press, U. of Queensland, Australia, 1979), a primal poem kindly passed onto us by Stefanie Bennett, an Australian poet, and one of Carol’s earliest cohorts in literary crime. We’ve also published many excerpts and collaborations that you’ve never seen before.
We feature an excerpt from another of Carol’s unfinished gems, a novella-in-progress, Beautiful Hair (I feel it almost stands proud as is, in all its unfinished glory); the beginnings of a lengthy poem, entitled “Gated Communities” ; and possibly the last creative work Carol ever completed, a funky little collage she cobbled together on a late summer evening with her friend, the poet, Lee Ann Brown. As usual, most of these are circus spectacles of one sort or another—Carol was always taming the lions.
Anyway, have a good root around in the garden. Even now, Carol continues to amaze: wild herbs and weeds grow shoulder to shoulder with purple daisies and egocentric snails.
Jean Detheux, who lived with Carol after she returned from her long sojourn in Australia, tells us of how he met her by chance at a party, and how they parted—only to be reunited as collaborators in art again many decades later. We have featured all of the multimedia works that Jean completed with Carol, and there is still one more to come to us as soon as Don Meyer has finished composing the music. I do hope we shall be able to feature this last film at Carol’s upcoming tribute in New York City this Halloween.
Bobbi Lurie, a wonderful poet and soul, whose own experiences fighting cancer led her to reach out to Carol during her great time of need, has written precisely of the bond they forged during the last months of Carol’s life. Bobbi’s Sunflower poems also feature as a tribute to Carol.
Some weeks into the year, Gene Tanta wrote me an email explaining a crazy dream he’d had about Carol and another woman in some kind of post-apocalyptic Asheville. Together, Gene and I turned the bones of Gene’s vision into the wacky poem, "New Yorker's Dream of Asheville in Spaghetti" which you can find here.
Ann Bogle’s work, “The Cool Report,” stands as a testament to the literary distances that can be achieved by letting your internet do all the talking. Carol had a love/hate relationship with her internet and her men.
And then, of course, there’s the circumspect number thirteen: a striking coincidence? twist of fate? Carol didn’t believe in fate. Still, here we are facing the world and its artistic experiments without her in this very 13th issue.
We shall miss her terribly—all her foibles and faults. We shall miss her cranky, bouncy, mad, crackling voice; her obtuse adjectives and wily rants. We shall miss her bawdy gait and her purple sweaters. We shall miss her giraffes. We shall miss arguing with her.
I do hope you enjoy this radioactive smorgasbord of poetry, fiction, art, multimedia and genre-benders as much as I did pulling it all together. I’ve taken quite a few liberties with this issue, broken a few of Carol’s editorial, and particularly design boundaries—heaven knows, she would have argued profusely with me.
As always, the creators that grace these spaces hail from all over the globe: from Bangalore to Knoxville, Queensland to Nevada. We have arisen from all traditions and spheres: a mélange of Hindu gods, Catholic empiricism, Atheist dark matter and Animistic minimalism—a true circus of misfits.
Some of us have already published over twenty volumes (a few maybe even sit on your library shelves), others have yet to publish a single tome; yet like the weeds, the daisies and the eccentric snail, we all stand shoulder to shoulder, a radioactive testament to Carol Novack’s vision of a world, somewhat improved by art, by collaboration, by challenging the boundaries of the probable: no answers, but infinite possibilities: a clay golem, a Gestalt in the making.
Carol once told me, not long before she grew weary, “In these eras, there are answers for everything, but I honestly don’t believe a single one of them.”
Neither do we, Carol. Neither do we.
—Marc Vincenz, Reykjavik, Iceland