Three days later, he replied with the generous and encouraging words that grace the back cover of the book. I responded with grateful thanks and a plea that he continue publishing his journals, which appeared to be on indefinite hiatus.
He wrote back:
“The Chimaera too, like The Flea and SCR, is on an extended hiatus …My hugely increased teaching load has left me little spare time, so I had to put them to sleep for a while. Editing three journals took up a very great deal of time. But maybe they will awaken again one day -- albeit on a smaller scale,” signed, as in every correspondence I ever received from him, “Yr Hmble & Obdt Editor, Paul Stevens.”
What he didn’t mention at the time was his battle with stage 4 metastatic liver cancer. Paul passed away on March 22, by all accounts surrounded by his family at his home in Australia.
The publication of any of his journals, but most especially The Flea, with its “cutting-edge Seventeenth Century Technology, & state-of-the-art Alchemy” was like the circus come to town, but not just any old flea-bitten circus. This one was presided over by a winking, classically-trained ringmaster as talented as any of the performers and with a steady reserve of sleight-of-hand and one-liners at the ready for those moments in the show when elephants and clowns alike threatened to run amok.
His enthusiasm for this incipient publication back in early 2009 seeped through his cautious downplaying of the initial issue when he wrote to reject a poem for SCR, but to solicit it for his latest endeavor.
“It will be called The Flea and will stand as a remote descendant of John Donne's Flea; that is, it will have somewhat of a Metaphysical bent. It will appear irregularly and will probably only include 12 poems or fewer… I expect it to be small but bitey, and if it sucks, it will be blood that it's sucking.”
Twenty “Broadsheets” later, the publication took on a life’s blood of its own and never remotely threatened to “suck.” I feel privileged to have appeared in the first.
I last heard from Paul just before Christmas:
“I'm sorry to have taken so long to reply, but I've been in hospital a bit, or feeling pretty lethargic and sick when at home. But I seem to be turning corners now, and starting to feel a bit more compos mentis…Meantime, rest assured, I AM hanging in there…I have…the most wonderful support from family, friends, co-workers, and literary colleagues…I've discovered that it's really important to think -- to know -- that one's own life IS worth preserving. I can't begin to explain how much messages like yours hearten me and boost my general confidence, and will to survive.”
I never met the man in person. Our interactions amounted to perhaps a dozen and a half email exchanges, a good portion of which were polite rejections of this or that poem I had sent him for publication.
Nonetheless, echoing sentiments expressed throughout the online community, his death leaves a void for those who knew and loved him, as well as for those of us who knew him only through his online persona.
Gratefully, the back issues of the journals and Paul’s blogs will remain. They have been archived by the National Library of Australia’s Pandora System, and for the time being, their URL’s can still be found online here:
The Shit Creek Review
The Shit Creek Blog
The Flea Blogge
The Chimaera Blog
I, Caratacus (personal blog)
But the circus won’t be coming back to town. Everything that made it such a great show–the mix of playfulness and rigor, the often simultaneously hilarious and insightful prose, and an appreciation and celebration of both the traditional and the absurd–has pulled up stakes and moved on to parts unknown.
An aurora australis of light has gone out of the world, and so has a great deal of fun.