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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 37, No 21. August 28, 1974

Good Books

page 16

Good Books

Cartoon of a man holding books

Islands 7:

It is high time that New Zealanders dispelled the myth that local literature is sub-world standard. Robin Dudding's quarterly, apart from being well established in New Zealand's literary scene, is capable of holding its own on world standards.

One of the most interesting contributions is a story by Malcolm Eraser: 'The Legend of the Lost Mythology'. Since the First man of letters stepped on shore. New Zealand has consistantly complained of the lack of a mythological background. In this realistic story Fraser has suggested more of a possibility than perhaps he originally thought. It would be well in New Zealand's interest to have more written on this subject.

After reading the book I was overcome with desperation. Yes, the stories are excellently written, packed with novel and diverse thoughts, yet the total effect is morbid and desolate.

One such story that catches the imagination is Anne Spivey's 'The Panther's Dream'. The story takes a worn out theme of a woman who lost her lover, and when her relations develop finds that she will never be able to forget him, and treats it in an imaginative, lyrical style. The theme is expressed in a dialogue between a panther and a dwarf in a hostile and vicious manner. The effect is psychologically shaking.

As well as keeping New Zealand informed on what hat been accomplished the quarterly keeps current what major works are in progress. Autumn Islands contains two extracts from work in progress, CK. Stead's 'Voiture d'Occasion' and Frank Sargeson's 'Brixton'. 'Brixton' shows promise of a good publication, yet it is 'Voiture d'Occasion' that is more interesting. This story has a supernatural element. Stead plays with a mixture of dream and reality, confused more by the constant disruption of time sequence. Here's hoping that the book is as good as the extract.

Michael Henderson's contributions stick strictly to the term 'short story'. Anyone who has ever read a short story and been put to sleep because of its length need not fear the same fate reading 'The Last News of the Day' and 'The Parrots Nest'. These stories indicate Henderson's versatility. Last News deals with the clash between a world of imagination and the practical life leaving the readers not too sure whether it is them or the characters that are insane, or just merely lacking a deeper meaning for life. 'The Parrots Nest' is a good political satire, shades of Chile. It gives a sense of unconcern brought to a concluding climax. 'Opera is banned, but the executions are good, if you're there to sec them'.

Murray Edmond's 'Four Prose Poems' provide a welcome relief. The words flow lyrically and the images are powerful and emotive, yet one wonders just how much influence Janet Frame has over them.

A brief resume of the other contributors includes; Patricia Grace — 'Between Earth and Sky' which catches the moods and attitudes of a woman in child birth. Yvonne Du Fresne — 'Christmas', basically a moan about the lack of a husband by an old maid! 'Charity Chief by Owen Leeming, which seemed overly preoccupied with sex. Fiona Kidman — 'The Torch' reflecting an immigrants lost world. Howard Press — 'Man in a Wardrobe' dealing with adultery and the attitudes to it showing a general lack of caring. Helen Shaw — 'The Gypsies'. M.J. Morrissey 'Raking Up the Past' — beware 'short' short story readers, Ian Wedde — 'The Porch' dealing with marital relations. And Lynda Scarth — 'Conflict' and 'Annunciata' another 'short story' contributor.

The climax of the anthology comes with John Graham's 'The Sotto Voce Man'. The story deals with that famous invention of Thomas Crapper and the attempts of Otto Brown to amuse himself while disposing of the 'ordure of time'. The graphic itself is guaranteed to hold your amusement for at least a minute. If dissatisfied with the guarantee read the story. Woe betide the completion of Otto's crapper bassoon.

New Zealand has much to boast of in her literary heritage, and should take a lively interest in her contemporaries. It is quite easy to look forward to the next publication of Islands.


'Freeway' the latest collection of poems from motorbike cowboy Peter Olds. It's also the title of the longest poem in the book, an extended sex-drug-v8 narrative; a crazed speed-trip of words:

"Slept in your arms on Pohutakawa tree. Heme Bay, lushed on wine — cock out — dreaming for a fuck up — Woke in the boot of my v-8, that trusty graveyard friend on credit to demons — is this really the 20th century?"

Yes it is; Ponsonby, Grafton, Parnell, Grey Lynn, Boyle Crescent — the dirty side of Auckland, but also of every city; the life that begins at 3am and ends only when the vein gives out. Or in a black-and-red wreck, as in 'A v-8 Poem for Chris Howard'.

In 'Freeway' and other poems. Olds doesn't so much give us the poet's vision as the eye's sight, whether frenzied or simple, the lines are vividly descriptive. Language in 'Freeway' is fresh and often strikingly new. The uncompromising use of 'cock', 'prick' and 'cunt' make the landscape more familiar, while the drug spiel and jargon gives access to a world that is for most of us both repelling and enchanting. 'Freeway' itself:

3am the dead hour begins,
the bells banged by the black angel
of Nembutal. Murder Mile! Murder Mile!

and Karangahape Rd, and Kingseat:

"In Kingseat Villa 4,
I withdraw for the 10th time
The alcoholics wear the wooden floors down till their knees bleed."

But alongside the chaotic reality of crash-pad and drug squad the poet's ordering mind sits awkwardly 'At Wellington Airport' is a trendy bit of self-indulgence, and the dramatic 'Before the Wandering Wind Finally Dies' ("don't throw me anymore questions — I've had enough of your insane bedroom shithouse!") self-aborts with a touch of romanticism that is, nonetheless appealing:

"Alone at last with my friendly friend Paranoia we dance
before the wandering wind finally dies."

No longer at street-level, the poet's eye is often less sharp. Olds makes clever use of simile in 'Beach Poem' to create a landscape that is attractively sensual, and there is a welcome note of beauty in the restrained and delicate 'Huia Beach'. Experience has given the poet a savage honesty: regular visits to a mental hospital bear out the perfect truth of 'Girl from Ward Ten':

"15 & ugly
cars, drug-fumes are out,
a place in the city?
no, she's too ugly."

Finally for Olds, 'Freeway' is 'a technological mistake': society's ("the 99 point 9 who don't understand") final solution to the few — Midnight Queen, Lady Moss, Eagle Angel, Nutmeg and Marie — who pop phensedyl, coedine and mandrake without prescription or care. The underworld-of-the-few that is described for us as vital and true in this mostly-excellent collection of poems. For Olds there is a sense of loss:

......I cried 'where have
all the mothers gone
who swept blood, piss, laughter, gin,
vomit, tears, broken noses, joy
from gutter to new freeway & clay?'

His only answer lies in embrace, an act which, like the poems in this book, offers no real solutions but which affirms life in an intense, almost paradoxical way:

"we crawled under a Freeman's Bay house & loved —
one eye on the howling road —
the other on the shoulder of Freeway.




Image of a bugler holding an instrument with a banner reading drama

These reviews are a bit of a game really. For the reader, they're meant to give some idea of what the play is about, to enlighten, inform even; but mainly they should be a good read even if the reader has no intention of making it to the show. For the theatre, a review is an exercise in public relations; a review is simply the least painful, least offensive way of bringing in the customers.

There's a format; a round of applause, a summary of the plot, special mentions here and there and the odd bit of constructive criticism just to show that the critic knows his oats. If you can throw in a rhetorical question at the end, so much the better. Well, if in this review it seems that I'm not playing my role, not doing as a constructive critic should, then its because those responsible for 'Valdrama' long ago abandoned their part of the deal. Despite their trumpetings that 'Valdrama' was "two years in the making" it looks and sounds as if it were thrown together in the last week before performance.

First of all there's the music. The Evening Post critic was quite right in saying that its main function is to "set the mood for the action" i.e. to do the normal job of film music. Unfortunately it never rises above the level of most movie music, being just a set of riffs thrown together to give a rhythmic backdrop to the dialogue that's sung, or rather chanted by the actors. The music is all played from scores written for the composers by Tony Backhouse, and the band do quite adequately what they've been given to do. It's just a pity that they weren't made better use of. The composers, Val Murphy, Clive Cock-burn and John Banas claim that "this is the best music we've ever written and we're not ashamed of a note of it." Glory be. If they did spend two years on this score then there's cause for real commiseration that they haven't managed to come up with even one decent melody in the whole of that time. Tenth rate Jethro Tull? Not quite.

Most newspaper reports have complained that the music is too loud. I found that this wasn't so much a fault of the band, more the singers. Very few in the cast seem to know how to sing into a microphone. The policy seemed to be to sing as loudly as possible and take whatever the microphones could add as an extra bonus. Not only did this render most of the lyrics completely unintelligible but I came to fear the appearance of Robin Simanaeur as the bad wizard and his three devil assistants in a way that the composers didn't really intend — it's just that their manic shrieks and cackles delivered at full volume into hand held microphones were positively ear-splitting. It got to where as soon as Simanaeur appeared on stage I had to restrain an impulse to dive under the table.

The special effects generally went off quite well. I'm sure that the wizard's disappearance at one point will be a topic of debate among the children in the weeks to come. But something will have to be done with that spinning sun. The prop is quite a good one, although the sequence goes on for loo long. However, the sight of the sun being cranked slowly and jerkily out of sight tended to lake away the drama of the preceding scene. Other technical problems; Corben Simpson bending to give a soulful ballad, and then whipping his microphone out from under his cloak with a thunderous graunch. The sacred stone, supposedly rekindled only by the light of the sun being continually rekindled as whoever picked it up seemed to unerringly put his finger on the "on" button. These and the other technical faults could be forgiveable if the rest could compensate — here they are just one more element in the general chaos.

On paper, the plot has possibilities. A sacred stone needs to be rekindled on a dangerous quest. Evil sorcerers and a wicked prince try to steal the stone and its power, flood princes try to stop them. But the plot is 'developed' in a really confusing manner.

With the poor enunciation of the lyrics mentioned earlier, one comes to depend more and more on the narration to give some clue as to what is actually happening, and at times even that is not enough. After one song where the baddies rejoice at stealing the stone the narrator comes on to say that, ahem, actually the goodies have still got it. For all that the play could have succeeded as a good sort of fruity melodrama for the kiddies. That's about the level of its characterisation. At best, it would probably bore kids silly. The ones at my table were restless after one hour and positively mutinous by the second half. At one point, where Laspar is trying to escape from his cage, I heard one kid say "this is stupid, the bars are wide enough apart for him to walk through". Quite true! At worst, it will destroy their taste for quest mythology and fantasy altogether.

However, 'Valdrama' can never quite forget its pretensions. And it can only be morbid and violent when it tries to be something more. A "Singing in the Rain" sequence from "Clockwork Orange" is dragged in as evil Prince Tandros beats an old man. A camp villain a la Herod from Superstar is also featured.

And in the scene where Tandros temporarily prevails, a series of cardboard castrated corpses come down out of the roof, and the devil girls proceed to suck them off. Hey, sucking off a castrated stiff! Do you think John Banas is trying to tell us something?

I hope Pal Bartlett isn't silly enough to complain, and give 'Valdrama' a notoriety it doesn't deserve. I also hope the writers didn't have that in mind [unclear: what] they included the scene.

So that's 'Valdrama', an ugly morbid, pretentious piece of rank bad theatre — one wonders at the ease with which the Queen Elizabeth Arts Council money is made available for these travesties'. One would have thought that after James Ritchie's disaster of a couple of years ago that stricter standards would have to be met.

However out of all this perhaps someone can write a real quest fantasy. About a little inbred, incestuous theatre group tottering toward its 10th birthday, and having being gulled through a combination of greed and stupidity to put on a scrofulous musical by a bunch of tone deaf poseurs. Who can save this little theatre group? Who cares?