Zone of Controversy?
My feelings become more complicated, and more conflicted, when one of my favourite writers produces a work I struggle to enjoy. Over at the Scoop Review of Books I've considered Zone of the Marvellous, the latest offering from Martin Edmond, the son of Ohakune who has, over the last decade and a half, scribbled a series of masterpieces from exile in Sydney and floated them across the Tasman to grateful Kiwi readers.
Zone of the Marvellous treats the fascinating subject of the role of the South Pacific in the imagination of Europeans, and it is full of the instructive anecdotes and poetic details that make Edmond's earlier work such a pleasure to read; I couldn't, however, enjoy the book. That may be a reflection on Edmond, but it could equally be a reflection on my own neuroses and oversights.
At least one reader of the Scoop Review of Books seems to think my treatment of Zone of the Marvellous is unjust. In the comments box under the review, 'Gaius' has posted a poem which mocks a critic whose 'ivory tower Marxism' turns the 'heart into a graveyard'. The poem's miserable critic is likened to Varus, a Roman general remembered for losing three legions to German barbarians in a battle fought in the forests on the northern border of the empire.
Gaius is the first name of Catullus, the ancient Roman whose poems about his unfaithful girlfriend Lesbia and the bitchy literary scene of the empire have been adapted to contemporary New Zealand settings by the famously (and occasionally wonderfully) bitchy CK Stead. I haven't got Stead's Collected Poems to hand, so I can't say for sure whether the piece which has been posted at the Scoop Review of Books is one of his many imitations of Catullus, but it certainly reads like one. At any rate, I've just been back to the Scoop Review of Books and placed a rough-and-ready poem replying to 'Gaius' underneath his post. Your turn, mate!