Both (VUP, 2018)
Reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana
Two young male poets. Both published by Victoria University Press of Wellington. Both with their first, full-length collections.
Both with a lot to say in the sense there are words everywhere. Verbosity, garrulousness, loquaciousness — sesquipedalian in places, actually. These boys delight in washing their respective mouths with heaps of words. They both also like to play with lexis — Kennedy with obscure words reeling out reams of pithy points of view and adumbrations; Duckor-Jones with br eak ing up words into spaced out synapse, often about reaming and being reamed. He sculpts his poems from ‘the pit up’, and this is visible on most pages.
Lots of poems, too. Duckor-Jones’s book has 33 poems. Some of these poems group several other poems as part of their processional progress, making for another 38 sub-poems, if you will. Kennedy’s book has 48 poems, generally far less lengthy than those of the Wairarapa bard, Duckor-Jones, and divided across three unnamed sections. More, they both add notes, with the Christchurch rhymer’s being the more arcane. Duckor-Jones adds in several of his own illustrations, too.
Perhaps too many words in places, too many poems?
Why do I question myself here?
Because — for me — there is a definite curate-eggishness about both collections. There is a bit of blather in the work of both boys, which fortunately doesn’t blank out the delectable portions of their repasts. Some overreaching for effect in Kennedy, some overwritten passages for Duckor-Jones, who is the franker of the two and is never afraid to reveal his emotions, his lusts, his intensities. Indeed, Kennedy is the more reserved, and mainly swerves away from deep, personal depth charges and more into drollness — here and there verging on silliness as, for example, in a poem like “Georgics”. Not that he is alone here. “Sensitive Boys” by Duckor-Jones impinges on inanity in its impressionism.
Such are the characteristics of youthful poets, eh.
Now, please do not get me wrong here. Both poets also can and do write fine poetry, as interspersed here and there across their pages (Kennedy at 80 pages, Duckor-Jones at 109 pages). It is their shorter work that most appeals, whereby there is no space allowed to overreach for effect or to over-ramble about personal inclinations. And the best way to prove the point is for me to quote a couple of poems in full, as here. The first is by Duckor-Jones:
The woman at the shops she said
Is it you who plays the loud music?
& I said uh oh haha is that good or bad!
& she said I just want to tell you that I feel like I know you
& she had this awful husband
She said I was so tired It was me & the kids & I was so tired
Fell asleep in a pile of laundry about two in the afternoon & the girl
from next door she saw me through the window She came over
She sent me to bed cleaned the house
Laundry dishes whole thing
& I said once when I was very sad
my mother came over with her powerful vacuum &
took care of the floors
We were both quiet for a moment Then I said any requests?
& she said
I like it best when Maria Callas sets the hedge aquiver
This next poem is by Erik Kennedy:
A nap on the farm was as common as a two-headed sheep.
This is why Meredith never learned to nap.
I, on the other hand, was encouraged to dream whenever
I wanted. In naps or in nap-like afternoons I smothered
in imagination. An only child is the parent of its parents,
a dictator with a small bedroom. I guess they had coherence
those days in the close suburban yards and modest shrubberies
when I imposed my will on my impractical,
summery family. I’ve always had trouble getting things done since.
I seem to be walking along a floor mounted on springs.
When you are happy you have a responsibility to those who
to do your best with it. Even if it ends badly.
Most of my choices are bad and good interspersed,
like wearing a motorcycle helmet while riding a horse.
(“The School of Naps”)
These are two fine poems. They both express honest reflections and are not embossed with extra stylistic encumbrance — quite the opposite, in fact. A cut-to-the-quick Kennedy shows us his excellent command of simile, while Duckor-Jones does have quite some skill at pruning away exclamatory verb verbiage when he chooses to. Both poets are best when they keep their craft simpler, which is always
the case in these collections.
In other words, fewer words.
I also believe their poetry would be ideally suited to performance, and I can well imagine Duckor-Jones dealing to his platoon of clay men in front of an amused audience. I don’t have to imagine Kennedy reading aloud, because I was fortunate to see and hear him do so last year in 2018. He presents his especial intelligent wry humour best in situ on stage.
What else is there to say? Duckor-Jones likes to include birds of several species in many of his poems, as well as sequential dominoes about leaving and loving men or not. Kennedy is fixated on assembling a more distanced algorithm of aphorisms replete with clever contrasts and contradictions, into his own quaint zoo.
And both must continue honing their respective crafts, which is admittedly a pretty asinine comment, because I know both will. They are committed poets, and if they do write poetry, they will be committed, such is the obsession poets have.
Pai rawa te kohakoha kei konei. Ko rua ngā kaituhi toikupu ki he torohū nui. He waimarie ki a korua.
(Translation. The effort here is excellent. Two poets with much potential. Good luck to both of you. Thank you.)