People from the Pit Stand Up
By Sam Duckor-Jones
Victoria University Press, 2018
Reviewed by Craig Beardsworth
I saw Sam Duckor-Jones in a Wellington cafe last month, looking out on the streetscape, scanning, mesmerised, oblivious to my settling into an adjacent seat. After I finished my coffee I struck up a conversation – he’d not taken in his immediate surroundings the whole time I was sitting beside him so got a surprise when I said hello. I have one of his sculptures at home – the result of an Art Zone article I had helped coordinate in 2016 so he knew me. I was expecting to talk art but instead it was revealed he was studying at Victoria University – not art but writing, and not just any English course but the IIML course. Revered among the literati as ‘the’ writing course, it’s difficult to even get into. How can someone who excels at sculpture also excel at something else? The planet is out of kilter.
A month later his first book of published poetry lands fresh from the course (isn’t there meant to be a slow painful ascent to publishing?) and I wanted it to be patchy and mediocre so the world would feel in balance again – ‘Stick with art’ I’d be able to say.
But it was good.
The more I hang around artists the more I see their demeanour and physical bearing influence their work. Duckor-Jones’ sculptures are often lanky, awkward and contemplative, too self-aware, brightly coloured but strangely solemn in pose, which tempers the garish pinks and oranges so the overall effect is one of mute surrender. He is tall, lanky, contained, doesn’t call attention but is engaging when you do notice him. Those bright pinks and oranges burn intensely when he speaks and the same thing happens in his writing.
Surprises abound in the 70 + poems in this volume. As you are quieted by the lonely Speaking Diary where he recounts the scant interactions he has across a week – ‘Wednesday thanks (to Diane at checkout)’ he will also thrill in other poems with apparent non sequiturs but burning with bathos. In Installation day it seems the rancid bigoted ruminations of a man hired to help install sculpture at a vineyard will go unanswered as his skills are too useful – he is ‘Bernsteinian at the hydraulics’ and ‘Paganinian with a welding flame’ – and yet by the last line we feel as though Sam and his female companion ‘P’ remain defiant and immune from sexism and crudity.
& P stood her ground said mate mate
I grew up with shearing gangs so do your worst
& she snapped off a rose
First published ArtZone #75