Melody Paloma Reviews Keri Glastonbury

By | 18 February 2019

These pauses, or gaps, might also be identified as holes. In a review of Sonnets by Bernadette Mayer – another poet of the New York School traceable in Glastonbury’s work (at least tonally) – Julianna Spahr quotes Anne Carson:

If we follow the trajectory of eros we consistently find it tracing out this same route: it moves out from the lover toward the beloved, then ricochets back to the lover himself and the hole in him, unnoticed before. Who is the real subject of most love poems? Not the beloved. It is that hole.

Newcastle Sonnets revels in these holes, specifically the holes that are formed through acts of attempting to possess, stabilise and define. It is important here to clarify how Glastonbury positions Newcastle in relation to the sonnet and the beloved. Newcastle is not a beloved to be possessed by its speaker, rather Glastonbury is interested in identifying Newcastle as both concept and commodity in the settler consciousness, the damage done in acts of place making, the holes created. Glastonbury’s Newcastle is a site of interrogation where one observes and marks the settler’s tools of place-making under late capitalism. Rather than trying to establish a stable Newcastle, these poems revel instead in the question of what is ‘Newcastle’? Or more importantly, how could we possibly love or have any kind of meaningful relationship with Newcastle under neoliberalism?

Like the New York School, Glastonbury is interested in the detritus of everyday life, the quotidian. It is an everyday that blends the high and the low – the political, the cultural, the academic, the popular (Penny Wong/Orange is The New Black/Meaghan Morris/Paul Kelly) – it’s all important. However, what I find most compelling about this detritus, is that it is often of the past, or rather the past as it manifests within the present. This haunting is often true of the political as well as the popular. In ‘Goodbye to All That’ it is Penny Wong’s ex speech writer we meet; in ‘What Would I Say?’ it is the once highly effective but since deregistered BLF union whose remains linger here as a t-shirt. The purpose of such allusions might be to remind us of lost possibilities, as if one were ‘about to publish a poem’ (subtext: but didn’t).

The music of the book, which works ‘like diegetic sound’, is of the 70s and 80s (Linda Rondstad, The Nails, Morrissey, Kraftwerk); likewise the films (Storm Boy, Ingrid Bergman, The Castle) and the visual art (David McDiarmid, Mark Rothko, Agnes Martin) more often than not, they look back. Even a return to the sonnet could be interpreted as a sort of formal nostalgia, a pulling of the past into present. However, all of these returns are acutely self-aware. Glastonbury’s desire is diagnostic rather than symptomatic of a major problem within late capitalism, what Simon Reynolds and others have deemed a ‘retromania’ that epitomises our inability to make anything new. We might also interpret the ‘lost generation stuff’ of these poems as, again, what Reynolds and Mark Fisher (via Jacques Derrida) have referred to as hauntological – a return to the past, a past which relished possibility, in order to mourn the future that never arrived, a future that has effectively been cancelled. For Glastonbury, this is both an individual and collective concern:

I’m still haunted by David McDiarmid’s 
‘I want a future that lives up to my past’, but otherwise 
rainbow aphorisms aren’t my forte.

Glastonbury consistently shows us the way in which the past appears in acts of place-making, specifically how nostalgia presents itself as capital, ‘this city’s lazily retooled past lives’. This is the way in which a gentrified Newcastle commodifies and aestheticises the working-class that once drove the city’s economy: an aesthetic that the working-class, ironically, can’t afford to buy into.

The driving force behind these troublesome acts of place making is, of course, the internet. In ‘Skye is a 2 Bit Whore’ Glastonbury tells us:

When I need to flatter it 
I reference South King Street 20 years ago. 
The pebblecrete poles of the East End 	
speaking to an historicist melancholy 
plastered all over Instagram.

This digitised vintage is an aesthetic so visible that, when I read ‘I never see Jane & Zorro / in the river gums, only super 8 footage / of the ocean pool’. It’s not actual super 8 footage, I imagine, but the super 8 filter available on certain iPhone apps. I catch myself realising I’ve seen more vintage-washed pictures of Newcastle’s ocean baths on Instagram than I have actual ocean baths.

Demonstrating the ubiquity of the internet as it relates to self and place is part of Glastonbury’s central project. It is remarked on directly: ‘These days you can catch a straightedge punk / food-blogging his morning eggs benedict’. But it is also central to the construction of the poems. In her essay ‘What if John Forbes had been around to live tweet during Q & A’, Glastonbury tells us that the poem ‘What Would I Say?’ is one ‘loosely composed from a Facebook status update generator’, which shows us language at its most immediate. The collaged lines of the poem often operate as complete thoughts, both pithy and cutting in a way I wish real social media was more often, but they also work to collapse time in a way that mimics the speed of the internet. The references of the poem trace a temporal arc that distils popular, literary and political moments of the 70s, 80s, 90s, early 2000s through to the present – a large task for a poem of 42 lines. While the poem harnesses social media to do the best anyone could really do with such a thing – that is, write a brilliant poem – it also works to demonstrate the failure of our current moment, in which lyric is dispersed ‘via leaf blower’. Perhaps Twitter (and Q & A) would look more interesting if we had poetry from Forbes to get us through, but waking him from the dead for such a task is also to presume his inevitable disappointment.

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