Melody Paloma Reviews Keri Glastonbury

By | 18 February 2019

Important, too, is the acknowledgement at the back of the book:

Many lines have been bricolaged from social media and personal correspondence, such as blogs, comment threads, SMS Instagram handles, Facebook messages and newspaper headlines. My thanks to those with unacknowledged turns of phrase that I have appropriated and decontextualized as part of this recombinant poetics of place.

However, this is an acknowledgement that is both there and not there – we still can’t actually locate its sources, or to which poems they refer. We don’t really need it to enjoy the poems, but the very point might be to demonstrate the kind of collapsing of the real and virtual. This use of everyday speech is a kind of social or chatty collaging that mimics Berrigan’s in The Sonnets. At times Glastonbury’s collaging has the affect of feeling friend-like, both in tone and allusion – when we catch a reference there’s the simulation of being close to the poem, that you ‘get it.’ But the references are also withheld. This effect is tinged with the melancholic: while it catches the stuff of the internet that might otherwise be lost, the poetry remains in a sort of anonymous free-fall; as our lives become increasingly ‘networked’, they also become disembodied and unlocatable. Glastonbury’s is a voice that confesses, but the source of that confession is indistinguishable from the status update that precedes it.

As well as virtualising Berrigan’s drive towards the social, Glastonbury consciously queers his tactics. Often, I’m reminded of Eileen Myles’s ‘put some pussy in it’ attitude:

… Just when you think you’ve written a New Yorker poem, put some pussy in.
Sexual language keeps being attractive because it changes the register so radically. It has so much power – obviously – to open the doors to one room, and close the doors to another. It is a living architecture of consciousness.

Glastonbury’s sexual language is one that charges Newcastle Sonnets, and at times directly subverts Berrigan’s heterosexual male perspective. ‘Just Quietly Babe’ opens with ‘Dear Hamish, hello. It’s 5.15 am.’, a direct reference to Berrigan’s epistolary refrain. Though where Berrigan often follows with an assertion of heteronormative masculinity, Glastonbury follows with ‘& I dream / of a stomach scar / trailing down / to a strap-on.’ These acts of queering are applied not only to Berrigan, but to Newcastle itself, a city which has been repeatedly atomised as a city of the masculine working class. In ‘unilaterally headfuckery’, a poem with the kind of brazen opener I love – ‘I would have eaten out’ – sex is compared to ‘working out / how people might navigate a city’. This is to say that both are complicated, more so than common speech affords us. Binaries that privilege term A over term B eliminate the multitudes of ways in which we are both different and the same, or as Eve Sedgwick argues:

a tiny number of inconceivably coarse axes of categorization have been painstakingly inscribed in current critical and political thought: gender, race, class, nationality, sexual orientation are pretty much the available distinctions. They, with the associated demonstration of the mechanisms by which they are constructed and reproduced, are indispensable, and they may indeed override all or some other forms of difference and similarity.

In Newcastle Sonnets we are faced with an erosion of these binaries. In showing us ‘a history of gay bars / jutting up against biker bars’ we are given permission to exist ‘in the middle of the genre’, that is, a genre that strives to place us all on equal (but shaky) grounds. In doing this, what Glastonbury essentially demonstrates is that, though we may all be ‘watching the same quality TV now’, none of us are off the hook (and we’re all in trouble). As our lives become increasingly atomised and dictated by virtual modes of making, as we become increasingly unsure of how to move through the world, we are in more need of poetry than ever before. Newcastle Sonnets pulls us into the holes carved out by our own hapless modes of production, an uncertain space, but one which proves the persistence of great song – consider me wooed.

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