Tim Wright Reviews Keri Glastonbury

23 January 2013

grit salute

grit salute by Keri Glastonbury
Soi3, 2012

Keri Glastonbury’s first full-length collection, grit salute, gathers together work written since her 1999 Five Islands Press chapbook Hygienic Lily. Glastonbury’s published poems date from the late 1980s, and as such – and, it has to be said, because of publisher delays – this volume has been much anticipated by admirers of her poetry. Glastonbury is known in the Sydney and Newcastle scenes as a teacher of poetry and cultural studies, and as a champion and enthusiast of new critical and creative writing, particularly by younger writers; one example of the latter being her revival, with others, of the important 1980s Sydney imprint, Local Consumption Publications. A reason that might be suggested for this book’s somewhat late arrival (relative to collections by her fellow poets included in the Calyx anthology) is the amount of work Glastonbury has put into these kinds of literary activities over the years, eschewing for herself what Walter Benjamin once called ‘the pretentious, universal gesture of the book.’1

There are several, smaller books within this book. The majority of the poems in grit salute are read as part of a sequence; most based around an ethnographic encounter with a city or a region. ‘Hygienic Italy’ is Rome, ‘Triggering Town’ Wagga Wagga – the regional city in which Glastonbury grew up – and ‘Queen of the Hills’ is a series of poems as ‘letters home’ written during an Asialink residency in India. With this weighting towards various ‘elsewheres’, the volume attests to the finer-grain attention motivated by travel and by living in different countries. However, this is not a book centrally about travel. Its different sections, brought together as they are, are as much to do with an experience of time, and as such, with getting older and with generational difference. The poems are heavily marked by the loves and preoccupations of the poet at different times, beginning with the early Saturn returns poems (‘Ah pain, you turned me 28′), as much as they are by the geographic locations in which they were written, and which the writing is often an encounter with.

The title of the collection may be a salute to John Forbes’ poem ‘Salute’, which in turn salutes James Schuyler’s (which ends, ‘I salute / that various field’). A practice of honouring or acknowledgement in different ways becomes apparent, in dedications, quotation, attributions set outside the text of the poem, and, for one mashup poem, a complete bibliography. ‘Grit’, understood in the sense of a particulate material, suggests the title of the book refers to a distributed sense of salutation. The book’s cover image of an open hand holding a metal token, juxtaposed against the title, would figure the salute as a process of exchange –and thus, change – rather than military submission, whose logic is more of the same. In terms of influence, the bibliography of Australian poets on page 27 (provided as a companion to the mashup poem discussed later in this review) provides a useful summary of relevant names. To these we would want to add theoretical influences: Kathleen Fallon’s Working Hot – for the possibility of a local feminist writing both theoretical and corporeal that it opened up (as MTC Cronin has written in a poem published in Cordite Poetry Review, one of Glastonbury’s achievements is, ‘getting the body – orifices and all – / onto the page’) – and the counter-generationalist stance, and open-source approach to culture more broadly, represented by Mark Davis’ Gangland.

In the section ‘Local/General’, Glastonbury writes wittily of Sydney’s eastern suburbs and a love affair (and the confluences between), and does so both with tenderness and ironic detachment. The second, untitled, poem in this sequence, adapts the ‘looking out of a window in Sydney’ genre, being a non-transcendent study in closeness and distance and the ways our senses of these are mediated by technology:

wedding cake island wavers
a parallax, moving like alternate blinking
a crumbling cursor my triceps kayak towards

Glastonbury’s style favours the rapid logic of association and this is especially evident in the sequence ‘Triggering Town’ – which first appeared in Jacket #27 – whose poems read like ‘rushes’ both in the sense of a speedy plunge into an elsewhere and in the cinematic sense of a raw take. The sequence borrows its form partly from Michael Farrell’s series ‘living at the z’ in that the poems incorporate fragmentary quotations which are set in smaller type, the source of which is credited beneath the text. These poems are the most capacious in the book. Like Farrell’s sequence, they are mostly unpunctuated and the copulae are often dropped; to some degree the effect is to ‘liquefy consciousness’ (in Gig Ryan’s memorable phrase, writing of Farrell’s poems); however their voice is often more public. The interior, questioning voice of some of joanne burns’ prose poems (thinking of her personal, essayistic poems in the 1980s collection Blowing Bubbles in the 7th Lane), and the super-flat effect and cool regard of many of John Tranter’s poems (the sonnets of Crying in Early Infancy, for example) might be earlier analogues to Glastonbury’s style here. grit salute has a complex relationship with Gen-68 poetry and poets, both honouring and grating against the inheritance. Something of this is apparent in the wry self-mockery in the later poem ‘A Forest’: ‘What sort of poet are you anyway? V.V. came here for the cheap heroin and you haven’t so much as chewed paan.’ More pertinently, the poems in ‘Triggering Town’ make use of the ‘thick description’ methodology of ethnography, and the denkbild or thought-image, best evidenced in Walter Benjamin’s ‘One-Way Street’ – a work referenced in the poem ‘Riverina Sharps’. That the sequence turns an ethnographic eye towards Glastonbury’s home town inevitably means the poems will deal with nostalgia. They do so forgivingly yet with a speed that seems to deny its taking hold. To take a detail from one poem, ‘Aren’t We’:

... i want ‘ashmont aces' in felt letters on a t-shirt
toranas still pulling up at jubilee park and the trots (well
below the picnic races in social stature but higher than the
dogs) in every year above me at school there were girls
i've never seen surpassed for sheer nicotine style
they don't dye hair like that anymore ...
  1. ‘One Way Street’, One Way Street and Other Writings, Translated by Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter, Verso, London, 2006, p. 45
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About Tim Wright

Tim Wright currently lives in Melbourne where among other things he reads and writes poems and is researching a thesis to do with contemporary Australian poetry.

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