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Newcastle Sonnets by Keri Glastonbury
ISBN 9781925336894
Anne Buchanan-Stuart  reviews

Newcastle Sonnets

by Keri Glastonbury
The fundamental character of dwelling [is] … sparing and preserving.

– Martin Heidegger [i]

Keri Glastonbury’s Newcastle Sonnets as a bricolaged 'recombinant poetics of place' (81) is a praiseworthy tribute to post-industrial Newcastle. Newcastle’s old DNA has been re-combined into new poetic sequences. This collection is a poetics of place where the East End of Newcastle replicates the East Village of New York – blinding with place names and people. 'The city’s lazily retooled past lives' (3) reawaken through an evolving and quirky tale of two cities that both spares and preserves the past, while breathing vitality into the here-and-now.  Glastonbury marks-up 'A history of gay bars / jumping up against biker bars / in the middle of the genre' (8). While 'watching a time-lapse video of Newcastle harbour' is like 'a symphony of the city' (24) she notes there are 'statistically more artists than miners' (69) in the Newcastle sonnet-scape.

Jean Paul Sartre wrote that 'for the poet, language is a structure of the external world'.[ii] Glastonbury, by structuring the worded-place-space in its classic 'chiaroscuro / of coal dust & sand' (31) fuses neoteric images of 'a straightedge punk / food-blogging his morning eggs benedict' with philosophical references to 'object-oriented-ontology' (11). The collection of allusions embraces the geospace of Newcastle. If one wonders how the girl whose 'father coined a word – solastalgia' (77) found its way into a poem, you would find that her father was an Associate Professor at, yes – the University of Newcastle. No feelings of homesickness when one is not at ‘home’ for Glastonbury. Her home-town-work is a granular, subversive ‘soliphilia.’ The allusions, from Rick Owen sneakers and a Sea Shepherd t-shirt (21), to (Stockton’s Olympic medallist) Justin Norris (21) and the trivial, 'At trivia at the G' (19), suture disparate and incongruent details into a warm and egalitarian series of cubist overlaps of altered and diverse perspectives.

Just as the cubists crossed the line between the viewer and the viewed, or the mind which conceives something and the thing which is conceived, cubist forms challenged the viewer’s preconceptions of what it means to look upon and possess an image.  In some senses, the mind which views and that which it views, is in Merleau-Pontian terms one, because the artist (poet) instils a part of herself in the art (poem) and sees herself in that which she creates. The represented subjects/places of Glastonbury’s poems are not immediately available for possession as the effects of her vitalistic movement and temporality prevent the viewer/reader from objectifying the image/language as though it were a passive object/scene. These places become for the poet her temporal-personal poetry of place and experience. For example, 'Who Killed Bambi?' (77) may well have been figuratively image-scripted by the equally transgressive Claude Cahun, who asks not to be kissed as s/he is in training. The poem bespatters references to pylon signs, the Sutherland Shire train and 'families struggling to describe / a genre that we know as reality' (77). It finishes with 'venison with Michael Leunig, / in a local hatted restaurant' (77). Now we know the answer to who killed Bambi. Perhaps.

Keri Glastonbury, Newcastle’s demiurge – creatively retools the present in the form of a radically retooled sonnet. I hardly recognised the form but it’s there – deconstructed and reconstructed much like the city itself. Always only fourteen lines – fourteen unique units which help us work out 'how people might navigate a city' (27) and where 'Some people build theirs / with literature / & poetry, / watching the coal ships kedge by' (26). Much like jazz, which retains its essential character no matter what influences it absorbs, Glastonbury’s sonnets become greater than the sum of their individual parts as recursive motifs braid the seventy-eight poems across the Newcastle city-scape. A scrabble board of street names intersect goods trains, movie stars and politicians, pubs and universities, academics and the BLF – nothing escapes her poetically quippy one-line marginal notes.

Glastonbury builds word scenes around forenames, surnames, nicknames – peopling a bricolaged tangle of re-combinations – improvising and ensnaring what small objects and scenes fall to her gathering eye. In multisensorial ways, as she assembles place as 'driving over Styx Creek, appropriately / laden with heavy metal' (3), she throws her eye further, to a scene where 'parents are waddling their kids to school / – it could be the East Village' (3) and the details of  'the post-industrial / as an in situ conceit' (2) become 'Linda Ronstadt[s]: "You’re No Good”' (8), the ultimate remake hit.

The poet’s affiliation with the natural world – as dwelling place – is never remote. Her thickly textured, sensuous local knowledge brings agency to place, as Islington Park takes form where 'I hung out with Stella in Islington Park / yesterday & all the kids / were climbing over the felled gums' (39) as 'the Islington figs release the bats & the sky / blacks out like an erasure poem' (43.). Likewise, 'As the white whale Migaloo / (with hardly a barnacle on him) sneaks past' (15) and 'Merewether was lousy with dolphin' (16) we find to our great delight 'the beaches / are overexposed / & underdeveloped' (1) but in the course of another time and place 'The sea was angry that day ... ' (19).

The flux of the city’s transformation is uncovered in a series of vignettes through the collaged effect of subject matter recursively braiding each fragment together. Glastonbury’s work is a process and in her self-reflexive preoccupation with her own perceptions of things she renders Newcastle’s world as a continuing evolution. The responsiveness of Keri Glastonbury’s poetry lies in casting off rusty images of an industrial environment for an urbane reflection of the 'correspondences between emotional terrains and the ways language and story respond to represent people who are embedded within the environment. [Hers] is at once a bioregional biography and a geography of affect.' [iii]

[i] Heidegger, M 1975, trans Albert Hofstadter, Poetry, Language, Thought, HarperPerennial, New York, p. 147. [ii] Sartre, J-P 1988, What is Literature? And Other Essays, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass, p.30. [iii] Bristow, T 2105, The Anthropocene Lyric: An Affective Geography of Poetry, Person, Place, Palgrave Macmillan, UK, p.79.

Keri Glastonbury, Newcastle Sonnets. Artarmon, NSW: Giramondo. ISBN: 9781925336894

Published: December 2023
Anne Buchanan-Stuart 

is a doctoral candidate at Queensland’s Griffith University. Her doctoral project reads philosophy and poetry together.

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