Melinda Bufton reviews “Grit Salute” by Keri Glastonbury
by Keri Glastonbury
Reviewed by MELINDA BUFTON
More than any collection I’ve read recently, Keri Glastonbury’s work takes us along for her travels – we are the notebook in her back pocket, and accordingly, she wants us to remember a few things with her. And what an excellent trip. It’s a rare thing to find energetic exuberance combined so well with sharply calibrated specificity, and when this appears in poetry you know you’re in for something good.
now I’ve been toNew Yorkit’s official: no lack left!
& though I can’t lose my nostalgia, I can’t hide my relief
at the ambivalence I feel the strategies I imagined I
learnt for nothing?
Grit Salute is Glastonbury’s first full-length collection following chapbooks hygienic lily (1999) and super-regional (2001) and the distance between them has resulted in a collected that is super-honed. Questions and asides pop out constantly in these poems; they do seem to speak directly to us, as though she has somehow managed to melt the page off (like a transfer or temporary tattoo from a showbag) leaving just the words, and it’s all we can do to converse with them. There are ‘literal’ geographic travels here as well as poetic; the volume is divided into segments that include those titled and located in hygienic Italy, anti-suburb, triggering town and local/general. I would argue that the beautifully named opening group of poems ‘8 reasons why I fall for inaccessible straight boys every damn time’ is a destination just as recognisable to many of us as a European holiday (‘Take me to Unrequited, I hear the capital is lovely in the Spring…’).
The references that I always hope for are presented in spades. When looking for something new, in poetry (as anything else), I genuinely want to see things being woven in that are ripe for the plucking. I want to see work that tells me it’s of our time. I’m not talking about tokenistic inclusions, that operate like a time-and-date stamp, but nuggets of observance that beg to be put in a poem. It feels too simplistic to call these ‘pop culture’ as they are presented with lightness and a solemnity that surprises at exactly the same moment that it reassures. This is content that has the confidence to assume I know what it’s talking about. And surely this is the idea, to take for granted the importance of these thematic strands. (And it is only because I don’t see it as much as I would expect to, in ‘published’ Australian poetry, that I feel need to mention this at all.) So much is held in small fragments, such as ‘we did the sydney scene so differently’ (‘Glory That’) and ‘you never did grow up to be that carol jerems photo of a topless woman some oedipal hitch with identity’ (‘The Red Door’). The shorthand of ‘this is how I see it/sometimes we’d fuck to guitar pop/ sometimes to ambient electronica’ says more about whole decades of people’s lives than three lines should be able to contain, and yet retain nonchalance.
There is a fair serve of teenage rural memories, which can difficult to do without just seeming sentimental. Somehow it never veers towards this, despite evoking and evoking until you’re not quite sure which are Glastonbury’s ‘memories’ and which are mine. Or indeed, the second-hand memories of my friends, which she seems to have carriage of also. I know these people, and I know the attendant feelings. There are farms with tennis courts, and twilight barbecues with local squattocracy, with Glastonbury even somehow getting away with ‘your once best friend is now a companioning house frau at least she’s made it into town and is no longer “stuck out there”’.
Perhaps it’s unfair of me to have sliced up the lines of the work in the way I have; the small quotes do nothing to show the fabric they make in whole poems, a style further enhanced by the running together of lines into blocks of text. I love the manner of reading this can create, where you need to run your eye back to check whether something was an ending or a beginning. Of course it’s both, and this just sweetens the deal. ‘Triggering Town’ (from the section of the same name) shimmers with this all the way through:
…the flouncey skivvy
a show of rare authenticity which sees you investing appreciation
into perceived flaws you hope disqualify the beloved
to everybody except you generous arbiter of redoubled fantasies following a familiar maternal loop she’s not
trying to get out of interaction the moment it snares
her like everybody else is around here…
As well as journeys, the collection gives us many hints that choices, or the slipping away of choice, is as fine a parameter as any for the creation of strong and feisty poems. We can’t always see where we’re at, while we’re in it, and never more so than at the point of history where we are overloaded with information, and stimuli, and people in all their heartfelt and oversharing modes. Poetry does its job when it takes some of it and places it just so. Not to understand ourselves (God forbid), just to see. And to hear how it sounds when it’s arranged better, with cooler syntax and humour that sidles up to you and gets it right. Grit Salute has loads of style and exclamation marks to burn, and deserves much attention.
MELINDA BUFTON is Melbourne-based poet and occasional commentator on the creative process. She is currently undertaking postgraduate studies in creative writing at Deakin University and has most recently been published in The Age, Steamer and Rabbit.