Melinda Bufton reviews Grit Salute by Keri Glastonbury

Grit Salute

by Keri Glastonbury

Paper­tiger Media

ISBN 978-0-9807695-2-4

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? 

(87)

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.