Newcastle Sonnets

University of Newcastle Creative Writing scholar, Dr Keri Glastonbury, has published a book of poetry devoted to the gentrification of Newcastle. Newcastle Sonnets is in part an homage to Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets (1964), substituting Berrigan’s cosmopolitan New York of the 1960s for contemporary post-industrial Newcastle. Like Berrigan, Glastonbury’s sonnets are only sonnets in so much as they are 14 lines long and they do not follow any particular rhyme scheme or pentameter, relying heavily on sampling and found text, including social media.

“I like to think something of the sonnet's long tradition persists in this translation into contemporary form, in particular the idea of the sonnet as the original love poem, including the lover's complaint. As with Berrigan's The Sonnets, many of the sonnets in Newcastle Sonnets also obliquely deal with betrayal and heartbreak,” Dr Glastonbury said.

Glastonbury says the poems in Newcastle Sonnets are a form of urban drift – a method of poetic mapping across both real and digital spaces. They speak to a very random and subjective experience of Newcastle and connect on an ambient and sensory level with its topography.

The poems are littered with references to specific sites including The Cowrie Hole, Styx Creek, The Carrington Pump House, Suzie Gilmore, The Bar on The Hill, King Edward Park and local businesses such as Café Inu, Suspension and The Maryville Tavern.

Some of the references are already dated, such as the recently demolished 'penis tower' (or Queen's Wharf Tower) and others reference historical Newcastle (the drowning of Newcastle University English Department academic Harri Jones in The Bogey Hole in 1965, The Star Hotel riots in 1979, historical luminaries such as The Scott Sisters and eccentrics such as Leo Malley). These more historical references collide with contemporary 'hipster' Newcastle and signifiers such as the refurbished bathroom sinks at the The Lucky.

Glastonbury says in terms of style, she was interested in examining the relationship between the metropolis and the regional city in our contemporary Australian and global context.

“In some ways the poems in Newcastle Sonnets appear insular and localised, and speak to this characteristic of Newcastle or the parochialism of places in general. In other ways they assume the cosmopolitanism of a more experimental poetics where local vernacular is deployed to form poetic abstractions that I hope work on a number of levels, for both local and non-local readers,” Dr Glastonbury said.

“Newcastle has undergone a period of relatively rapid gentrification in the last 5 years and writing the sonnets has given me the agency to become a literary architect of the city as a way of intervening into our era of generic property development and global privatisation. I want to represent a more textured and layered idea of the lived experience of places.”

Dr Glastonbury moved to Newcastle from Sydney in 2006 to take up her first academic appointment at the University of Newcastle in Creative Writing.  She grew up in another regional city, Wagga Wagga, so in many ways Newcastle’s post-industrial landscape has been an anathema to her childhood experiences of fresh country air and inland rivers.

“I'll always be an insider/outsider in Newcastle, which positions me on a perennial cusp. In Newcastle Sonnets I tried to work through my ambivalences about the city, its grit and gravitas. Newcastle Sonnets are a form of autobiographical pyschogeography, a continual calibration of self and place,” Dr Glastonbury observed.

Among her favourites from the book is the sonnet ‘Two Dog Night’ which was written after going to trivia at The G (Newcastle’s now defunct gay pub) and joining a table of cross-dressers from Karuah.

“It’s been recorded as a song by Jacqueline Amidy, who was a member of The Castanet Club in the 1980s and we are hoping to turn a series of sonnets from the book into a Newcastle song cycle. We will premier this project as part of The Newcastle Writers Festival program in 2019,” she said.

Inspired by a recent trip to Newcastle in the United Kingdom, Glastonbury is hoping to write a Newcastle Sonnets (coda) chapbook based on the experience.

“It was interesting seeing signs in Newcastle Upon Tyne with names such as Gateshead, Wallsend, Hexham and Morpeth. I also found out that, including translations into other languages, there are about 100 other Newcastle’s around the world. While I was in the UK I met with our namesake University and am hoping to encourage undergraduate exchanges and the establishment of Jointly Awarded Doctoral Degrees between both Newcastle University’s. Newcastle University in the UK runs a dedicated Poetry Festival and Irish poet Sinead Morrissey heads their Centre for the Literary Arts, so I’m particularly interested in opportunities for poetry exchanges between Newcastle’s.”