A review of Beachcomber by Colleen Keating

Reviewed by Beatriz Coppello

by Colleen Keating
Ginninderra Press
February 5, 2022, Paperback, 166 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1761092428

Colleen Keating is a multiple award author and poet, with a series of books and publications to her name. This book like all of hers that I have read and reviewed are literature of the highest standard. Beachcomber contains ten sections, each dealing with varied as well as similar topics. The first section is titled like the book. Most of the poems in this section are about nature. The poet has the ability to immerse herself in nature, her senses capture the beauty that surround us whether at the beach, in a forest or in her own garden. For example, a little rock falls at her feet, she picks it up and she reads its secrets, its past, she hears its voice and she treasures it. Keating has the skill to draw pictures with words bringing to the reader very vivid descriptions. The sea is in her soul and she encourages the reader to plunge into it: she says in “evocation”: 

drink the sea
devour rocks
sharp and briny
swallow the light
that stirs and satiates
scoop up the ocean
let it wash through you
furrow and ripple
every wrinkle and scar
the treasure is within

Keating has an extensive knowledge of mythology and she utilises this in her poetry. There is also love in some of the poems. She writes gentle and kind words of a great relationship. 

The second section of the book is titled “Beautiful World”, in this section of the book and in all others the poet demonstrates her control of the language her skill allows her to create a magic carpet which takes the reader with her. We are able to see her world and whoever and whatever is in her world, we read about the innocence in children, how generations interlock in love and treasures like an exercise book with cooking recipes as well as friendships. In and excerpt of the poem titled “knotted” the author says: 

i gathered   planted nurtured them
yet stragglers still appeared at odd times
caught odd places        the way
our friendship has been knotted
in all the fragrances of our lives
planted and still growing
blooming into the new

In this section the reader will also encounter various poems about trees, birds and sounds familiar to those lucky to live in this marvellous country. Readers will be delighted by a little bit of politics and a dash of humour.

The third section of the book is titled “A Song for the Tree” and contains evocative poems not only about the Australian flora but also about the fauna.  As I said before it is obvious that nature fascinates the poet and she honours it with poignant and exquisite words. The poet’s knowledge of birds and plants is fully demonstrated in this book.

In the fourth section of the book titled “Never Can We Mourn” the poet writes about injustices, wars, the disposed and the abused.  I very much identified with Keating’s writing in this section particularly her poems against war, guns and the destroying of the environment. Sorrow and sadness are impregnated in her words.

“Enigma” is the title of the fifth section of Beachcomber and in here we read poetry that interprets life, focusing on memories of love, lost and regeneration.  Under the title of  this section Keating quotes Rilke asking: “Is not impermanence the very fragrance of our days?” This is very appropriate for the poems contained in this section.

“Black Summer” is the titled of the sixth section which as the title hints is about the destructive fires in Australia. The following poignant poem, titled “inferno” will give you an idea of the content:

the kiln burst in the flames 
pots spewed out onto the ground
when the owners returned
they stepped   hesitantly
    as if on holy ground
picked up cracked pots
      amidst charred remains
as one would loved ones   rescued
brushed off ash with tender touch
blew away dust
as if blowing life
                into memories found
beyond memories lost

“When you can only take photos from the window” is the title of the next section and you may have guessed the poems are about the pandemia, in some of the poems

we read about the seasons passing, about nature blooming, about how we live night and day trawling and dredging through life.  While life goes on but nature is unaware of what is going on with us humans. The pandemia attacked us but life around us goes on. There is a strong sense of truth in Keating’s words she says in “note to self”:

note to self –
never take your freedoms for granted
ever again. 

“Walking quiet ways” is a very short section where the poet’s voice is given to image. “A Glad Tomorrow” and “L Plates” are the last two sections and brings into words the experiences of being a grandmother. This is the section I identified with most, as Keating really captures the experience of being a grandmother in a poignant and moving way. The poem “sore knees” says it all:

the carpet is well worn
still is functional to rear a child
who turns his bottle upside down
to curiously watch the single drops of milk drip
who throws his Vegemite toast to see what happens 
and other things which a toddler is prone 

Reading Beachcomber is an adventure; a way of  travelling with words, confronting the ugly, and rejoicing with the beautiful. It is a book that brings nature alive and reminds us that life is precious.

About the reviewer: Dr Beatriz Copello is a well-known reviewer, writer and poet, known for her sense of humour. “Her poems are sensuous, evocative and imaginative. Beatriz Copello is one of Australia’s foremost poets,” wrote Julia Hancock, ex-editor of Allan & Unwin and Freelance editor and journalist. Copello’s poetry books are Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations at the Edge of a Dream, Flowering Roots, Under the Gums Long Shade, Lo Irrevocable del Halcon (In Spanish) and her last book Witches Women and Words was published by Ginninderra Publishing. Her poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many other print and Electronic Publications. Fiction books by author are: A Call to the Stars, Forbidden Steps Under the Wisteria and Beyond the Moons of August (Her Doctoral Thesis).

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