REVIEW of The Dinner Party: A poetic response by Denise O’Hagan

The Dinner Party:  A poetic response by Colleen Keating (Ginninderra Press 2023)  reviewed by Denise O’Hagan

. . . we revive your memory

and honour you  . . .

You chose to be empowered

before women were visible.   (p.46)

These lines, addressed to Marcella of Rome, epitomise the spirit behind Keating’s latest collection, The Dinner party. A poetic response, released by Adelaide-based publisher, Ginninderra Press. During the course of its 144 pages –  substantial by poetry book standards – Keating fleshes out some of history’s most gifted and courageous women, rescuing them from the obscurity and oppression to which ‘patriarchy’s wilful effort’ has traditionally consigned them, and restoring them to centre stage.

The book is a poetic response to the iconic art  installation by American feminist artist, Judy Chicago (created 1974-1979), of a large triangular dinner table set for, and dramatically commemorating, thirty-nine influential women drawn from history and mythology.

The poet’s attentiveness to the installation is clear: she structures her book into three ‘wings’, representing three eras from the ancient world through to the beginnings of the women’s revolution, each of which is devoted to thirteen women from areas as diverse as the arts and activism to medicine and music.

The women are vividly evoked in all their multilayered complexity. We meet the ancient Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar, known for her jealous nature as much as for her embodiment of love and fertility, whose

‘honeyed mouth
turns venomous at a whim’,

revolutionary artist Artemisia Gentileschi, 
‘a Baroque prescience of women’s advocacy’

who was lost  to history for 400 years’ and women rights activist Mary Wollstonecraft, whose voice

‘was a luminous candle
in a darkness of patriarchy.’

These imaginative recreations are complemented by notes on the background of each woman, and a detailed bibliography.

This is a powerful yet sensitive breathing of lyrical life into significant historical women, and an eloquent contribution to feminist literature. As its author points out

’The challenge is ongoing. There are still many injustices enacted against women. Domestic violence is at an all time high.’

The table is set, the dinner party poised to happen – and the book places us on the cusp of what promises to be a spirited dinner party!

I would urge you, the reader, to take up Keating’s invitation to immerse yourself in this remarkable collection and in so doing, honour the women ‘on whose shoulders we stand’.

To purchase The Dinner Party

or please order from your favourite online seller: print or ebook.

About Denise O’Hagan  Editor and writer

Born and raised in Italy, Denise lived in the UK before emigrating to Sydney, Australia.

After completing a Masters in Bibliography and Textual Criticism at Leeds University, she worked as an editor with various publishing houses including Collins, Heinemann and Routledge in London, and Horwitz Educational and Cambridge University Press in Sydney, where she was also consulting editor with the State Library of NSW.

She set up her own imprint Black Quill Press in 2015 to publish her late mother’s books: Jerome & His Women (2015), shortlisted for the Institute of Professional Editors’ Rosanne Fitzgibbon Editorial Award (the ‘Rosie’), and a second revised edition of A Roman Death (2017), originally published by Macmillan. Her poetry is published widely in Australia and internationally. Recipient of the Dalkey Poetry Prize, she has also been shortlisted in various awards including the Australian Catholic University Poetry Prize, the Robert Graves Poetry Prize (UK), the Plough Writing Prize (UK) and the Proverse International Poetry Prize (Hong Kong). She was Poetry Editor for Australia/New Zealand for Irish literary journal The Blue Nib until 2020. Her poetry collections include The Beating Heart (Ginninderra Press 2020), shortlisted for the Society of Women Writers NSW Book Awards 2022, and Anamnesis (Recent Work Press 2022), finalist in the Eric Hoffer Book Award (Poetry) 2023 and shortlisted in the International Rubery Book Award (Poetry) 2023.


It was the prevailing attitude in the 1960s that women had no history. There were no women’s studies, nothing.’ Judy Chicago, creator of the iconic art installation The Dinner Party.

The Dinner Party by the talented poet Colleen Keating brings to light, through beautiful lyrical poetry, what for centuries has been ignored: the power and strength of women. Very little has been made known about the lives of influential women of the past, as women’s lived experience has been suppressed, even erased from history. In this collection, the poet resuscitates the experience of women from prehistory to women’s twentieth-century revolution. Her poetry traces the lives of women who demonstrated their influence, in every field including philosophy, medicine, writing, art, astronomy, suffragists and justice warriors who fought for recognition. Women who gave their lives, suffered, broke barriers, knocked down walls, smashed glass ceilings, pried open doors, who defied patriarchy in some way for all of us. Still today as women are written into history, the struggle for our reckoning towards equality and respect continues. A must-read book that honours women; women who would not be silent.’ – Dr Beatriz Copello
‘With impeccable research and deep empathy, Colleen Keating continues her powerful poetic contribution to feminist literature with the celebration of thirty-nine of the more than a thousand women forgotten, marginalised or written out of Western history. A remarkable and beautifully imagined work.’ – Pip Griffin
978 1 76109 530 6, 144pp