A review of The Dinner Party by Colleen Keating

A review of The Dinner Party by Colleen Keating

Thank you to Beatriz Copello for her affirming review of The Dinner Party and to Magdalena Ball for her encouragement and her  work for publishing of poets  in  Compulsive Reader

Reviewed by Beatriz Copello

The Dinner Party:
A Poetic Response
by Colleen Keating
Ginninderra Press
ISBN: 9781761095306, Paperback, May 2023

Having read and reviewed Colleen Keating’s books Hildegard of Bigen: A Poetic Journey,  Olive Muriel Pink: Her Radical and Idealistic Life and The Dinner Party: A Poetic Response, I can say without any doubt that Colleen Keating is not only a brilliant lyric poet but she is also a talented researcher. These three books are about  extraordinary women who were mostly ignored in history or just plain forgotten.

The Dinner Party will engage the reader from its first page which explains where the idea from this book was born. Keating explains that “The Dinner Party” is a permanent feminist installation of the artwork of Judy Chicago. This artwork, created in 1978, resides in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Centre for Feminist Art, in the Brooklyn Museum in New York.  The poet describes this installation as a large triangular table of 15 metres long set for a banquet for 39 women in memorial recognition to forgotten women, mythical and real from the Western World history. In the introduction to the book the author quotes Judy Chicago who said: “Women have always made a significant contribution to the development of human civilisation, but have been consistently ignored, denied, or trivialised.’’

Keating has divided the sections of the book according to the wings of the triangle of the installation, this is Wing 1: women from prehistory to the Roman Empire, Wing 2: women from the beginnings of Christianity to the Reformation and Wing 3: From the American to the Women’s Revolution.

In The Dinner Party Keating brings to light what for centuries has been ignored: the power and strength of women. Keating resuscitates the experience of women in this book. Her poetry traces the lives of women who demonstrated their influence, broke barriers, gave their lives for others, were oppressed or defied patriarchy. 

Line by line the poet weaves a net that captures the reader’s imagination and admiration for both the poetry and for the women honoured in the poems, like in the following extract from the poem titled “Amazon”, for the women who went to battle in the Bronze Age from 1900 and 1200 BCE:

Amidst the battle to affirm women
throughout history
Amazon women
with fierce inner conviction
self-possessed and resolute —
who donned breastplates
even prepared to cut off a breast
to be better archers
were warrior women
stalwart as Mars in the night sky
fiery red and untouchable
always with an extra stone for the sling
an extra arrow for the quiver.

At the end of the poetry Keating provides an extensive list of notes about the poems and the women at the Dinner Party Installation. These notes are well researched and condensed in such a way that the life and work of each woman is evident.

It is difficult to tell stories in poetry while retaining the musicality of the poem. Keating has this skill and creates a rhythm that flows with the lines while simultaneously creating power images of the work’s subjects. Her voice is strong but at the same time is measured and deliberate.

The feminist message contained in “The Dinner Party” by Colleen Keating remind us that poetry has the power to shape consciousness, provoke thought, and incite change.  Young women must read this fabulous book and older women also must read it to remind us how strong, powerful and intelligent we are and how for centuries we have been eclipsed by men. 

About the reviewer: Dr Beatriz Copello is an award-winning poet, she writes poetry, fiction, reviews and plays. The author’s books are: Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations At the Edge of a Dream, Under the Gums Long Shade, Forbidden Steps Under the Wisteria, A Call to the Stars translated and published in China and Taiwan, Witches Women and Words, No Salami Fairy Bread, Rambles, Renacer en Azul and Lo Irrevocable del Halcon (In Spanish).  Copello’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications. The author has participated in international conferences, has taught Creative Writing at W.S.U. and other scholarly institutions, she has read her poetry at Writers Festivals and other poetry events in Australia and overseas. Copello is mentioned amongst the forty “most notable people” graduated from the University of Technology.  

Compulsive Reader Book Review of Beachcomber by Colleen Keating

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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Compulsive Reader: Review of Olive Muriel Pink

Review of Olive Muriel Pink:

Her radical & idealistic life

A poetic journy

Colleen Keating

Ginninderra Press 

3rd September 2021 ISBN: 9781761091599, 320 pages, paperback, $40

by Beatriz Copello

I do not think there is a better way to honour a woman of the calibre of Olive Muriel Pink than to write a book of poetry about her life.  Colleen Keating has done just that, she has written a poetic journey about this unsung Australian heroine. 

With a sharp eye and lyric touch, the world of Olive Pink becomes alive, it is a passionate story told with knowledge. It is evident that the poet has invested years researching the life of Olive Pink. The poet says: “I have been researching, writing and thinking about Olive Pink for over a decade now.  The discoveries that come along the way – the portraits unveiled – are very stirring.”  

This collection covers many years in the life of Pink, it starts in 1884 and finishes in 1975. The book also has a foreword, a prologue and a chronology as well as notes and bibliography. The labour of love that went into writing this book would grant the author a doctorate.

The author in Notes explains that she aimed to write a book that fell between an accurate scholarly presentation of Olive Pink’s life and her own personal interpretation of it.

Olive Pink was a fighter for justice who advocated for the rights of First Nations People, she was also an anthropologist, artist and gardener. Keating from the first poem in the book alerts the readers about what they will encounter throughout the pages, in this excerpt from “Olive the pioneer” she writes:

Who is Olive?
She defied the silence
caused discomfort
annoyed the authorities.
Her letters shouted from the edge.
She heard budgerigar dreaming
and drummed to a different tune.
She pushed against the colonial tide.
If the answer is ‘eccentric’
in her death she will be twice dismissed. 

Who is Olive? History asks.
She broke the silence
her voice for the voiceless 
remembered the forgetting.
She visioned justice in the courts.
Her feet knew country.
She carried red dust
under the fingernails of her heart.
She listened to elders, learnt language
wrote down stories, sketched arid plants
medicinal, nutritional, ritual.
If the answer is ‘anthropologist’
in her death she will be twice honoured. 

If Keating wrote music, I would say she does not miss a beat, when she raises issues about Olive’s past, she does it with conviction and poignant comments, like in the following excerpt from “A new lodestone”:

The grim spectre of injustice
towards Aboriginal tribe
taunts Olive out of her grief
jolts her from self pity.
Like a silk petticoat pulled over her hair
the air is static in its darkness.
It bleeds through a colander of whitewash words

  • progress jobs, growth.

Its handprint blood-red.

The poet also utilizes very vivid imagery, the readers become Olive, we can see, smell, hear what she experiences.  Keating appeals to the senses, the following poem “Restless” illustrates this: 

In her dingy office Olive yearns
for the vast open country, large skies,
hazy horizons, a slung kettle hissing
and spitting its leak over the fire.
Burnt flesh and sizzle
of goanna still fill her nostrils.
Olive walks country in her sleep –
the pungent smell of camels
sweaty bodies, blazoned glare, flies
dust-blown storms.
That red dust under
the colour of her heart
and patter of Pitjantjatjara children
still running giggling beside her
lingers like the balm of an Indian summer.  

The poet has the skill to write about Olive’s powerful emotions without sentimentality or corniness, through these strong emotions readers can form a picture in their mind of Olive’s personality. The following excerpt from the poem titled “Heady days” is a good example of the Keating’s ability:

Olive is energised by academia.
The scissor-cut horizon
of her desert experience
challenges like a mirage.
She seizes every chance to argue,
‘The root cause is not malnutrition or disease –
They camouflage facts, treat the wrong symptoms.’
Heated discussion rises.
Angrily she fights for breath.
‘Even the most ignorant know the problems –
White man’s aggression, sexual abuse
fear, venereal disease, land dispossession.
We like to deride these facts.’
She flushes, her neck prickles as she continuous,
‘Full-bloods need their own protected country
not mission reserves.’
Her tone is strident.
‘Daily handouts from stations
Keep them tied to white man power.’

Olive Pink struggled all her life to be able to do what men were able to do, in the following poem “High Hopes” Keating captures this desire but also very cleverly imagines her mood in such a difficult situation.

Over dinner her enthusiasm bubbles.
‘After my thesis I plan
a full year of research among the Arrernte’
she confidently tells the Professor
and others grouped around the table.
‘I would like to be included
in your next museum expedition.
It will reduce my research expenses 
and my anthropology will enhance the group.’
Unease around the room
as lightening awaits a clap of thunder.
Awkward shifts and exchanged glances
the embarrassed clearing of throats.
From her left in a deep tone,
‘That would not be possible …
‘But you took Ted Strehlow on your trip last year!’
‘… for a woman,’ mumbles the professor.
Exposed, Olive’s heart races.
She hopes they don’t notice the burn
of her cheeks.
She avoids eye contact
gazes out as one with miles to go
restless to be on her way.
She needs desert air.
‘Why does gender cause such heart break?’
she broods into the night.
‘Why wasn’t I born a man.”

I would like to congratulate Colleen Keating not only for writing this incredible book but also for honouring a woman from the past which like many other Australian heroines are often forgotten or not given credit for their achievements. Reading about Olive Muriel Pink will inspire you and give you strength to struggle to achieve your aims.

About the Reviewer: Dr Beatriz Copello is a former member of NSW Writers Centre Management Committee, she writes poetry, reviews, fiction and plays. The author’s poetry books are: Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations At the Edge of a Dream, Flowering Roots, Under the Gums Long Shade, and Lo Irrevocable del Halcon (In Spanish).  Beatriz’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications.  She has read her poetry at events organised by the Sydney Writers Festival, the NSW Writers Centre, the Multicultural Arts Alliance, Refugee Week Committee, Humboldt University (USA), Ubud (Bali) Writers Festival.