Book Review: Hildegard of Bingen: A poetic journey by Colleen Keating

Hildegard of Bingen by Colleen Keating is, as the author subtitled A Poetic Journey based on the life of the saint Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 1179).

 

BOOK REVIEW      Women’s Ink Magazine  www.womenwritersnsw.org

Hildegard of Bingen – A Poetic Journey

COLLEEN KEATING

Ginninderra Press

ISBN 978 1 76041 766 6

Reviewed by BEATRIZ COPELLO

For those who do not know about this saint’s life, let me tell you she was an incredible and fascinating woman who lived in the Middle Ages in Germany. She lived an intense life dedicated not only to religion but also to science, art, music, politics and philosophy. Hildegard founded two monasteries and maintained active correspondence with kings, emperors and popes. During all her life this mystic had visions which she attributed to divine inspiration. 

In the forward of Hildegard of Bingen, Keating says she fell in love with Hildegard when she read a book lent to her by a friend. That love is evident in each page, in each poem, in each line. Through Keating’s poetry we get to know Hildegard, her life unrolls like a magic carpet. Poem by poem the reader finds out about her dreams, hopes, aspirations as well as her frustrations. 

Keatings’s poems come alive with sensory experience, her words are confident in range and depth and they are utterly clear and articulate. The poet could have been a witness in Hildegard’s life, she knows her, she breathes her, she has a familial intimacy with the philosopher. The author undertook a journey into the mediaeval world, the poems are factual and the events meticulously researched. They contain very vivid descriptions, we can see in our mind’s eye what Hildegard saw, like in

 

‘Arrival’

Disibodenberg, high in the forest
sprawls in the clouds.
The last mile steeply uphill
Secluded. 

A white butterfly dips and lifts.
Hildegard’s gaze follows it up
catches the glint of the sun
on the first stone wall.

Stoic buildings unfold
cloistered around a cobbled garth.
Their Benedictine monastery.

A monk in cinctured black robe
walks from signposted infirmary.
From beneath his blinkered cowl
he extends a welcome.
They dismount
Jutta falls on her knees in gratitude.

In Hildegard’s life the days pass coloured by monotony and sainthood and as the days pass so is her strong and determined personality developed. Poem by  poem the reader becomes wrapped in a mantle of words, words that tell us of revelations, mysticism, determination and sainthood. Keating puts herself in Hildegard’s shoes and cleverly she is able to recreate the angst, the bravery and the defiance of this incredible woman. We enter her abode, her orchard, we get to know the sisters and her godly visions. We hear two strong voices Hildegard’s and Keating’s the poet. Writing is a labour of love, the writer not only poured her love for Hildegard in the poems but also her skills and knowledge.

Intuition, growth, earthiness, inner strength, passion, justice, wisdom, art are all words that describe what emerges from Keating’s poetry. What a great way to learn through reading poetry! The poet has not spared any detail about the life of Hildegard neither has she left out information about her sources. This fascinating book contains an Epilogue, a Chronology, a Glossary, Notes and a Bibliography. In the final notes Keating says: ‘A Poetic Journey seeks a middle ground between an accurate scholarly presentation of Hildegard and a personal interpretation of her story.’

I believe the writer has achieved her purpose offering us  the opportunity to get to know a mediaeval feminist of extraordinary creativity. Colleen Keating has created a masterpiece. 

Women’s Ink! Magazine   www.womenwritersnsw.org    March 2020 p19

The Launch of Desert Patterns by Colleen Keating

A launch or not a launch

The beautiful collection of poetry Desert Patterns  is launched at a non-launch in a Desert Garden.

At the Olive Pink Botanic Garden in Alice Springs, Central Australia, with an idea of ‘no clustering groups’  which is now coined ‘social distancing’ we launched Desert Patterns in a desert garden to wallabies, a wide variety of interested birds,  skinks, the wonderful vegetation of this arid garden and to one very curious Euro ( a mountain wallaby who hopped down from Annie Meyers Hill to join the frey.

 

as I read  ‘quiet stillness settles into our very soul’

and continued:

‘maybe it’s the way the light falls

throws its arms around the old familiar  cliffs

brings them alive  beckons come

come’

 

desert patterns

the landscape dreams
of caterpillars and rainbow serpents
composed
sculptured
moulded for aeons
wind water sand
carved chiseled hefted
hewn
from rock and clay
heave of ochre red
weave curve wave

desert patterns 
draw us in                                                                

every escarpment every contour
named and known
as a mother knows its children
garments of beauty
that dress our earth
like whims of scarves 

desert patterns
draw us in 

the night sky dreams
of journeys emus echidnas
black spaces
compose
shimmer
imagination
reflects ancient stories

desert patterns
draw us in 

 

 

 desert garden  18/03/2020 ( written the day of the launch . Not in the poetry book)

already some have gathered under the umbrellas
conversations tête-à-tête over coffee
hushed murmurs like one makes in a cathedral
standing in the presence of awe-inspiring domes
and zig-zag shimmer
of coloured floors of lead-light reflection

here dreamy gold light catches the tips of ghost gums –
Namatjira’s signature –that breaks the silence from long ago
how arrogant in our colonising we had become
from rocky boulders rustic-red breaks in the hills
flames out in mica shine
wallabies laze in shady groves of Mulga.

magpies sing from spindly river gums
and one wallaby sits in red sand nearby
no doubt waiting for left over fare.

all morning the magpies watch me in the garden
their bodies wiry sleek and mottled
a good reminder of yin and yang
the balance that we always seek

I write in my journal sip my coffee
nibble on toasted fruit loaf with tiny strips of cherry
spread with whipped cinnamon butter.
Around us spinifex pigeons enjoy the company

I am startled by beauty wherever i look
and I wonder how proud Olive Pink would be
to see us all enjoying the peace of her long ago vision

 

Mother and joey                                                                 sun set from Anzac Hill in Alice

Thanks to all our supporters, . Thanks to Ginninderra Press and to the magic of Inland Australia.

A Sense of Place by Colleen Keating , member of Ginninderra Panel

A Sense of Place by Colleen Keating , member of Ginninderra Panel

 

 

A Sense of Place      How does where you write affect what you write? 

Thank you Brenda for the introduction and please convey our  thanks to Joan Fenney the editor of our new anthology Mountain Secrets. What a lot of work and how proud we all are.

And  thank you, to you both Brenda and Stephen Matthews for your vision and dedication in not only bringing us together today but bringing us together as a family of writers published under the Ginninderra Press stamp. And for organising this forum  for us as writers to grapple with a very important concept . . .  A Sense of Place in our writing.

 What an appropriate setting –   we can feel fresh unwithered mountain air, 

smell the eucalyptus oils and standing down at Govett’s Leap look at the Bridal veil falls , only a trickle for now because of the drought, hear the stunning silence of the Grose valley and its deep gorges. Just outside the shop door is a rambling track to the weeping sandstone cliffs where  we can enjoy the Australian bush with banksia, hakeas, wattles and other acacias,  myrtles, still a few waratahs if you are very observant.  There are places to sit and listen to the birds backgrounded by the iconic crack of the whip bird.

What a  Sense of Place this National Park gives us.

Exploring a sense of place in our writing  makes us present to the moment . . .  to the air we breathe . . .being  in the breath.   .the now.  . . .    like Walt Whitman  once said “Every atom of me that is good belongs to you”  

What interconnection  with place and with each other we have and  in this land.

It is  really in some ways a sense of presence.  When the poet  is anchored  in a place , in a presence. they are able to anchor the reader. 

And  it focuses the question  how does where we write affect what we write .    It seems to me as writers we need to turn up everyday.  In a room, on a couch,  at a desk, in a cafe ,on a walk – some routine of getting rhythm into our day.  Where we write is vital  to our writing. Virginia Wolfe says that having a room of our own helps us to be a writer.  . . having some space in our heart  is all we need. And when we are settled, our imagination can take us anywhere.

Emiliy Dickenson  for us as poets is an example  of  someone who did most of her writing in one location. A young woman who rarely left her room. One who could write these words:

There is a pain – so utter
It swallows substance up
Then comes the Abyss with Trance
So Memory can step
Around –  across  – upon it –

We really can write anywhere 

and we can write about anything,  anytime, anywhere 

as long as we have pen and paper or device with us.

If I invited you to  give me varied  and unusual  places  where you have written,  you would fill us with stories, with smiles, at some of the places where you have found inspiration.

So how does this affect our writing 

The American novelist Wendall Berry says ,,
“If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.”  

He is suggesting  if you can’t give your reader that sense  . . . they hang rootless

Places are more than just locations on a map.  A sense of place has its human attachment. Linking a story to place not only grounds it, but makes it unique.

With my new book Hildegard of Bingen; A poetic journey,  I wrote at my desk.  I did go to Bingen three times immersing myself,  taking time just being, walking in the Rhineland of Germany.  I lived in the modern  Benedictine Abbey for a few weeks.  I walked in Hildeagrd’s footsteps.  But back home turning up at my desk was how it got written.  I played her music , lit a candle made by the Benedictine nuns  

drank her wine and her teas.  But it was at my desk it was written. . 

To transport me back  into mediaeval 12th  century so i could transport my reader there  with sounds and smells and tastes was  done from intensive reading, research and writing from my imagination.

To ground and anchor our readers, we as writers need to be grounded.  

It is walking that grounds me.  Waking my beach with sandy toes and salty taste of air  inspires me  May be it is the rhythm or the tang of air or the empty space  but that is my inspiration.   Maybe it is the the ramble or the pattern of walking that takes me inwards where I find the inspiration.

How important is this grounding in place and how it affects what we write?

I read this statement that many of the worst abuses of land, forest, animal, human communities has been carried out by people who are caught up in IDEAS rather then rooted in place   Rootless, detached people are dangerous yet when people understand where they are and have a sense of place there is more care,  more connection with their surroundings, to establish knowledge of and appreciation of their earth. This, in turn, nurtures empathy for the place and a feeling of belonging, and leads to greater stewardship.    It gives a sense of meaning.

Our Indigenous people give us the greatest prism for writing  – where  they are, affects them.  Their  routines in singing, story telling and dance .  When they are deeply rooted there is a oneness.  ‘Our Land is our Body’

When they are dissociated from their country they are lost.

Among the contemporary poets Mary Oliver has been one of the most articulate  –showing us where she writes affects what she writes. 

Her focus on interior subjects varies  but we experience  it more profoundly and more authentically when it is rooted in a specific TIME and PLACE.

In her poem  Mornings at Blackwater    the pond that she walked to each day with pen and pad, she writes,

So come to the pond, 

or the river of your imagination,

or the harbour of your longing 

and put your lips to the world. 

And live

your life.

How does where I write affect what I write?

As an Australian I cannot go far past who I am.  

I have found my childhood identity always brings its own dimension to enrich my writing .

As  Faulker says 

“The past is never dead . It is not even past .”  

 And yet my new book is about a woman living in Germany in the mediaeval 12th century  so I wondered and then I realised I could only write that from who I am here and now . Where I write and who I am informs what I write. 

It anchors me into a sense of place and affects my thoughts, ideas, values , attitudes and hence affects what I write.

So finally it seems to me  even if I write of a German mystic or “of sandy toes curling in wet sand gazing at a stormy seas “

my writing is informed by a sense of place.

We are learning from Indigenous Australians, from each other and also from the poets,  from songsters, nature mystics , bush walkers, bird watchers.  We must continue to learn to write  from those for whom the land and its sense of place is a source of wonder. 

 

 

Story behind the poem The Gully, published in Mountain Secrets

Story behind the poem The Gully,  published in Mountain Secrets

 

 

The Gully  

the creek chatters with small rocks
as it slithers along    decanted
from a swamp    succulent
as ten thousand soaking sponges
fringed with ferns   lichens   mosses
sedges   with silver dew

the rustle of a lyre bird
singing the land back to healing
mimics a birdsong-world
and conceals a secret
a mountain secret  

there was a time in The Gully
when the lyrebird was silent
and the wind mimicked a deep howl
and the earth grieved and raged
for its evicted people
its ravaged concreted land 

today the lyre bird’s song rolls back
a many layered history
the Gundungurra and Darug people
lead us out of a amnesic fog
with a remember story –
               a redemptive pathway into now

by Colleen Keating

*The Gully, An Aboriginal Place in Katoomba. In the 50’s made into the Catalina Race track.

 

 

My poem The Gully is written on the history of an area in Katoomba which was a meeting ground for three Aborigine tribes before colonisation and after Warragamba Dam was build when their movement  was blocked many settled there on what was then the outskirts of the Katoomba town .  A Fun park was developed, a lake even a Catalina Plane was floated on the lake there and people were moved off from their homes  for a Race track which was built disturbing the head water of the Katoomba Fall that feeds the Jamison Valley . 

Now fortunately it has been returned to the and is very sacred to walk around and see and read  the history including remains of the track and where signs like Capstan Bend once hang.

The story is documented in a book called 

Sacred  Waters

 The story of the Blue Mountains Gully Aboriginal People 

        by 

Dianne Johnson 

 

‘Mountain Secrets’ A new Anthology published by Ginninderra Press

I am very honoured to be included in the new Anthology called ‘Mountain Secrets’  published  by Ginninderra Press  and I proudly read my poem ‘ The Gully’  at the launch.

Last weekend the Ginninderra Press family gathered at Blackheath amidst the pandemonium of the Rhododendron Festival  to launch their new book ‘ Mountain Secrets ‘  Thank you to the editor Joan Fenney for a a polished production.  It was a full and very rewarding day  and a great opportunity to put faces to names of poets that we only know through their writing, especially the many from interstate, South Australia, Canberra and Victoria.

After lunch we had a panel discussion on the Sense of Place in our writing and I had been asked to be on the panel. It was an honour being on the panel with two distinguished writers, my friend  Libby Sommer and poet John Watson.  I will post my reflection on my blog later today.

We then enjoyed afternoon tea and a birthday cake to celebrate Brenda Eldridge’s 70th birthday.

Next we had the pleasure of the launch of “Stories from Bondi Beach’ by Libby Sommer  launched expertly by Susanne Gervay. Congratulations to Libby. 

Thank you to Stephen Matthews and Brenda Eldridge/ Matthews, for bringing us together under the Ginninderra Press.

Launch Speech by Dr. Gisela Sophia Nittel

                    Hildegard von Bingen – A Poetic Journey – Launch Speech

Thank you, Sue, for your kind introduction. And thank you, Colleen, for the great honour of asking me to launch the book that’s been your magnificent obsession for a very long time. How wonderful to see so many of you here celebrating this special day with Colleen!

Let me start with a confession: even though I was born in Germany and studied German literature to post-graduate level, I knew little about H until reading Colleen’s book. My academic focus had always been 20th century

literature, and the subject of my doctoral dissertation was the Austrian poet, Ingeborg Bachmann — a woman born more than 800 years after H.

It’s not that I wasn’t exposed to the medieval era at Sydney University — as undergraduates we read the German equivalents of Beowulf and Chaucer, for example, but there was never any mention of H. In fact we didn’t study the work of any women from any period at all in those intense four years of German language and literature. Mind you that was the 1970s before feminist consciousness had begun influencing the academy in general and the male- dominated German Department in particular.

Fast forward to 2019 with Colleen asking me to launch her book and I find I’m not only belatedly curious about this famous German woman, but newly conscious of a personal connection because of the Bingen component in her name. You see, Bingen is a German town on the Rhine River, and I was born in a German town on the Rhine River (south of Bingen). And I share my

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surname with a town located not far west of Bingen.

So I found myself wondering: Who was this H, whom my distant ancestors may well have known (or at least heard of)? A woman who is so highly revered (not just in Germany but internationally) almost a millennium after she was born? Most importantly, what was it about H that so mesmerised my non- German-speaking, Australian poetry friend, that she not only travelled to

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Germany three times to tread the same ground but also spent two decades immersing herself in the life and work of this Benedictine Abbess so she could transform her research into more than 100 poems — hoping, I suspect, to infect others with what I like to call “Hildy fever”. It certainly worked in my case!

After reading these poems, and being inspired to find out more, I now understand why Col fell in love with this Sibyl of the Rhine, for H was by any measure a most extraordinary woman — dizzyingly prolific writer, gifted composer, skilled naturalist, revered mystic, expert healer and dedicated

missionary. And not just a dabbler but genuinely accomplished in these fields — a true polymath. Her CV would be impressive enough for a man of her era. For a woman her achievements can only be described as astonishing.

Even by today’s standards, H was prolific in her writing. Her first work, Scivias (Know the Ways (of the Lord)) was 150,000 words long — that’s the length of two doctoral dissertations in the 21st century! (Imagine doing that in an era of wax tablets and parchment.) This magnum opus (in which H documented her extensive spiritual visions) took 10 years to complete.

But H wasn’t done with writing at this point: two more lengthy tomes followed — one that took 7 years and another that took 10. These three writing marathons are even more remarkable when you consider that H didn’t start writing her first book until she was 43, and didn’t finish her third and final book until she was 75. Truly an inspiration to all of us who write!

In the field of music, H composed 77 liturgical songs and an allegorical

morality play (which, I understand, was the first of its kind). And in her role as a healer, H completed two major medical treatises. She also wrote books on the lives of saints; her literary legacy also features volumes of correspondence including letters to VIPs like the Holy Roman Emperor (Frederick Barbarossa), Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

 

No wonder there’s a cornucopia of publications, translations, web sites and societies devoted to H. Colleen’s book, however, [hold up Col’s book] is a unique contribution to this field because it transforms H’s life into poetry — into poems that engross us with their immersive reimagining of H’s persona and experiences; poems that give us the sense that we are there, witnessing the highs and lows through H’s own eyes.

Right from the start, we’re hooked by the drama and suspense that Colleen creates with the cinematic technique of flashback in the two opening poems.

We are dropped into H’s life at 81, at what is clearly a moment of crisis: our heroine in the cemetery, alone and trembling with rage; her frail but determined body pulling and heaving at a large wooden cross. “What on earth is going on?” we wonder. “Why is she doing this?”

Having sparked our curiosity, Colleen cuts back to the 14-year-old H before she became a nun. From there we are taken step by step on H’s long and often challenging journey, which reveals to us the significance of that moment in the cemetery and its consequences. We tend to think of nuns as having quiet, contemplative, and uneventful lives, but this was not the case with H, who was entrepreneurial in her service to others and courageous in the face of adversity! Our Hildy was no shrinking violet!

Throughout her book Colleen skilfully balances moments of high drama with the joy and calm of quotidian life at the abbey. In the poem “Anticipation” (p. 129), for example, we read: “The sisters prune, pickle and preserve, / plait the

garlic / to hang from the cross-pull beams…”

Colleen’s poems are full of such lyrical attention to detail — detail that often interweaves multiple senses. Let me quote from p. 179: “It’s a time of tumbling leaves, abundance of fruit, / grapes, apples, wild plums, mulberries, quinces, hazels, chestnuts, all for the picking. // She smells stench of malt, […] recoils at the reek of tanneries. Her ears prick at the clang of forges, mills and water

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wheels, / tune into the lilt of troubadours and balladeers.” And what about this delightful example of synaesthesia: “Aroma of pickles zings from the kitchen.” (p. 223)

Another aspect of this book that delights me is the thoughtful inclusion of background material that supplements and enhances the poems. Col’s bibliography contains two pages of primary and secondary references as well as background reading and a list of recordings. There’s an excellent set of endnotes; a glossary for those of us unfamiliar with terms like “simony”; a map

showing H’s journeys; and a handy list of characters to refer to when we wonder, “Guda? Where does she fit into the picture again?” Col’s aim here was to find “a middle ground between an accurate scholarly presentation of H and a personal interpretation of her story”. Colleen has achieved this to Goldilocks level – or should I say “Hildegard” level — here and indeed in every aspect of this book.

The story of Hildegard of Bingen is not just one about a truly remarkable woman but one that also exemplifies the spirit of friendship, community, humanity, perseverance, resilience and courage in the face of opposition, adversity and injustice. As such it’s a story to inspire us all, and Colleen’s poems do that story more than justice so I enthusiastically commend this book to all of you.

Congratulations, Colleen, on this inspired and inspirational “labour of love”. I am both delighted and honoured to declare your book officially launched.

REVIEW of Launch

                                                     Review of Launch 

                                    Hildegard of Bingen – A poetic journey
                                                     by Colleen Keating

More than 80 friends , colleagues and fellow poets attended the launch of this “superb and elaborate work” in the Patrick White Room at the Writers Centre NSW Rozelle on Sunday 13th October 2019. 

A simple decor focused the attendees on the 12th Century and Rhineland setting for this amazing woman – abbess, artist, musician, herbalist, leader and activist. The room allowed everyone to hear and experience the importance of Hildegard. 

Before and after formal proceedings, Colleen’s very good friend Nigel Parry played cello music, that Hildegard would have enjoyed as much as this days participants.  

Sue Good – Chair of the Women Writers Group settled the convivial chatter, began proceedings

and introduced Dr Gisela Nittel (Chair of Eastwood U3A group) to launch Colleen’s work. 

Dr Nittel’s launch presentation was listened to with great interest and generated ongoing later discussion. Having been born on the Rhine, not far from Bingen, and having her academic study around German literature, her insights were of special importance to the story of Hildegard and Colleen’s poetic approach. Dr Nittel was an excellent choice as launcher, and Colleen was excited that she had been able to accept. During her talk Dr Nittel dipped into Colleen’s poetry and indicated how the poetry and the story really drew us all, into a very real experience. 

Colleen responded by thanking Sue and Gisela. Colleen then told the story of her own journey of discovery about this fascinating woman. Colleen segued from PNG experience of the moon landing, through amazing space age photography of  our fragile blue planet to a twenty year plus intimate journey in the steps of Hildegard. Colleen’s story was full of enthusiasm and excitement. A title that Hildegard gave to herself was ‘ a feather on the breath of God’ and Colleen read her poem that incorporates this feature into Hildegard’s story. (p57)

Formalities came to a close with two short readings from the work by two of Colleen’s daughters. 

Jessica Hay read “A Hum of Learning” (p170). and Bernadine Van Eyk read an extract from “Unearthing Heaven” (p123)

Colleen was kept busy signing copies of her work and answering questions, while Nigel continued to play to a captivated audience. Food and drink had been brought along by various friends and there was a real swirl of conversation. 

Colleen made a special mention of thanks to Ginninderra Press for their dedication to publishing poetry and thanked the Medieval Calligrapher Tania Crossingham  for her artististy, and the Writers Centre for the use of the venue and quality setting that The Patrick White Room provided. 

Hildegard of Bingen: Poetic Journey available now

Ginninderra  Press

www.ginninderrapress.com.au

Internationally on AMAZON BOOKS

Colleen Keating / Hildegard of Bingen: 

A poetic journey

Poetry

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‘Hildegard of Bingen was a woman of extraordinary creative expression and this book approaches her wisdom through the gift of poetry which allows us to move into a more intuitive space. It is a book to slow us down, that invites us to ponder, and calls us to follow Hildegard towards a growing greenness in our lives.’ – Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE, Abbey of the Arts

‘Hildegard’s life sings and dances across the pages of this engaging harmony of her works, set out in this poetic journey that commences at the twilight of her life and rewinds back through the lens of time. Hildegard’s many gifts – including her charm – are expertly embedded. A very enjoyable and fascinating read.’ – Dr Christine Cameron 

‘Colleen Keating brings to this impressive collection some very fine, positively Hildegardian qualities – a robust earthiness, an inner strength, a passion for justice and a fiery light.’ –
Dr Mary O’Connell

‘What an oeuvre! What a superb and elaborate work! These nine books of poems by Australian poet Colleen Keating tell Hildegard’s story in a stunning way. The reader feels put into the landscape and ambience of Hildegard’s medieval cloistered world. Thus I highly recommend reading, tasting and meditating on this poetic journey with Hildegard of Bingen.’ –
Dr Annette Esser, Founder and President of the Scivias Institute for Art and Spirituality, Germany.

978 1 76041 766 6, 248pp

Versions

Launch of Mrs. Rickaby’s Lullaby by Julie Thorndyke

Congratulations 

to Julie Thorndyke on the launch of her novel Mrs Rickaby’s Lullaby.

Celebrating the birth of a new book is always one of the great pleasures, after all the hard work in bring it to fruition.  It was launched by the well known poet and writers and mentor Beverley George surrounded by Julie’s family, friends and writing colleagues. And very enjoyable to share a glass of wine and some delicious cheeses while  we chatted with writer, friends old and new.

Hartog Bookshop at Macquarie Centre was a welcoming  space for just such an experience. 

Special  mention was made of Ginninderra Press and the invaluable gratitude many of us have for the support we receive from this publishing company. Thanks to Brenda and Stephen Matthews.  

Mrs. Rickaby’s Lullaby was a wonderful read, cleverly written with well developed characters and twists of story just like in real life.