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 Blue Nib reviews Hildegard of Bingen by Colleen Keating

A Review of A Call to Listen

 

calltolistenFullSizeRender copy

Call to Listen

by Colleen Keating

Published by Ginninderra Press
Reviewed by Judith O’Connor
This stylishly produced collection of some eighty poems,
with a particularly tasteful and pleasing cover, is just what it says – a plea to stop
our activities and busyness and start looking, listening and observing the world around us. The poet supplies us with any number of simple examples:

it’s a hard thing to love a rock
you need to receive it as a gift
spend time
commune
gaze . . . (‘How to Love a Rock’)

and:

. . . a fallen water tank; rusted blood red . . .

(‘Abandoned’)

But we quickly see that the range of topics and inspiration,
is far wider and deeper than what at first may appear incidental.
The collection is cleverly arranged into eight separate categories,
taking in a wide sweep of the poet’s life and experiences.
I particularly enjoyed the verses inspired by outback Australia
for which the poet has borrowed (and referenced) the words of Mary McKillop
‘We are but Travellers Here’. Having trekked to the summit of Mt. Sondar and hiked in many of the poet’s footsteps (‘Ormiston Pound’), I was surprised and delighted to read her award winning ‘Daybreak over Mt. Sondar’ and its moving description of the dawn:

…in the beginning
air static as a nylon petticoat pulled over my hair
fingerprints of red ruby . . . (‘Daybreak over MT. Sondar’)

Every page brings fresh and, at times, challenging verses on a range of human emotions from ‘Almost Dawn’ with its sensuality:

… he turns
arms cocoon me
in an aura of warmth
his breath tingles
in the dip of my neck . . .  (‘Almost Dawn’)

to ‘At the Nursing Home’:

… I fill the foot bath
my elbow checks the tepid water … (‘At the Nursing Home’)

Another of my favourites, ‘Sisters’:

… we lunch together
we celebrate
the milestone of another decade
and that word ‘remission’ a green shoot springing
from the scarred black earth…

But from being a poem full of depression and sorrow, it ends magnificently:

….we splurge
with our lust for life
toast with a glass of bubbly
Joie de vivre (‘Sisters’)

The poets voice changes to anger and outrage in other poems such as ‘Guantanamo Bay’ ( . . . this is a poem not to be read aloud; for it speaks of solitaire confinement …) and ‘War on Terror’ ( … it’s coming; through a hole in the air) along with poems reflecting visits to Japan and Fromelles.

Whatever the reader’s mood, quest or interest, these poems are sure to satisfy, surprise and inspire.