Denise O’Hagan

Denise O’Hagan reviews ‘Rambles’ by Beatriz Copello

by Beatriz Copello
Ginninderra Press
September 2023, Paperback, 78 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1761095993

Review in Compulsive Reader, February 2024

If ‘rambles’ conjures up ideas of pleasant strolls through the countryside with a suggestion of aimlessness or circuitry, you are in for a surprise with Beatriz Copello’s latest poetry collection, released in 2023 by Ginninderra Press.

While making forays across a range of areas, Rambles is anything but aimless. In this smart collection of 62 varied free verse poems, the Argentinian-born poet casts her penetrating gaze over a tapestry of themes: human relationships, the nature of love and compassion as well as disillusionment and loneliness, political systems and how they fail, the sustaining power of memory and ancestral wisdom and, overwhelmingly, the precarious state of our Earth. The opening line of the opening poem—fittingly jagged and irregular in design—makes this abundantly clear:

flank of dog in kimchi sauce
dolphins wrapped in plastic bags
(‘Animalia Decimati’, p. 7)

Other poems explore the crippling powerlessness felt by many, the feeling of being reduced to a position of mute onlooker of the damage wreaked by our own human race rather than active participant in its rehabilitation:

no light in this tunnel
only a peephole from where I see life pass me by.
(‘I am a Puppet’, p. 11)

Not a writer to hold back on her emotions, Copello is equally forthright in her condemnation of social injustice. In ‘By the Way’ and ‘Impossible’, for instance, the sense of a divided society becomes increasingly palpable:

the rulers
they do determine
the length of the life of the poor
the unemployed
the sick
(‘By the Way’, p. 33)

The poet confronts contemporary issues with unflinching and at times painful honesty. In ‘and now what’, for example, she deliberately dispenses with any lyricism in favour of a blunt list of the atrocities of war, letting the ‘facts’—though some may dispute them—speak for themselves. In two densely packed columns, sub-divided into mini-chunks of text, each headed ‘WAR’, she makes her point explicitly, demanding our consideration:

demagogues with irrational arguments
rhetorically exploit naïve minds…
(‘and now what’, p. 69)

This sense of social dislocation is also achieved symbolically. ‘Malfunction’ and ‘No Bread Today’ are two mesmerising poems presenting a fragmented and nightmarish landscape where now-empty symbols parade and collide. Such poems are notable for their richly surreal texture with more than a touch of magic realism reminiscent of the work of Gabriel García Márquez or Salvador Dali:

Soldiers march blindfolded and mute
to defend a dead future.
The streets are deserted, at the dinner table
families sit to a meal of images
imprisoned in a wooden box.
(‘Malfunction’, p. 17)

… the full moon is hidden in a cupboard
the silver spoon hangs in the bathroom
and someone collects breadcrumbs
to feed ducks in some pond.
(‘No Bread Today, p. 26)

For all this, there’s hope underpinning Copello’s lines. Despite frequently employing the language of the church, it is not from the rituals or dogma of established religion, nor the often-grandiose places of worship that the poet draws her deepest inspiration, but rather from within this same frail, still undeniably beautiful, world:

I meet my creator in the crevices
of fallen trunks,
in the eucalyptus mist, in the song of the bell bird …
The dry earth blesses me as I breathe solitude.
(‘My Temple’, p. 13) 

A belief in the redeeming and enduring power of human love also runs through the collection, such as the semi-conversational, mysterious four-part ‘Poemario’ (‘book of poems’). In other poems, a frank sensuality is beautifully expressed through nature-infused imagery:

I felt your hands
scattering stars
on the vault of my body.
(‘Making Love’, p. 50) 

The female presence in Copello’s poetry is key. Time and again, her work evokes and pays tender tribute to female strength and resilience in their various guises, from those ‘soul healers’ who nourish the victims of rape to the ‘Spanish convict’ Adelaida de la Toreza, wrongly convicted for theft and sent to Botany Bay.

In summary, Rambles is a passionately written and vivid collection for our times. Stylistically accessible and typographically varied, I am left with an abiding sense of the warmth and raw honesty of its writer and her unwavering compassion for those who are struggling. And perhaps we should not be surprised: that energy is, I feel, implicit in the cover of the collection, painted by the poet—a lively abstract depicting a swirl of soft blues, greens and yellows, as vigorous and warm as the words of Copello herself.

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