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Book Review: under the gums’ long shade by Beatriz Copello

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Beatriz Copello’s under the gums’ long shade is a kind of travelogue, only the distance traveled isn’t only the space between two places. It’s also a journey from youth to age, from innocence to experience, and from passivity to action. The poetry moves through a series of spaces, progressing and evolving along the way. The book is divided into two sections. The first, titled the same as the book, is longer, and has a strong focus on the natural world. The poetry takes the reader on a poet’s eye view of the flora and fauna around Australia, riding on the back of the Brumby ponies that open the work, from the Murray river, through Broken Hill, Sydney beaches, or Sydney suburbs like Earlwood and Canterbury, the Blue Mountains, Newcastle, Tasmania’s Port Arthur, and Cradle Mountain, Villawood, Vaucluse, Bondi, Mangrove Mountain, Drummoyne, Tempe. Some of the poems are simply snapshots of a moment:

Rainbow, lend her your colours she wants to paint.
She wants her hand to capture the city on the canvas
–“Autumn in Sydney” (25)

While other pieces neatly fuse past and present, so that the reader witnesses both the moment and the memory it evokes simultaneously:

Moon dust and fairytales
sleepy silver rays
that kiss a dead dream
confident, tireless waves
caress a broken heart
–“Broken Heart at Camp Cove” (30)

Throughout this section, tension is created by the combination of beauty and its decay. A celebration of the natural world is tempered by the pollution and erosion in “The Meeting of the Rivers”, or a hint of irony in the attractive vanity of the beachgoers in “Sydney”: “Golden wheat/adorns the hair/of the tall gods.” (15). The eternal sound of a didgeridoo in “The Dreamtime” is brought up against the “cruel/callous present”. The waters of Canterbury are so polluted that a hungry Vietnamese is cautioned against eating the fish he catches, the bush of the Blue Mountains is complicated by empty Coke bottles and needles, the pristine mist of Cradle Mountain is corrupted by tourist erosion, and drought destroys the bucolic landscape of the pastoral. Despite the pain, devastation, and loneliness that underlies each of these quiet reflections, the work rarely becomes maudlin. A baby is soothed in “Just Born”, and other new destinies, even for the sad, lonely migrant, are around the corner.

The circular relationship between aging and death, and experience and renewal are examined in more detail in the second part of the book, “…Life Leaves”. Here the poet stops travelling and begins examining the past and progression towards synthesis. It is more reflective and static. The past is recognised, and then left to hang on the wall: “a thin piece of cloth/which thread by thread/hangs embellished,/cherished as a rich tapestry. (“The Past”, 40). The poems explore the aging process, the nature of poetry, the role of the memento, heroes, the nature of being, the fear and settlement of the migrant, guilt and responsibility. Although there are fewer poems in this section, they are bigger, and more intense, and playful, using concrete styles, alliteration, and word play. The poetry is never sad, even when contemplating death:

“The resting place for my ashes.
It has a mother of pearl phoenix
On the lid. See…” He said.
She looked into his eyes
And saw a beginning.

–“The Lacquered Box” (45)

Beatriz Copello’s under the gums’ long shade is a beautifully written, tender collection full of rich moments. It travels along a very national route, exploring the Australian terrain, and then moves outward to a place that encompasses all of humanity.

Published by Bemac Books, 2008, ISBN 9780957969759, trade paper, 66pgs

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About Magdalena Ball

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.