Beatriz Copello

Poet and journalist Beatriz Copello talks about her first impressions of Australia and her latest poetry collection Witches, Women & Words.

Beatriz is a psychologist, poet, fiction writer and journalist who arrived in Australia from Argentina in the 1970s. Her work has been published in literary journals in Australia and overseas.

Beatriz′s latest poetry book, Witches, Women and Words (Ginninderra Press, 2022) is a powerful testament to our times. The poems make us ponder what is it we are doing to find ourselves in a position where most of the things once considered sacred have stopped being so. The book also makes us rage at the atrocities women face today.

Beatriz chatted with Gabriella Munoz about Australia, being Latina and her poetry.

What’s your first memory of Australia?

Flying into Sydney and seeing the red roofs from above. Dealing with arrival issues and believing that Australians did not speak English.

What were you doing before you became a published writer?

I always wrote, and I did various jobs before publishing my first book, Women, Souls and Shadows.

My first job in Australia was as a children’s carer in Scarba House, Bondi. My second job was a dream job: I was employed to be part of a multilingual team introducing Medicare (the old Medibank) to the Spanish community.

The project was supported by then Prime Minister Bill Hayden. At the same time, I studied. I went to TAFE first and then to university.

Tell us about your poetry collection Women, Souls and Shadows (Bemac Publishing, 1992) and how it was received at the time of publication?

Women, Souls and Shadows is a book of lesbian poetry. I was told that this book is the first of lesbian poetry ever published in Australia. If it is not the first, it is definitely the second!

It was very well received in the gay community.

After Women, Souls and Shadows you wrote three more books of poetry, the play Malinche’s Fire (1998) and a short story collection, among many others. Can you tell us a bit about these projects? Which one did you have the most fun writing, and which one you are the proudest of?

I wrote the play Malinche’s Fire while on a scholarship in Italy, it was a government funded project.

The play was brought to life by a magnificent team of women, a mix of Latino and Australian women, at Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre in 2001. It was fun and exciting.

I suppose I am proudest of Women, Souls and Shadows. Homosexuality in those days (early 1990s) was not as accepted as it is today; I took a big risk and some poems are a bit daring. When I wrote it, I was young and rebellious. If I wrote the book today, I would tone it down.

You’ve recently published Witches, Women and Words (Ginninderra Press, 2022). I can’t stop thinking about ‘She Told Me (Australian Fires)’ and ‘The Witches’ Brew’. What inspired this book?

I am a psychologist and an expert in critical incidents. (During the 2019-20 fires), I travelled all around where we had bushfires and counselled people affected by them. It was horrendous to see the impact of the fires on people and the environment.

In Witches, Women and Words you wrote ‘I ride at low speed on my witch’s broom / over houses and streets through open windows’. Can you elaborate on this? Is this how you see writers when they are looking for stories to tell?

Yes, we observe the world; we digest it. We store some of what we collect in our subconscious and some at the conscious level. Sometimes the unconscious sends us the poems already complete.

You write in English and Spanish. How do you know which language a story belongs to?

I mainly write in Spanish for El Semanario El Español (a weekly digital newspaper published every Tuesday), although I have a manuscript of poetry ready for publishing. I wrote the poems in response to different events and invitations to read in Spain and Argentina.

What does it mean to you to be Latinx in Australia?

It means that I must tone down my emotions when I write and (in how I) behave. I have been called ‘over the top’ and ‘eccentric’, and I think perhaps it is because of my ‘latinidad’.

There is a poem about Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (‘To Neruda’) in Witches, Women and Words. Besides Neruda, what other writers have influenced your work?

I don’t know if they have influenced my work, but I loved Julio Cortazar and Gabriel García Márquez.