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A wonderful act

Dr Nandi Chinna launched 'A Place to Land', new poetry collection by

Tineke Van der Eecken on 13 November 2022 at Bar Orient, High Street, Fremantle. Here is her launch address.

"I pay my respects to the Whadjuk Noongar people, the true custodians people of this land that was never ceded.

It is my great pleasure to be invited here today to help Tineke launch her first poetry collection into the world. A first poetry collection is a very special creature. It’s when all those wild and ragged bits and pieces you’ve been working on for years come in from their various wanderings and ramblings and enter the house of the book together as a whole. It’s a moment of great anticipation and excitement when you can hold this universe as a physical object in your hands.

So what do we make of this wonderful act? Tineke’s collection roams across many varied ‘places to land’, not only physical places, but also the emotional, psychological and dare I say spiritual places that we land in through our life, with all their anguish and exquisite ecstasies.

For me one of the main thematic presences in this collection is the subject of languages. Writing mainly in her second language – English – as well as Flemish, French, Burundi and even a few words of Noongar language, the lingo of the country where we meet today, I think brings a fresh note to the observations and imagery as well as the structure of the language. English as a second language writers often do have a kind of freshness about the way they structure language and that is evident here.

In the poem ‘On Language’ the poet expresses an experience that is probably familiar to many of us when we are in a place where the language is new to us, and the landscape is new to us, and we feel disorientated. We don’t know the names of the plants and birds and we feel so much like strangers. Tineke writes, ‘I have no language in this place’, and it’s only in the land of her birth language that she feels the land can hear her she can hear it.

In some ways I see this collection as a kind of map book, in which the poet maps her experiences travelling into unknown territories both physical and psychological. The poem ‘Instructions to the Traveller’ embodies a kind of openness to adventure and encounter as well as the poet’s respect for the places and cultures that she is entering into as an outsider. However, as she observes, wherever you go, you always take yourself along, and it is that Self that experiences and interprets the strange, the new, and the wondrous.

As the reader traverses this book it is almost as if we are reading maps. Maps that offer more than just direction, but imagery, music, love and sex, food, and wine, that we consume as we accompany the poet through childhood landscapes and traumas, love and family, heartache, and desire, travels to wild places, and her landing here on the west coast of Australia in Noongar Boodja which she explores with the curiosity of the newcomer.

These maps have many dimensions and evoke the senses. Some phrases evoke scents and draw the reader in to the world of the poem through the nose. In ‘Bridge Dweller’ we are introduced to a figure who is ‘dragging the furs of fallen fetishes, whose feet smell of fatty cheese in slippers of Fish skin! What a great smelly image! The furs of fallen fetishes smelling of fatty cheese in slippers of Fish skin!

Another piece ‘A Strawberry for Adam’ sense of smell and taste are all wrapped up in desire, rich and succulent with fruity aromas.

Some of my favourite pieces in this book are when Tineke combines her two art forms, poetry and jewellery. I’m not sure if that’s because my partner and I were lucky enough to have beautiful rings made for us by Tineke, or just that I love the alchemy of the two forms speaking to each other, constructing, deconstructing, melding and settling into each other.

In ‘Nuggets and Dust’ we are introduced to the metal gold in its elemental form, scattered on the land, followed by the wonderful image ‘it won’t blend when returned to the stars’. This is something that I think only a jeweller could write but we all understand it. This piece is about transformation. The request from a friend to transform a gold ring from her deceased partner into a pair of earrings. Even though the shape and form are changed the essence of the metal, and the love, remains the same.

The other piece in this vein is titled ‘Liquid Them’. In this poem the jeweller/poet crafts a ring for her lover who shuns adornments and refuses the symbolic gift of the relationship. How satisfying a metaphor, that one could essentially put a blowtorch to a disintegrating relationship and melt it down into not us, but liquid them.

Echoing Virginia Woolf’s A Room of one’s Own, in the poem titled ‘Of Her Own’ Tineke writes sensuously of other essential things that a woman must have of her own. You can almost feel yourself in this place to come home to, lined with hay and mattresses of plucked wool, fabrics and candles, or weaving gold thread through bone and foraging in old growth forests.

I particularly resonate with the fourth paragraph in this poem where Tineke writes ‘a woman needs/to write a book of poems/for no one to edit, critique, or even read./A book with stencilled images of living things,/of roots and trees, of leaves and tributaries. This book that no one reads is an exquisite thing. Almost a sacred thing. A book of poems for no one to edit critique or even read is such a personal and truthful commitment to the act of making meaning in the world. Of making art. It is the act that no one sees, no one posts on Facebook or Instagram, it is an internal act of commitment to loving the world and making your own meaning from it. To not taking anyone else as word for it but finding out for yourself. This reminds me of Flannery O’Connor’s statement ‘I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say’. Or Joan Didion - “I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” This is writing for your own understanding and celebration of the world.

There is so much rich territory to explore in this book so I recommend you buy a few copies for yourself and friends and find a place to land within its pages.

Congratulations Tineke and I guess we can say with great pleasure that A Place to Land is launched."

Nandi Chinna, PhD

West Australian Premier's Writing Award Winner

Mags Webster, Nandi Chinna, Tineke Van der Eecken and Gillian O'Shaughnessey

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