By Jen Minkman
15 March 2013
Poetry! Songlines is a short—less than thirty pages!—chapbook by Jen Minkman, and I must admit that while I was surprised at the length of the collection, I was also somewhat relieved that it wasn’t page after page and poem after poem. Poetry isn’t like novel-length fiction; it requires a reader to sit with each piece, take it in little by little, and reread in order to capture undiscovered meanings in each line. For many people, poetry is intimidating, but I’m happy to say that while the depth of the poems in Songlines may take serious concentration, the length of the collection balances out any exhaustion I may have felt after reading poem upon poem.
At the beginning of the collection, Minkman writes about the title, “The aborigines of Australia use Dreaming tracks or Songlines to find their way across vast expanses of land. Words in these songs describe natural landmarks originally created by the gods in the song, and the songs must be sung regularly in order to keep the land alive. Likewise, the poems in this book mark my walk of life and should be written, read, and re-read in order to keep my soul alive and help me find my way.”
Before coming upon this chapbook, I had never heard of Songlines or Dreaming tracks, and while this collection isn’t poetry about the Australian aborigines (and if it was, I would be extremely skeptical since the poet herself is from the Netherlands, not Australia), it sparked my interest in learning more about their culture and history.
I’m not sure how the paperback version of Songlines is formatted, but in the Kindle version, it’s difficult at times to figure out the poem’s titles (or even if they are titled). I really liked “Uprooted”, and I could relate to the shorter of her poems—though none are epics—because they often centered around a single, bright image instead of meandering from thought to thought.
There is one poem, “23rd of June”, written by Minkman’s father on the occasion of her wedding, and one poem, “Engel”, written in German and translated into English on the following page, though it’s not clear to me whether Minkman wrote the original German poem and its translation, or if she only wrote the translation. Either way, I like “Engel” better in German.
DISCLAIMER: I received an ebook copy of Songlines free from the author. The opinions I have expressed are my own.