Songwoman_a book review

Songwoman by Ilka Tampke raises the question of connectedness to Mother Earth. In her extensive exploration of the meaning of an individual’s and a people’s ties to their land, I recall distinctive experiences of my own.

First, however, I would hasten to add, that a sense of ‘belonging to place’ is often and usually espoused in reference to indigenous peoples and less frequently in reference to non-indigenous communities or peoples. It is nevertheless, something I own in my own way. Perhaps it is differently defined. I don’t know. I only share my personal sense of knowing.

Songwoman provoked recollection of three distinct occasions: each highlighted what I’ve always known within self. I believe this sense of knowing, of visceral connection and connectedness flows in and through all living things.

Ilka Tampke reads a passage from Songwoman
Ilka Tampke reads a passage from ‘Songwoman’.
It is first remembered …

… as the all-consuming, intensely powerful sense of wholeness, of being at one with the earth, the sky, the crops, the trees, the dry stream bed, the expanses of granite rock – the whole of the natural world around me. Tangible energy, call it spirit or source (or whatever one wants), infused and melded all.

Grief gave voice to this experience. At the time of my father’s passing, I walked on the land he’d farmed, the land on which I’d spent most of my childhood. I didn’t ‘look for’ him or this experience. It presented itself to me as I crossed a dry creek bed and walked the dirt track between two halves of a paddock sown with wheat. The blue sky domed over the whole, and I was swallowed in it, like Ailia, I imagine, within her serpent.

My father’s earthly presence had gone, yet his spirit was there, infused in all. Not to diminish what I experienced, I wonder, as I write this, if the land had belonged to generations of the same family, would it, could it, have been any more powerful. Like the Albion tribes, like indigenous communities claim.

My second claim …

… to knowing a connectedness with ‘place’, is that which I know wherever I have ‘put down roots’. As our mere acre in Perth’s foothills blooms, as my feet walk on native and cultivated grass, as I spend time with family, I feel a sense of ‘place’. It is shallower than my connection with the land of my childhood, yet it is equally tangible.

And third …

… where I’ve lived in cities surrounded by stone pavements, cement walkways, brick-walled buildings, these do not give rise in me to a sense of place that is mine. It is there, on a different level, like Ailia, perhaps, in Rome. For me, a city is a place of disconnection – noise, lack of touching raw earth with my feet, my hands, my senses. There’s a different smell – like London on a sticky, humid day, fetid with human sweat and endeavour. Perhaps those who’ve grown within such communities know a different way of being connected to place. It eluded me, except for brief moments – touching soil in a potted plant, or finding blades of grass with bare feet walking through a park.

I’ve no doubt the sense of connectedness to inner self, trendily promoted in retreats into the bush, forest escapes, and so on, is all to do with this sense of being connected within self from one’s core to that which we are essentially part of. It is about belonging to the unseen world.

I enjoyed Ailia’s journey as she grew into Songwoman. I enjoyed learning more about early Britain, during the time of the Roman invasions. It is my heritage. I hear the story whisper. My Place. It is in my bones. It is my song, too.

Is that too bold a thing to state? I think not. Tampke has created a persona which, in the absence of oral tradition, gives history a voice, and so perpetuates connectedness, that sense of belonging, in written form. She gives a fresh voice to our song and reminds us of who we are.

A Literary Dinner at Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre, celebrated in traditional dress.

Further book reviews can be read here and here.

Eileen Susan is a writer based in Perth's Darling Ranges, Western Australia. Her love for writing began as a child with compositions at school. Writing remains a passion, though it varies in nature, from short stories, to poetry, family biographies and memoir. Reading across a range of genres contributes to her love of life long learning. Studies at university broadened her horizons and love of the world of literature. She also enjoys photography and dabbles in art and other crafty hobbies, such as sewing. She is often found indulging in a good cup of coffee and gazing over the hills from her patio.

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