The poetry of Neeltje Maria Min
The small but incomparable oeuvre of a sixties poetic icon
Neeltje Maria Min’s spectacular 1966 debut Voor wie ik liefheb wil ik heten (Name me after who I Love) was an unprecedented success, enjoying reprint after reprint. Min was a literary sensation. She was invited to give interviews and performances, but she said she would rather ‘stay at home’ than stand in the spotlights. Her limited output and the withdrawn attitude she adopted in interviews only added to Min’s enigmatic reputation. In spite of their simple, natural language, the poems, too, seem to contain undisclosed secrets – there sometimes appear to be allusions to incest, to abandonment, to something that must not be said.
After her debut, Min remained silent. She later explained this lull by saying that time and attention are needed to write a poem, and she had neither. Her own family came first. However, in 1985, Een vrouw bezoeken (Visiting a Woman) was published, a collection that once again combined images from childhood with grotesque, nightmarish poems.
Min’s poetry is suffused with an awareness of transience. Birth and death go hand in hand. With a new life, mortality also rears its head. She lovingly and soberly put this notion into words in Kindsbeen (Childhood, 1996): ‘His props are still a long way off: / the walking stick, the glasses, the hat. / This is just the beginning, feeding and sleep, and in between / the mother with the gentle voice.’ Some critics felt that this collection surpassed her legendary debut.
Not a great deal has been heard from Min in recent years, although she has published a series of drawings and writes the occasional poem. And although this is not much, every poem is an experience. The deceptive simplicity of the words, the calm rhythm, the ingenious enjambments, the music, never intrusive but always present, and the way those things that usually slip past unnoticed are paused for a moment and made visible – all of this combines to make poetry that you want to read over and over again.