Today we welcome Frank Prem to Meet the Authors. We’re travelling to Beechworth, in the North East corner of Victoria, Australia to hear what storytelling, Psychiatric Nursing, playing the ukulele, photographs, and the Grampians mean to Frank.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I describe myself as a storytelling poet with a forty year apprenticeship behind me. That’s about how long I’ve been writing my poetry – mostly in an idiosyncratic free verse style, that is part poetry and part storytelling.
I live, together with my wife Leanne, in a pretty little town called Beechworth, in the North East corner of Victoria, Australia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beechworth). Beechworth attracts thousands of tourist visitors every year because of its gold mining and bushranging background during the mid to late 1800s. A bushranger is the Australian equivalent of an wild west outlaw, or a highwayman, and we had quite a few around this way, most notably Ned Kelly and the Kelly gang about whom much has been written.
By profession, I’m a Psychiatric Nurse, and have worked across a wide range of roles in Psychiatry though my working career. My next published poetry collection will be a personal memoir of my experience in Psychiatry, tentatively titled – The New Asylum.
In my early days as a poet, I sought out as many opportunities as I could to get my work published, and had a good number of successes, but I grew weary of having my work not accepted, without knowing the reason, so I largely stopped seeking publication, in favour of developing my own writing style and voice, until just three years ago beginning to post my work on a personal creative blog (https://www.frankprem.wordpress.com) and using that as both, an online archive for my work, and as a way of attracting readers to find and engage with my work.
In the six months since December 2018, I have published two collections in book and ebook form. These are:
1. Small Town Kid – a free verse memoir of growing up in a rural setting in Australia in the 1960s and 70s.
2. Devil In The Wind – a free verse poetic rendition of the voices of survivors and victims of the catastrophic Black Saturday bushfires we experienced in 2009.
In which genre do you write?
I write almost exclusively in my own free verse poetry form. I write using very little punctuation, and in quite short lines.
As I’ve gone along I’ve developed my approach so that my line breaks and stanza breaks serve as a form of punctuation – encouraging pause and nuance in the reading, and giving a cue for taking a breath.
I don’t often write a line longer than about 4 words in length, these days.
Regardless of genre, though, I believe every piece, long or short, needs to convey a sense of story – beginning, middle and end. This can be a challenge, at times.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
I was always a good reader at school and was very engaged with the stories that I read. That interest extended to story writing in English classes at high school as I progressed through the grades.
There was an occasion where, out of sheer laziness, I believe, I decided to cut corners and several hundred words off my assignment by doing it in the form of a poem. Very quickly and very easily.
I was a little dumbstruck to receive a high grade for the work and I think that may have been all the encouragement I needed to set me on the trail of experimenting with poetry as a genre.
I attempted to self publish some of my work in book form quite a few years ago, but the technology wasn’t helpful and the costs were enormous, so nothing much came of the first attempt. Print On Demand technology makes a world of difference to an up and coming poet like myself, but is probably a whole different discussion in its own right.
What is an interesting writing quirk you have, that we wouldn’t know by reading your biography?
For a few years now, I’ve been playing ukulele and singing in a community choir/ensemble, here in Beechworth.
It has always been a delight to me to sing, but until I started playing the uke, I rarely managed to sing in tune. The uke has changed that.
Last Spring we recorded ourselves in a couple of songs that were pasted on Facebook. Readers might enjoy a listen, so I’ll pop in a couple of links to the songs:
Dog and Mob (written by Leanne and myself): https://www.facebook.com/springsingbeechworth/videos/20339179721516/
Boris and Maria – a very short little love song: https://www.facebook.com/springsingbeechworth/videos/765584533788001/UzpfSTEwMDAyNTI1MTY3NTExMzpWSzoxMzkxOTQ3NDE3NjA2NTU1/?q=boris%20and%20maria&epa=SEARCH_BOX
What does your ideal writing space look like?
At the moment it is my dining room and dining table – very impromptu quarters, but I don’t really need all that much.
We’ve begun planning to build a sort of Men’s Shed outside the back door that will become my Writer’s Den, but that is still to happen. I’m looking forward to it because my needs are changing. As I become more ambitious in my writing endeavours, I think dedicated space will be helpful.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself through writing?
I’ve been surprised at something that has become something of a skill for me, which is allowing photographs and other pictorial images to inspire interesting poetry. There is what feels like a kind of empathy that I am able to apply to allow a story to emerge.
Sounds a bit mumbo jumbo, but perhaps I can illustrate with a small poem.
This one was taken from a series of photographs I took while walking through a collectibles barn. I later sat down and wrote the story that each picture suggested.
Voices #15: chill factor
I am cold
I hardly consider them
of my time
You are about to speak publicly to a group and read from your latest book. What song do you listen to before speaking? Or, what do you do to prepare yourself?
I prepare by reading my material aloud several times in the lead up to a speaking engagement. On the occasion itself, I’m generally a little numb with performance anxiety. It always feels very important to me to present as knowing my material and also my limitations as a presenter, so the audience feels I’m within my range of competence at all times.
Where music is important to me is in the actual writing.
I find I write much better if I can find some music in my head – not a song as such, just music, as I believe that our language is musical and I need to be able to sing my way through the poem, in order to know that it will read well after I put my pen down.
Do you believe things happen for a reason? Do you have an example from your own life to share why you believe this?
I truly do believe things happen for a reason. I went through a long lifetime, doing the best I could – sometimes ok, sometimes not so good – but it was only after passing through a very low ebb that I met the lady who completes my life.
The whole of my life was spent, I now believe, preparing me to be the man I needed to be from that point on.
As an aside, we met at a poetry open mic session in Melbourne. I was reading my 3 poem set and she sang a song. Life is sweet, sometimes.
What’s your favorite place to visit in your country and why?
We have a quite wild part of our state named the Grampians (indigenous name – Gariwerd). Strange rock formations, wonderful wildlife and bush. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grampians_National_Park
This area is about a half days travel from where we live and we always find it to be a spiritually uplifting place.
Tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it.
My most recent collection is titled Devil In The Wind. This book is a free verse collection of poems that are my interpretation of the voices of survivors and victims of the catastrophic Black Saturday bushfires that took place here in Victoria in 2009.
I personally feel that the fires have left my whole State traumatised and that we haven’t psychologically recovered from the experience yet.
I enjoyed learning more about you, your life, and writing style. I also write poetry inspired by photographs, with a bit of twist from your style as mine are using the nature photographs I make. It’s wonderful to meet someone else who has a similar style. The Grampians sound like my kind of place to visit. I look forward to reading your poetry collections Frank! It was a pleasure having you be a part of MTA! –Camilla
I also have recently started a YouTube channel which I’ve begun to populate with a few videos of myself reading from Devil In The Wind.
The link to that is here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvfW2WowqY1euO-Cj76LDKg
Blurb for Devil In The Wind
Devil In The Wind is an account of catastrophic fire and its immediate aftermath.
In this 21st century, the whole world seems to be on fire. America burns. Europe burns. Greece is reeling after its own tragedy of fire.
And Australia burns, as it has always done, but now so much more fiercely.
In February 2009, wildfires burnt through entire communities, taking 173 lives and injuring hundreds, while destroying thousands of houses and other buildings. Up to 400 fires destroyed 450,000 hectares of forest, native fauna and habitat, livestock and farmland.
In the aftermath of the fires, the voices of people who had lived through the experience — victims, rescuers, and observers — were spoken and were heard.
Devil In The Wind is Frank Prem’s poetic anthology of the personal, and very human, accounts of those who themselves experienced and survived Black Saturday. Poetry writing that interacts directly with readers emotions.
The collection is available in paperback book form at all the good online retailers, and in e-book form through Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.
Devil In The Wind (ISBN 978-0-9751442-6-8):
Amazon (Available in all markets): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/097514426X/
Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Devil-Wind-Frank-Prem/9780975144268?
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1130932330?ean=9780975144268
Small Town Kid (ISBN 978-0-9751442-3-7):
Amazon (Available in all markets): https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B07L6114KS
Connect with Frank:
Author Page: https://FrankPrem.com
Poetry Blog: https://frankprem.wordpress.com
If it feels the thing to do and you are inspired to do so, I would be deeply grateful if you’d like to “Buy Me a Coffee” … Camilla – Founder and Host of Meeting the Authors …