10 Questions with Frank Prem
Frank Prem has been a storytelling poet for forty years. When not writing or reading his poetry to an audience, he fills his time by working as a psychiatric nurse.
He has been published in magazines, e-zines and anthologies, in Australia and in a number of other countries, and has both performed and recorded his work as ‘spoken word’.
Frank has published several collections of free verse poetry and has recently begun publishing what he terms ‘picture poetry’.
He and his wife live in the beautiful township of Beechworth in northeast Victoria (Australia).
1. Tell us a bit about yourself
I grew up in a very small town in rural Victoria (Australia) called Beechworth. Beechworth is an old gold mining town with a lot of its history preserved in buildings carved out of local honey-granite. It was so small and I as a child and youth felt so small that I couldn’t wait to run off to the big city (Melbourne). I spent my middle-adult years of professional development and career-ladder climbing.
In the end, the sense of belonging to the place where I grew up won out and I have been back in Beechworth for a good few years now.
I consider myself first and foremost as a poet storyteller, and have my own approach to writing free-verse that uses minimal punctuation and very short lines and stanzas aimed more at governing the pace and flow of reading than intended to meet any poetic forms or styles.
What I write is intended to be able to be read aloud—fluently—by an unpractised reader.
It should tell a story.
2. What drew you to that particular style?
I began writing poetry as an adolescent youth—as I think many of us do. It became a thing that I did because I could, and because it came to feel natural to me.
The move to writing in free-verse was an evolutionary event, precipitated by feedback from another writer. Back in those days—before the turn of the century—I was writing every chance I could, and submitting work all over the place. One of the things I did was to join a poetry discussion group that was anchored in the UK. This was at a time when our conversations largely took place in the form of digests and through Bulletin Boards.
It was a very frustrating time because no matter how I tried my work came out looking, reading and sounding derivative. My rhymes were ok, but the demands of structure to make them work as I wanted them to took away from writing something that might be worth reading. At one point, a luminary in the UK commented to me that a piece I had written seemed to encompass a ‘voice’ – my voice. That was a watershed moment, and the poem was in fact written in a sort of singing free-verse style that I worked at from that point on.
The short lines and stanzas are a product of my time reading new work every week at open-mic poetry sessions. Punctuation didn’t help a reading, and long lines didn’t guide pauses and breaths, so I developed that aspect further—usually in the mad moments before I controlled the microphone.
3. What's your best known work?
Of my published work, I suspect two collections could claim a ‘best known’ status, inasmuch as I have sold numbers of copies of them, and quite a few libraries have purchased for their catalogues. These two were actually my first releases when I commenced Print-On-Demand publishing at the end of 2018,
Small Town Kid (STK) is a memoir of growing up in Beechworth back in the 1960s and 70s, in a childhood that was not really available to the current generation of children by about 1990, or so.
This was my first Print-On-Demand release, and it was a strategic one on my part. I undertook a flurry of activity to generate recognition and stature as the local poet—seeking to gain free publicity wherever I could—radio, newspapers, appearances and so on. It was much easier to achieve this with an accessible memoir of simple tales that local residents could still remember, and discuss.
Devil In The Wind (DITW) was also a memoir, of a kind. It is a collection of the voices and stories of victims and survivors of our terrible Black Saturday bushfires that happened in 2009. The tales retain a life and scary vitality despite the passage of time because they were real, and written as they were heard or reported. Or experienced. Victorians remain traumatised by that event and the collection has relevance.
At the present time, my work is of a different nature. I am creating picture books involving photographs that I have taken, and poetry or other written interaction with the image. For instance, my encounters with a large group of Teddy Bears that are a part of the merchandise of The Beechworth Bakery, where I take coffee in the wee hours of morning before I go off to work have engaged me in conversation, and I have created two e-books with them—A Beechworth Bakery Bears e-book, and A Beechworth Bakery Bears e-book (too).
In early March, my newest release will be a book and e-book called Voices (In The Trash). This book features my interactions with objects = mannequins, masks, gnomes, porcelain and pictures – photographed on a walk-through of Mill Markets (Daylesford), which is a huge Antique and Collectibles barn on country Victoria.
I am quite delighted with what I call Picture Poetry and expect to put a lot more work combining verse and image into book form in future.
4. What inspired you to write it?
The use of images to inspire, or to add to my poetry has been a part of my approach for a long time. It took a huge step forward when I acquired my first smart phone, with digital photography capacity.
Suddenly, everything was worthy. Everything was inspirational. I shot image after image and then studied every one of them. More often than not, I wrote something that was inspired by the image.
Some of the themes that emerged—clouds, a flock of pigeons in the sky, Trash and Treasure, a walk around the local lake, teddy bears in a bakery.
It was extraordinary to see the beauty and realise the potential that was surrounding me in every waking moment.
Truly, something to celebrate.
5. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter, pantser or somewhere in between? How do you research?
No plotting for me, generally, and not too much hard research. See it, write it, is more my style. Increasingly, I will commit to a theme, if not an actual plot. For instance, I published A Love Poetry Trilogy in 2020, with each collection based on a famous poem (Madonna of the Evening Flowers – Amy Lowell, Song of Myself – Walt Whitman, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot) by a famous poet of a hundred years or so ago. The theme was based around the different aspects of Love that I found in each of their poems.
The themes run until my inspiration expires, or I have written myself into the ground and need to stop.
6. What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve researched for your writing?
During my reading of Gaston Bachelard’s work I encountered a work he wrote titled Lautréamont, in which he examined and discussed the work of a character known as the Comte de Lautréamont (the nom de plume of a fellow named Isidore Lucien Ducasse) .
Ducasse was a very strange fish indeed, and I was morbidly fascinated – difficult though it was – with the task of coming to grips with his surrealist work.
7. What’s the most personal story/scene you’ve written and why?
I try to tell my most personal stories in a way that allows my reader to experience empathy for the situation, or emotion, but not to have it so closely attached to Frank the writer that there is interference. It is all about how can a reader take this in without the authors shadow in the road.
I have dealt with sudden death, deep despair, broken dreams and lost promise. Unpublished as yet, the stories of my parents' death—one from dementia and old age, the other in this time of COVID, isolated from a community that would have wished to provide a farewell, but could not because no more than 10 people could attend.
Stories of bushfire experience have been quite harrowing at times (which is why I have felt compelled to write them).
8.Who are your literary influences? In what way?
I’ll list three.
Poet A. B (The Banjo) Patterson and Henry Lawson were the iconic voices of 19th Century Australia. In my imagination their work—poems and short stories—were read aloud by one who was literate, and memorised by ten who weren’t, in order to share and discuss around campfires and out droving.
These men used their writing a s a tool of communication at a time when that was not easy to achieve. I don’t read their work much, anymore (though I can recite much of Patterson’s Clancy of the Overflow verbatim) and I don’t write using rhyme schemes at all, but I revere them.
My other great (recent) influence was a French philosopher who died in the 1960s named Gaston Bachelard. I discovered him only a couple of years ago, but his examination of poetry and poetics, and the place of reverie in life and work has been profound.
Reading his work, and responding to it with my own has resulted in eight volumes of (as yet) unpublished work that will eventually fly under the series title ‘Bachelard Interpreted’.
9. What books are on your bedside table right now?
As I write, I have some Sci Fi by John Scalzi for my reading for pleasure. His Old Man’s War series is quite excellent.
In addition, I have a book on e-pub formatting by Elizabeth Castro because—heaven help me—I have much to master.
Finally, I am slowly reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. This text is providing inspiration for what will become a new picture poetry series in due course. This will be in a free-verse format of my own, and which I use a lot that requires the poem to be exactly seventeen syllables (as does Haiku).
10. Last and most important, where can we find your books?
All my poetry collections have been published via the usual online distributors. A Google search for me by name will pop up lots of references and listings, and you should be able to find them in paper format in your favourite online store.
E-book copies of all books are available through Amazon. The best place, perhaps, to go hunting is by logging on to my Amazon page (link below).
Directly from the author
I’m able and happy to sell copies directly. My webpage has a rudimentary store on it, but I recommend any reader to drop me a line (FrankPrem03 (at) gmail (dot) com) and I can point to the best option. I’ve recently been sending copies internationally and using paypal as the payment medium, so drop me a line.
Follow Frank on these platforms!
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