Welcome to the first of a new season of Getting to Know You and my first guest for 2019 is Australian author Frank Prem who has recently released a collection of poems and short stories about his childhood – Small Town Kid.
Hello Sally, and readers.
I’ve been a storytelling poet for about forty years. Longer in fact, as I remember the first poem I wrote while at secondary school was about 150 – 200 words long and was accepted in lieu of a 500 word essay. I think that may have been the start.
I love to read my work to a live audience, and have audio recorded some recent recordings and popped them on my author page. I have also done some studio- recorded work under the direction and accompaniment of my wife Leanne Murphy that can be listened to there. These poems are on mythological themes and the accompaniment by Leanne makes them a little bit extraordinary.
By profession, I am a psychiatric nurse and have worked across most facets of public psychiatry and the mental health/mental illness spectrum. My experiences and reflections on what I have seen and done are the subject of a forthcoming memoir – scheduled for late 2019, or perhaps more likely, 2020.
I’ve been published in magazines, zines and anthologies, in Australia and in a number of other countries, but for a long time I haven’t sought much publication. The whims of editors are a little too capricious and unknowable, so I have preferred to hone my craft and self-publish on my poetry blogs
Leanne and I reside in the beautiful township of Beechworth in the North-East of Victoria (Australia).
We will find out more about Frank’s new release a little later in the post… but first let’s find out which of the questions he has responded to.
What do you consider to be the best dish that you prepare – and have you the recipe?
I’m not really much of a cook, and what I do tends to be done in the oven – baked potatoes, spare rib casserole with a lot of produce from the garden in the marinade (savory tomato sauce from our own tomatoes, when possible). It always comes out well, and we do a lot of leftovers.
Probably my best dish, though, is a no knead bread recipe that I’ve adapted for my own use.
This recipe has travelled around a bit, but I think it originated with the New York Times Cooking Department and made famous in a video that is still the primo reference, I believe.
I had started out thinking that I might like to learn how to make bread when I retired from work, and I had sourdough in mind as the thing to do. I reminded myself, though of a couple of things:
- I have always felt a little sad to see folk (aspiring writers in particular) who have left a passion to be attended to after they finish their working life, only to find that they need years to develop the most basic skills they will need. For instance, wanting to write, and knowing you have a story to tell is not enough to make you a writer or a storyteller. It takes practice and craft development.
- I am fundamentally lazy, and the babysitting of sourdough yeast, and the need to get my hands mucky with dough were very unappealing prospects.
I could hardly believe the recipe for no knead bread when I came across it. Basically it is as follows:
• 1/8th of a teaspoon of dry yeast
• 13oz of cold water
• 1 teaspoon of salt
• 430-450gm of flour.
Check for an actual published recipe online (there are many variations), but that’s the basics.
The ingredients are popped into your preferred cauldron and stirred – muttering a spell of binding is optional – and mixed without ever getting hands into the dough, on a good day, into the oven and there’s your loaf.
I use more yeast these days to get the rise I want in 2 hours, and add a considerable quantity of dried fruit (figs, apricots, cranberries, dates) and also nuts and seeds to make it a fruit and nut loaf for breakfast toast.
What is your favourite holiday and why?
My favourite holiday was Leanne and my honeymoon when we spent a week in tropical North Queensland (Cairns, The Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest). Part of the time was on a Reef cruise and part in the rainforest.
It was a wonderful time, with the chance to see the colourful coral, listen to the parrotfish eating the coral, and check out islands and atolls. Not forgetting the turtles!
That was on the cruise. On land we had Cassowaries outside our hut, gecko’s inside it and crocodiles sunning themselves on the river not very far away.
Whenever the subject of holidays arises, both of us think back to that holiday as our benchmark for what a holiday means.
Sally here: It is an amazing spectacle and I can understand why this holiday was so special.
Do you prefer the big city or country life?
I grew up in the country, in the little town of Beechworth, until the age of around 22 years. I then spent around 20 years living in a beachside suburb in Melbourne.
I’ve been back in Beechworth for around a dozen years or so, now, and I like it. I believe I will see out my time in this spot just below the Victorian Alps. I find I get nervous in the city. It is all agitation and bustle. It is only out of the city that I feel I can properly be myself.
Sally here: It looks like a fabulous place to live and I found this short film about the town.
Have you ever played a musical instrument or sang in public?
I grew thinking I should be a rock star. Screeching songs in my bedroom. The more tortured, the better. My only problem was that I couldn’t play an instrument, and I sounded like rubbish.
As a young fellow, my parents acquired a guitar for me that stood, as I recall, taller than me. Mum and dad took me along to a renowned local teacher, who must have been in his late seventies at the time and I had a lesson. One dreadful lesson.
Less than a week later the man had passed away. I always assumed the two events – my lesson and his passing – were related, and that was grounds to never go near an instrument again.
That has changed now. My wife Leanne is a talented music teacher and singer/songwriter among her other talents and gifts and she has worked magic enough to allow me to play the ukulele well enough to sing to, either as my own accompaniment or as part of a singing group.
So yes, I have sung in public, both unaccompanied and in a group. As proof, I offer a Facebook upload of the 2018 Spring Sing Choral group performing to friends and family at out break-up in November 2018. The song is an original composition by Leanne and myself and the group had a lovely time performing it.
How many different languages can you speak and what are they?
My family were of Croatian origin, and I grew up with Croatian as my first language until I went to school. I was actually quite embarrassed by having to use the language in any way or place that might be overheard by others. The embarrassment of a child who felt different enough already, as the son of immigrants, I suppose.
I don’t claim proficiency in that tongue, at all, but occasionally I have used the language, or some of its words in my poetry, to illustrate a point or to attempt to write in another language.
I recommend it as an exercise to anyone who has a second language, but caution that the need to think and to express yourself in another language presents some serious poetic challenges.
My thanks to Frank for sharing something about his life in Beechworth, the stunning Barrier Reef and his passions. One of those is obviously writing and here is his recent release.
About Small Town Kid
Small Town Kid is the experience of regional life as a child, in an insular town during the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, remote from the more worldly places where life really happens, in a time before the internet and the online existence of social media.
It is a time when a small town boy can walk a mile to school and back every day, and hunt rabbits with his dog in the hours of freedom before sundown. He can hoard crackers for bonfire night and blow up the deputy school master’s mailbox in an act of joyous rebellion.
A time when a small town teenager will ride fourteen miles on a bicycle for his first experience of girls, and of love. A time when migrating from a foreign country to a small town means his family will always feel that they are strangers, while visitors to the town are treated like an invading host.
It is also the remembrance of tragedy for inexperienced friends driving on narrow country roads.
This collection of poems and stories shares the type of childhood that has mostly disappeared in contemporary times. Come and revisit it here, in the pages of a Small Town Kid.
One of the early reviews for the book
From the dedication poem, “I Can Hardly Wait to Show You”, to “Circular Square Town”, Frank Prem’s chronological journey from infancy to the present has a familiar feel to it; almost as if you were take a walk through your own memory lane to recall the innumerable small, but unforgettable moments that make up a life. Frank’s style is minimalist, with plenty of room to fill in the blanks with your own conjecture or possible parallel memories. Written about an Australian town that was a gold-rush town in its day, it touches on those times as well as describes the landscapes there. Frank’s work is approachable, understandable, and sensitive in its handling of the most delicate of subjects.
My favorite poems, in a book of favorites – they’re all good! – are: “poppy cakes”, “frenki boy”, “the exuberance of my aunt”, “loss of faith”, “picnic story”, “the dawn of civilisation”, “the hallways of st. joseph’s”, “pumpkin rock terrorists”, “a tricky place (the annual fete)”, “fight”, “sweet maureen”, “libby’s puzzle”, “vale”, “palmer’s not”.
Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/Small-Town-Frank-Prem-Memoir-ebook/dp/B07L6114KS
Connect to Frank
Website Audio: https://frankprem.com/audio-recordings-spoken-word/
Seventeen Syllable Poetry: https://seventeensyllablepoetry.wordpress.com/
I am sure that you have enjoyed meeting Frank as much as I have and I know he would be delighted to hear from your.. thanks Sally.