Welcome to the last in the series where I have shared a selection of book reviews I have posted between 2017 and 2019. I hope it will encourage you to check them out and you can find all my recent reviews Smorgasbord Book Reviews 2018-2020
I have had the pleasure of reading and reviewing the previous two books by Frank Prem and eagerly awaited his latest collection which I reviewed in November 2019 The New Asylum: a memoir of psychiatry
About the collection
The New Asylum is the third volume in a series of free-verse poetry anthologies and personal memoirs from Australian author Frank Prem (Small Town Kid, Devil In The Wind).
This collection is an exposé of life in the public psychiatric system, spanning five decades and describing sometimes graphically, sometimes ironically, often poignantly, and always honestly, a search for meaning in extraordinary and often incomprehensible circumstances.
The journey begins with childhood experiences of watching immigrant parents earn their living in the Mayday Hills Mental Asylum… progresses through the oddities and antics of psychiatric nurse training in the 1970s… on to the high-pressure coalface of managing regional centres facing an inundation of modern urban challenges… and finally, settles into the generally calmer waters of a small town residential facility.
Join Frank Prem on his New Asylum journey, and discover what it means to become that particular ‘mental health creature’ that is a psychiatric nurse.
My review for The New Asylum: a memoir of psychiatry- A glimpse behind the walls created by mental health November 2019
Mental health is not an easy subject to write about as it is one of the health issues that is feared probably more than any other. For the elderly who face possible dementia, and for parents who suddenly see dramatic changes in their children’s behaviour.
Frank Prem draws on his experience as a child with parents working in the local asylum, and also as an adult psychiatric nurse and manager within the developing mental health system. He writes poignantly, not just from his own perspective but also from that of the patients. Most of whom exhibit irrational and challenging behaviours within the same diagnosed psychosis, and who can in many cases only be pacified rather than cured.
The treatments may have moved on from 50 years ago but there is still a stigma attached to mental illness and governmental guidelines are not always supportive of the individual. There are moments of celebration when a patient is considered well enough to go home, but many face the prospect of spending the rest of their lives behind the walls of a secure institution.
It is stark but also compelling reading, and Frank Prem does not dwell on the darker side of mental illness but shares anecdotes that demonstrate the bond that is created between patient and carer. I came away with a new respect for those who dedicate their lives to looking after patients who are handicapped by lack of understanding or reason. No day seems to be the same and clearly one has to be prepared for the unexpected.
I enjoyed the flow of the verse throughout the collection that I have come to expect from this talented writer. I also appreciate his ability to draw the reader in to the lives of those who work and reside behind the walls of the asylum.
Also by Frank Prem
About Frank Prem
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).
Thanks for dropping in today and I hope you have enjoyed the review for Frank’s poetry collection. Thanks Sally.