#Poetryreadathon – An introduction to Frank Prem and his WW1 poetry initiative

Poetry readathon

Frank Prem is an Australian poet who has three lovely poetry books available. His books are fairly unique as they all comprise a story told through the forum of poems which are all linked by a common thread and carefully composed to contribute to the definitive book form structure.

Over to Frank

Hello Robbie, and readers. Thanks for me having me as a small adjunct to your marvellous Poetry Readathon.

In thinking about what poem to select that readers might be interested in hearing a little bit about I was drawn to my current obsession, which involves using World War 1 photographs drawn from the Western Front, generally, and particularly the Somme Battlefield. I was struck by a couple of thoughts that I thought might be worth elaborating a little.

A little background to my writing.

I am a writer of free verse poetry, but I really fancy myself as a story-teller, first and foremost. I believe the poetry form I use lends itself to storytelling and that it belongs in the mainstream of reading. Not the poetic periphery.

With that in mind, it is my wish to present work that is written to identifiable themes and with a story arc and progression contained within the text, ready to sweep the reader along as seamlessly as I can manage it from a clear beginning to each poem and to the story as a whole. So, a memoir should run from a beginning in childhood through to an end point at some stage of life, or at a clear narrative conclusion.

It is very convenient that I have adopted this approach as a right and fitting way to write because it suits my obsessive approach to the writing of ideas perfectly, and I am self-aware enough to know that I’m unlikely to be able to change that, even if I wished to.

What do I mean? Well, when I get an idea to write, I often that a subsequent idea will present and be worth writing. Followed by another. For example, a while back I encountered a number of sticks. The existence of the sticks is another story, but suffice to say that I decided one of these sticks looked like it might be the face of a man. Next thing, I was seeing faces in all of them. Needless to say, they subsequently all found voice in a series of poems. One of them is here: https://wp.me/p7yTr8-5PA .

This approach, I find, lends itself to the creation of collections for publication in books, but more importantly explains the way I approach a subject. I simply don’t let it go until I have wrung all I can from it (or from myself – sometimes I become exhausted and have to let the thing go).

This leads me to the poem that I have chosen to discuss today (two in fact), but you can sense, I’m sure, that this will be a little long winded. I hope you don’t mind.

World War 1 and its photographs.

My current obsession with these old photographs started with a picture I first saw used as the cover for an Australian Author’s history of World War 1 (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4751125-the-great-war). The book is about 9cm thick, and I’ve read it from cover to cover several times, but the picture caught my attention and held it.

The photograph showed the charnel of the Somme as an unspeakable, almost featureless swamp of mud and blood and bones with just one overbright highlight – a pure white cross to mark the grave of Captain Ivor Margitts, who hailed from Tasmania.

photo 1 Ivor Margetts Grave


The sheer lonely beauty and the horror contained within that image stayed with me for a long time, until I was inspired to look for more photographs at the national archive site. I found myself wanting to join with the photographs I found. To channel a story from the photograph and on to my page.

I had the idea that these pictures and stories might make a wonderful book, perhaps two or three volumes of picture and poem. Sadly, high definition copies of the photos cost a lot and my examination of funding possibilities has come to naught, so far, but I have ended up with around 120 poems and pictures.

What to do?

Some readers will be aware, perhaps, that I enjoy reading to live audiences, and that I don’t mind dabbling in simple audio recording – largely simply myself reading into my telephone device, without any ‘finishing’. This is what I decided to do with this project and for a little while now I have been recording my own reading of the poems associated with each picture and posting them on my Author page (which has the capacity to host audio).

I’m going to chat briefly and provide links to two of these audio/pic poems, that speak especially loudly and clearly to me.


The first poem, I have called ‘glutton’ (https://wp.me/saAqWh-glutton )

This photograph is taken looking down at a group of German soldiers and shows their accommodation – essentially holes in the ground, bits of tarpaulin, stray wood and sheets of tin. There is nothing, really to tell us how miserable these men must be living in these conditions for weeks and months on end. Yet . .

And yet I felt I could see inside these man-made caves and holes in the ground, to the mud and the lice and the unspeakable.

The New Asylum: a memoir of psychiatry

My review

This is the third book of poetry I have read by the talented Frank Prem over the past year and that sends a strong message about the quality of his writing.

Each of Frank’s books has been a story told in poetry, with a distinctive beginning, middle and ending. It is a unique and interesting way of approaching poetry writing and it really does work for the subject matters and themes of Frank’s collections.

This third book depicts Frank’s career as a psychiatric nurse for over forty years. The book is divided into sections or chapters, namely, Prologue, Asylum town, student daze, managing: acute observations, hostel life and epilogue. As you can see from these sections, the poetry does read in the same way as a story, albeit, one based on fact.

Frank’s poems are moving and intense and his ability to share deep insight into the specific situations and circumstances of each patient and event features as a poem, is quite amazing. Frank’s parents both worked for the same asylum and so his poetic experiences go right back to when he was a boy, seeing life at this institution through the eyes of his mother and father.

Some short extracts of poems that I found particularly impactful are as follows:

“except for a teardrop
that forms in her eye
when the little boy
with a small voice asks

when I grow up
if I can earn
a hundred dollars a week
do you think my wife
can stay at home
and not have to work every day”
From a hundred dollars every week

“a woman
talking back to voices
preoccupied and distant
reaches across
takes my colleague’s hair
in one hand
and drives her head
into the solid wall”
From birdies at mealtime

“and the nurse who cut her down
had already lived this

this was her second one
the same all over again”
From from long black shoelaces

Purchase The New Asylum: a memoir of psychiatry

52 thoughts on “#Poetryreadathon – An introduction to Frank Prem and his WW1 poetry initiative

    1. Sally thank you. I had a notice on FB today suggesting a celebration of Sally and Frank knowing each other Day.

      Such a lot in 12 months and your support, like Robbie’s and a few others has been unshakable from Day 1.

      I’ve been blessed with support from folk who didn’t need to.

      Thanksgiving, indeed.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s been a heck of a whirl. I have my last reading /appearance commitment for the year today (an overnight trip to Wagga Wagga), and I’m really looking forward to a chance to take a breath, reflect a little and plot and scheme a bit towards next year.

        Among other things, we’ve (Leanne and I) started contemplating having a couple of events as part of our town’s easter festival, with a couple of invited poets and myself reading, plus some community choir and other local singing.

        It doesn’t stop. Not really.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Maybe there is scope for an audio party of some sort next year, Sally. Get writer folk to record an extract of their work and find a place to describe and post it as a massed event of a kind.

        Have to ponder that one.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. Robbie, I feel moved reading about Frank and his three works. He tackles topics many of us would shy away from … he writes wonderfully and in a most unique manner, capturing the very essence of the subject. These are books I want to read!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I just had a reading at an open mic poetry night.

        It was quite marvelous to hear folk readingvtheirvown work to audience.

        There needs to be more opportunities for practice and development, I think.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on Frank Prem Poetry and commented:
    Not only a wonderful review of The New Asylum, but Robbie Cheadle has been kind enough to include some thoughts I’ve penned about writing and about a current project involving WW 1 photographs and some spoken word accompaniment for them.

    Thank you, Robbie.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. After reading The New Asylum, I just bought two of Frank’s previous books (ostensibly while Christmas shopping for my family). I’ve done quite a bit of research on WWI as it provided the backdrop for my grandmother’s university education in Nova Scotia from 1915-1918. I can see I will be making another book purchase soon . . . I just listened to “Glutton.” Incredibly powerful, words fail me.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s wonderful Liz. I do hope you enjoy them.

      I’d very much like to do something with the WW 1 poem, but making a book is likely to be too expensive due to cost of photos. I may end up having the audio properly produced and perhaps accompanies, but it’s not clear what further direction beyond that.

      We shall see.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The inclusion of photographs does increase the cost of a book significantly, Frank. That is why the paperback versions of my Sir Chocolate books are so expensive. It doesn’t impact ebooks though and you can print the book in black and white if it works for the photographs. That is what I did with my Silly Willy book.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I suspect I’m going to visit and re-visit this Robbie. One reason I wanted to get a grant to buy the pics is so I’d have a little freedom to do what I felt needed doing.

    I’m just a little bit unsure of whether the quality of the pics I can access is good enough for ebook – I don’t yet have the skills to look at this properly.

    So much still to learn.

    Liked by 1 person

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