I’m a fan of a good love story and Frank Prem’s memoir, Small Town Kid, doesn’t disappoint. This small book of exquisitely written poetry traces Frank’s life from baby through to young adult in the small town of Beechworth, country Victoria (Australia) during the 1960s and 1970s.
Frank Prem’s reminiscences are rooted in place, whether that be the family home, the outhouse, the main street, memorial park or the Beechworth gorge. In I can hardly wait to show you, Frank invites readers
to the places where my spirit lies
along singing waters and scrubby creeks
the green and granite-bouldered hills
that never stop calling
and won’t let me deny them
It is a real love story. We are introduced to a seeming childhood nirvana, where young larrikins run amok away from the watchful eyes of preoccupied parents; where snaffled contraband and a hint of danger add to the day’s excitement (see fast-track perambulation, pumpkin-rock terrorists, holes in pockets). It was a place where the passage of seasons was marked by community ritual and a good party (see fires of autumn, at easter, a tricky place, crackers). Yet, like many country towns of its era, Frank’s town could be tribal, intolerant, and had its fair share of tragedies (see the hallways of st-joseph’s, relentlessness, fight, vale, and palmer’s not).
Frank’s writing is rich in sentiment yet the emotion is restrained. Frank tells his story with wit, humour and compassion. But there is also a less pleasant side to living in a small regional town, which is couched in a good dose of irony that will not be lost on Australian readers. The language of his verse is beautiful — complex but simple, compelling, reflective and lyrical.
While his memories are crystal clear, the passage of time illuminates. Frank’s poems about his migrant family are particularly moving, conveying as they do such warmth and joy, even though the family’s “difference” often causes young Frank considerable embarrassment. In this coming of age story (both for Frank and the town), we see Frank as both an active participant in, and independent observer of, the story. Life in town can be difficult for those that are different and struggle to fit in. There is a sense too of Frank as the ‘other’, which grows stronger as time passes. Could it be his ethnicity that sets him apart, or perhaps it comes from being a thinker and a wordsmith, and not a footballer (see in the rooms), forester or farmer (see a cocky’s lot)? Or maybe it is his lack of athletic prowess?
inside the granite triangles
the signature markings
of a young boy’s dreams
live in the shapes
left behind by a muddy tennis ball
on a solitary day after rain
The yearning to connect, to belong, is physical and mental. However, sometimes a square peg has to leave so that he can come home.
(circular square town)
I’m watching a circle form
from the start
at the point where I had to leave
the old town is different now
so am I
but the circle
is set to be squared
I was very moved by this book, and I think you will be too. Check it out.
Frank Prem’s Small Town Kid
Wild Arancini Press (2018)
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