I’m a fan of the ekphrastic medium – inspired creativity, examples of life imitating art, or more accurately, art imitating art, building on the existing with fresh interpretation. Poet Frank Prem leaps into the genre with his poetry, inspired by Amy Lowell’s Madonna of the Evening Flowers.
To set the tone, from Lowell’s poem:
All day long I have been working / Now I am tired. / I call: “Where are you?” / But there is only the oak tree / rustling in the wind. / The house is very quiet, / The sun shines in on your books, / On your scissors and thimble just / put down, / But you are not there. / Suddenly I am lonely: / Where are you? / I go about searching.
With Lowell’s writing – Prem’s inspiration, I feel I could be reading Mary Oliver, the conversive tone, set in nature, Oliver supposedly stashing pencils in trees and hedgerows as she’d invariably forget writing implements, though she never left home without paper.
Drawing from each line of Lowell’s piece, Prem in turns births a new poem – leaves from branches of a tree, kicking thing off with a small piece (free):
All day long I have been working // all the day / I / am working // toil / required to keep fuel / on the fire // and the table / well laden
Along with ekphrasis, I like brevity. Laconic writing. Ironically, I could tell you why at length, but I’ll spare you the explanation. While appreciating Prem’s conservation of words, I relate to the sentiment in his opening salvo. Hard work. Essentials. And comforts.
Let’s jump to Lowell’s last line I’ve arbitrarily chosen, the seed of Prem’s waiting:
I go about searching // the day begins // alone // I wander / around the house // perform / perfunctory tasks // clean away / the dishes // rake the grate / and set / the fire // but / do not light it // this becomes a search / for / new purposes
I’m reminded of poetry classes, as both student and instructor, the importance, and impact of presentation – a poem’s layout on the page – along with inspiring thought and feeling, the physical structure that escorts readers on a path envisioned, designed by the poet. But like anything, too much of a good thing is an ever-present risk. Stylized formatting quickly becomes excessive. Single-word lines, too often, sound like a Bill Shatner screen test. I’ve seen poets try it at readings. They invariably sound pompous. The only characters capable of doing it effectively are, well, every Bill Shatner character.
I applaud Frank Prem for his initiative, Walk Away Silver Heart being the first of a planned trilogy, each inspired by the lines of a classic poem. In the book’s introduction, Prem explains the genesis of this project – a collaborative, international collection of poets, sharing writing prompts. Which I love. As I write this, World Poetry Day is upon us. And here we are, antipodean poets sharing inspiration, craft, and bonhomie. An agreeable dilution of borders.
Walk Away Silver Heart by Frank Prem
Wild Arancini Press
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About the Author: 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 other countries, and has both performed and recorded his work as spoken word. Frank has published several collections of free verse poetry: Small Town Kid (2018), Devil In The Wind (2019), and The New Asylum (2019). He and his wife live in the beautiful township of Beechworth in northeast Victoria (Australia).
About the Reviewer: Bill Arnott is the bestselling nonfiction author of 2019 WIBA Finalist Gone Viking: A Travel Saga and Dromomania: A Wonderful Magical Journey. His Indie Folk CD is Studio 6. Bill’s a featured performer at literary and music events internationally. His poetry, articles and columns are published in Canada, the US, UK, Europe and Asia. When not trekking the globe with a small pack, weatherproof journal, and first-generation camera phone, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, making friends and misbehaving. @billarnott_aps