Featured Poet - Frank Faust

"I would write to try to make a still-life out of a situation so as to be able to understand it - almost as a way of reassuring myself that I understood." - Frank Faust

Frank Faust is a well known participant on a number of on-line poetry lists. As this months PK Featured Poet those of us who have benefited from Frank’s interesting and down to earth comments on their work will be able to find out a little more about the man behind the persona.

Featured Poet 3 - Frank Faust

My name is Frank Prem but I write my poetry under the by-line of 'Faust' or 'Frank Faust'. The choice of by-line came about a few years ago when I first gave in to writing seriously, as a vocation, and decided to seek an audience willing to read and critique my scribblings. I made a deal with the devil to write my soul in return for the reward of being read.

My parents, sister and myself and my father's parents and their still young family emigrated to Australia in 1957 from what is now known as Croatia, having spent a year in Germany in transit. I was born in Hamburg during the period of transition and was 10 months old when they arrived to settle in the small town of Beechworth in country Victoria. My mother's family all remained behind in either Croatia or Germany. The primary reason for emigration was statelessness as one of the aftermath’s of war - our people were termed 'yugo-schwabs' due to German ethnic connections and were dispossessed.

There were few immigrant families in the Beechworth district, as most chose to settle in the cities of Melbourne or Sydney. This had the mixed blessing, for me, of growing up outside the immigrant enclaves, while also being an obvious 'new Australian' subjected to the occasional taunting that goes with being an outsider. To some extent I feel I've always retained some capacity to be the outsider looking in and analysing what others are doing. My first language was Serbo-Croatian, with English only being learned after I attended school.

I was fortunate to grow up in a gorgeous rural environment with all the freedom that goes with being a latch-key kid whose parents worked in the local mental institution for long hours and too-frequent rostered shifts on duty.

I was a bright kid with aspirations who never made it past high school and had to make up for it with many years of night school and distance education. I eventually became a psychiatric nurse and had some small roles to play in the revolution of the mental health system in Victoria during the late 1980's and early 1990's.

These days I work as a freelance consultant in health and disability services - still mainly in mental health.

How/when did you start writing? Was there anything that particularly influenced you?

As a troubled youth (is there anyone who wasn't?) I indulged myself in adolescent scribblings and black demeanour. My mother still drags out some of the drivel from my adolescence, as though there might be some value or meaning, but they only make me shudder.

My influences were the songwriters of popular tunes and ballads. For years (and until quite recently) when I wrote, I strove to produce verse that could hold it's own as song (a completely wasted effort as I cannot play a note and my singing makes dogs howl).

I think that what appealed to me most was the sense of story and the way a song is complete - beginning, middle and end. I also admire the way a good song can capture and reflect, in a popularly accessible way, emotional states that men in particular do not expose frequently.

My earliest effective writings were attempts to capture the complexities I saw in my time as a student psychiatric nurse. I would write to try to make a still-life out of a situation so as to be able to understand it - almost as a way of reassuring myself that I understood.

The writer that was my single greatest influence was undoubtedly H. E. Bates - the master of the short story.

Sadly, I have only very passing familiarity with poets - Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson being the standouts - exemplars of bush writing and galloping rhyme.

Do you have any strong influences on your writing now?

I started writing again in 1998 after a break of many years where no words would flow. It is since then that I have taken the craft seriously.

In that time the major influences have come from singers, such as Emmy-Lou Harris and Lucinda Williams, and Paul Kelly (a local artist), poets doing spoken word readings every Saturday at the Dan O'Connell Hotel and other sites on the Melbourne poetic map, and the poets that so generously give feedback and appraisal online at PKList, the Pennine Poetry Works and Ozpoet.

The discipline of looking critically and constructively at the work of other poets with a view to identifying patterns, forms and places where improvement is possible or needed, and finding lines that take my breath away is my first formal exposure to poetry and I am immensely grateful for it. Feedback that I have received has resulted in a major change in my writing style and (arguably) the discovery of my poetic 'voice' which had previously been glimpsed but not fully sighted.

I am still working at fuller revelation of the elusive little bugger.

How do you write? Do you have any particular method for writing - time of day?

I mainly write without a plan. I find a phrase emerging in my mind and let that phrase grow to a stanza. The first stanza shapes the ideas for the rest of the poem.

I prefer verse that has a form or shape, though I don't really care what that form looks like. Often a second and following stanzas will aim to reflect the shape of the first.

I also like to include some stanzas that change the pace of the reading - a little of the song structure that remains in my mind.

I prefer to write every day - generally new work. I have been accused of being prolific, but how can it be otherwise? There is such a vast string of ideas floating through the universe, and all that is needed is to put my hand in the air to catch one, to look at it and to write it down.

Critique is of enormous assistance, not so much for the individual suggestions (though these are very helpful) but particularly in helping to identify major points of weakness that need to be revisited.

Why do you write poetry?

Poetry has become a part of who I am. One of my great fears is that the words will dry up again. I have to write to reassure myself that I am still able to. I need to post what I write to be reassured that it was worth the effort and to know that I'm not fooling myself.

I write in the hope of touching the lives of people that I have generally never met with comfort or understanding or with joy.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The look of joy on a child's face when I have composed a poem and created a little world, with them or for them, is something I will carry with me to my grave as one of my achievements while on this earth.

The Storyteller
A very early poem, and it shows in form and style. 'The Storyteller'
reflects a sentiment that I still hold. I think readers (as an audience)
respond best to stories that are well written and that are the stuff of
common life.
Open my hands,
Give you roses.
Open my hands,
Give you sun.
I open my hands,
You see worlds in their palms.
Without you believing
There are none.
Open my hands,
Walk the valleys.
Open my hands,
Climb the hills.
If I open my hands
To new worlds and magic charms,
They came there
By your will
Open my hands,
Fight the battles.
Open my hands,
Sail the seas.
If I open my hands
Into tempest or calm,
We two may sail
As we please.
Open my arms,
Taste a promise.
Open my arms,
Kiss your dreams.
If I open my arms,
Yes, if I open my arms
To tell you my stories,
Your dream is as real as it seems.
I Can Hardly Wait To Show You
A more recent piece, this describes a little of the town I grew up in and
the surrounding areas. It serves as an introductory piece to a series of
small poem-memoirs of my growing-up days. The poem also reflects my current
reluctance to use capitalisation and punctuation. I have tried to reflect
the rhythm I was seeking in the line breaks. I have mixed success in this.
july is finally gone and i am breathing
in the air of august a taste of weather
that teases promise of days
when the sun is warm again
and the shivers worn since may
can be packed away for another season
i can hardly wait to take you in the sun
to the places where my spirit lies
along singing waters and scrubby trees
the green and granite hills that never stop calling
and will not let me deny them
i want to show you where i grew
and what i saw when i was small
if something remains of those things
still so clear in the picture in my mind
of a small boy and a curious dog
with a long way to travel from breakfast
to the coming darkness of evening
on so many shining days
will you walk with me on balmy days
in the mayday hills and the woolshed valley
along the silver creek and orchards
to the places where rabbits went to ground
before the sound of approaching adventurers
crossing the old scars left by miners seeking gold dust
where i also found small treasures once
take my hand in the main street
of this town hewn from granite hills
and i will tell you what once stood here or there
and you might help me rediscover what i knew
when i was in the springtime of my life
and before a later season comes
to settle on my shoulders
i can hardly wait to show you
Mrs O'Neill
This is the work of a student psychiatric nurse. It was an attempt to
capture and reflect some of the complexities of situations I was witnessing
or experiencing that were so far out of my depth of experience that I felt a
need to still them as an attempt to understand.
Born that way!
Just a quirk of fate
Made him how he is.
And how do you fight fate?
Live with it, that's how!
And push him.
Push him to try.
To be like the rest.
To feel the same.
To feel important.
To like himself.
Push him!
But you can't do that alone,
And dad always gave in.
When he showed his temper.
When he had a tantrum.
Dad always gave in
'do what you like but stop that noise'.
Dad indulged him.
Couldn't deal with it.
Was too weak with him.
Wanted just a normal son.
Tried to ignore the fits.
Avoided the useless arm.
Didn't dare to see
What would break his heart,
So he always gave in.
And I pushed them both!
I pushed and I pushed.
I pushed and grew angry,
And I pushed and I cried,
And broke my own heart.
I pushed and I knew,
Knew I was losing the fight,
Losing my love,
Losing myself,
Losing everything!
You know,
Dad O'Neill was always a big man.
Big and burly,
And strong, like a bullock.
But when he grew ill
Our boy was away.
He didn't see the change.
Dad's flesh fell away,
till he was just a skeleton.
Oh, I worked and I worked
I nursed him
Night and day!
But, I grew weary, do you see?
There was too much pushing,
Too much nursing - both of them.
Too, too weary,
And too broken hearted.
I'd had enough,
I had to rest.
Dad went to hospital.
He was dead before morning.
They said he just gave up.
Oh, God, how could it be?
How? So, so soon. How?
I should have kept him,
I know I should.
I still can't believe…
There was nowhere for me.
He wouldn't understand.
Wouldn't accept.
Hated me for failing.
Shut his feelings off.
Stopped it all, just cold.
Withdrew away.
Refused to go on living,
Tried to change the dying,
But, you can't do that.
Oh, do I have to go on pushing?
I want to stop.
I want to cry.
I want to cocoon myself away
For a long, long, wintertime,
Until I can start again.
Until he can try for himself
And I…
Can just be his mum.
Oh, can anybody help us?
Because we're so stuck.
So helpless, so angry
So sad.
Why did you need to go away
And leave us?
Or is the world
Just trying to deceive us?
Can that man,
That good, good man,
So grieve us this way?
We needed him here,
To live beside us,
To be between us,
We don't know how to live together.
Oh, Neil,
Why'd he have to go?
And what, oh what,
Will we do?
Picnic Story
This is a recent piece that tells of some of the pleasures that come with
growing up in my small patch of the world. Please excuse the quasi-musical
introduction. It's how the piece came to me.
papa said,
mama, come on
we've got to
get away
get away
come on, I want to get away.
mama, get
the picnic pack
and let's all
get away
get away
mama, I'm taking you away.
hurry little
we're near
the getaway
get away
children, today we'll get away
around the base of Mt Buffalo
between Myrtleford and Porepunkah
on the low green flats of the King River
where it snuggles under the purple of uncleared hills
that run up the sides of the mountain
the business was mostly tobacco
from seedlings in hop gardens
to planting growing picking
and finally drying in rows of kilns
before packing dry leaf to market
a picnic visit to friends there
needed a weekend and three families
starting before one dawn to end
not long before the next
the slaughtered pig was collected by the men
for transportation to an old bathtub
and cleaning in scalding hot water
that made the flesh stink from the water-burn
and seared the skin for close shaving
with a deftly wielded cutthroat razor
honed for the job on an old leather strap
that reminded me of school
offal for sausages and exotic concoctions
was cooked in the squat copper laundry tub
kept for occasions such as these
and heated by a small fire in the grate
tended with precision to the right temperature
by my father who would often tell me
that the only thing wasted from a pig
was the squeal
a long wooden pole was chiselled
to a sharp point at one end to act as skewer
and the pig was held together with wooden pegs
that served as buttons for a belly
filled with apples and onions
before suspension above glowing coals
for slow roasting
the women were busy with cooking
and preparation of the sausages
keeping up the food supply
for the men with their responsibilities for the pig
and for the close supervision of the women
while consuming the pungent treasure
of liquid fire 'rakiya'
yielded by specially grown white plums
lushly productive but never to be eaten
my Opa had a special job
that came with the honour
of being the elder of the gathering
while he was sober enough
he would sit at one end in the warm of the fire
and turn the pig for hours over the coals
at just the right speed with the apples and onions
tumbling in a hollow and settled rhythm
sometimes when it rained
the job was only made tolerable
by the constant replenishment of his rakiya supplies
and on those days another man
would sometimes take over much earlier from Opa
as was only right on a wet day
my own special job
was to keep well out of the way
by going with a friend into the low hills
with a shotgun and a rifle in hand
to frighten rabbits and snakes
until early evening brought us back
with the enticement of fresh roasted pork
coming to us on the breeze
and the singing dancing and strange card games
played in the lights that banished shadows
from the row of tobacco kilns
until the women put the children to bed
and the men could no longer stand
papa said
mama, come on
I want to
dance with you
dance with you
hey mama, come and dance
A Stretch of the Sand
I find great inspiration from living close to local beaches and the
beautiful Port Phillip Bay. This stretch of the sand is not (despite
appearances) about the beach or the bay, but about beauty of a different
stretching out
golden in the light
away to the edge of vision
contours and ripples
where the waters have come and gone
to shape a resting place
at low tide
before the waves begin
washing higher with every beat
roaring loud
as the wind cries out
then moving again
in the rhythm and play
of a restless building up
until taken
like a breath withheld
for a trembling moment
before the ebb begins
and there she lies for me
reaching out in ripple lines
to the edge of light
as a line of gold
and contours
at low tide
Reading Modern Poets
Finally, a piece about writing, or at least about reading to an audience, in
a smoky pub hall. Plying the craft and paying the dues.
i'm reading some modern poets
because somebody said i should
or perhaps it's more true
to say i'm glancing at them
peering through their lives
and between their verses
i really don't care for poetry
but maybe there's an interest
in the reasons why
they wrote this line or that
(if someone's done the analysis)
or even better if they know
what the writer was all about
in the middle of that night when
he or she should have been sleeping
instead of burning candles
and putting words around
a spark or a flame
before it sputtered or went out
or simply faded out of mind
the way i find my thoughts do
but i really don't care for poetry
and i hope they aren't just dull and boring
people not fitted out for anything better
than a life by pen and ink
and fluffy words that try to sidestep
each obvious cliché and overworking of tired rhyme
i wonder if they read their poems in bar-rooms
to check the metre and the flow
under a half-spot light with a home-made lectern
that made their pages fall down
across the stage in the middle of a verse
and did they have an audience that listened
to what they said instead of only hearing
bursting guinness bubbles or laughing out loud
at the old guy that always sits there on poetry days
propped up in the corner and reciting shakespeare
from the vaults of a thespian youth
still taking all his bows if there's any clapping
i'm reading some modern poets
but i really don't care for poetry
all that much