Frank Prem’s new poetry book, “The New Asylum: A Memoir of Psychiatry” contains memoirs spanning his life from a small child to forty or more years as a psychiatric nurse, all in relation to the psychiatric hospital on the hill in his small town in Australia. It starts with both of his parents working there, then he works as a student nurse for three years before becoming certified as a psychiatric nurse. The bulk of the poems are about his career as a nurse. A small number are about “hostel life” which sounds like a halfway house or supervised transitional living for the patients.
Frank has exceptional skill in being able to distill vital and intimate moments to their essence. The poems are minimalist but the messages are clear. He unflinchingly creates portraits of patients at their best, at their most challenging, and at their most vulnerable. He does the same with those who are the caregivers of those patients.
There is a fine thread of social commentary and advocacy for positive change in the care of those in need of mental health supports winding through the poems. There is also an unspoken plea to understand and validate what a life challenge it is for those suffering from mental illness, the family members seeking support in helping their loved ones, and for the heroic caregivers who do what they do.
Favorite poems: “Sunday lunch on the ladies ward;” “a hundred dollars every week;” “for a long time;” “where the air;” “famous flying choppers;” “huntington’s marionette;” “not a lot anymore;” “kick starting the morning;” “lost: one cockerel;” “meandering journey;” and “furball and freddie.”