Book Review — _Ida: Searching for The Jazz Baby_, by Frank Prem

Ida: Searching for The Jazz Baby – Paperback release date 13th January 2023.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of Ida: Searching for The Jazz Baby from author, Frank Prem. This book was a quick read, but one I plan on returning to again to savor. Frank’s poetry style is sparse, giving the reader tender glimpses in each of the twenty-three poems that serve as snapshots, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that fill in. By the end of the book you have an illuminated portrait of the subject. In this case, the portrait is Ida Pender, also known as The Jazz Baby.

The book of poetry I’m reviewing today is possibly about a patient named Ida Pender that Frank worked with in the psycho-geriatric ward in the asylum as an intern. She had the same name as the moll/accomplice/lover of Leslie “Squizzy” Taylor, one of Australia’s well-known gangsters back in the 1920’s. Frank’s kernel of wonder at whether the Ida he cared for was the same person as the gangster’s girlfriend germinated, sprouted and blossomed into this fine book of poems. I won’t give away any spoilers, and to be honest, it doesn’t matter whether the patient, Ida, and the gangster’s Ida are the same person.

It was easy to do a google search for Squizzy; there is a wealth of information out there on him. When I tried to do the same with Ida Pender, there is scant information. In the back of Frank’s book is a lengthy source list showing where the information came from. Frank has searched through historical archives and pieced together a chronology of events documented about Ida Pender. By the end I saw her less as an objectified arm piece for a violent criminal and more as a human being.

Frank starts with Ida as a girl that took dance lessons, traveled to her teenage years, where she snuck out of her house at night to go to the dance hall, to her fateful introduction to Squizzy, her years as an accomplice in his violent crimes, their parting of ways, and her life after Squizzy.

Two of my favorite passages from the book are:

but faith
has a way
of uniting lovers
even with stone walls
in the way
from “as it transpires (I believe)”


there is no need
to tell lies
you can dance
from “tell them nothing (but a lie)”

In between poems are archival photos and newspaper clippings, which do a good job of grounding the reader in remembering that Ida, Squizzy, and the assorted cast of characters in the poems were real people. Frank works his magic between the lines of verse as Ida Pender begins to emerge.

One of the things I like best about reading Frank’s books of poetry are how they are grouped by concept. One of Frank’s books is on his growing up in a small town in Australia. Another is about wildfires that ravaged areas of Australia a few years back. One is about Frank’s work experiences, first as an intern and later as a psychiatric nurse in an asylum. I’ve climbed in to each of them, each time feeling as if I were walking side by side with the author, immersing myself with empathy for the people contained within them. All are excellent reads infused with great insight and heart. This book stands in line beside them.


13 Comments Add yours

  1. Carol anne says:

    Oh this does sound good! I love poetry books!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Carol Anne, all of his books are worth reading.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Frank Prem says:

      Thank you, Carol Anne. Ida was a delight to remember and discover.


  2. Frank Prem says:

    Thaks so much, Lisa. A wonderful review. I think Ida would be delighted.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      You’re very welcome, and I think your book has her smiling. There are a lot of Idas in this world.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Frank Prem says:

    Reblogged this on Frank Prem Poetry and commented:
    Thak you so much to Lisa from Tao Talk for a wonderful review of Ida: Searching for The Jazz Baby.

    Check it out!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for this profound review of Frank’s new book. Another good reason to read it.Best wishes, Michael Best wishes, Michael


  5. Congratulations to Frank on the excellent review! I have Ida loaded on my Kindle ready to go.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Frank Prem says:

      Thanks so much, Liz. Looking forward to your thoughts. I marvel each time I revisit her life and times.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome, Frank.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Badfinger (Max) says:

    I had to look her up…her name was familiar but I wasn’t sure. She seemed like a hand full for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      A wild child for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

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