Small Town Kid (2009, 77 pages)
The childhood I remember from the 1960s and 70s is one that held an unrestrained freedom through until adolescence - the freedom of a small, sleepy town, surrounded by wilderness and scrub, by gold diggings and rambling adventures at each step beyond the front gate.
A rushed cut lunch, a slammed door and a whistle to the dog were the prelude to explorations and fantasies that might only conclude in the evening when the mothers of the town would stand at their doorsteps and holler for their children to return home for dinner. My mother would holler in a Croatian accent, but she’d still holler just as loud as the rest.
Adolescence, by contrast was a battle fought against the tight fetters that a small town holds over its young, and the weapons were dissatisfaction and irritation, cigarettes and alcohol, dream girls and doggerel verse in a life that seemed unable to find its rhyme.
Ultimately, childhood ended with a fraught escape that seemed ever tenuous, as though the town constantly demanded my return, while the city set out to demonstrate that a small town kid could never truly make a life there.
Of course, small town kids are always making their lives in the city and proving so successful at it, that it comes as a shock, sometimes, to realise that what they left behind has disappeared in the space of a single generation. So it was for me. When my children were young I found their reaction to my stories of things that had occurred just a yesterday ago was tinged with disbelief, dismissed as implausible, just one of dad’s stories... he didn’t really cause traffic jams at pumpkin rock, or blow up the deputy headmaster’s letter box on cracker night... no teacher would watch smoke from a cigarette rise from a student’s pocket and then walk away... nobody would ride one of those old bikes fourteen miles just to see a girl...
My epiphany as a writer came one day while I was noodling around with some thoughts about my experience of moving from the country to the city, and the awesomeness of that experience. When I finished, I found that with a handful of words in the poem From The Sticks, I’d been able to capture a story of myself in free-verse, and I had found my voice as a writer...there’s chicken-shit
The poems that followed grew into this Small Town Kid collection. The book is my attempt to capture something of a childhood that had become a historical whimsy in the short space of a single generation.
Frank Prem, 2010