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A poet for the journey rather than the arrival, Oakman blends intellect, heart and imagination in sharply observed verse employing the rhythms of everyday speech with a conversational tone devoid of sentimentality. He eschews distracting detail, embellishment and pointless abstractions, to usher his readers towards closing lines frequently of startling impact. If this book has a leitmotif it might be distilled from the poetry of Antonio Machado, the great Spanish poet whose life and work are referenced here and there throughout Second Thoughts. Oakman is plainly sympathetic to Machado's credo: Wayfarer, your footsteps/ are the road and nothing more./ Wayfarer, there is no road,/ the road is made by walking. Oakman's writing, recently described by a prominent critic as 'radically comprehensible', is a poetry of engagement which embraces a wide range of subjects – political, personal, cinema, art, war – always encouraging the reader to share an experience, an idea, an emotion.

One measure of a poet's dedication to the art form to ask how many poems have been published elsewhere prior to their presentation in book form. Oakman mentions in his acknowledgements that all but one of the 51 poems in this collection have been previously published in various magazines, journals and newspapers which include many of the most sought after literary publications in Australia and overseas. The exception is the title poem - and we can only speculate he reserved it for this book.

B N Oakman

B N Oakman, formerly an academic economist, started writing poetry in 2006. He has since published many poems in Australia and overseas as well as a full-length book, In Defence of Hawaiian Shirts (IP, 2010) and two booklets, Chalk Dust (2009) and Secret Heart (2013), both with Mark Time Books.

He was awarded a grant by the Literature Board of the Australia Council. His work is recorded on the ABC Classics CD, Peter Cundall Reads War Poetry and he reads his poetry at various events and festivals.

His work has been nominated for The Pushcart Poetry Prize 2015 (USA). Second Thoughts is his second full-length collection.
www.bnoakman.com

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ISBN 9781922120984 (PB, 68 pp);
140mm x 216mm
(release date 1 September 2014)

AU$25 US$18 NZD $27 CA$20 GB £12 EUR €14
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Reviews

B.N. Oakman's Second Thoughts is a very different sort of book – much shorter for a start and a tight collection of free-standing poems. Some are related by subject matter, e.g. the poet's deep appreciation of the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado (1875-1939) and Spain more generally. Others have a reasonably savage political edge; still others are love poems to his partner, Barbara, who has been prone to serious illness in recent years.

Nearly all the poems are strongly affecting emotionally, partly as a result of Oakman's unusual skill with last lines. These can turn quite suddenly in a new and disconcerting direction – or brutally sum up what we've just seen. This directness of feeling, along with Oakman's leftish political edge and fluency with different linguistic registers, brings to mind the early poetry of Bruce Dawe when he was making his mark on the somewhat conservative Australian poetry establishment of the mid-1960s.

Two early poems stand out in this regard – Neurosurgery and Watching TV News in Madrid, All Saints Day 2011. The first reminds us how, when visiting a loved one in hospital, we can also be deeply upset by the situation and fate of other patients we don't even know. Neurosurgery is constructed of simple observations, cleverly arranged, e.g. the rapid plot development in: "She'll be dead by now / The woman with bright curly hair / The one I saw in Admissions / She and her man and her boy and her girl." Later, the poet sees the woman's empty room and senses the impact her death has had on all three members of her family. The poem concludes: "And then I returned to another room to sit beside another bed / And I took a woman's hand in mine / And gripped it / Hard / Too hard / Much too hard".

The second poem, Watching TV News in Madrid ... is one of several set in Spain, often dealing with the impact of the Spanish Civil War.  Oakman watches an old man on the television screen whose "words defeat my  feeble Spanish". He is looking through graves recently excavated in "a town overrun by rebels early in the war. / The weeping man is Rafael Martinez. / He is 89 years old. He's searching for his father."

Among the other 47 poems in Second Thoughts, there are many of comparable quality. Don't read them in a coffee bar; you might well embarrass yourself by shedding justified but unseemly tears.

– Geoff Page, The Canberra Times

Oakman writes poems for those annoyed by poets. These are honest stories drawn from history, sometimes the personal, more often the sweep of the world beyond, with an even-handed empathy for the subject of each telling. Resisting the florid and the abstract, Oakman drives directly at the point, with here and there a verse like Incan stonework, so carefully composed you barely see the joins.
– Geoff Lemon, Editor, Going Down Swinging

There is a gentle, but occasionally disconcerting, power in all Bruce Oakman’s poetry. He has an extraordinary talent for revealing and confronting us with aspects of reality about which we are either unaware, or tend to ignore. His poems are filled with surprises, sometimes making us smile, but the unexpected distilled truths he uncovers about ourselves and the world in which we live, can leave us weak and trembling, but always wanting more.
– Peter Cundall, Peter Cundall Reads War Poetry

Bruce Oakman’s writing grows ever more robust and compassionate.  He goes to the centre of things, drawing on both past and present as he creates landscapes of feeling in poems in which history, politics, people and places are refracted through a deeply felt understanding of the human condition. With a vision committed to looking at things straight, these are poems from the heart.

– Valerie Krips, Editor, Arena Magazine

My favorite film is probably Brief Encounter, and it's lovely to find it here as the focus of Bruce Oakman's title poem in this collection: a collection of not just second but infinitely reconsidered thoughts on all the major themes of life and literature; a succession of brief encounters  with a rich, and enriching, array of people, places, passions.  51 compact poems encompass whole worlds of emotion and experience, from hospital beds to hilltop towns in Spain, politics to prisons, films to the footy field, each freshly fashioned to prompt our own thoughts and second thoughts.

– Ian Britain, former editor Meanjin

Oakman's poetry moves deftly, but no less aptly, between the commonplace and the insightful, the particular and the universal. Moments of frolic are shot through with wisdom, as elsewhere a purposeful ruggedness leads on to refinement. So many poems are distinguished by their final line: demonstrations of organic closure – conceptually retroactive, forceful yet elegant.

– John Flaus, actor and critic

 

 

 

Links

B N Oakman's website

Sample

Heart’s Desire

You urge me. Go. Hasten to Spain.
Return to my heart’s desire. Heed
the fandango’s beat. Dwell not

on your capricious health. Tarry,
and be infirmity’s wall-flower.
‘I’ll still be here’, you say.

Imagine me, prowling the Prado,
knocking on Unamuno’s door
in Salamanca, catching whispers

of Lorca in Andalusia, resting
on Belchite’s abandoned stones,
wandering the maze and Mihrab

of Cordoba’s mosque, placing a palm
on pardon’s portal in Santiago,
pausing by graves only the brave

dared name, listening to Spaniards
talk politics in a taberna,
my book on a table, an empty chair,

bread gravel in my mouth, oil
rancid on my tongue, the wine
vinegar to unkissed lips.

A Note for My Daughter

for Penny

After I am ashes wait
until your tears have dried.
Choose a day when the wind blows hard
and take the urn (or box or bin)
to some convenient lofty site
(a handy rooftop will suffice) and there,
without ceremony, words or prayer
fling my dust into the flying air.

No declarative stones or lettered brass,
no rosy plot for ruminations,
but in gusts and zephyrs, puffs and squalls
you may remember me
and smile,
your every breath my name.

Look At My Eyes

Look at my eyes.
I’m dead behind these eyes.
– Archie Rice, eponymous character in John Osborne’s play The Entertainer (1957)

I know how Archie feels
after the fire’s gone out
easy to grab at pain killers
a few swigs of self-deceit
no trouble doing drugs
helpful doctors will oblige
or try DIY
no one will notice
you’ll still be moving and nodding
not a bother to anyone
after all you’re only dead inside

somebody taught me
pain is more lively than torpor
but there’s a price
you’ll be a bloody nuisance
a pest in the popularity quest
now look at my eyes
see anything burning
flickering
maybe smouldering
or is there a blaze
the flames dancing in the ruins


On Waking

I wake
each morning
folded
to the curve
of your body
lips pressed
to the nape
of your neck
and wait
for the sun
to tint the room
with gold
and wonder
if such as you
lies here
how shall I
ever know
I’m old?

Metro Antonio Machado

Garcia Lorca’s name graces an airport
while the poet of dreams, remembered

landscapes, diviner of Castile’s flinty soul,
fuser of outer and inner, dignifies

a metro station on Linea 7, steel rails
joining Pitis to Hospital de Henares.

Machado is not the ideal poet to counsel
straying travellers to ‘get back on track’.

Wayfarer, your footsteps/are the road,
and nothing more./Wayfarer, there is
no road,/the road is made by walking.

But five correspondencias permit us
to deviate, perhaps emerge somewhere

unintended, and Don Antonio, reader
of Freud, will encourage wanderers

to follow their footsteps, explore
subterranean darkness, descend deep

beneath the teeming surface of Madrid.



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