In Defence of Hawaiian Shirts

B N Oakman’s deceptively conversational tone and wry humour in this collection complement writing that is elegant, sometimes confronting, and which shuns obscurity in favour of clarity. He elicits feeling through style, phrasing and understatement rather than by imposing emotion.

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B N Oakman’s deceptively conversational tone and wry humour in this collection complement writing that is elegant, sometimes confronting, and which shuns obscurity in favour of clarity. He elicits feeling through style, phrasing and understatement rather than by imposing emotion.

You’ll be drawn into topics ranging from the socio-economic to the personal – the ekphrastic to football – the political to the historical.

B N Oakman

B N Oakman, formerly an academic economist, started writing poetry in 2006. In 2006 he started offering poems to publishers. Subsequently his work has been widely published in magazines, journals and newspapers in Australia, the UK and the USA. 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 for 2009. 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.


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
maybe smouldering
or is there a blaze
the flames dancing in the ruins

On Waking

I wake
each morning
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.

In Defence of Hawaiian Shirts

Too many uniforms mean a country’s turning dangerous,
that’s what I thought as I watched Triumph of the Will 1 –
masses of Germans marching (in step)
kitted out in matching threads and shod with leather boots (named Jack)
and the film’s star is The Führer (he of curt salutes and silly poses)
who shouts a lot about the rules for partying with his tidy mob.

And today it frightens me nobody simply works a job,
they are members of a team and trussed
in corporate garb for fish shops, planes and pubs and banks
and embroidered with their masters’ names – even those
who drive a taxi are buttoned in a company shirt
(with insignia, epaulets and badge)
and every one of them commands that I enjoy my bloody day.

So it’s with some fondness I remember
(and I don’t believe I’ve made this up)
being served one cold July (in Customs) by a silent splendid clerk
who wore a loud Hawaiian shirt
where the waves were blue and the sands were gold
and lithe brown girls in grassy skirts
with hibiscus flowers in their raven hair
swayed beneath his printed palms and shimmered with Alohas.

1 Triumph des Willens, Germany, 1934, dir. Leni Riefenstahl, b&w, 114mins.

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Customer Reviews

1-5 of 5 reviews

  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    Of Castlemaine, the novelist and resident Alex Miller has remarked that it has a population of 7000 of whom 13,000 are poets. B. N. Oakman lives not far away, but is a regular reader of his own work at the monthly poetry event in the town. He would be well worth hearing, on the evidence of this splendidly titled book of verse,
    In Defence of Hawaiian Shirts.

    It is also heartening to learn that a principal
    influence in turning him towards poetry (Oakman had been an academic teacher of economics) was listening to ”the distinguished American poet Ted Kooser read two of his poems on television”. That they are such different poets is happily beside – or perhaps to – the point.

    Oakman is an adept at striking first lines. In the title poem, ”Too many uniforms mean a country’s turning dangerous”. In ”Remembering the Corporal”, ”You never spoke of the war, childhood’s favourite/ uncle from those distant railway towns”.

    There are wry poems about the poverty of modern academic life and a tender remembrance of his father in ”Ballarat Bitter”: he was one who smiled ”a revenant’s bloodless smile,/before vanishing into his sunless exile”. The back cover cheekily confides more of Oakman’s range: ”ekphrastic to football”. The noun of course means Australian Rules, as in ”My Football Team is Hopeless”. The adjective, as all school children know, involves treating one artistic medium in terms of another. Thus, here are poems about two of the Van Diemen’s Land paintings by Samuel Glover.

    Oakman also offers poems about Franco and his foe, the Spanish poet and rector of Salamanca University, Unamuno; a reflection on Wallace Stevens’s dictum ”Money is a kind of poetry”, with the riposte ”money is not kind to poetry”.

    There is an affectionate tribute to his aunt
    Josephine, ”I Mean to Say Love”, while he also writes by far the sharpest political poem of the three collections. In ”A Credo for a Labor Leader”, we are instructed, ”And by these refrainings you shall come to know me”.

    May Oakman thrive in Castlemaine, and beyond.

    – Peter Pierce, The Canberra Times

    July 17, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    Wistful without being whimsical, poignant but tough, Oakman’s poems subtly rhyme and chime their way into our consciousness and gnaw at what might remain of our conscience.
    – Ian Britain (Editor, Meanjin, 2001-8)

    July 17, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    Oakman writes of the known world with compassion, humour and intelligence, making the familiar new, and the forgotten remembered. These are poems to think with, to carry with you, and to draw upon.
    – Valerie Krips, Arena Magazine

    July 17, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    Oakman is a forgiving observer of human frailty, as well as pretence. He listens to the daily language of his neighbour and turns it into wry wisdom.
    – Philip Harvey, Eureka Street

    July 17, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    A rising star of Australian poetry wearing a particularly vibrant Hawaiian shirt!
    – Ross Donlon, Convenor, Poetry in Castlemaine

    July 17, 2023

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